Here’s the woodworking process in a nutshell. We take large parts, cut them into small parts, and then stick them back together in a different arrangement. Whether it’s sheet goods, hardwood boards or man-made materials, they all need to be chopped up and reassembled. In many shops that latter process is manual where bar and pipe clamps do the work, but there are alternatives – and the options here depend on the scale of production. Even small, one-man woodshops can find affordable solutions that speed up the assembly process while also making it far more accurate. It can be a real pain to get a door nice and square, leave it glued and clamped overnight, and discover the next morning that it wasn’t quite flat. The right clamping/assembly system will avoid that.
James L. Taylor Mfg. (jamesltaylor.com) has been designing and building woodworking machines in New York’s Hudson Valley for more than a hundred years. The company has three manufacturing divisions, and one of those is JTL Clamps which supplies woodworkers with fixtures and machinery for edge gluing, miter squaring, stile and rail squaring, drawer and face frame assembly, and even entry door clamping. One of the more popular solutions is a combination panel clamping station on one side of a rack, with a door squaring and clamping set-up on the other. Called the Buddy System, it takes up a minimal footprint in the woodshop while adding high-end, professional results to what have been space eating and problematic processes.
And they’re not just for small shops. The entry-level Buddy System is an 8’-long device that can produce up to 50 panels and 100 cabinet doors a day, while the 12’ Big Buddy can about double that output, according to the company. The latter has a 38” x 97” door capacity, so it can handle large pantry doors and sliding barn door assemblies. Its panel edge-gluing capacity includes 30 40”-long clamps on five levels, and it’s available with 52”-long clamps. The door assembly side can handle two doors simultaneously, and it’s operated with pneumatics. The cross clamps adjust in a single motion, so it’s very fast. The smaller machine has a 26” x 62” capacity for doors, and 18 panel edge-gluing clamps (again, 40” or 52”). There’s also a Buddy machine for assembling mitered doors.
Castle Inc. (castleusa.com) in Cataluma, Calif. offers three face frame assembly tables in 4’ x 5’, 4’ x 8’ and 4’ x 12’ sizes. These are primarily designed to hold assemblies tight and square while the screws for pocket joints are driven home. A clamping arm glides smoothly along an open beam at the top of the table (more than one arm can be used), and larger face frames can extend beyond the top of the table. The clamps have dual handles and centered activation for easy clamping from either direction.
Kreg Tool has a new 4’ x 8’ face frame assembly table (item KFT4X8) with four clamping cylinders that can be precisely adjusted, applying great pressure to the joint line on almost any size frame. The table stands at a 30-degree angle, using less floor space and prevents back strain. The aluminum squaring fence on the left side of the table retracts out of the way to accommodate frames longer than eight feet, and each clamping cylinder can be independently controlled.
For production runs, Biesse North America (biesse.com/na) offers the fairly compact Cosmo self-adjusting clamp that squares up and clamps box assemblies. The woodworker glues up the parts and pops them in the Cosmo, and two walls (one vertical, one horizontal) then close in and hold the assembly in position for a programmed length of time.
Among the assembly solutions from SCM Group in Duluth, Ga. is the Formula Clamp 2500, which has a simple and rapid vertical beam positioning system that allows for very easy hydraulic cylinder adjustments. The cylinders’ pressure is controlled by practical levers and a control panel, and there’s a locking cock for maintaining pressure. The work area is 98” x 70”.
Stiles Machinery in Grand Rapids, Mich. (stilesmachinery.com) carries a number of larger door and frame assembly tables in various configurations. Among them are the 280 Series of tables from Unique Machine & Tools Co., which is also available through Hermance Machine Co. (hermance.com) and J&G Machinery (jgmachinery.com). They come in 3’ x 6’, 4’ x 8’ and 6’ x 12’ options, and include a pneumatic foot valve, a dual zone option (for more than one cabinet door at a time), and the ability to handle 5-part and mitered assemblies. Stiles can supply double-sized cylinders for shops that are assembling very large or heavy projects.
The MT-110 face frame assembly table from Dotul (dotul.com, distributed by Global Sales Group and Akhurst Machinery) is a heavy-duty unit that uses sliding arms to put downward pressure on frame joints. Movable side clamps can be positioned to provide lateral pressure while the operator screws the face frames together, or when assembling a cabinet door. It has an ergonomically angled work surface that helps reduce operator fatigue, and a large work area that can accommodate multiple frames or cabinet doors when using the optional second clamping arm. Tables are available in a range of sizes from 4’ x 8’ to 5’ x 12’.
Quebec-based Doucet (doucetinc.com) offers two categories of clamping solutions for casework. There are seven models of door and drawer clamps that include specific machines for cope and stick, mitered doors, mortise and tenons, and drawers. And there are also a number of ways to assemble panels, ranging from manual and hydraulic clamp carriers to robotic operators. It’s a versatile system. For example, the SRM Manual Clamp Carrier is entirely modular, allowing an easy upgrade to the SRX Hydraulically Powered Clamp Carrier as production needs grow.
The Multi-Clamp from Schmalz Inc. in Raleigh, N.C. (schmalz.com) is a vacuum clamp that’s designed to hold small- to medium-sized workpieces. It has a huge range of pivot and rotation positions. The parts are held in place with a Venturi vacuum that’s created with the shop’s regular compressed air or with a dedicated pump.
A similar clamp is available from Festool (festool.com). The new Vac-Sys (item 201065) can be outfitted with one of several different pad shapes and provides machining access to parts from all sides with a single setup. Two can be used at the same time for larger, heavier workpieces: simply attach the second clamping unit to the first, hook up the vacuum pump and the foot valve, and go to work. Festool also carries a range of specialty and F-style clamps.
When it comes to assembly clamps, few manufacturers offer the range and innovation of Bessey Tools North America (besseytools.com). Located about an hour west of Niagara Falls, the company has released several new products over the past year or so that can make a cabinetmaker’s day go a little better. Among them are Pivot Handle clamps where the handle on an F clamp swings 90 degrees and gives the operator a whole lot more torque, and the GearKlamp that incorporates the turning handle right onto the bar so a woodworker can reach formerly unreachable tight spots.
Another clever assembly aid, the Kliss clamp from FastCap, is both simple and very inexpensive. The device holds doors and panels on edge while they are being fitted for hardware, or perhaps micro-adjusted with a hand plane during the assembly process.
For unique art furniture, oddball shapes or even luthier projects, Armor Tool in San Diego (armor-tool.com) carries small versions of an edge-glued butcherblock worktable with a 3” pattern of 3/4” dog holes, and all the clamps that go with that. The stands are powder-coated steel and have 5” of height adjustability plus heavy-duty leveling feet. The clamps have Armor’s patented Auto-Adjust technology, which maintains the same clamping pressure even when parts of different thickness are being held. And that pressure can be easily adjusted. The variety of clamp and fence options is quite impressive.
The 28” x 40” sized T-Track Table Top from Rockler (rockler.com, item 46654) is the foundation for a clamping and assembly system that features a whole slew of clever clamps and jigs.
Woodworkers looking for a state-of-the-art assembly bench may want to stop by the Sjoberg website (sjobergs.se/en) and check out the two dozen or so options available, plus all the accessories. Prepare to drool.
Diversified Woodcrafts (diversifiedwoodcrafts.com) makes a handy clamping bench (item GCT-DP) with a built-in drip pan to catch excess glue. The heavy gauge steel sides of the tabletop are notched to hold 17 pipe or bar clamps. It also doubles as a clamp storage rack when not in use. The legs are solid maple and the dimensions are 72” wide x 36” deep x 32” high.
Charles G.G. Schmidt & Co. in Montvale, N.J. (cggschmidt.net) carries a device called Larry’s Clamp that lines up boards when edge gluing a panel. It’s a portable pneumatic clamp that a woodworker uses to get all the boards even before tightening a pipe or bar clamp. Once the pipe clamp is in place, the operator moves Larry’s Clamp to the next location, evens up the edges of the boards again, and then applies another pipe clamp. The open-ended clamp is available in 18″, 22″ and 36″ lengths.
Finally, Peachtree (ptreeusa.com) and several other retailers carry the Fulton Panel Max system, an inexpensive way to apply pressure on both faces of a panel while tensioning the edges together.
This article was originally published in the February 2021 issue.