woodworking clamps explained

How Many Woodworking Clamps do you Need?

How many clamps does a woodworker need? is a question that is dependent on your type of woodworking?

If you work with sheet materials lightweight sash clamps and a few F- Clamps could be all you need. But on the other hand, if you work with solid materials and want to laminate thin pieces to make thicker sections, then you will need many clamps of higher clamping pressure. I like to use C Clamps for my laminating work.

So let’s Talk about Woodworking Clamps

In this Blog, I will go through the different types of Clamps and their uses. 

too many clamps for woodworking

How far apart should Clamps be placed?

It doesn’t take long to realise that your woodwork could be improved or at least helped if you have a good selection of woodworking clamps. laminating wood requires even clamping pressure to ensure good adhesion.  To achieve this, you need to position clamps as close as 4” (100mm) apart as the wood can spring between the clamps. Thinner the laminations the more risk of poor glue adhesion because the unclamped area between the clamps will spring away from the opposite mating surface. I consider laminations of 3/8 ” (10mm) thin, so unless you use thick blocks under the foot of the clamp to spread the compression I suggest you use more clamps.

A good starter Clamp selection

If I was to recommend a set of clamps for your first purchase I would go for traditional clamps. I do not recommend the purchase of Quick Clamps other than as a set of helping hands. I would first buy:

  • 4″ C Clamps x10
  • 6″ C Clamps x10
  • 48″ Bar Sash Clamps x4
  • 24″ F clamps x4

But clamps are expensive!

To just go out and buy a full array of clamps from a tool supplier can be a major investment. If you are setting up a professional workshop with a substantial budget it won’t be a problem.

I have built my collection over the past 30 years by

  • Buying new
  • Buying used
  • Inherited
  • Yard sales
  • And gifted from friend and family
  • And made them!

For most of us woodworkers, a collection of clamps is what we have massed over a period of time. I have searched the internet and second-hand listings to build my clamp collection.

Clamping Pressure is important

Clamping pressure is important. When joining two pieces of wood together, even clamping pressure is needed. The final strength of the join will directly reflect this.

Woden heavy duty T bar sash clamp

Some situations will not dictate to having high clamping pressure but it must be uniform. Veneering projects is a prime example of this as even pressure is more important. Veneering clamping pressure is usually applied using large surface presses or vacuum lamination systems. Veneers respond well to moderate but even pressure.

A mortise joint may require high clamping pressure so the joint mates together. Once the joint is together release a little so the joint is not pulled out of square.

We use some huge clamps with sole crushing power which would bring even the Brexiters in line. Be careful applying to much pressure as you are at risk of squeezing out the glue and making your joint weak as a result. Moderate even clamping pressure is desirable.

Laminating

Thin strips of timber are flexible so make sure you have even pressure.

If you are laminating thin timber you will require as many as one clamps every 100mm (4”) so you may need 10 or more liner meter. Thicker laminates will require fewer clamps but if you see separation then whack another one on!

Edge Glue ups

If you are glueing a tabletop you must have all the edges true and ready for jointing. But don’t forget you will need a selection of clamps. For my edge glue-ups I use:

  • Sash clamps
  • G Clamps for securing the top to the sash clamps

Your table project might benefit from some additional mechanical strength. This can be added in the form of:

  • Biscuits
  • Dowels
  • Festool dominos
  • A plywood slip
  • A wooden slip
  • A glue joint router cutter
  • Tongue and grooved

Choosing a good glue is also very important and some glues perform better than others. Ensuring good coverage in the joint is also important but try to achieve this without waste. Any glue excess will need to be removed later.

cascamite powered resin wood glue, colle à bois à base de résine alimentée par cascamite
cascamite powdered wood glue

Good glue applicators are essential. I know you see woodworkers just squeeze a line of glue but this is inefficient. I use a wallpaper roller as a spreader with some electrical tape around the roller so it is easy to clean.

You can use a brush to apply woodworking glues but you will need to clean the brush often. If you allow cascamite to start curing on the brush you will find it very difficult to clean.

Some glues are not suitable for woodworking in general such as contact adhesives. The reason for this is that wood is not porous enough for the glue to penetrate.

These glues are suited to fabrics or carpet. The method of assembly is different too when using contact adhesives. You apply the glue to each surface and wait for it to dry to a tack then mate the surfaces together.

Once the bond is made there is no repositioning. Clean up of contact glues is difficult as they cannot be sanded.

Good Glues for edge glue-ups

I use different woodworking glues in my workshop but my favourite has to be Cascamite Urea Formaldehyde powdered resin wood glue. Glues that I use.

  • Titebond
  • Gorilla
  • Yellow glues
  • White glue
  • Cascamite

The volume of clamps will be dictated by the straightness of the boards.

The best thing you can do is look along each join and check for any gaps or dry areas where the glue is not oozing out, then maybe you don’t have enough pressure? You may also need a few large G clamps to vertically clamp the joins to aid alignment, especially on the ends.

The clamp of choice here for me is the British sash clamp but there are other options such as pipe clamps which I see in the United States the first choice. For small tabletops, I use Record clamp heads on a hardwood bar of a length that is practical for the job in hand.

A biscuit joiner helps with edge  glue-up

A bit off-topic but the use of a biscuit joiner will help align wood. The biscuit joiner is a small semi-circular pressed beech joiner. This small but effective wood joining system is a great and simple solution for aligning boards. The biscuits are cheap and should not be confused with the Mc’vities digestives’ which will have not practical purpose in woodworking shop other than at tea break time!

ply slip joiner

A simple joining solution and a very strong option and my prefered option over biscuits. It mimics tongue and grooved boards like floorboarding! This method of wood joining is good for edge joining where waterproofing is important. In the marine industry ply, slip joiners are very good for deck boards or superstructure sides as it performs well in preventing water ingress.

Domino Dowellers by Festool

A new and superb wood jointing system. We use a Festool 700 XL in our workshop on a daily basis and swear by this wood joining system by Festool. As an edge joining system, it works especially well when structural integrity is required. Because the Domino joiner has a lateral tenon joining the edges together which supports the boards as well as providing alignment.

Cheap is value woodworking??

I admit I have used budget F clamps from the ‘Pound land’ type stores but not always to the benefit of a good job. The major issue I have found is that after a few uses the serrated bar wears smooth so the clamp slips in use. If I was to advocate these clamps it would only be for the purpose of one or two jobs then dispose of. But I have a serious problem with this throwaway world we live in.

Chinese Clamps

Chinese manufacturing has improved over the years. low cost importing has also made a huge difference to our buying power. There is no denying that the lower end-user cost will entice many to buy these cheap Chinese alternatives but with cuts in costs affect the quality of these clamps. I have also bought these cheap clamps and it is obvious the design is poor and areas that would normally have reinforcement are thin and as a result mine broke. The iron used is not the same as you would find in the construction of proprietary brands like Record or Stanley.

Homemade tools

So you cannot justify the cost. Homemade tools are often a suitable solution. Simple designs for jointing boards edge on can be just a pair of sliding wedges between two stops. Cam lock arrangements which work well for low-pressure jointing.

Historic brands

Iconic woodworking tool brands such a #Record or #Stanley are the first manufacturers that come to mind. I own many of these old tools which still serve me well just as they did when new. Should you invest in these basic but practical tools of the above-mentioned brands? If I had the money then ‘yes’ as the steel is superior and they are very unlikely to break unlike some of the cheap brands. Which use steel or iron that is far from top grade for the high tensile job they have to do. Bessey, Record, Stanley, Irwin are well-respected brands.

You might also be interested in our blog on the HISTORY of STANLEY TOOLS 

We have also made a video on the history of Stanley tools which you can see in the Video section at the bottom of this page.

F Clamp

F Clamp

Yet another clamp that is named after it shapes ‘The F Clamp’ a simple design which has been copied by many Chinese manufacturers but the best brand available to my knowledge is the brand ‘Bessey’ which have been around since Max #Bessey founded the Stuttgart based company in 1889 and since then it has evolved into a respected brand. The F clamp is a good clamp and is easy to use as well as being quick due to the sliding bar. Good Quality Bessey Alternative can be Purchased Here

These are available in a variety of lengths and strengths and the longer/stronger versions can be used as a sash clamp alternative. This is where quality matters and the cheap options are frankly useless. The cheap Chinese ones with crude wooden handles in red chromed bars are rubbish and available everywhere. If you are compelled in buying these then be prepared that they are only good for a few uses as the steel bar is too soft. Because of this, the serrated edge wears smooth so the F portion cannot grip so it will slide under pressure.

Fast-Grip / Irwin Quick-Grip

‘Irwin Quick Clamp’ is very handy but not ideal for glue-ups as they have a low clamping pressure but good as an extra pair of hands. Great for holding work while fixing or positioning. Many of these rapid style clamps are reversible so can help with pushing pieces of work apart or deconstruction. Being single-handed operation these have their place on the work site especially if up a ladder or step ladder securing your workpiece and if you’re like me and want to keep one hand firmly holding on! You can Buy Irwin Quick Clamp Here.

In recent years there has been a range of these rapid ratchet-style clamps come on the market including many store brands and other budget offerings but mainly the best two brands available are ‘Irwin’ & ‘Wolf’. I like the Wolf version as they have the single-handed operation in the form of the reverse ratchet backward motion instead of just release. Useful but not a G Clamp replacement in my opinion.

g clamp and c clamps storage for the wood shop

G Clamp (sometimes called C Clamp)

Sometimes known as ‘C Clamps’ but we will stick with ‘G Clamps’ and these old design concepts are a pattern which certainly does the job intended. They have high pressure and versatility in the workshop. When buying new G’s I would study the casting for flaws as bad casting can make for failure during use. These have been about for years and I still have many inherited from my Father.

These old Records and beaten up and covered in Resin from his career in boat building. They last because they are crude in design and frankly just functional. Today they are refined a bit with fine threads that benefit from chrome plating which makes them more fluid than the old ones. To Buy 6″ Record  Click here 

Sash

Sash Clamps come in many forms such as ‘Pipe  & Bar tools both have a steel bar, girder, box section or pipe for the medium to support the pipe heads unlike the wood and sash head version below: I am particularly fond of these versatile wood and iron head combo. The basic concept is that you add a length of hardwood with holes drill in for the clamping headlock pins which make these wood and iron clamps adjustable.

The thing that I really like is that one set of clamping heads can be many clamp lengths by simply making more wooden bars/beams. So economics dictated that these iron heads are a great efficient cost-effective option. In our business, we sometimes have a situation

where we have to build a door frame

record sash clamp ends
Record Sash Clamp Heads

but not too often so we need two 2.4m bar with Record heads for the frame glue-up. Our clamp heads are generally tied up with our 1.2m setups but for the occasional long clamp requirement, we have made two wooden bars which we borrow sash bar heads for them.

Should I Buy Record Sash Clamp Heads

You can purchase cost-effective sash clamp heads but the best, in my opinion, is the Record version. The casting is much stronger compared with some of the Chinese imports.  There is a cost difference but the Record model will last a lifetime and serve you well in the workshop for many years if not a lifetime. So yes you should consider good brands like Record. To Buy Irwin Record Sash Heads Click Here

If your budget is limited or you just want to save a bit so you can buy an additional head. You may want to consider an imported tool such as the Faithfull set of heads which will still serve you well. You can still get the job done effectively with Faithfull. Faithfull is a good brand that we have used on many occasions and have a collection of their tools. So I am happy to suggest Faithfull heads which you can BUY by Clicking Here. 

Picture Frame

Picture framing is one of those pastimes that need special attention to the method of clamping. Most picture frames have mitred corners which are notoriously difficult to clamp. The reason for this is that the 45° mitre joints slip and slide. You can help this by adding a mechanical joint or just a pin nail. Picture framing clamps can be in the form of 4 corner clamp heads and a strap or individual clamp heads such as this Stanley

My Conclusion on these tools

if you are serious about woodworking then starting a useful collection should now be your obsession. I own over 300 hundred and still run out when on a  session. This disease is not documented in any medical journal but should be. I find this time served tradition of collecting, the ‘Penny Black’ of woodworking.

The feeling I get when squeezing up a project is the therapy that allows me to subject the workpiece into submission. The alpha male in me that gets satisfaction from inflicting the squeeze! Joking aside if you are to participate in many projects a good selection of good woodworking tools is a must.

A good collection takes time and you should not get too despondent if your budget s prohibitive. Start your collection by buying the bare minimum for your current job in hand offsetting the cost to the client or missus!. Like mentioned above there are cheap Chinese copies of propriety brands such as Record or Bessey and some are very good for the price by the originals are almost always better.  The fact is if you need to join timber together you will likely need a way to clamp them.

The links for products within are article are Affiliate Links and we are paid a commission.

We make architectural woodworking projects such as ‘Volets’ that we sell via this site www.wallybois.com

Please Comment Below

I hope you found this article useful or at least interesting and I kindly ask for your comment below. Have a look at our other blog posts on woodworking on many woodworking related subjects including our Plane collection or woodworking glues. Our core business is woodworking but we enjoy sharing our knowledge on woodworking subjects sharing techniques and findings.

 

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