An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted on by an unbalanced force.
Isaac Newton figured that out more than three centuries ago and his laws of motion are still the foundation of modern physics. In the woodshop, we can use mechanical, vacuum or pneumatic devices to create Newton’s “unbalanced forces.” It sounds complex, especially because some of the most useful clamps and holding devices that a woodworker uses are unbelievably simple.
Here’s a quick look at a few of the new (and some not-so-new) clever clamps that any woodshop might find helpful, plus a handful that are pretty much indispensable.
About five years ago, a family-run business based in Anaheim, Calif., posted a short video on YouTube. It’s still online and shows the ways in which the Blokkz (blokkz.com) clamping device can be used to apply tension to tricky glue joints — pretty much anything that isn’t 90 degrees. Now, the company is offering its Universal Clamping Block in a kit that includes eight blocks, a variety of rubber pads and shims, and even a way to convert the device into a tool hold-down for use on drill presses and other equipment. It’s heaven-sent when working on corner cabinets and other multisided projects. The kit is widely available, inexpensive and small enough to pop in a shop apron pocket or take along for job-site clamping.
Bessey’s edge-gluing clamps (besseytools.com) slip onto the edge of a panel or door and then grab the surface with a couple of cams so pressure can be applied to the tape (banding) via a thumbscrew. There are two models to accommodate differing shelf thicknesses (the KF2 and KF4) and both work really well on those tricky inside concave curves.
Another edge gripper, the Jorgensen Casework Claw came out in 2013 and has recently been released in a two-pack set (item No. 8540 at ponytools.com). The device aligns parts and holds them in two directions at 90 degrees to each other, so it’s ideal for holding box or drawer parts together while assembling. It can also be used when clamping a couple of panels together and is small enough to go to an install if needed. A similar product, the Cabinetry Clamp (BES8511), is available from Bessey.
Stanley’s 2x4 clamp (model STHT83166 at stanleytools.com) allows an installer to create a bar clamp on site that’s as long as the longest 2x4 on the job. It fits in a toolbox and lets you clamp a whole wall of cabinets tightly together: just screw a few studs to each other and there’s really no limit to its length. It delivers 400 lbs. of force — more than enough to hold a few wall or base units in place while they’re secured — and can bring up to 850 lbs. to bear when the heads are actually bolted to the studs, rather than using the threaded handles (there are holes predrilled for bolts).
Sometimes it’s not so much the clamp as the accessories that affect the way we work. Irwin Tools (irwin.com) has developed several interesting ones for its basic bar clamps, including the Quick-Grip hold-down fixture. This attaches to the underside of a workbench and converts the standard one-handed bar clamp into a hold-down. The company also makes a corner clamp accessory that lets a one-handed bar clamp handle 90-degree angles (great for assembling drawers) and a very simple coupler that allows a woodworker to connect two clamps to create a longer one.
Another innovative clamp supplier is Armor Tools, which is widely distributed through catalogs and online resources such as Klingspor’s Woodworking Shop (woodworkingshop.com). The company’s Horizontal Dog Clamp pops into a 3/4” bench-dog hole and has a 7.5” peg so it can lock fairly thick stock to the workbench, using easily adjustable pressure (25 to 400 lbs.). That allows sign-makers and other specialty woodworkers to clamp and hold materials such as foam and plastic for routing or shaping. The clamp is part of an entire system that uses fences and clamps together and offers a lot of clamping versatility. It’s very quick, reducing setup time, and many of the clamps are auto-adjusting. The fences use pegs that pop into dog holes and these are adjustable to fit most benches.
The Cam Clamp mechanism from Lee Valley (item No. 05J51.01 at leevalley.com) can also use dog holes to grasp and hold work to the bench. In fact, it can be used with any 1/4”-20 threaded bolt to create a hold-down, including carriage and T-bolts. One of the best jig mechanisms around, this inexpensive (about $5) cam clamp can exert as much as 400 lbs. of force using only a thumb and forefinger to operate the handle. It makes quick work of clamping and releasing jigs and fixtures, especially when doing repetitive work.
Clamping jigs and stations
Woodshops that use biscuits to assemble casework know how tricky holding everything can be when milling slots. Versidex (versidex.com) makes a very impressive plate-joiner indexing and clamping system. Way more than just a clamp, the system delivers dust-free, extremely accurate joinery with no mechanical pressure. It uses pneumatics to hold parts in place. Next month, the company will introduce two new models, the Mini 25 and the Mini 31. These have all of the features of the full-sized models, but are much smaller in size and price. The Mini 25 will handle 95 percent of kitchen cabinet sizes, up to 24.5” deep. The Mini 31 will also do that, plus it will handle mortises into the front edges of panels up to 30.5”. It works with Lamello’s Zeta P-2 joiner, which can accommodate snap on face frames using the Tenso-14 connector or regular biscuits.
Using pneumatics and vacuum to hold parts offers a number of advantages, not least of which is that there are no bar clamps in the way when milling. Vacuums also lend themselves to some very custom work, where shaped and even carved parts can be assembled and glued without damage. A woodshop looking to build such a custom system can get all the parts and a lot of advice from companies that use the technology to build veneer presses. For example, Vac-U-Clamp (vac-u-clamp.com) offers manifolds, foot pedals, hoses, pumps and even an array of specialty adhesives. And Quality Vakuum Products (qualityvak.com) has some new Ped-Vak kits that include everything a shop needs to create a foot-operated vacuum clamp. The company has also just introduced a new clamping stand with a foot switch.
VacuumTables.com is a supplier of vacuum hold-down and floatation tables and the company caters in particular to CNC work holding.
Kreg (kregtool.com) recently released its new Clamp Table and Steel Stand Combo, which is a clamping station with two T-tracks (called Clamp Traks) located along a couple of adjacent edges so they form an L. This lets a woodworker hold all kinds of parts from face frames to door stiles and rails in position. Designed to accommodate pocket joinery, the station is ideal for lots of other applications where parts need to be clamped perfectly square to each other.
Axiom (axiomprecision.com) makes a really nice hold-down that sells for $19 a pair. Based on a 5/16” T-bolt that slides into extruded table T-slots, it’s long enough to capture nearly any material up to 3” thick. The clamping arm is aluminum and 1-1/8” wide by 5-1/4” long and it’s anodized to avoid marks on materials.
Gluing up panels hasn’t changed much through the years. The clamp beds have become a bit bigger and some of the pipe clamps have evolved into electronic or pneumatic vises. But the principle remains the same: keep the parts flat and apply even pressure. Rangate (rangate.com) offers some interesting clamping stations from the German company Barth. These multipress units feature a perforated plate on the clamping surface, which is perfect for arched or angled pieces that require special support. And if a shop adds some optional rack-and-pinion peg units, then no shape is too eccentric to clamp securely. One nice thing about Barth products is that a woodshop can gradually build up its equipment as needed, adding different-sized clamping stations that can swap and switch accessories.
For shops that aren’t quite sure whether to go with new or used when it comes to clamp tables, Ron Boose can probably help. Based in Hughesville, Pa., his RT Machine Co. supplies both new and secondhand panel clamps plus clamp racks/carriers and a vast variety of other machines to woodshops. In fact the company, which was founded in 1999, is now one of the largest industrial woodworking machinery dealers in North America. Other top-of-the-line clamping station suppliers include Castle (castleusa.com), Dotul (dotul.com), Stiles Machinery (stilesmachinery.com), SCM Group North America (http://www.scmgroupna.com/en), Doucet (doucetinc.com) and Silver (silvermachineinc.com).
One last thought: one of the most intriguing new clamping solutions is Festool’s VAC SYS. Well worth a look (VAC SYS SE 2 on festool.com), it will clamp parts for machining and finishing edges, while protecting surfaces from marring. It’s equipped with a suction base that adheres to non-porous surfaces.
This article originally appeared in the February 2017 issue.