Period Clamping Techniques

AM-150x150Did traditional workholding involve fewer gadgets?

by Bob Rozaieski
pages 20-22

In my fledgling years as a woodworker, I had a large collection of clamps. I literally bought in to the belief that you could never have too many clamps. I had pipe clamps all the way up to giant 5 footers. I had multiple F- style clamps, boxes of spring clamps and about a dozen wooden handscrews (with metal screws).

Several years ago, I reassessed my clamping needs, wanting to free up as much space as possible. To do so, I looked to period shops and inventories for guidance. I wondered how early shops handled the tasks that we do today – tasks that seem to require so many clamps.

Clamps & Period Practices
There is historical evidence that clamps made of iron and/or wood have been used since at least the 17th century (I haven’t researched the topic any farther back than that). Several period texts and paintings speak of, or picture some kind of clamp. It is unlikely, however, that clamps as we know them were as heavily relied upon for assembly as they are in today’s modern shops.

Traditional joinery, such as dovetails and drawbored and/or wedged mortise-and-tenon joints, assembled with traditional hide glue don’t require the use of clamps for assembly.  In fact, drawbored and/or wedged mortise-and-tenon joints can actually be assembled without glue (and frequently were in 17th-century joined work) and will stay together indefinitely.  The mechanical connection of these joints imparts the primary strength.  Glue is a secondary measure.

Blog: Read Adam Cherubini’s Arts & Mysteries blog.
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From April issue, #210

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