Where Did I Put That Clamp?

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Pinch Dogs At WorkYou will never have enough money to buy all the clamps you need. One reason is Murphy’s Law – no matter how many you buy, the clamp you need is the one you don’t have.  Another reason is there are too many different kinds of clamps to buy. The list is huge and growing daily. C-clamps, bar clamps, pipe clamps, hand clamps, vise clamps, and let’s not forget the clamp you use to clamp your other clamp to your work bench!!

It really doesn’t matter how big your shop/garage is – clamps are never where they’re supposed to be. Oh sure, there’s the bar clamp rack on one wall. You remember the day you put it up, all happy because finally there’d be a rack to hang your clamps on.  No more looking in the corners or behind benches for that hiding four-footer!  What a beautiful memory – you organized your clamps by size – small clamps to the left, longer clamps to the right.  That lasted a while, until you ran out of room for fall offs and you leaned that panel against the rack just for a bit, and then another one, and another one… Yep, you got it.  Now you’re looking for your clamps behind that bench again….

Different Clamps for Different Jobs

Bar Clamping For Butt Joints
Bar Clamping For Butt Joints

Since you can’t buy every clamp known to man, keep the ones on hand that you’ll use the most. If you glue up a lot of panels, then bar clamps, I-beam clamps, and pipe clamps will be in your arsenal. If budget matters, then pipe clamps certainly can fit the bill. Keep a supply of different lengths of ¾” pipes around and you’ll find that a few pipe clamps can go a long way. These pipe clamps average around $15 apiece, and popular manufacturers include Irwin, Jorgensen, and Bessey.

If you have some old clamps you found in your grandfather’s garage – you know, the ones that have no name, don’t look like anything you’ve ever seen before, and aren’t exactly easy to use – keep ‘em and figure out how to use them.  Chances are they’ll be among your best –  working great and not rusted because granddad kept a light film of oil on all metal surfaces.

Bench Clamps
Let’s say you love using your router. Bench clamps are a router’s best friend and come in – what else? – at least a million different kinds and sizes. Toggle clamps and pinch dogs work great. But if you really want your bench top for clamping versatility, then do this:  Mark your  bench top with an 8” grid and drill a ¾” thru hole at every intersection of the grid pattern.  Buy some Jorgensen Hold-Downs or Sjoberg Holdfasts and clamp away. Use a hammer to wedge the  Jorgensen Hold-Downs snug, and when you’re done, a light tap with the hammer will loosen them up. The Sjoberg Holdfasts tighten up in the holes using the same principle but are tightened with a screw-like action and a wooden handle.  The Scandinavians rock the clamping world in my book.

So what have we learned here: you can’t own every clamp made, even if you did, you wouldn’t be able to find the one you need anyway, wall racks are a great idea in theory, and if you don’t know what kind of clamp to buy, ask a Swede or a Norwegian. In a later article we’ll discuss pinch dogs and the effects they are having on PETA.

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About Brad

Brad Baker is Vice President of Operations at Miller Woodworking in the Los Angeles area, designers and builders of custom cabinetry and interior millwork for the rich and famous. They make the impossible, and their work has been featured in fancy schmantsy architectural glossies more than a few times. All that high end creative stuff aside, he maintains a strong spiritual belief that the real sign of a good woodworker is all 10 fingers. He and his wife Ann Baker co-write for HomeFixated. Ann is CEO of Publicity Pros, a firm that provides “All Things Publicity” services and training for small businesses. She’s a hopeless nerd who revels in anything and everything having to do with the technology of attracting attention. And, no joke, she loves to bake.

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4 thoughts on “Where Did I Put That Clamp?”

  1. There are plans on line for shop made clamps. Before I bought some pipe clamps these were all I had. Still use them today.

  2. Hey Tom, I’ll give you $30 for the lot! 😉

    Where does one get a bunch of lengths of 3/4 pipe? Does one or both ends need to be threaded? I mostly use small clamps (12″ or less) but want to get a number of bar clamps for a cabinet project.

  3. Keep an eye on Craigslist, I once found a goldmine of clamps from a guy who made a couple guitars in his apartment. The ad stated: “about 30 C clamps and 10 bar clamps of various sizes. $25 for all.”

    When I got to his place I did a double take. Some were Jorgensons that retailed for over $25 each, but some were Harbor Freight cheapies but still would have been $5-10 each, but you can never have too many clamps.

    Here is a pic of them


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