Demise of U.S. Clamp Makers & A Defense of Hardware Hoarding
The topics of United States clamp manufacturing and hardware hoarding might seem unrelated, and many of you will certainly think that they deserve two separate entries. In this story, however, I will try to show you how they can be “clamped” together quite successfully.
Recently I decided we needed to add a few more clamps to the woodworking program at school. I wish we could have bought some domestically made clamps, but because of reasons I will lay out below I had to consider alternatives.
When I moved to the United States almost 17 years ago, one could have purchased U.S.-made clamps from three surviving manufacturers: Pony, Wetzler and Hartford. In the last few years, both Wetzler and The Hartford Clamp Co. went out of business. As for Pony (who also made Jorgensen clamps), I can’t give you a definitive answer. But after recently reading that the parent company – Adjustable Clamp Co – got consolidated or changed ownership or something of the sort, I tried calling them to find out if my school could still place an order for replacement parts for our clamps and vises. Unfortunately, I could not get an answer – so perhaps our last domestic clamp manufacturer has closed its doors.
Last month I needed to decide what clamps to buy. And with no U.S. manufacturers to consider, I was left with only these consideration: cost, quality, intended use and, of course, survival rating after possible abuse by students. After reading and watching some reviews on YouTube, I decided to go with Harbor Freight. The two decisive factors were cost and very positive online feedbacks.
We ordered some “C” clamps, quick-action bar clamps and a few F-style clamps. Last week we got them in one big box that evidently had gone through a rough ride before landing on our doorstep. All the clamps got to us safe and sound but one, a 12” quick-action bar clamp had lost a thumb screw nut on the top jaw during the journey. Contacting Harbor Freight was an option but it would have taken time and possibly meant packing and mailing the tool back. All that fuss for just a small nut? I decided to try to fix the problem myself.
And now we arrive to the second part of my story: my claim that hoarding hardware – especially fasteners – almost always pays off.
The history of our woodshop goes back to the beginning of our school, almost 90 years ago. Not surprisingly, I often find tools, tool parts, fasteners and forgotten hardware in boxes, behind cabinets and inside drawers. I try to sort and organize them becuase I know from experience that karma, fate and chance may very likely mean I’ll find a use for them down the road. And that was exactly the case with the missing Harbor Freight nut.
At first I thought finding a surrogate nut would be easy; I would only have to sort through my nut jar. But unfortunately the Chinese manufacturer used a nut with metric thread, and most of our nuts are Imperial. Yet as I was just willing to give up, I found our savior. Of all the nuts I picked up and rescued, only one matched the thumbscrew perfectly. I felt triumphant – and vindicated. Hardware hoarding is indeed indispensable!
A word of advice: Consider making use of this story to convince your co-worker, spouse or partner that your inventory of “unused” stuff (perhaps they foolishly call it “junk”) is actually a treasure. We just need to wait patiently and – behold!