Clamping Table Basics: Put Them to Work

Clamps grab and hold like no other tool can. Here's how to squeeze the most out of yours.

A portable clamping table is a great tool for home improvement projects. It'll tightly clamp a wide variety of pipes, sheet metal, boards, tools and many other things while you work on them. We show you a number of examples here.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

The many benefits of clamping tables

One of my contracting partners always said, “If you can't grow a third hand to hold something that needs drilling, bending or sawing, the next best thing is a Workmate.” She was referring to a specific brand, of course, but the same could be said of any of today's portable clamping tables. She loved the way you could take these tables right to where you were working and how they'd grab and hold boards, pipe or irregularly shaped objects. She also appreciated their usefulness as a work stand for power tools.

We'll show you some of the features that make them so uniquely user-friendly and some of the ways you can put them to work.

Clamping tables perform tasks nothing else can
Clamping tables make the perfect Saturday chore partner for tasks anywhere around the house. They'll help you cut trim in the living room, work on plumbing in the basement (Photo 1), do woodworking in the garage (Photos 2 and 3) and bend flashings outdoors (Photo 4). Among their advantages, they can quickly travel with you to each job and change into whatever configuration is required for that task. Plus, you'll never hear them whine about tired arms and backs.

Different brands of clamping tables have slightly different features, but they share these characteristics:

  • They fold up compactly for storage. Weighing 35 to 45 lbs., they're a natural for toting around the house.
  • The tabletop consists of a front jaw and a rear jaw controlled by handles that either close the jaws—forming a solid work surface—or open them so they act like movable vise jaws.
  • Holes drilled through the top of both jaws hold plastic pegs that extend the working range so you can clamp wider objects.

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Clamping oddball stuff

Clamping tables can help you with these troublesome tasks:

  • For painting objects of equal width like stair rail spindles, clamp several at a time vertically in the table. Paint long, large objects like a louvered door by using two clamping tables in tandem to firmly grab the door—allowing you to paint most of its surfaces without moving it.
  • Clamp a roller and roller arm into the table's jaws to get an adjustable outfeed roller for your table saw and other shop tools.
  • You can clamp tapered objects by varying how much you close each side of the jaws.
  • If objects like a hand miter box are too short to straddle the table's frame rails (Photo 5), screw the box to a longer 2x6 board. Then securely clamp the board, with the miter box, into the jaws for a grip that won't shake loose during sawing. When that won't work, like for the birdhouse you're assembling, hold it between the table jaws and alternately crank the handles until you can “sneak” both jaws up and grip the object firmly.
  • For the best grip on round objects less than 1 in. in diameter, like copper pipe, insert the plastic pegs in the holes closest to the jaw edges, with the V-notch of the pegs facing the object. To control long sections of pipe, rest the end of the pipe on a sawhorse or clamp it in another table. Clamping really large round objects can be accomplished too. Open the table jaws wide, stand a 2x6 vertically against each jaw so the round shape won't pop out of the table's jaws, rest the object across both frame rails and close the jaws.

Turning either the left or the right handle of most tables opens or closes only the left or right front jaw respectively, allowing you to grab or clamp tapered and odd-shaped workpieces. Simultaneously turning both handles opens and closes both sides at the same rate.

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Keep them for life

A clamping table should last you for life if you follow two rules: Don't let the particleboard tabletop get wet and don't overtighten the jaws.

By themselves, clamping tables are stable and safe tools. Accidents occur when people overload them, fail to fully extend and lock the legs, attach table saws or miter saws (that may tip over during operation), or use them as stepladders or standing platforms.

Use common sense and you'll have a safe, loyal helper for life—one that'll never demand a coffee break or a raise!

Buying Advice: Features Determine the Price

Ordinarily, clamping tables can't be rented. They cost $45 to $100 depending on their size and features. The less expensive tables are sturdy enough to support more than 400 lbs. and will handle 90 percent of domestic tasks. Costlier tables stand slightly taller (less backache), have a larger work surface, open their jaws wider and contain more holes for pegs. Some have extra features like foot pedal control, measuring scales imprinted on the tabletop and accessory tool storage trays.

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