Confessions of a Clamp Minimalist

Whenever somebody on a forum asks, “how many clamps do you need?” the usual answer is, “just a few more than you have.”

I have a confession to make: I have almost never felt that way. I am a clamp minimalist.

(There, I said it. I feel better already.)

I have about a dozen clamps of various lengths and sizes that I keep right beside my bench, and for most glue-ups, those are enough. I have a few more clamps in another room, and I can grab them for the really complicated glue-ups, but I almost never do.

Most of my clamps are long, between 18″ and 36″. Because I’m both a minimalist and a cheapskate, I have mostly pipe clamps, and there are a half-dozen extra pipe extensions stowed under my bench for big glue-ups. The long clamps are a little awkward to use on small stuff, but so much of my casework is large that I seldom find myself needing short clamps.

Unless you happen to be gluing up really long laminations regularly (as above), then you don’t often need a rolling rack full of clamps like you see in the magazines. There are some easy ways to get away with owning only a few clamps.

If I think I’m going to run short on clamps, I will sometimes glue up complex structures in stages. For example, when gluing up the end of a large bunk bed frame, I first glued up the six rails that were mortised into the sides, let the glue set up awhile, and then slid the six shelves into their dadoes and clamped the whole thing up again.  It takes a little longer than gluing everything up at once, but the assembly process is therefore more relaxed, and I am less likely to make a mistake.

A better approach, however, is to opt for joinery that needs few or no clamps during assembly. Sprung edge joints often need only three or four clamps–one on each end and one or two in the center–even on boards three or four feet long. Dovetails can be pounded together and merely left to dry without clamps. Tapered sliding dovetails, which I have not yet mastered, wedge themselves in place as the glue dries. My current favorite, the drawbored mortiese-and-tenon joint, doesn’t even need glue, let alone clamps, to draw it up tight.

This large frame-and-panel assembly contains no glue at all and went together with no clamps.  It was rock-solid from the moment I drove the last pin home.

There are situations that call for a lot of clamps, but in the last five years, I can think of two or perhaps three situations that left me wanting more clamps than I had on hand. The vast majority of the time, I’m a happy clamp minimalist.

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3 Responses to Confessions of a Clamp Minimalist

  1. sswantee says:

    I have to confess too…I don’t have an abundance of clamps, but I seem to always be able to make do with them.

  2. Sylvain says:

    Using a rope to make a tourniquet (as the tensioning of a bow saw) or a racheting strap is sometime a useful alternative.
    Bes whishes for 2014

    • I’ve done that several times, especially on chair repairs, and it works quite well. I find that it doesn’t always provide enough clamping pressure (or pressure in the right directions) for general use in casework.

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