The Furniture Restoration Tool List: Clamps

pipe and bar clampsGet A Grip

Furniture restoration will compel you to find a varied selection of clamping devices, and call upon your ingenuity when manufactured solutions are not available.

For the clamps that you do acquire, convenient storage will become an issue. Space is at a premium in my shop, and the practice of hanging several clamps one in front of another upon deep brackets or a convenient rolling cart would have sacrificed too much floor area. I was lucky to have a wall large enough on the rear of a lumber rack that could be dedicated to hanging my bar clamps out in a single layer. I have found it true that you cannot have too many clamps, so keep an eye out for opportunities to acquire as many as you may for a good price. A variety of clamp types is useful to collect, as it is difficult to anticipate just what sort of clamp would be best for every project that comes through the door.

Always Buy In Pairs

Trust me.

Pipe Clamps

These are usually the most readily obtainable; they can exert great force, but they are heavy and unwieldy. You buy them new as the two-piece set of clamping fixtures, and the pipe is purchased separately. So, another virtue besides their pressure is your ability to change their length as needed by simply purchasing varying lengths of pipe, and this can prove to be a versatile and valuable feature.

Bar Clamps

There are steel bar clamps shaped like an I-beam in section; these are heavier than pipe or cabinet-maker clamps, but ever so powerful. It would be nice to have at least a pair of these brutes. Bar clamps are usually available in a range of lengths but I have rarely seen any over 60 inches at a retailer. Aluminum bar clamps are not as common or as powerful but can apply a fair amount of pressure and are nicely lightweight, very handy for gluing up large panels when you need half a dozen or more clamps; a combination of powerful pipe and lighter aluminum clamps is sometimes used. The Jorgensen brand is preferred with the aluminum clamps simply because I have tried only one of the knock-off brands and they were useless, but there may be other recently manufactured good ones out on the market that I simply have not tried.

Cabinet Makers Clamps

Most Bar-style clamps you will encounter share a similar problem; their jaws “toe-in” when pressure is applied. That is, if you’re gluing up a table top of a few boards, and you bring the clamps to bear, the toe of the jaw contacts the wood ahead of the heel which is  that part of the jaw closest to the bar, and so the pressure at the upper edge/side of all your boards will be greater than that on the bottom, not good. There are certainly strategies for dealing with this problem, but there is also a clamp that deals with it: the “cabinet makers” clamps from Bessey and Jorgensen have deep jaws that are manufactured to be at right angles to their bar, applying pressure evenly. However these clamps also suffer form being expensive, heavy and ill-balanced, and their grips run parallel to the bar, forcing your hands into a position which I have found can put a great strain on your wrists and forearms over time; I recommend some wrist and forearm support if you use these frequently, I like batting gloves. All those criticisms being considered, I would still keep all of the clamps that I have described, as they are effective in a variety of situations. This particular variety are expensive, and learning to manipulate them smoothly has a learning curve

Bar-Clamp Wall
A selection of bar-clamps in varying capacities are useful and convenient for repair and restoration work. Many of these were flea-market or garage sale finds. Pipe clamps are the most affordable and versatile of these tools, as you may easily change their length to suit the job.
Clamp Rack
Lots of small clamps, too. This clamp rack sees the most action during almost any sort of project. There have been times when I have had all of those spring clamps in use on a project and a few others as well. The smaller F-style clamps that you see hanging on the left have also proven to be a frequently very useful investment. You’ll see a variety of larger and quite stout F-style clamps hanging to the right and above, all well used. A pair of strap-clamps hang above and to the upper left a half dozen hand-screws. These were all acquired slowly over time and as jobs demanded, unless I was at a good sale and found an irresistible deal. The framework for the clamp rack is built around and attached to the chip separator box of my dust collector. It was wasted space, and with a few pieces of 2X4 lumber and scraps I was able to reclaim it for greater efficiency.
useful clamps
An assortment of useful clamp types, all of which have served me well. In back is a large wooden hand-screw. On the left is a band-clamp (a must-have) and below that a spring-clamp with its applicator (the triangular clamps above it with the orange plastic caps are also called spring-clamps) to the right of that, a small orange bar F-style clamp and above it a larger F-clamp and finally a pair of hose clamps. Each of these has proven extremely useful over time. As to quantity, buy as many as you reasonably can; garage sales, flea markets, on-line are great places to find clamps. The orange tipped spring clamps and the F-style clamps are the type I would make a priority to lay your hands on.

Old Wooden Handscrews

Provided that most of their wooden threads are still intact, these work just fine and may sometime be had for a good price. Don’t shy away because they are heavily patinated or crusty with adhesives or paint; take them home, clean them up and use them.

Cheap Handscrews are Useless.

When I began woodworking, my first “kit” of tools included two handscrews. As a beginner, I’d never seen this type of clamp, and couldn’t  quite figure out how to work with them successfully, so I thought that they were silly and gave them away. A few years later when I began taking in restoration work, I discovered how useful and wonderful these clamps really are. So I began acquiring then when possible. Handscrews made by the Jorgensen Adjustable Clamp Company of Chicago, Illinois are the standard by which this type of clamp is measured. There are imitations of these clamps on the market, and a few made by reputable woodworking brands are fine. I would beware of anything made west of California. The wood components are usually fine. The screw with handle can sometimes have too many threads per-inch, and these are already tedious enough to adjust. The real flaw in most knock-offs is the small captured barrel nut that pivots in the wooden jaws; it is often made of a very poor quality metal and when the first significant strain is put on it by the threaded rod, the nut splits, and recriminations ensue. I have purchased a few imports cheap at a garage sales, so it wasn’t that expensive a lesson for me and I don’t wish it to be one for you either. Stick with Jorgensen clamps or brands that have express warranties for performance. I suppose what I have said here for handscrews is applicable to clamps across-the-board; those from America or western Europe are usually of reliable quality. Any clamp failure during a complicated glue-up may risk an unfortunate apoplectic response.

Plastic Clamps

No. These are the type of clamps that would seem at first glance to be quite useful and I suppose for some out there, they may be. You will see them described as a clamp that when squeezed, may be rapidly closed; securing whatever it is that needs holding. I have owned several over the years, but they never seem able to exert enough pressure and when I have had them I have managed to break every mechanism or crack the plastic in several places. They are usually rather ill balanced. I am not trying to be a clumsy brute, yet I still manage to kill these in short order.  Perhaps there is a durable brand on the market, but I have yet to discover it. Their cost for the utility that they offer is not a fair exchange in my opinion. Buy them if you must, for very light work, but I warned you.


What is a clamp anyway? On basic level, when an object is trapped or caught in place, it is essentially clamped; a paperweight is a simple example. When most of us refer to clamps, its usually something with opposing surfaces that can be closed with sufficient pressure to secure another object for a particular purpose; a hand or jaw are those most immediate to our use, and of the “simple tools” the solid wedge with no moving parts can be quite effective in providing a clamping function. The examples provided below may inspire you to invent many different devices for securing your own work.

Improvised Cramp
A basic yet effective clamp; the device is comprised of two long pieces of stock that are joined at each end by blocks that have been fastened between them. On the left hand side of the boards being glued, a protective slip is inserted; on the right, a pair of wedges are driven together exerting the clamping force. This is an inexpensive and usually effective way to provide clamping pressure to a glue-up if you cannot afford conventional clamps.
wedge clamp
A wedge-shaped cleat has been fastened to each end of the clamping device. The boards to be glued are laid upon the clamp, and two wooden slips are inserted on either side of it where it passes over the clamp; these slips are made with a wood softer than that being glued-up. Wedges, corresponding in shape to the angle of the end cleats (but longer) are pushed in between the cleats and the slips that are protecting the board edges; the farther that these wedges are driven in, the greater the clamping pressure to the board.

© 2020 Joseph Hoover. Sticks and Glue. All Rights Reserved.

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