I was chatting with a woodworker from County Galway in Ireland recently and he kept complaining about cramps. I know it rains a lot there and rheumatism is an issue, but he didn’t sound like he was in pain. It turns out that in Ireland and in other dusty corners of the old Empire, woodworkers still call clamps cramps.
A woodshop needs two kinds of clamps. Traditional ones hold work for machining and assembly at the workbench, while another generation hold parts in place on CNCs. There’s a lot happening in both of those areas. And some of the new solutions are designed to eliminate cramps in your hands.
Take, for example, Bessey’s new Pivot Handle clamps. They have a deep jaw with a 4-3/4” reach and a clamping force of up to 1,100 lbs. But what sets them apart is a hinged handle that can be swiveled 90 degrees to give a woodworker just the right angle for exerting enough pressure. The handle can also rotate 360 degrees for access in tight spots. There are five lengths: 10”, 12”, 16”, 20” and 24”.
The new CK22T Centipede workbench tabletop from Bora Tool in Troy, Mich. complements the company’s Centipede work stand. Designed for easy toting to the jobsite, the combination can support up 2,000 lbs. It has an industry standard 3/4” bench-dog hole pattern, so it accommodates lots of clamps and accessories from Bora and other manufacturers. And in October, Bora introduced its new Speedhorse XT (model PM-4550), a sawhorse with extendable legs that can raise the working height in 1” increments from 30” to 36”. Each horse can support 1,500 lbs. and has instant setup with the pull of a lever. They fold up in seconds and can be used on uneven terrain as the legs adjust individually.
A new vacuum table from Minnesota-based Betterly Tools (betterleytools.com, item 710) has a top that accepts gasket material. That means it can be set up as a vacuum clamp to hold a large variety of shaped parts for machining. Just move the gasket for different patterns and shapes. The plate is 14-5/8″ square and a pneumatic vacuum pump is included. Or the tabletop can be purchased separately if a woodworker wants to use an existing pump. The top can also be used to hold workpieces on a small desktop CNC, depending on the machine’s Z travel. For the shop or jobsite, the table has a steel stand that can be bolted to the floor if needed while milling, routing, sanding or finishing parts. The table comes with 60” of gasket material.
The new Multifunction bench (item 1060, catalog No. 33820) from Sjöbergs is solid beech with a large array of dog holes. A luthier had contacted Sjöbergs and asked for something to secure some very differently shaped parts. The company came up with the Multifunction, which partners with its ST11 holdfasts to create infinite top-side possibilities. The bench is also fitted with front and rear vices.
Armor Tool (armor-tool.com) in San Diego offers several pre-drilled maple tops and benches, plus a huge range of fixtures.
The Clamp Vise (item KBC3-VISE, $67.99) from Kreg Tool Co. (kregtool.com) combines one of the company’s 3” bench toggle clamps with an anodized aluminum plate that mounts to the side or end of your bench. It even comes with a couple of bench dogs so it can be used to hold work on top of the bench as well as against the side or end of the bench. Thanks to Automaxx, the Bench Clamp adjusts to match the material automatically with a simple squeeze of the handles — whether the material is thick, thin, or in between. The clamp allows easy regulation of clamping pressure with a simple thumbscrew.
Rockler’s new Bench Cookie Connect is a much larger version of the original Bench Cookie, and each of its four quadrants has high-friction rubber pads on the faces. They can hold a workpiece steady during operations such as sawing, sanding or routing, and the quadrants can be snapped together to form a jumbo 7-1/8” diameter cookie. The new cookie is the same thickness as Rockler’s original Bench Cookie Plus, so they can be used together. Each quadrant also has a threaded insert for mounting optional accessories such as sawhorse clips or risers.
The new Universal Workbench Vise from Garrett Wade (item 05R10.06, $175) is a great shop addition for carvers, pattern makers and the like. It’s designed for clamping non-parallel objects and irregular shapes. It has a 5-1/2” jaw opening capacity, and both rubber-lined wood jaws pivot 360 degrees. The wooden jaws can be removed or modified, and the vise mounts to work surfaces up to 6″ thick. It can be attached to a scrap of 2x4 and locked into a bench vise.
In September, the Matchfit Dovetail Clamp AP from MicroJig (microjig.com) was honored with a Pro Tool Innovation award. The clamp head slides along standard dovetail grooves that a woodworker routs in wood, rather than in metal T-track. The clamp has an 8-1/2” capacity and has an innovative two-way clamping force – it pushes in and down simultaneously. That makes it especially useful when assembling edge-glued panels. A coil prevents the arm from dropping, which is a huge convenience when you’re alone and working on longer parts.
Pony Jorgensen has a short blog article on ponyjorgensen.com that explains how to take care of clamps. It can be printed and handed to new employees, who will hopefully heed it and avoid excessive glue build-up on threads, pipes and bars.
Better Vacuum Cups (BVC, online at greenbvc.com) in Chino Hills, Calif. has introduced the DS132147 spoil-board flat table cup, which lets woodshops avoid removal of the spoil-board and hole plugging. With its double-sided seal, a shop can rotate or place the cup anywhere on the spoil-board. It can be used with solid wood, plastic, composites and other materials, and it raises the material off the table for edge work. The full-size cup can be used to do large parts, or it can be sectioned off with gasketing to handle smaller parts. It is also offered as a stackable option for 5-axis work. (This cup is not for a grid table: it’s used on top of an existing spoil-board.)
For shops assembling furniture and casework, Biesse America (biesse.com) offers the Cosmo, a self-adjusting electro-mechanical clamp that can generate serious pressure without pneumatics. The user-friendly, compact machine is designed to reduce assembly time and increase accuracy. Just plug it in, program the timer and the clamp takes over. Vertical and horizontal pressure can be independently adjusted as the clamps move along large trapezoidal screws, driven by asynchronous motors. The frame is electro-welded, and always perfectly square.
Another solution for accurate glue-ups is the Omec SCM 1200, a hydraulic drawer clamp that is imported by Macoser Woodworking Machinery (macoser.com) in Charlotte, N.C. The company says that the clamp is unique because the operator assembles loose drawer parts in the clamp itself, rather than having to do it on the workbench first. Pneumatic cylinders lock in the drawer sides and springs guide the fronts and backs. A pneumatic vacuum holds the drawer bottom in place while the hydraulic cylinder compresses the box. Total time from loose parts to a completed box is less than a minute. It handles drawers from roughly 9-1/2” to 26” deep, 11” to 43” wide, and up to about 10” tall. The company also offers machines that glue and clamp, and others that dovetail.
Most woodworkers have a pretty good handle on compressed air technology, but many of us find vacuum technology a bit tricky to understand. The team at Busch Vacuum Pumps in Virginia Beach, Va. understands that, so they’ve put together a list of ten topics to help woodshops use vacuum technology as effectively and efficiently as possible. The article covers the different types of pumps, sizing a system, choosing between local and centralized options, vessels and buffers, energy costs and more. If you’re new to vacuum clamping, it can be found at buschvacuum.com.
VacuumTables.com has its headquarters and primary manufacturing facility in Chicago, with a sales office and distribution center in Miami. The company makes vacuum tables for CNCs that eliminate the need for clamps and other mechanical devices. Sold under the brand name Graphic Parts International (GPI), they hold flat parts tightly and perfectly in place so a shop can machine the entire exposed surface with uninterrupted passes. The company also offer custom-built Smart Retrofit vacuum tables up to 8’ wide x 25’ long.
Vac-U-Clamp (vac-u-clamp.com) makes tools powered by vacuum. Company president Barney Rigney says that a vacuum, properly applied, can be the most effective energy source in any shop. His company makes a broad line of laminating and forming machines, and he is a font of knowledge when woodworkers need to expand into this arena.
Of course, vacuum clamping isn’t restricted to laminating or CNC work holding. A vacuum press can be one of the most useful and cost-effective tools in the woodshop, according to the folks at Quality Vakuum Products in Hudson, Mass. (qualityvak.com). They even have some guidance on their website about using a vacuum press to dry wood!
I wonder if reducing moisture content would reduce the number of cramps – I mean clamps – in the woodshop?
This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue.