True story: One evening some years ago, a fire broke out in the attic of our garage, which is where my workshop is located. It was caused by some faulty wiring that was installed before we bought the house, which shorted out and ignited a rafter. At that time, the ceiling of our garage was made up of long steel sheet panels, which the firefighters needed to rip down to get at and put out the fire.
The aftermath looked like a hurricane had hit, with water dripping from the twisted steel panels and charred insulation hanging from the ceiling and debris strewn across the floor. Of course, I was deeply grateful that we hadn't lost our home, but I was also in a state of adrenaline-fueled shock that it would take me until the next day to calm down from (no sleep that night!). In that moment and in the midst of that chaos, one of the firefighters, wearing his fire gear and breathing apparatus and looking a bit like an alien from another solar system, turned to me and said, "Wow, you guys are really neat, aren't you?" I burst out laughing. All I could see was the incredible mess, but he was seeing my wall of clamps. It was a nice way to release some of tension I was feeling.
I don't think a woodworker can ever have enough clamps!
I really like these clamps (now made by Irwin Industrial Tools⩘ , hence now blue instead of yellow). I use the larger throat depth sizes for holding my benchtop tools in place and clamping furniture-sized objects. Their new model (clamp and spreader) is actually quite an improvement over the old ones: much faster action, stay-in-place pads, and the versatility of being easily and quickly converted to a spreader. I have a range of these in 6″ through 50″ sizes, as well as 6″ minis (not convertible) and 4″ micros (convertible, but not as easily as the big dogs). I use the mini- and micro-sized models when working on my lamps.
Jorgensen & Pony
Good general-purpose clamps from the Adjustable Clamp Company⩘ . I have and often use many of their bar clamps (model 3700, 6″ through 24″), as well as their ½″ and ¾″ pipe clamps. But for the kind of work I do, their micro-sized model doesn't work as well as the Quick-Grip model. I have several of them that are just gathering dust.
Recently I got some K Body Revo clamps from Bessey Tools⩘ , as well as some of their lighter duty UniKlamps. The design of both the Revo and UniKlamp models does seem to be an advance over traditional bar clamps, with large, square jaws that have faces that stay parallel to each other and lock automatically (they don't have clutch plates like the Jorgensen clamps). They are also reversible, so can be converted to spreaders.
The Revo clamps are heavy duty clamps that can exert tremendous clamping pressure (1500 lb.). Two of them can be joined together to make a single clamp of nearly double the length. They also have optional rail and stile jigs that can hold the clamps perpendicular to each other, as well as some optional add-ons for clamping odd angles. The more I use these clamps, the more impressed I am. Here they are in use on a maple end table I made.
The UniKlamps seem similar in weight to the Jorgensen 3700s (they can exert 550 lb. of pressure). They can't really be compared to the Revo model, but can be compared to the 3700s. The defining difference is that they apply even pressure across the face of the jaw, which provides more flexibility in jaw placement.
Use note: When I was reading reviews of the UniKlamps I came across quite a few that complained about how difficult and tricky it is to figure out how to slide the jaw up and down. This is due to the fact they're auto-locking, so there's no clutch plate to depress, but there is an image stamped into the top of each UniKlamp head that shows exactly how to do it: pull the handle up to slide back, and hold it parallel to the bar to slide forward. If you do it that way, they slide easily enough.
My most recent annual addition to my clamps collection was a set of 8″ - 14″ Dubuque Miro-Moose maple jaw hand-screw clamps. I've had some hand screws lying around the shop almost as long as I've been woodworking, but it was only recently, actually when I made the last bed platform, that I found myself starting to use them more often and beginning to understand the benefits they offer over any other kind of clamp. The ability to precisely control the angle of the jaws, so you can either focus in on a small area or apply even pressure over the entire face of the jaws, is wonderful. And their long reach is fantastic (7″ on the 14″ clamps).
Once I started to really appreciate this tool, I decided to get this small set of Dubuque hand screws, as they still make them they way they should be made, with Acme threads for fine adjustment and high torque, and with quality maple jaws. This is one moment when I regret that I don't have a larger shop because it would be nice to have four or six of each size, but that's life! I have them stored on an oak arm I mounted up near the ceiling, just about the last free space I have in my small shop.
Woodpeckers box clamps
I really admire Woodpeckers. They come up with some really clever tools, and their craftsmanship is first rate. Over the years, I've picked up quite a few of their amazing OneTIME Tools⩘ . (If I had more space, I would order every one of them!)
They make a box clamp that is just fantastic. Although I don't use them often, whenever I do, I'm just amazed at how easy they make it to square up and tighten box joints. In their words: "The secret to its compact functionality is its tapered wedge design, (only one moving part), that simultaneously pushes the mating materials down and in with less than two turns of the screw while applying an enormous amount of clamping force.
The ones I picked up, the 4″ Box Clamp machined from solid billets of stress-relieved aluminum, are no longer available. Fortunately, there's a less expensive, but equally effective, polycarbonate version available, the BC4-M2 Box Clamp⩘
Here's a photo of the glue-up of a little oak bench project with rabbet joints:
End of the fire story …
One of the best things about tackling new and different kinds of woodworking projects is that they often give you the excuse to buy some tools (like clamps!). Well, the fire had a similar impact: in its aftermath, we had the garage completely rewired, which gave me the excuse to have some 220 circuits put in, as well as dedicated 110 circuits, to all my major machines. And of course, we replaced the ceiling, which gave me the excuse to put in better lighting. Silver lining and all that!