Understanding Handscrews

These oft-forgotten clamps are capable of finesse, great force and securing work at odd angles.
By Michael Dunbar
Pages: 80-84

From the February 2007 issue #160
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Woodworkers use clamps for all sorts of purposes – to create pressure when gluing, to secure parts during assembly, to hold parts while working on them. There are many types of clamps available, but one of the most versatile and powerful of all is the wooden-jawed handscrew.

A typical handscrew consists of two hardwood (usually maple) jaws with beveled ends. The clamps are adjusted and pressure is created with a pair of parallel screws (also called spindles) that pierce the jaws. Wood handles on the screws allow a better grip for creating torque.

Handscrews are made in graduated sizes. They are typically measured in three ways, the first being jaw length. Handscrews with jaws as short as 4″, to as long as 24″, are available. The second measurement is the maximum amount the jaws can be opened or separated. This distance is a function of the screw length, and its measurement is called the clamp’s capacity. Some larger handscrews have a capacity of 17″. The third measurement is the handscrew’s reach. This is the distance from the front of the jaw to the center screw. The reach on larger handscrews can be as much as 12″.

Handscrews with 10″ to 12″ jaws, with 6″ to 8″ capacity, and 5″ to 6″ reach will meet most of your woodworking needs.

Compared to some woodworking tools, the handscrew is a relatively new innovation. It was first produced in the form we recognize in the late 19th century, even though woodworkers used similar but cruder, wooden clamps for many centuries previous.

From the February 2007 issue #160
Buy this issue now