‘Fear of grip’ doesn’t need to be paralyzing

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Just about everyone has been in the grip of fear at some time, but only woodworkers understand the fear of grip. That’s when we’ve worked for three days making parts and now we have to clamp them together.

Bessey's vertical toggle clamp.

Fear of grip involves horrible premonitions of assemblies sliding out of whack as pressure is applied or dings and dents being gouged as steel jaws chew freshly sanded surfaces. Thankfully, engineers all over the world are working hard day and night to alleviate our fears. They’ve developed two different categories of gizmos for us: those that hold things in place while we mark, scribe or drill holes (holding devices) and others that apply pressure during gluing (clamping devices).

Spring clamps and quick-release pistol-grip bar clamps are examples of the former, while pipe clamps, I-beam bar clamps and wooden hand screws are all familiar versions of the latter.

So what could possibly be new and/or different in the world of clamps? Quite a lot, actually.

The new Dorcy 100 Lumen Clamp Light is an LED flashlight — well, more of a mini-floodlight, really — that is attached to a standard spring clamp and its 15” long flexible head lets a woodworker see deep into drawer openings or the far corners of a cabinet. It uses four AAA alkaline batteries and is widely available at big box stores or online at www.dorcy.com.

There are two really handy and very inexpensive gizmos for sale online at www.menards.com. Model 2491332 is a spring clamp with a magnetic base, so it attaches to cast-iron and steel-machine parts. It’s ideal for holding a push stick against the side of a table saw cabinet or perhaps a maintenance log on an air compressor. The other jewel on that website is a tilting vise for less than $20 that clamps onto the edge of a workbench (or a sawhorse on the job site) and can tilt and twirl every which way. It’s ideal for touching up small carvings or perhaps holding parts of a frame in place while they are being screwed or nailed together.

Not quite a clamp, but still in the business of squeezing things together is the BenchJaws hands-free bench vise available from www.rockwelltools.com. It attaches to the edge of any standard workbench and has a two-position mount that allows for 90-degree repositioning in seconds. The jaws open up to 16” wide and the device can handle 220 lbs. of load while generating more than a ton of clamping force. But what’s really unique is that the clamping jaws are foot-activated, leaving both hands free to reposition work. BenchJaws has an optional multipurpose jaw that self-aligns to handle tapered, round or irregular shapes. There are plastic bench stops on top of the jaws that come with the vise, offering woodworkers a gentler option than steel. Available widely, it can be picked up at Sears for $129.99.

Bessey's level clamp.

The elegantly simple Stanley 2” x 4” Clamp is a great way for cabinet installers to bring pressure to the job site without having to haul lengths of pipe. It works with any standard 2x4 and delivers 400 lbs. of clamping force when slipped on a stud and up to 850 lbs. when bolted to the 2x4. The non-mar pads protect work surfaces and, as there is no length limit, they can be used to snug up, say, an entire wall of base cabinets — the only limitation is the length of the 2x4.

The Trak Clamp from Kreg Tool Co. (www.kregtool.com) is an inexpensive (about $6) and versatile clamp that fits the company’s Mini Trak, Top Trak or HD Trak, but will also work in a shop-built T-track made with a router bit. It can even be mounted to a benchtop or jig by drilling a 1/4” hole and then countersinking a 7/16” hole on the underside for the bolt head. Kreg also makes a 90-degree corner clamp that must have a hundred uses around the shop and on the job site. Its self-squaring design automatically aligns joints to 90-degree angle and it has a built-in quick release and a swivel head that easily adjusts for materials up to 1-1/4” thick.

Irwin Tools has been supporting woodworkers since 1885 and if it has been about that long since you bought pipe clamps, you’re in for a nice surprise. Its Quick-Grip brand has an innovative clutch system that eliminates the need for threaded pipe. Quick-Grip pipe clamps also have feet. They’re built in and extend past the clutch plates, so the clamps don’t roll around or fall over.

One clever little innovation from Pony is its Jorgenson Casework Claw (model 8540), which was designed for frameless construction. It’s a simple 90-degree clamp that holds two panels together, but what is clever about it is that there are built-in holes that allow a woodworker access to drive screws or even drill for hardware. The clamp is die-cast magnesium, which is stronger and lighter than aluminum and it has a fast screw thread that speeds things up nicely.

Another new product from Pony is the 9185 angle clamp. At first glance it looks like something we’ve seen before, but this, too, is deceptively clever. It’s a simple thing, but the back jaw swivels for clamping and squaring material of different thicknesses. That makes it a must-have for furniture builders. Another nice feature is that there is a base plate with screw slots in it, so the clamp can be attached to piece of plywood. That makes it easy to create a jig for squaring up and assembling face frames, picture frames and even drawers.

The Trak Clamp available from Kreg Tool Co.

As always, Bessey Tools has a whole bunch of new toys for woodworkers to play with. One of the nicest is its Vertical Auto-Adjust toggle clamp. There are two new versions of this device and they complement eight other models that have been available for a while. These are simply improvements on an old idea: they automatically adjust to workpiece dimensions (up to 1-9/16”) while maintaining constant clamping force (up to 550 lbs.), which means things don’t slide around. They also let you adjust the clamping force as needed, so they’re great for building jigs where multiple parts might be stacked (such as, say, nesting small components on a miter saw). Bessey’s new design is quite catching: the nicely formed red-and-black handle fits well in the hand and is big enough to allow aging fingers to work it well.

Also from Bessey is a new classiX Series lever clamp that was released late last summer. This inexpensive but very rugged device comes in clamping lengths from 4” to 20” and delivers clamping force options from 400 to 1,100 lbs. They’re really nice for working on curved and shaped laminations, as they’re small and strong with a deep reach.

The same company also came out with a handy little system in 2013, which is essentially a bar clamp where both the head and toe assemblies can slide along the bar. Called “Double Force” clamps, they are exactly that: the heads and toes are actually the same. They can be switched from clamping to spreading and a cabinetmaker or furniture builder can slide as many heads and toes as needed onto a bar. That really helps with complex assemblies and glue-ups where accurate spacing is required, such as large drawers or boxes with dividers or casework with multiple fixed shelves. There are two different thicknesses of rails available for light duty (SLV Series, up to 1,450 lbs. of clamping force) and heavy clamping pressure (GSV, up to 2,000 lbs.). And there are a number of rail length options, too. On both configurations, the sliding arms are drop forged with hardened ACME thread spindles, so they’re as tough as they’ll ever need to be. The ‘jaws’ are standard Bessey Morpads, which deliver pressure exactly where it needs to be. And because each clamp has two sliding arms and no fixed jaw, a woodworker can balance workloads more effectively and do multiple clamping or spreading operations on the same rail. What really makes Double Force clamps attractive on the shop floor is that the stops on both ends of the rail can be loosened without tools. That makes it fast and simple to change from clamping to spreading or to add extra heads. Plus, because everything slides on and off the bar so easily, the clamp can be slid through an opening in the assembly, which can really help with awkward clamping issues.

The Jorgensen casework claw clamp.
Irwin's Quick-Grip.
Bessey's SLV clamp.

Hopefully, some of these innovative and clever solutions will address your fear of grip issues. Are you feeling a little less pressure yet?

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue.

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