There are enough clamp styles available to woodworkers that it’s tough to know which tools you absolutely need to have in your shop. Whether you’re a beginning woodworker who needs a full clamp setup or a veteran looking to re-evaluate a career’s worth of basic clamps, separating the necessary from the nice-to-have isn’t easy. Here are five basic clamp styles that every artisan or craftsperson should have in their workshop.
The basic workhorse clamps of every craftsman’s arsenal, C-clamps are so versatile and in such universal use that they’re often overlooked. They generally range in size from four-inch maximum capacity to eight-inch maximum capacity. They’re inexpensive enough so you can buy a whole set and versatile enough that they can act as an extra set of hands. They fit into tight spots and are perfect for odd jobs around the shop, such as keeping your router fence piece in place.
F-style clamps, also called bar clamps, are the main clamps most woodworkers use on a day-to-day basis. They range from small four-inch capacity clamps to 30 inches or above and they do everything from holding the fence in place to helping assemble cabinets and drawers. With bar or F-style clamps, you can apply direct pressure to joints and keep your wood in alignment as you twist the handles of the clamp.
Parallel Jaw Clamps
If F-style bar clamps are the workhorses of the woodworking world, parallel jaw clamps are the show stoppers. The draw of these clamps – which are nice to have but not strictly necessary – is that the jaws stay absolutely parallel as you tighten the clamps. Parallel jaw clamps perform every function that other clamps can, as well as a few they can’t (like standing on end as glue dries). Like other clamps, they’re available in a variety of sizes starting at 4 inches; unlike most other basic clamps, they’re both quite heavy and expensive.
The original parallel jaw clamps were manufactured by Bessey, although several manufacturers have introduced their own versions. The consensus seems to be you either love or hate parallel jaw clamps. If you love them, you already have a preferred brand.
Pipe clamps are the most affordable option for large jobs like bookcases or tabletops. They perform a similar function to parallel jaw clamps at small fraction of the price. The clamp heads attach to a standard piece of plumber’s pipe, meaning you can make a clamp in nearly any size you need. Keep an array of high quality pipe couplings and fittings on hand and you’ll have a set of clamps customized specifically to your needs, whatever they may be.
Spring clamps, like C-clamps, are so basic they’re usually forgotten when we talk about basic woodworking clamps. These clamps act and look a lot like clothespins or binder clips and they perform a similar function: holding smaller things in place as you work on them or as they dry. With a variety of sizes available and an incredibly low price point, it’d be a crime not to have an entire collection in the shop.
Although these basic woodworking clamps allow you to perform almost every job that comes your way, there are endless variations on these styles as manufacturers continue to improve on basic designs. As you work with your tools, you’ll discover what works for you or doesn’t and what features you like or dislike. Then you can search out more specialized clamps based on those preferences and needs.