All About Clamping: Wood Clamps & How to Use Them
Pro woodworkers share their best clamping tips, tricks and recommendations for perfect glued joints every time.
Favorite Clamps Just Got Better
We've had an older version of CH Hanson's giant locking C-clamps for more than 30 years, and we dearly love them. Mostly we've used them for clamping cabinets together while screwing together the stiles. They're also handy for deep clamping where ordinary C-clamps won't reach. But we love the new CH Hanson Automatic Locking C-Clamps With Swivel Pads even more. That's because you never have to adjust a screw for clamping width. Amazingly, they do it automatically. The only adjustment is for pressure. Several sizes of the clamps are available online. Our favorite is the 19-in. (No. 18201).
Hand Screws for a Quick Vise
Old-fashioned hand screws still have a place in the tool kit, for several reasons. Here's one. You can make a quick vise for holding boards on edge with a few hand screws and small bar clamps. Set the hand screws to about the thickness of your workpiece, clamp them down, and you're set to go. You can use the same trick for doors, but clamp the hand screw so it extends past the end of the sawhorse.
We love these clever plywood clamp extenders to use when bar clamps are too short to do the job. It sure beats the old trick of joining two bar clamps in the middle. If you've tried that, you know it never works very well. Plus, this has the advantage of putting more pressure all along the edge of the boards rather than just where the end of the clamp is.
Clamping With a Caulk Gun
If you need a clamp that you can operate one-handed, and you don't have a commercial one around, use a caulk gun. It grabs only along the edge, but it may do the trick.
T-Stands for Everything
T-stands have any number of uses in a shop. Use them on your workbench, on sawhorses, even on the floor. Set projects on them for painting and staining, use them as drying racks when you're finishing trim boards, rest cabinets on them when you're clamping on a face frame, and lay planks on them for gluing and clamping. They stack together neatly and don't take up a lot of precious shop space.
Sandwich Sheet Metal Sawing
Ever gouged up your hand while plowing through sheet metal with a pair of snips? Or been dissatisfied with an uneven, crinkled edge? Next time, try this sacrificial plywood sandwich technique. You'll bid farewell to wavy edges and undeleted expletives, and cut a dead-straight line every time. Here's how:
Clamp the metal between pieces of 1/2-in. or 3/4-in. scrap plywood and clamp on a straightedge to guide a circular saw. Now just saw through the sandwich using a carbide blade. This tip is for cutting thin sheet metal only, not thicker plate steel.
P.S. This sandwich technique also produces great results when you're drilling holes through sheet metal.
Notched-Jaw Hand-Screw Vise
Hand screws are ideal for holding cylindrical workpieces if
you saw notches in the opposing jaws with your handsaw
(one small notch for thin pipe or dowels and a second, larger
one for big stuff). Now pieces won't slip or revolve as you
carve, sand or saw. And don't worry; your notched hand screw
will still work fine for regular clamping jobs.
Stretchy Pipe Clamps
Moaning again that your pipe clamps aren't
long enough to assemble your new "monsterpiece"?
Pipe down and quit whining! A few
extra 2- and 4-ft. pipe segments plus a handful
of pipe couplings are all you need for
the extra-long or extra-wide job. Screw
couplings and extra pipes to those too-short
pipes to create the needed
lengths. If the clamps are under the
wood, add spacers slightly higher
than the couplings perpendicular
to the pipes. When you're
finished, unscrew and store
the extra pipes with couplings
and you'll be ready
for the next jumbo
project that comes
down the pipeline.
Gentle-Grip Pipe Clamps
Attach short pieces of 1/2-in. plywood to pipe clamp jaws to protect board edges from dings and dents while gluing. First, drill holes on the upper ends of the jaws so you can screw on the plywood pieces with No. 8 x 5/8-in. sheet metal screws. Then drill holes in short pieces of 1/2-in. plywood 1/8 in. larger than the pipe diameter, slide the pieces on the pipes and screw the jaws to the plywood pieces with the sheet metal screws. Now you won't be fumbling around with pieces of wood to stick between the boards and clamps—they're permanently in place.
Prevent Clamp Stains with Wax Paper
Moisture in glue triggers a reaction between iron and chemicals in wood (called "tannins"). The result is black stains on the wood, especially with tannin-rich woods like oak or walnut. A strip of wax paper acts as a barrier between the clamp and the wood. You can also use wax paper to keep glue off your cauls.
Shift Clamps to Square Your Work
To check the squareness of a cabinet frame or box, take diagonal measurements. If the measurements aren't equal, shift the positions of the clamps. In this photo, we exaggerated the shift for clarity. In most cases, a slight shift will do the trick. Sometimes, shifting just one clamp will pull the assembly into square.
Put the Pinch on Miter Joints
A pair of notched "pinch blocks" puts clamp pressure right on the miter joint. This approach is especially good for picture frames because it lets you deal with one joint at a time rather than all four at once. Position the blocks shy of the mitered ends so you can see how the joint lines up.