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Friday, June 8, 2012

Best Woodworking Clamps

Before I begin my review of the best woodworking clamps, IMHO, here's an old woodworker's joke:

Q: "how many clamps do you need in your shop?"

A: "One more than you have."

Hilarious!

There's more to a bit of truth to it. But it has half to do with the fact that as woodworkers, we continue to take on more and more ambitious projects. I haven't bought a clamp in a while, but then again...


I've owned most of the standard woodworker's clamps. I have around 200 clamps in my shop now, in lengths from 2 inches to 10 feet. Over my two year career as a woodworker, I've developed a liking for certain clamps, and a dislike for others. I'm now sharing what I've learned about all the different types of clamps, to help others make better investments.

I rank each clamp out of five possible points, and put the price out of 4 $ signs:


The Jorgensen F-clamp: 5/5 $$$
The Jorgensen F-clamp is a standard type, available at Home Depot and specialty shops. As you can see from the pics above, this style is the workhorse of my shop.  It's a great all-around clamp, with both light and heavy duty versions. I have lengths in both ratings from 6" to 36", and I love them all for general case clamping and even clamping jigs. They have a nub on the end of the bar so the clutch side of the clamp can't come off. I have shaved the nub off of a few of the 10" clamps for use through the dog holes in my bench. These have good clutches that move easily and lock positively. Great quality, medium price.

Rockler F-Clamp: 3/5 $$
These F-Clamps sometimes go on sale for very low prices. they are a clutch-less version of the Jorgensen F-clamp. While I do have about 25 of the 18" length, a few of the them have started to slip; no wonder, since they rely on very little contact surface to provide the friction to lock.

Chinese F-Clamp: 4/5 $
I bought six of the 36" length off eBay for an extremely low price. But even these cheap Chinese F-clamps have clutches, unlike the Rocklers. They're made with so little metal in the bar, they flex like crazy under even the lightest pressure. But I have come love the light weight of the flimsy bar, especially when I need to span a long distance, but don't want to add a lot of weight.

Bessey Deep Jaw F-Clamp:5/5 $$$$
These F-clamps have really deep jaws for reaching into the middle of large panels. I also keep one next to the fence for my chop saw. That fence is 7 feet long and 10" high, and I like to clamp stop block anywhere along its length. These clamps are the only ones (besides the Kreg clamps) that can reach. Even though they don't have a clutch, they have not slipped one tiny bit. And they have huge Acme screws that generate a ton of pressure. They are an absolute necessity for doing bent laminations wider than 8". I love these, but they cost a fortune.

Bessey/Jorgensen K Body Clamps: 5/5 $$$$
K Body clamps are great for gluing up cases because of their large rectangular jaws, which provide for excellent parallel clamping. K Body clamps can also be reversed to act as spreaders. I have 36" and 50"  Bessey K-Body's, and Also a pair of 50" Jorgensen K-Body's. they are pretty much the same, though the dimensions are ever-so-slightly different. I made a set of MDF blocks so I could suspend the K-Body clamps above the bench. You can also buy lift blocks which have two perpendicular grooves, specifically for setting clamping on two axes. I treat my K-Body's terribly, and they have never cracked or racked. Both brands are high quality.


Kreg Quick Klamps: 3/5 $$$$
I am hot and cold on Kreg's products. They have a half-evolved "system" of accessories for routing, framing, and casework, the most well-known part of which is their pocket hole joinery system. I do not love pocket hole joinery. I see the advantage, for carpenters who want to do a little basic kitchen cabinetry, but for anybody who wants long-lasting cases, real joinery is far superior. Kreg's Quick Clamps are for clamping face frames onto cases. I found they also work well for clamping work to my bench, or to jigs, or clamping jigs to a tool such as my drill press table. the ones I have are 9" deep, which is a good reach, second only to the deep-jaw Bessey F-Clamps. The only problem with the Quick Klamps is that they have a vise-grip style clamping action, and the jaws can come popping apart at any time. This makes them unsafe to use around power tools.  One of my Quick Klamps won't stay shut any more, unless I carefully balance the amount of clamping pressure...and set it to just a bit less than what I really want. Since this is one out of three Quick Klamps that is partly broken, I give these a low quality ranking, hence the 3/5 score. My 9" Klamps were almost $40 each.

Festool Guide Rail Clamp: 5/5 $$$$
These low-profile clamps are meant to slide into the grooves on the underside of Festool guide rails, for clamping the rail to the work. But they are useful for sooooo much more. these clamps have the same depth as a typical F-clamp, but they're so low profile they can get into places a regular F-clamp can't. Add to that a long flat contact area on the fixed head of the clamp, and you have a very versatile clamp that is very strong, very light, and highly maneuverable. Even though they have no clutch, they never slip. For all-around elegance, these are my favorite clamp, along with the deep-jaw Bessey F-clamps.
Irwin Quick-Grip F-Clamp: small - 5/5 $$, large - 2/5 $$
Irwin makes the Quick-Grip in a range of sizes, from 6" to 48". I haven't tried anything larger than 8", because I just can't see paying for a plastic-bodied clamp for big jobs. And I'm glad I never have bought any big ones, since more than a couple of the 8" Irwins I own have disintegrated within one year of purchase. The small, light 6" clamp, however, is a marvel of clamping ease and speed. The ratcheting jaw works fast and you don't have to turn any handles. Release of clamping pressure is instant, via a trigger pull. Now, all of this works great on the littlest clamp in the family (the 6"), but the larger clamps don't really generate much clamping pressure. I only use the bigger ones as auxiliary clamps. If you want to experience the speed of the Quick Grip, do so with the 6" and work your way up. I do not recommend any but the 6".

Irwin "C" Clamp - 1/5 $
This is a horrible clamp. It is not a true C clamp, but I don't want to take the time to find out what its real name is. No clamping pressure at all. Poor construction. I never use this...never.

Pipe Clamps - 3/5 $, Bar Clamps - 5/5 $$$
Pipe clamps and bar clamps are similar to each other, and are similar in principle to F-clamps. But while pipe clamps use 3/4" steel pipe and a clutch-style moving jaw, bar clamps use a ratcheting moving jaw. If this ratchet is spring-loaded (like mine), bar clamps are loud. I traded my pipe clamps for bar clamps because the pipe clamp jaws tended to slip, no matter what brand I used. My only bar clamps are three 10-footers, because, how else can you make a 10 foot clamp on the cheap? not pictured


Handscrews - 5/5 $

I give handscrews a 5/5 not because I use them all the time - I don't. I give them a 5/5 because no other clamp has a variable jaw angle, with both jaws able to be set anywhere within a range of about 20 degrees. they are a very old, very elegant design, and handscrews "are what they are". But there are big problems with handscrews. You may have noticed I talk about maneuverability when talking about clamps. Maneuverability is important, and while handscrews may be able to clamp a range of angles, but they are very cumbersome and are limited in where they can be placed on the workpiece. Because the handles (the hand screws) stick out so far, i often find I can't fit handscrews into a small case, or near the benchtop. where most other clamps have a near-zero profile on one end, handscrews project by more than 5" on both ends.

Well, there you go! And if anybody out there thinks I missed something or got something wrong, by all means leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. I'm now sharing what I've learned hose clamps about all the different types of clamps, to help others make better investments.

    ReplyDelete