Holding your Work

Carving work that is insufficiently cramped is not only dangerous, but extremely counterproductive.

A common problem is often that access is restricted due to the method of cramping being in the way. Outined below are several ways of cramping different types of work.

G Cramps and Speed Cramps

Among the most commonly used methods of cramping, these can be bought in a variety of sizes and are used to secure carvings to the work surface by compression.

Sash Cramps

These can be fixed to the work surface and used rather like a long vice. They are ideal for securing turings.

Bench Vice

These are strong jaws which can be attached to the workbench.They are designed to hold large sections of timber.

Carving Cramps

There are many variations available although they work on mostly the same principles, forming an excellent and extremely versatile method of holding. The cramp is secured to the work surface and the carving is fixed, generally by screws, to a manoeuvrable metal plate. This allows the carving to be held firmly in a multitude of different positions.

1. Sash cramp

2. Carving cramp

3. Bench holdfast

4. Vice

5. G cramps

Bench Screw

The bench screw is basically a threaded bar terminating at a point which screws into the base of the carving.The bar passes through a hole in the work surface and is secured by a large wing nut. Alternatively the bar can pass through a large block of wood which could be secured in the vice.

Bench Holdrast

The bench holdfast passes through a hole in the work surface, cramping the carving from above.

Bench Dogs

These comprise two blocks, one which is fitted in any of a series of holes and protrudes along the bench top, and another which is fitted to the manoeuvrable jaw of the vice.This forms a cramping system for long lengths of timber which need to be held flat against the work surface.


These are simply lengths of timber which can be nailed or screwed to a board surrounding the carving, This will restrict the movement of the carving and the board can then be secured to the work surface

1 Battens

2 Vice

3 Bench dogs

4 Bench screws


When carving a small object to which access would be be severely restricted by clamping, a useful tip is to glue it to a larger board which

can be cramped to the work surface.

in order to do this, first ensure that the bottom face of the carving is clean and perfectly flat. “Key’ the surface, by shallowly scoring it with a marking knífe to create a checked pattern. Then lightly rub a candle over the surface to apply a thin layer of wax before gluing and cramping the blank to a board. The score marks allow the glue to form a strong bond while the wax provides a barner between the two surfaces which enables you to release the carving easily on completion.

You could use any sort of glue but PVA (polyvinyl -acetate) Is ideal. However, if you wish to start work on your carving immediately, you could use a quick-set glue or even a two-part wood fller.

The blank should now be secure enough to allow you to carve. On completion, it can be raised using a thin pallet knife (see Making your own Tools)

Gently work the blade underneath the carving concentrating on freeing the outer edges before moving to the centre. After a little persuasion, the carving should lift quite easily, leaving a clean surface to use as a base. It is possible to use paper instead of wax, although this may result in a weaker joint and the back may require more cleaning up. If you do use paper, apply glue to both sides before placing it between the carving blank and the board.

The equipment needed for gluing a piece of work to board to hold it firmly. A thin layer of wax Is applied to the back of the piece of work before it is glued to a board which is in turn cramped to the bench top. A pallet knife can be used to lift the project when work is complete.

The Workbench or Carver’s Stand

The workbench is without doubt one of the carver’s most essential aids. It provides the various cramps with a solid base to which you can secure the carving. It is not essential to go to great lengths to buy or make a bench; you just need the surface you are working on to be strong and sturdy. The top should be a suitable thickness to absorb mallet blows, therefore a 50mm (2 in) thick hardwood top with cleated ends would be ideal. However if such a surface is not available, you will find that an old laminated kitchen worktop will be good substitute.

The worktops, which are usually manufactured from a dense chipboard (particle board) or a medium density fibreboard, are not only heavy but also quite strong. It is wise to invert the worktop so that the board is facing uppermost. Once this is done, the board will be kinder to the sharp edges when the chisel blades make contact with the surface. If your workbench has got a sturdy under structure, it is a good idea to allow the top to protrude from between 50-75mm (2-3 in) from the supporting rail. This will make life easier when using G cramps.

Although many carvers choose to be seated whilst working, it is not always practicable and was certainly not permitted while I was training. The bench should be around the same height as the carver’s elbow. This means that the added height will help prevent backache caused through excessive bending after standing and working for prolonged periods. Another method to help avoid bending is to mount your work onto a solid surface which can be pivoted toward you, rather like that of a drawing board. Not all carvings suit being held in this way, but with carvings on panels, for example, this method does allow working with a minimum of physical effort. If you already have a woodworking bench, you could simply make leg extensions which can be removed when not in use. An even simpler option is to raise the bench using a couple of bricks.

If your workspace is restricted, then a carver’s stand may be a suitable alternative. This looks very similar to a tall parlour maid’s milking stool. It has three legs to prevent rocking on uneven ground which are linked at the bottom by foot rails. The top is usually circular with a hole drilled in it for the benefit of a benchscrew. When the mallet is used or heavy cutting is necessary, the carver applies weight by resting a foot on the lower rails to prevent the stool from moving. Other benches fitted with a seat which use the same weight principles are also popular. They look very similar to a workhorse, at which the carver sits with his work on a raised area in front of him.