Tips for Using Woodworking Clamps

A pair of wood clamps holding some wood.
When you're getting ready for a woodworking project, you might grab a hammer, some nails, or some wood glue. But what you really shouldn't go without are your wood clamps. Clamps are like an extra set of hands for your project. Without clamps, woodworking is much messier and can result in some wonky results. If you want your project to look professional when you finish it, clamps are a good thing to have. Here are some tips to make sure you get the most out of them.

1. Choose the Right Clamp for the Job

A grouping of spring clamps against a wood background.

There are so many different clamps out there. It can be overwhelming to decide which kind you should use for your project. Here is a simplified guide to help you choose the right type of clamp for your project.

  • Bar clamps are for projects where you need the pressure to span over a long distance. A common type of bar clamp is a pipe clamp. Pipe clamps are very customizable. You can cut a metal pipe of any length, and then add the clamps to each end. They are good for larger projects, but require several clamps spaced out every few inches to ensure a good even bond. Another popular bar clamp is the one-handed bar clamp. This one is so easy to use because it tightens with the squeeze of the trigger.

  • C-clamps are named for their shape. They work well over small spans and have a very tight grip. You just put the c-clamp in place, and then twist the handle to your desired tightness.

  • Spring clamps are simple and easy to use. You squeeze the clamp to open it and let go to secure it in place. Spring clamps work well for light duty jobs and to hold lighter objects.

  • Miter clamps hold things in place when you are making corners out of wood. They give you a perfect 90-degree angle without the headache.

  • Band clamps use pressure from a nylon strap and ratcheting mechanism. Band clamps are good for tightening oddly-shaped objects.

These are just your basic clamps, but there are hundreds of kinds and variations of the ones mentioned above.

2. Have Enough Clamps Handy

A selection of wood clamps.

If you want to get the job done right, you may need more than one or two clamps. The narrower the stock of wood, the harder it is to get a solid bond. For narrow slices of wood, you need the clamps closer together and more frequent. Another solution to the pressure dilemma is to add two wider blocks of wood to the ends of your narrower pieces to distribute the pressure more evenly while the glue sets.

3. Apply the Correct Amount of Pressure

When gluing your wood together, it's important to make sure you have the correct amount of force applied. You really don’t need to squeeze the wood too tightly within the clamps. They simply serve as extra hands to hold your project in place until the glue can dry. Clamps that are tightened too firmly can squeeze too much of the glue out of the joint, making it weak. Not tightening your clamps enough means your wood may move as it dries, which is not ideal, either.

4. Avoid These Rookie Mistakes

A wood clamp on a piece of wood.

There are a few things that can go wrong when you're working with clamps. One of the most common mishaps when using clamps is letting them mar or scratch your wood. To avoid this, simply add blocks of scrap wood to the ends of your project to protect the good wood from getting damaged.

If you are gluing a project on top of a table or floor surface, the glue may stick to the surface it’s laying on. This is also an easy fix if you think of it before starting the project. Just set some wax paper over your surface before you lay the glued project down. The glue will not adhere to the wax paper.