This one definitely comes under the heading of “why didn’t I do this sooner?”. Let me say up front that this recommendation is completely unsolicited and uncompensated.
I had read for years about the usefulness of holdfasts, Everyone from St. Roy to Christopher Schwarz had sung their praises, but somehow I never got around to them. Most of the ones I saw were the old cast ones, and they just didn’t look quite right. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but they didn’t look like they would work as advertised.
Then, one day, I stumbled onto the ones made and sold by by Tools for Working Wood . These holdfasts, made from heavy wire, LOOKED like they would truly work. I put a pair on my wish list and settled down to patiently wait.
Finally, two weeks ago, I gave up on ever getting them as a gift and just ordered a pair. I was amazed. They locked with a tap and released just as easily. Gone were the days of using F-clamps to hold boards down on the bench. It was a revelation. My only modification was to add leather pads for cushioning. The one problem that I’ve noted is that the holding power decreases somewhat as the head is extended further out of the hole, as when holding thicker stock. When hand mortising the edge of a board, for example, the holdfasts tend to work loose as the piece is manipulated. Using two holdfasts helps with this, but keep your mallet handy for a quick cinch-down. Hey, it’s STILL faster than F-clamps!
If you aren’t already using holdfasts, I can’t recommend them highly enough. They’ve become my holding method of choice if I don’t need access to the entire top of the board (planing, etc), and have made mortising and dovetailing more efficient. Give ’em a try!