Wood Clamps 101 | 5 Types


Wood Clamping Basics

If you’re just starting out in woodworking, you’ll find that many tools are needed to start. Some of the basic ones are wood clamps. During your price comparison you’ll discover that they’re not cheap. Clamps are made mostly of steel which is why they can be expensive. Granted some of that price is related to the brand. Supply and demand can also affect the price.

A good clamp will last a good long while just as long as you don’t use them improperly. Some people when learning to use them think that more pressure is good especially when holding pieces together after a glue up. 

That’s not the case, they’re supposed to be used to just ensure that a good bond is achieved. Sometimes when too much pressure is applied it’ll cause the wood pieces to shift or bow.

How Many Types Of Wood Clamps Are There?

There’s a ton of different kinds and each one has a different use. In this article we’ll discuss 5 types to get you started. Some of the basic ones are the trigger clamps, C clamps, pipe clamps, F clamps and others. The list goes on and on. Read on to learn more about each type.

How Many Wood Clamps To Get Started?

There’s an old saying among most woodworkers, “you can’t have too many clamps”. When starting out on a project, most of the time there should be a material list of everything you need to complete the job including the tools. Start with buying just what you need. That way you don’t invest in something that’s not needed at the time.

As time goes by and you do different projects then you can buy what’s needed and before you know it you’ll have a wide range of different types and sizes.

Wood Clamps: What Are They?

Wood clamps are a fastening tool that’s pretty simple to use. They all have the same function but each type has a unique job.  Basically all the woodworking clamps do is keep your wood pieces or project as a whole from moving especially when pieces need to be glued. They also prevent separation when inward pressure is applied.

Other fields related to woodworking use these types of clamps such as carpenters, welding and furniture manufacturers. 

Some Of The Different Types Of Wood Clamps

Earlier I mentioned there’s many types and sizes of clamps for different applications. As a woodworker you won’t be able to do quality work without the help of these tools. 

Trigger Clamps

Trigger clamps are a good beginner investment for a few reasons. They’re small and quite handy for smaller projects. The length of them are 4” to 12” which is nice if your workshop is limited on space. Trigger clamps also come with plastic pads so when clamping things down they won’t mar or scratch the surface of the wood.

When Should The Trigger Clamp Be Used?

Since they’re mostly made of plastic, they excel on small projects.The trigger of the clamp is how pressure is applied to the project. It only takes one hand to operate and leaves the other hand free. These things can be used to secure wood to your bench and a drill press if you have one.

What else can they do?

They can also be used to spread things apart. The Bessey brand of trigger clamps have this option. You can remove the stationary part of the clamp and move it to the other side.

You might have an old chair where the glue has failed and needs to be redone                 where the stabilizing brace is. Instead of taking the whole chair apart why not try   separating the legs just enough to glue it back together. Saves time and less aggravation. 

The plastic pads can also be removed easily if you find that they may be a problem for some jobs.

This type of wood clamp can be used as a handle for drilling small pieces of wood on a drill press. Doing this keeps your hands away from the machinery. This would work if drilling small objects with a hand drill.

How Many Should I Buy?

Four clamps should be enough to start with. That way you have a few extras’ if needed.

 C Clamps

Ah yes, the C clamps I love these things and they’ve been around forever. This type has a very long shelf life due to the steel that they’re made from. They come in a bunch of sizes from 1” all the way to at least 12”. Turning the handle to tighten or loosen is how to operate them.

When Should I Use a C Clamp?

It’s ok to use them on softwoods and hardwoods. Just remember to use the ones that open up wider than the wood your’e working with. 

How Many Do I Need To Buy?

Choose a couple different ranges of C clamps and just buy maybe two or three to start with. I would rather you  buy too few instead of too many. Too many is just a waste of money. You can always make a trip to the hardware store if more is needed right?

 Pipe Clamps

These are the sturdiest clamps you’ll end up buying. They can handle the toughest jobs that you can think of and the pieces are interchangeable. The pipe clamps are two different components that have to be bought separately.

 Some people may think that’s a drawback but in reality it really isn’t. This way you get to choose which lengths of pipe you need. Just keep in mind that you need to purchase the correct thickness of pipe to accommodate the clamp.

What Projects Do I Need To Use A Pipe Clamp On?

Pipe clamps are great for big or wide projects. Some examples are tabletops, kitchen cabinet doors. They also work well when gluing edged pieces or panels together.

How Many Of These Are Needed?

You don’t need but two clamps, possibly three to start off with if you’re into doing large wood projects. Again don’t overspend if you don’t have to. If building from a plan it should tell you how many clamps are needed and the pipe lengths or at least the width of the project and you can go from there.

 Bar Clamps

Bar clamps are similar in design to the pipe clamps. Sometimes they’re referred to as F clamps. When laid on their side, they look like a capital “F”.  Bar clamps come with padded jaws to protect the project,  just like the trigger clamps. To operate them you move the operating end down or to the surface of the wood and turn the handle like you would a C clamp to the desired pressure. The minimum size that you can get is 6” and they go up from there.

When To Use The Bar Clamp

If you make cabinets’ this style of clamp is the go to clamp. This style maintains the integrity of the project, especially when there’s a lot of gluing involved. They can also hold down lumber to a bench while being cut with a circular saw for example.

Because of its strong frame and jaws, it’s ideal to use these when clamping heavy or large pieces together.

How Many Bar Clamps To Buy?

Start with buying two 12 inch and two  24inch clamps. This should be fine for small and some medium size projects as long as they’re not too long. Keep in mind that the longer the project is such as cabinets you’ll need more than just 2 to have straight and consistent glue up.  

Parallel Clamps

Parallel clamps are probably the most expensive of all the clamps in this article. If you’re doing some heavy duty woodworking that’s also huge in size then these are the ones that you’re gonna want. The throat size itself is 3 to 4 inches. They also withstand great amounts of pressure.

When Should I Use Parallel Clamps?

They excel when gluing up cabinets and wood boxes. They’re also great when gluing up cabinet doors because they prevent bowing when pressure is applied.

The jaws of the clamp are made with a 90-degree angle to ensure that all corners stay at that angle.

How Many Parallel Clamps?

Since they’re not cheap, buy two of the 40 inch clamps. This gives you more than 3 feet of span. Buying just one won’t be enough, you almost always have to have a second clamp on the opposite side to keep everything in place.

 As I’ve mentioned before the bigger the project the more clamps you’ll need. But two for kitchen cabinet doors should be enough and then you can acquire more if needed.

Choosing The Right Wood Clamp For The Job

Choosing the best clamp for the job is essential since money doesn’t grow on trees. Put a little thinking into what you want to build. If your budget allows there’s nothing wrong with having two or more types for the shop. Just as long as you plan on using them in future.

Experience with knowing the different uses of clamps will carry you a long way as a woodworker. Here are some tips to help you choose the right clamp for the job.

What Are You Trying To Achieve?

Each style of clamp is made for a particular job. Bar and pipe clamps are to be used when gluing edges of boards together. The trigger clamps are good for light weight jobs such as clamping down wood to a surface. Parallel clamps are for large and heavier jobs like gluing up a table or door.

What Are Wood Clamps Made Of?

Most wood clamps are made from zinc, ductile iron, chrome plating or some other high quality durable metal, so expect to pay more. The good thing about this fact is they will probably last you a lifetime.

The Type Of Wood Plays A Part In Clamp Choice

Some species of wood are very sensitive to scratches. The best type of clamp for these types of wood are the ones that have rubber feet. A clamp hack is to place two pieces of scrap wood on either side of the work piece to be clamped so the jaws of the clamp are applied to the scrap pieces of wood and not the project itself.

Clamp Handles

The handles of the clamp should feel comfortable in your hand when you go to use it. Believe it or not the comfort level does affect how you hold and clamp to a work piece. Ergonomic handles are the way to go. They last a very long time and the quality is good.

How Much Pressure Is Needed For Clamping?

This is kind of a tricky problem with wood clamps. You don’t want to under pressure the clamp because the bond won’t be good enough. Then again you don’t want to over pressure the clamp either where all the glue is squeezed out and bowing occurs or shifting of the wood.. 

The easy answer is to give just enough pressure to align the mating surfaces completely and evenly. 

You’ll have to use more pressure on heavier types of wood than you would with lighter types.


How Many Clamps Do I Need

There’s no general answer here. If you’re working from a plan there should be a required tools section that will tell you. If for some reason that it doesn’t buy a few extra than you think you’ll need to provide consistency across all parts of the pieces being glued.

What size Clamps do I need?

That all depends on the size of the project. If you’re making cutting boards for example 4 to 6 pipe clamps with the pipe being 24 inches long will be enough to do the job.

What Clamps Should I Buy First?

When starting out, buy some of the basic ones like the C clamps. I would buy two of each size from 4”, 6” and 8”. Get a package of 4 trigger clamps and a few 24” bar clamps. As you do bigger projects you can go and purchase what you need. Stay away from buying the parallel clamps in the beginning until you know you will use them. They are the most expensive after all. 

What’s A Good Brand Of Wood Clamps?

Bessey, Jet and Jorgensen are all good brands. Most woodworkers prefer one or all of these brands based on durability and quality. They all have been in the business of making wood clamps for many years.