Ask any woodworker or other variety of do-it-yourselfer about clamps, and you’re very likely to hear the phrase “you can never have too many clamps.” I’ve even heard one veteran woodworker say that a million clamps is a good start. You might not have the space to store a million, much less the cash to buy them, but if you do any home repairs or other project work at all, you should have all the clamps you can get your hands on.
The beauty of this versatile class of tools is that there are so many different clamp styles. Some are general use styles and others have very specific uses. Whether you’re just starting out in DIY projects or you’re an old hand around the shop, here are ten types of clamps that should be rattling around in your toolbox or hanging on your wall.
The C Clamp
The reason they’re called C clamps should be obvious from the image. What’s not obvious is just how useful these babies really are. These simple screw-action clamps can hold two pieces of a project together, clamp a tool to a bench or board, or any of a million other uses. The style comes in multiple sizes from less than an inch tall to versions that can open more than a foot wide. When buying C clamps, look for smooth operation of the screw and solid, sturdy metal frames.
The action of a spring clamp is about the same as that chip clip stuck to the refrigerator door with a magnet. This style also comes in many sizes, as well as in plastic or metal. They’re easy to install one-handed, but don’t generally have much gripping power. As a result, they’re used more to clamp two things together while you’re getting more powerful clamps ready. Look for a strong spring and coated handles that won’t cut your hands. Some also have coating on the jaws to prevent scratching the items being clamped.
Locking C Clamp
Combine a C clamp with a spring clamp and give the whole works a handle like vise grips (“locking pliers”) – you’ve made a Locking C Clamp. Like spring clamps, these are relatively easy to install one-handed, and also come in multiple sizes. Clamping strength-wise, they’re midway between spring and C clamps, because how tight they clamp depends mostly on the users hand strength. Make certain any you buy are sturdy, because bent handles or frame pretty much make these useless.
When you buy a pipe clamp, you just get the jaws – then you buy some black or galvanized iron pipe to complete the clamp. The clamp sets come in two sizes, one for ½-inch pipes and one for ¾-inch – standard sizes for such pipe. Since the pipes are available from 1 to 20 feet long, you can build a wide variety of clamp sizes. One jaw – the one with a crank-operated screw action – fits on the end of a pipe, while the other jaw slides along the pipe. These are a cabinet-maker’s favorite clamps, since they can easily be used on pieces four or five feet wide. Be certain the clamp sets you choose lock securely and are designed to stand on the back of the jaws instead of rolling.
Much like a pipe clamp, a bar clamp depends on a combination of a fixed and moving jaw to adjust to the workpiece, then a screw action to tighten the clamp securely. The fixed jaw is forged to the flat metal bar, while the moving jaw slides along it. They’re available in multiple sizes, though most are 48 inches or shorter. They’re lighter in weight than pipe clamps, which generally makes them easier to handle than a less-expensive pipe clamp the same size. The screw action is operated like a screwdriver, which means that they do not generate as much pressure as a pipe clamp.
Known by many DIYers as the greatest invention since the wheel, quick-clamps are beloved for the easy with which they can be operated one-handed. A pistol-style grip lets the user close them securely, while a second trigger allows instant release. Clamping power is less than that of C clamps and bar clamps because they’re operated with hand power. This style is available in several sizes, and most have pads on the jaws to prevent the metal parts from scratching finished materials.
This variation on the Quick-Clamp can either push two items together (clamping) or pull them apart (spreading). They operate in the same way as a quick clamp, with the addition of a lever or other toggle that lets the user choose between the two different directions. This clamp style also depends on hand strength to operate it. Spreaders are available in several sizes, and – like the quick clamps – generally have mar prevention pads on the jaws.
A surprising number of projects require that two pieces be clamped at right angles while being fastened, glued or both. For those occasions, a corner clamp is just what the DIYer in your house needs – these are designed specifically to hold two boards or other workpieces at a precise 90-degree intersection. They’re adjustable for boards or other pieces of different thicknesses, although wide boards are sometimes difficult to manage. They’re often sold in sets of four for making picture frames or other rectangular pieces; some include a special clamp with a miter-box attachment.
Wood Hand Screw Clamp
Furniture makers swear by their hand screw clamps, whose wooden faces rapidly adjust to odd angles while not marring delicate surfaces. The twin handscrews allow you to close the jaws at a wide range of angles and also let you adjust the clamp for light- or heavy-duty clamping power. A little twiddling with the screws lets you offset the tips of the jaws while keeping the faces parallel – they’re almost infinitely adjustable. The clamps are sold in different sizes; which not only open to different widths but also have different lengths between the jaw tips and the first spindle. They’re best bought in pairs.
A band clamp acts like a belt to surround large workpieces where bigger, stiffer clamps might not work – for instance, pulling together loose legs on a chair. The belt of nylon webbing surrounds even the most irregular shape, applying pressure all along its length. The clamp tightens with a ratcheting action that can be operated either with a wrench or a screwdriver. Releasing the band is as simple as flipping a lever. This inexpensive tool can also be in a pinch used to tie down loads on a roof rack or trailer.
There you have it: ten different clamp styles – and chances are good that your favorite DIYer would be happy to have a few of every one of them.