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Basics of Clamps
After “measure twice, cut once,” the most well-known woodworking saying is “you can’t have too many clamps.” And it’s true. But you can have enough clamps. For 90 percent of assembly jobs, called “glue-ups” by the veterans, a few sets of a few types of clamps will do the trick.
The great thing about woodworking projects is that yellow glue works for almost every joint, and it is stronger than the wood itself—but only if the joint is clamped properly. And for that you need the right type of clamp, and not just one of them in most cases.
There are many, many types, and you will collect lots of them over the years. But here are the ones to start with:
For small workpieces and assorted clamping jobs of all kinds, you’ll need a set of small bar clamps, sometimes called F-style clamps based their shape. Get the medium- or heavy-duty models. They will last forever and work great.
Small bar clamps: Small bar clamps like these 8-in. models above are the workhorse of the shop. They can apply plenty of pressure directly onto joints, and they don’t move the workpieces out of alignment as you twist the handles.
Quick-grip clamps: Quick-Grip-style clamps are not as precise as bar clamps, but they let you keep one hand free to hold workpieces in place. Just a couple of these are all you need.
Pipe clamps: For long clamping jobs, like cabinets and bookcases, pipe clamps are the most affordable option. They attach to standard plumber’s pipe, and so can be made as long as you need. Get the 3/4-in. size, not the 1/2-in., because the pipe will be more rigid, and buy at least 4 sets—or 8 if you can afford them.
In the photo above, a woodworker glues up a large tabletop from individual boards, using pipe clamps. Note how he alternates the clamps over and under the panel. That will keep the panel flatter. And he is using C-clamps to keep the ends of the boards level with each other.
Parallel-jaw clamp: The BMW of woodworking clamps is the parallel-jaw clamp. They are expensive, but they do almost everything other clamps can do, plus a few things they can’t, like standing on end out of the way while the glue dries. You don’t NEED these, but it sure is nice to have at least four in the 3-ft. length.
Square glue ups: The jaws on parallel-jaw clamps are long and flat, so you need fewer clamps and they keep assemblies perfectly square. Also, glue won’t stick to the jaws, and the jaws won’t mar the wood.
Flat glue ups: And best of all, the jaws are parallel, which means this frame-and-panel door stays flat and true. What more can ask for in a clamp?
C-Clamps: A few C-clamps are worth having, too, and they don’t cost much. They fit into tight places, and are great for odd little jobs like attaching a temporary fence to the base of a router.