ManMade Essential Toolbox: The 5 Clamps Every DIYer Should Own

Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day. 

created at: 06/26/2015There’s an oft-heard saying among woodworking DIYers. The requisite “Measure twice, cut once,” “A sharp tool is a safe tool,” and the like. And today, we’re exploring the adage that “You can never have too many clamps,” which, as anyone who makes stuff from wood can tell you, is absolutely, undeniably, 100%, unequivocally, and most certainly, very, very, VERY true.    While having a full arsenal of a single style of clamps is great professional cabinet and furniture shops, homeowners, DIYers, and hobbyist woodworkers benefit most from a collection with a variety of styles, each designed to for different types of projects and tasks, keep you safe, and turn out great work. 

This will be part one of our clamp discussion, focusing on small clamps less than 18″. We’ll look at long bar clamps, parallel jaw clamps, pipe clamps, straps, etc, in a future post. 

OH! And I’ll repeat this at the end: don’t buy cheap clamps. They’re not worth it. They don’t create the right kind of pressure, they slip in the middle of a job, they break, and you’ll just end up replacing them with a brand you trust. Stay away from Harbor Freight, generic store brands, and stick to names you can trust. This is one place where it really, really matters. 

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1) 12″ Heavy-Duty Bar Clamps with Quick Release Clutch: Hands down, the clamps I grab the most. These are great for small glue-ups, and for holding things onto bench tops, tool tables, and attaching scraps to cuts to avoid tear-out. The clutch mechanism keeps things secure when you need it, but allows you to release them with one hand. And the screw-style mechanism allows you to provide just the right amount of pressure to get proper squeeze out, and no more. Be sure to get ones with pads on both jaws, so you don’t have to apply extra wood (cauls) to avoid denting the wood. 

Oh, and this is one case where bigger isn’t better. The long arms can actually get in the way of small jobs, limiting your ability to use them on low-clearance tools (like a drill press), inside cases or cabinets, etc. 12″-15″ is right on for this task. 

I’d get four, and keep them handy.

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2. 4″ or 6″ Deep Throat F-Clamp These are similar to the ones above, but vary in a few key ways. Instead of sliding the lower jaws with the quick-release clutch, they simply rely on sliding slip-joint pressure to hold things in place. That provides the right kind of pressure for light-to medium duty tasks, but requires two hands to operate. They also feature slightly deep jaws to approach the middle of the works. 

Buying a larger set of these is great for full glue-ups using cauls, or for general hold-down work. Just keep them small, so they remain affordable. 

I have eight of these, and rarely use fewer than four at a time. 

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3. Wood Hand Screw These are large, deep jawed clamps that require some finesse to set up, but are worth it when other clamps just won’t do. They can reach the middle of large boards, and since the jaws are wood and do not pivot, they can function like a vice for drilling, carving, or chiseling tasks. You just clamp the work in the hand screw, and clamp the hand screw to the bench or tool table. 

These are somewhat expensive and large to store, so one or two in a large and small size will work for most of us. 

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4. Spring or Alligator Clamps make quick work of light duty tasks when the stock is thin. These are more useful for holding two things together temporarily rather than holding work to a secure surface, but their incredibly useful when you need precise movement, or to hold something across the surface, rather than just up and down, like when you’re fixing a crack and don’t want to misalign the wood with pressure.

They’re also dead inexpensive (less than $2.00), so you can feel free to take them to outside jobs or send them home with a friend without having to wait for the glue to try. 

I currently have six of these, two of which have the padding all worn away. When I get down to two or three, I’ll replace with a fresh set of eight for ten or twelve bucks.

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5. Quick-Release One-Handed Clamps are great for those of use working on larger projects and who need help holding stuff together before securing with hardware. They provide adequate force and large heads, which is great for assembly. The one-hand operation is amazing. They’re a bit large for full glue-ups and not a replacement for traditional bar clamps, but for keeping things aligned while holding pieces in place, they simply can’t be beat.

Two small (6″) and two medium (12″) in a medium or heavy duty size will serve any shop well. 

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So, what? No C-clamps? C-clamps are great, and essential for metal work and automotive tasks. But for woodworking, they just aren’t necessary. The screw mechanisms take forever to open and close, and the unpadded jaws mar work. I own c-clamps, and I use them, but only after every other clamp in my arsenal is devoted to the project. They work, but the choices above will do the job better and faster for woodworking and household tasks. 

Remember, properly cared for, these will last a lifetime, so don’t skimp. And, from personal preference, when in doubt, go Jorgensen Heavy Duty or Bessey.

Here are all the links again. This would make for a seriously well-rounded set-up, indeed. 

(4x) Quick-Release Clutch Bar Clamps

(6-8x) 4″ Deep Throat Slip Clamp

(1-2x) Hand Screw 

(8x) Spring Clamps

(2x) Quick-Release One-Handed Clamps