8 Common Woodworking Clamps

"You can never have too many clamps." It's a phrase often repeated by woodworkers. While think of clamps in terms of holding an assembly together while the glue dries, they are used throughout a project. You might clamp a board to a bench. Perhaps you'll use a clamp to hold a stop block to your miter gauge or table saw fence. Anytime you need to hold something in place while you work with it, you are likely to reach for a clamp of some kind. In this post, I'll talk about the various types of clamps that are out there and why you'd want to use one versus another.

Pipe Clamps
These clamps have been a stand-by for many woodworkers. You buy the ends of the clamp as a set and attach them to any length of iron pipe you like. Most people are familiar with the "Pony" orange pipe clamp fixtures made by Jorgensen, but there are other manufacturers as well.
Pros
  • Inexpensive
  • Can be made into any length needed
  • Plenty of clamping power
Cons
  • Heavy
  • Jaws are not parallel
  • Have to be careful in use so as not to mar the workpiece
  • Shallow reach
Bar Clamps
These clamps are similar to pipe clamps except that they come with a square or I shaped bar.
Pros
  • Resists flexing much better than pipe clamps
  • No assembly required
Cons
  • More expensive than pipe clamps
  • Somewhat heavy
  • Some versions have only pre-set positions for the movable end of the clamp.
Parallel Clamps
These clamps were first popularized by Bessey's K-Body line of clamps. As the name suggests, the main selling point of these clamps is that the faces of the clamp jaws remain parallel to each other. This makes them ideal for gluing up panels, casework, frames, and other assemblies that need to stay square. Manufacturers such as Jorgensen, Jet, and others have entered the market in recent years with their own versions of this useful clamp.
Pros
  • Deep reach
  • Jaws stay parallel
  • Wide Face
  • Stiff bar resists bowing under pressure
  • Plenty of clamping power
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Large clamp head sometimes won't fit where it's needed
F-style clamps
These are another staple in my shop. F-style clamps are useful for a variety of general purpose clamping. They have a fixed head at one end and a sliding head with a threaded handle on the other. There are also quick release versions that tighten down by just squeezing a lever, making it easier to use them one handed.
Pros
  • Useful for a variety of clamping tasks.
  • Lightweight
  • Reasonably priced
Cons
  • Unsuitable for panel glue ups
C-clamp
These clamps, named for their shape come in all different sizes. To be honest, I haven't used c-clamps much.
Pros
  • Small
  • Inexpensive
Cons
  • Slow to open and close when large adjustments in capacity are necessary.
Wooden Handscrew Clamp
These type of clamps have been around for ages. The clamp opens and closes as a result of two threaded rods. Because the rods operate independently, it's possible to skew the jaws to just about any angle. This makes it possible to hold odd shaped pieces with these clamps. Another common use is to clamp the workpiece in a wooden handscrew clamp and then clamp the clamp to your bench.
Pros
  • Hold small and odd-shaped parts well
Spring Clamps
For this clamp, think of a heavy duty clothes pin. These clamps are great for holding small parts in place for gluing or when marking or measuring.
Pros
  • Inexpensive. I picked up several at Home Depot for under $2 each.
  • Can be used one handed
Cons
  • Lightweight. These are not intended for heavy clamping.
  • They can be stiff and hard to open at their maximum capacity.
Band Clamps
As the name suggests, these clamps consist of a band with a ratcheting head used to pull the band tight around a workpiece. These clamps are good for things like mitered frames or boxes where even pressure all the way around is required.
Pros
  • Clamp capacity is limited only by the length of the band, which can be quite long.
  • Useful for mitered frames
Cons
  • Can be fussy to adjust to keep miters from slipping
  • Can damage corners if not protected by clamping blocks.

This list is far from exhaustive. There are a number of specialty clamps on the market that solve a variety of problems, from framing clamps to edge clamps and more.

So what clamps should you have in your shop? Obviously it depends, to a certain extent, on what you are doing. I generally prefer the parallel and f-style clamps most of the time, though I'll use my pipe clamps (which I bought when I was just starting out) when I've used up all the parallel clamps.

What are your favorite clamps? If you could only have one style of clamp, what would it be?

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