In Praise of Cheap, Small Clamps

One of the best-kept secrets in woodworking is the fact that often the most useful devices are not the biggest and most expensive. In the upcoming October issue of Popular Woodworking (mailed to subscribers the last week of August and on sale at newsstands the first week of September) I have an article about a rolling stand for clamps. In addition to that article in the magazine, I’ll be writing an online article about selecting and using clamps. I started on it this morning, but got carried away with writing about my two favorite clamps , the Bessey 2″ x 8″ “Mighty Mini” Bar Clamp and the Jorgensen size “0″ wood handscrew.


If you look closely at the photos of my work in progress, in my books and magazine articles, one or both of these appear in nearly every photo , either in action or in the background. For the last 20 years, I have used a pair of each of these clamps every day I’ve been in the shop and I consider them indispensable. When I go out to a job site or somewhere to give a class, they are the first things I pack for the trip. Here in the shop I don’t exactly hide them, but they do have a special place I keep them, and my name or initials are on them in case they wander off.

So what’s the big deal? Each on it’s own has many uses. Because they are small and light, they don’t get in the way. I use the bar clamps for holding stacks of parts together for layout work, and I also use them to hold fixtures and featherboards to the table saw or router table fence. If I put them in the right spot on the router table fence, I can slip the hose for the dust collector over the clamps directly behind the cutter.

The handscrews also see a lot of use. These are the right size for a stop on the miter saw or miter gauge on the table saw. Because they are wood, they won’t cause any damage if they get nicked by a table-saw blade or a router bit while holding something small. When working on small parts, I clamp the work in the handscrew, and the handscrew in the bench vise. The jaws will swivel out of parallel to hold an odd shape or to exert pressure on a specific point.

They also work together as a team , one clamp can hold the work while the second clamp holds the first one down to any nearby surface. It’s not as good as a real vise, but if you find yourself somewhere with no vise (or no bench) you can still hold your work securely. Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of new ideas for clamping work. Some are silly enough to dismiss out of hand, but others have looked promising enough to try. I keep going back to these old favorites.

Maybe the best part is you get to go like this:

, Robert Lang

6 thoughts on “In Praise of Cheap, Small Clamps

  1. Christopher Fitch

    I have a number of those small Bessey clamps that I picked up on sale a number of years ago. They are great…very useful in a number of situations.

  2. Bob Lang

    I’ve been using Bessey clamps for 30 years and have never had a problem. The ones in the picture I’ve had for 15 or 20 years. The bars have bent a little but no problems otherwise.

    Bob Lang

  3. Steve Carroll

    Thanks for the great article (and photographs!). I have the Bessey clamps and was told by the salesman to put a rivet in the top bar otherwise it’ll pop off. What do you think?
    Thanks,
    Steve

  4. Noel Christmas

    I use the same two clamps in lieu of an actual vise (not by design, but by circumstance), and find them to be invaluable. Not so invaluable that I’m not looking forward to a real vise, but they’re great nonetheless.

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