C is for Clamps




I know, I know: you can never have too many clamps.

The thing is, clamps are like lawyers. When you don't need them, even just a couple are too many, cluttering up your life and getting in the way of getting things done. But when you're in a spot where DO need them, it always seems like you're desperate to have a few more on your side to get the job done properly, and you wish you'd spent the money to get them!

I have more clamps than what you see here. The long clamps with the deep jaws (pictured to the left) are perfect for bookcases. I have a bunch of shallow jaw pipe clamps and bar clamps, too. They range from little 2-foot shorties to 6-footers. For anything longer than 6 feet, I set one clamp against another to extend the reach out.

Fun fact: if you reverse the faces on a pipe clamp, you can use the clamp as a spreader. Instead of pushing IN, the faces push OUT. This is dead useful for working with bowed, warped or racked wood. Set some clamps pulling in, others pushing out and reshaping wood is no problem. New lumber is usually square, but old wood has more character. You just have to persuade it to do what you want.

I generally pick up my C-clamps, D-clamps and other small work clamps at garage sales. On a recent project, I used every single one of my C-clamps (in the picture above) and wished I had a dozen more. I was building some shallow-frame cabinet doors for a bedroom facelift. I'd trimmed out some oak veneer plywood for the backpanels, using a trick I came up with a number of years ago. I set my table saw to a 45-degree angle and just a 1/16 depth, enough to score the surface of the wood. Multiple passes on 1" spacing turned regular 1/4" plywood into light beadboard - same look, at a fraction of the cost of the professionally milled stuff.

The problem was that those panels were very thin. The frames were made of 3/8" red oak strips. I tried using a biscuit joint on the corners, but even my thinnest biscuits - the #0 variety - left me without enough material to get a good joint. I had no choice but to rely on glue joints exclusively. The key to making glue joints secure is to use the glue properly and to clamp it evenly and well. I set the pieces, taped them closed with sacrificial gorilla tape, then used a clamp at each corner and two on each side, to give minimum distance between clamp points. When you multiply that by three doors, the number of clamps needed adds up. It took every clamp I had, but the doors turned out great.

To reiterate: you can never have too many clamps.

Final thoughts on clamps: My clamps are stored overhead, out of the way but easily accessible. Those fast-release one-hand clamps are cute, but they don't grip as hard as I'd like. I always feel like I'm going to break them when I really crunch them down. Also, I don't have any strap clamps, because I don't have enough call for them. For the kind of irregular clamping that you'd use straps for (like repairing chair legs), I use twisted rope clamps or block the piece into a jig with wedges.

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24 comments:

  1. I'd like to see a photo of the finished product!

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    1. I'll see if I can post one to Twitter. 8-)

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  2. That is the best use of FUN FACT that I can summon. I'm imagining you giggling madly as you reverse the faces on a clamp, much to the terror of your robot patient.

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    1. It's like a torture scene... me tightening the screws, the wood screaming and cracking in agony...

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  3. I never have dealt much with clamps, but I remember the one my dad used to have with wood working.

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    1. Everybody should have a few kicking around. Dead useful.

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  4. Love the overhead storage, very clever! Strap clamps? Hm. I've always used tie-downs for that kind of thing. :-P

    Around here, clamps (and anything else remotely useful) often turn up missing when you need them, having migrated to the farm for something or another. To compensate, I occasionally find one in the road, usually needing only a little WD-40 to get 'em turning.

    A C-clamp is also very useful for changing brake pads, to push the cylinder back into to the caliper to make room for the newer thicker pads. Of course, last time I did brake pads, all my C-clamps were missing, so I made do with a huge screwdriver (another road-find).

    Count me in for wanting to see pix of your cabinet doors.

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    1. I almost made "Overhead storage" the entry for "O".

      Yeah, I pitch a fit when my tools go missing. Nothing is worse than reaching for a tool, only to find that it's been absconded with. Or screwed up somehow.

      I had to laugh at the brake job reference. Yeah, I've done that cylinder compression, too. I have a deep-jawed D-clamp that gives me a bit more room. Between that and a big old screwdriver, I'm all set.

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  5. I've always had the most use for those metal ones that you screw tight- they hold the best of anything.

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    1. Yep - the ubiquitous C-clamp. Friend to homeowners everywhere.

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  6. I stopped by for the A to Z challenge and stumbled across a gem! Love your work. I quite like those fast release clamps for cutting and routing.

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    1. Thanks for reading! I like the ease of clamping & release, but not so thrilled with strength of hold.

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  7. Clamps are the best. I have a bunch in my crafting supplies and I go to them often for gluing leather and just clamping items together. My Grandfather used to sail and the shop was always full of them.

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    1. Sailmakers and boatbuilders have some of the coolest clamps & jigs!

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  8. As a lawyer doing the A to Z Challenge, I love your circular argument, you can never have too many clamps, clamps are like lawyers, you can never have too many lawyers. But then, my A to Z is more theatre than law, so my C should have been clamps too, they're what keep our sets up!

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  9. Despite a handful of paid writing gigs, my day job is at my husband's boat repair shop, so your A to Z posts about tools really hit home. I'm not particularly good at fixing anything, but I get a kick out of all the nomenclature associated with it. The other day, for instance, I placed an order for a, "sacrificial anode," and while I was on hold, I began riffing on that phrase and all that it could mean...

    Hubby's not a blogger, but I think he'll get a kick out of your A to Z posts. I'll definitely point him your way.

    ~Tui Snider
    @mentalmosaic
    www.mentalmosaic.com/blog

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    1. Thanks for reading! I hope you and your husband enjoy the ride!

      Sacrificial anode? Is that like a set of zincs to protect the hull and prop?

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  10. sometimes I use clothes pins for clamps. I have the big plastic ones and when I need a clamp I use those

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  11. My husband would tend to agree with you. Clamps and clutter rule our household.

    Damyanti @Daily(w)rite
    Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2013

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z
    #atozchallenge

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  12. Clamps and lawyers . . . lol funny.

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  13. I'm sensing a #FridayFlash story with a clamp as the murder weapon. Maybe I just played too much Clue when I was young.

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  14. Ha, I'll have to hide this post from my hubby ;)

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  15. I got the clamps at a disco once after kissing Mary Mc Cutcheon's sister for over an hour.. oh and then I got impetigo ..or facial jock rot, as my dad called it..

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