Clamps – practical ones for newstart woodworkers

Paul,

Met you at the Baltimore show and really enjoyed conversing with you. I signed up for the April class the other day. Really looking forward to that.

 Anyway, you asked for suggestions on topics. How about something on clamps? They are kind of overlooked and there is a lot of hype in the market concerning the different types. What would you suggest as a good basic clamping setup for someone looking to do some basic projects, like in your book, and other small furniture type work.

Thanks,

Dave

This is a clamp rack that I made and use in the UK. I can wheel it where I want during classes and keeps the shop tidy and organised.

Well, you are right, there is much hype about clamps and they can be very, very expensive. The reality is that you don;t need expensive clamps to make everything work. A more recent saying says that you can never have too many clamps, but that is rarely true. The reasons many craftsmen have a lot of clamps is because they are mass-making lots of cabinet doors for kitchen work. these doors are not properly jointed but cope and stick and so relies primarily on glue to hold the corners of doors in place. The clamps simply make certain the glue has time to set before stress is put on the doors in normal use. We, on the other hand, are using proper joints that require minimal clamping and usually only for 20 minutes or so if the joints are well made and fairly snug. Those mass making doors often make 20 doors at a time and so they may need 40 clamps for a continuous glue up day and that’s for small doors only. That would be a very rare occurrence for most of us. In general I can manage perfectly well with 10 x 2′ alluminium clamps, 6 x 36″ alluminium clamps as shown.

These are the first alluminium clamps I used and were imported by Rockler back in the late 1990’s. They haven’t changes in design since then.

I have further clamps that are longer and made from steel for heavier work. I suggest 4 x 4′ I-bar clamps or in the US pipe clamps work equally well. I think Jorgensen clamps work the best; I haven’t found import pipe clamps work very well though they may look the same. One advantage od pipe clamps is that you can add any length of pie to your stock and simply interchange the head and shoe to suit the longer task. Pipes can be joined with connectors and you can clamp a 30′ + length very readily if you are building boats or clamping T&G plywood flooring or indeed anything in wood too.

 

These clamps are lightweight and strong enough for ninety-nine percent of all my work.

The red clamps shown are almost identical to a clamp made by Jorgensen, which is also alluminium. The Jorgensen is sold for around $44 per clamp whereas the import versions are in $10 range. The imports are of thinner extruded stock than the Jorgensen but by adding a wooden insert inside the clamp you remove most of the torque and flex you get with the thinner material and the clamps then work well. I have found that greasing or waxing the mechanism and the bar itself also helps smooth out the action. Sometimes the alluminium head sticks on the bar.

 

Laminations are great too. The clamps rest steadily as Ioad the clamps. that’s important.

The wax prevents this. There are many suppliers including Harbour Freight. The ones I have seen as imports from around the world, that are sold in Europe and the USA, look exactly the same, even though they are sold under different brand names or none at all. The colour is insignificant. Mine are red, Jorgensen orange and most others are some shade of blue. The insert will tighten as the insert progresses into the extrusion. Make sure it will bottom out before you start driving too hard. A snug fit is ideal, so experiment for your clamps.

 

 

I also glue plywood pads onto my clamp heads with superglue and activator this reduces the risk of marring the work and the need for blocks and cauls in some situations.

People talk about and collect Bessey clamps. I have used them but haven’t found them to be sufficiently advantaged and they are pricey for a new-start woodworker. I want to give people what gets them started and these clamps really work well with a little retrofit work.

G-clamps give maximised pressure every time.

‘G’ or ‘C’ clamps (cramps UK) are very hand and give lots of clamping pressure. More than almost any other clamp. I like having half a dozen 6″ G clamps in the shop too.

9 Comments

  1. Joel on 18 January 2012 at 11:18 pm

    Your aluminum clamps are knockoffs from the American clamp company. Rockler used to buy American but switched to china. their cost dropped by half, your cost remained the same. The original clamps, are still made in USA, got the top review from fine woodworking , have far less slop in them, work better and cost about the same.

    While I’m certainly not going to tell you what clamps to buy please credit the original not the copy.
    Joel



  2. Paul Sellers on 19 January 2012 at 2:14 am

    My clamps shown (the red ones) are of course the ones I have in the UK and have nothing to do with the US makers. I’m afraid no one supplies a British-made version as far as I know, and the ones I have have proven to be just excellent and flawless. If there is a good quality US version that’s at the same price I’d like to see them and buy them but I have never seen them offered by any of the reputable dealers or catalog companies even here in the USA. US equipment is not generally exported to the UK for whatever reason. I have never seen Jorgensen there either



  3. Paul Sellers on 19 January 2012 at 2:43 am

    Yes, I tried to find American Clamp Company and couldn’t actually find anything on it. Do you have a link. I also googled it and had less success. I don’t doubt what you are saying, but I don’t take any magazines these days so I can’t give the readers any info on American made clamps. With so much US product hiding under US banners it has become increasingly more difficult to find truth as to where things actually are made. Irwin chisels are a good example and so too the Stanley sweetheart planes, so that’s the same for the UK too. 
    Having talked to Ray Isles a few weeks ago I know that your mortise chisels are made by him so that’s something!



    • Joel on 19 January 2012 at 3:12 am

      Did my comment on the clamp website disappear? or did I just press the wrong button? I am sure I saw it posted a few minutes ago. – confused



  4. Patrick Anderson on 19 January 2012 at 4:15 pm

    The Jorgensen clamps are made by the Adjustable Clamp Company http://www.adjustableclamp.com/

    In an ideal world I would buy either British or USA made tools only. Unfortunately it’s quite difficult to do so as they’re either considerably more expensive and or not actually made in either country.

    I’d rather buy the knock off clamps and spend the difference on some new old tools to fix up 🙂



    • Paul Sellers on 20 January 2012 at 4:05 am

      Thanks for your help with this one Patrick. 



  5. George Williams on 18 July 2016 at 9:44 pm

    I do envy you the ease of access of good tools and materials you have both in the UK and the USA. I live in New Zealand, and here tools, especially good quality ones, cost an arm and a leg to buy. If I use overseas suppliers, then postage and delivery charges put most things out of my price range.

    As for timber – when you use such phrases as ‘I had this bit of poplar lying around’, or ‘Use white oak for this’, I’m chewing the carpet with frustration. I can get a few local timbers, but there just isn’t the demand for timbers like that, especially in the quantities needed by a DIYer. Fantastic series though, Thanks Paul.



    • Matthew Dixon on 4 November 2016 at 4:01 am

      I feel your pain George. I live in Australia and it’s the same scenario. Have just sent an email to Eze lap Australia to enquire as to why their diamond plates are twice the price of Eze lap UK for the same items!