‘Free’ and ‘Restrained’ Workholding

It’s been said that woodworking is little more than marking lines in the right places and cutting carefully to those lines. While simplistic, there’s something refreshing about the aphorism. It is true that knowing where and being able to cut wood is the heart of most woodworking operations. At the same time, in the shop, we are nothing without our tools. And our tools are nothing without a way to secure the stock being shaped.

Having a firm grasp on workholding methods is an essential component to artisanal development. Beginners struggle to find a way to hold their stock for comfortable work, and this struggle greatly hinders the cutting action of their tools. But anyone who’s been around for any length of time has developed mastery over the material. When the craftsman says, “Sit,” the board sits. When he says, “Stay,” it stays.

There is quite a diversity of workholding methods from cultures around the globe. The majority of the world retains vestiges of traditional craft practice that utilizes what we around here at M&T have come to call “free” work – workholding that is secured against a single stop or in the grip of the artisan. The board can be flipped around, rotated, or examined in a moment and returned to position for working. It’s not locked up in a vise or held down by clamps. 

But vises also have a venerable, centuries-long history. Woodworkers have long utilized the screw to immobilize boards for sawing and shaping operations because there are some tasks that are just so much easier to accomplish at a vise. An efficient hand-tool woodworker will be fluent in both forms of workholding. 

The methods I present here are those I employ regularly in my shop. There are many other (nearly infinite) clever solutions out there in the world because there are so many creative people with particular needs. But this book is not a showcase of novelty – it’s a guidebook for efficacy. 

So, take these methods as a starting place. Try to get comfortable with them then adapt them as needed. 

In each unique circumstance you encounter, ask yourself these three questions:

  1.     What is the simplest way to hold this stock?
  2.     Is it secure enough to work safely and effectively?
  3.     Is it quick to release and adjust?

If you have affirmative answers to these considerations, you will be well on your way.

-Joshua A. Klein, excerpt from his upcoming book Worked: A Bench Guide to Hand-Tool Efficiency, which will be open for pre-orders this Thursday, March 17th.


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