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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