Meet the pro
In 30 years as a
has tried just
Some of them are
his own inventions;
As for the
rest, he’s been
doing them for so
long that he can’t
they came from.
Dave says, “Over the
amassed a huge collection
of clamps—every size and type.
But the arsenal of
clamps in my shop
is no more valuable
than the arsenal of
clamping tricks I
carry around in my
head. So even if
you’re a beginning
woodworker with a
modest clamp collection,
are for you. I’ll show
you how to clamp to get the
most from the
clamps you have
and even a few ways
to clamp without
Cauls keep glue-ups flat and flush
As you squeeze boards together with pipe clamps, they sometimes arch
or slip out of alignment. Pairs of upper and lower cauls are the solution. I
lightly squeeze the cauls with bar clamps, then tighten the pipe clamps,
then tighten the cauls a bit more… I continue this back-and-forth process
until the boards are joined flush and flat.
My favorite cauls are made from 2x4s. I carefully select ones that
have a slight bend or “crown” along the 1-1/2-in. edge, but no twist or
warp. The crown is an advantage because it creates extra pressure in
the middle of the caul. I label all my cauls with an arrow marking the
direction of the crown and the length of the caul.
What’s a caul?
If it’s designed to
pressure over a
wide area, you can
call it a caul.
Prevent clamp stains with wax paper
Moisture in glue triggers a reaction
between iron and chemicals in wood
(called “tannins”). The result is black
stains on the wood, especially with tannin-rich woods like oak or walnut. A strip
of wax paper acts as a barrier between
the clamp and the wood. I also use wax
paper to keep glue off my cauls.
Apply pressure with water
Some woodworkers keep a stack of bricks in
the shop for those times when weight is
better than clamps. But I think plastic buckets
make the best weights. Filled with water,
they provide a lot of weight. When empty,
they’re light, easy to store and handy for
Give clamps a lift
Homemade clamp jacks raise your pipe
clamps off the bench so the handles turn
freely and there’s plenty of room underneath
for alignment cauls and clamps.
The jacks also act as pads to keep clamps
from denting the wood. My jacks are 8 in.
tall and made from 1/2-in. plywood.
Shift clamps to square your work
To check the squareness of a cabinet
frame or box, take diagonal measurements.
If the measurements aren’t equal,
shift the positions of the clamps. In this
photo, I exaggerated the shift for clarity. In
most cases, a slight shift will do the trick.
Sometimes, shifting just one clamp will
pull the assembly into square.
Use one caul instead of many clamps
Thin, flexible parts require lots of clamps to create a consistently
tight fit. Or you can use a caul. This solid-wood edging on plywood,
for example, would have required a clamp every few inches. But
with a stiff caul to spread the clamping force, I was able to use
fewer clamps, spaced far apart.
Iron out veneer-clamping problems
Gluing down veneer is tough. You have to apply flat, even
pressure over every square inch. There are fancy tools for this,
but for small veneer jobs, try this nifty trick: Apply a thin coat
of wood glue to the substrate and the back of your veneer. Let
the glue dry. Then position the veneer and use a hot iron (no
steam) to reactivate the glue and press it into place. The
bond is almost instant and very strong. I love it.
Sometimes, a 2x4 wedged against overhead joists is better than a clamp. When routing a tabletop, for
example, I can rout all the way
around without stopping and shifting
clamps. This trick is also handy
when I need to apply pressure
where clamps won’t reach: gluing
down bubbled veneer in the middle
of a large tabletop, for example.
Hold it square
When you’re clamping cabinets together, getting a square
assembly is half the battle. These simple blocks, made from
three layers of 1/2-in. plywood, pull the cabinet into square
and keep it there. After the squaring blocks are in place, I
use pipe clamps to squeeze the joints tightly together.
Long-jaw hand screw
Extend the reach of your hand screw
clamps with a couple of lengths of scrap
wood. Screw the jaw extensions to the side
of your hand screw and away you go. Works
great and couldn’t be easier.
Magnetic clamp pads
Instant on and instant off. You can’t beat the convenience of
these wooden clamp pads. Best of all, they don’t leave oily
stains like the plastic ones do. To make mine, I
drilled shallow holes in 3/8-in.-thick blocks of
softwood. Then I dropped in dabs of epoxy and
inserted rare earth magnets. My magnets were
1/2 in. diameter and 1/8 in. thick. Make sure the
magnet is flush or slightly below the pad surface.
How to clamp with tape
Every woodworker I know
occasionally uses masking
tape in place of
clamps. But I prefer electrical
tape because it’s
stretchy and lets me put
the pressure exactly
where I need it.
Glue-ups can be a frenzied, nerve-jangling
activity. So why not slow things down a bit?
Take the edge off your glue-ups with a
slow-setting glue such as Titebond’s
Extend. The extra 10 minutes of open time
can be a real lifesaver and nerve calmer.
Wet glue is like grease,
allowing parts to slide
around while you’re trying
to clamp them. But a few
strategically placed brads
or pins prevent that frustration.
I like to use my
23-gauge pinner because
the heads are almost
invisible. But a standard
brad nailer works too.
Convertible pipe clamps
When you buy pipe for
your pipe clamps, also
pick up some couplers.
That way, you can join
pipes to make longer
A dry run is a must-do
Every time I skip this
step, I end up regretting
Don’t make the same
mistake. Take the time
to rehearse your glue-up.
That way you’ll
know all the clamps
you need are at hand
and there won’t be
any nasty, unexpected
misfits in your joinery
to ruin your glue-up
and your day.
Back to Top
Put the pinch on miter joints
A pair of notched “pinch blocks” puts clamp pressure right on the miter joint. This
approach is especially good for picture frames because it lets you deal with one
joint at a time rather than all four at once. Position the blocks shy of the mitered
ends so you can see how the joint lines up.
Essential Clamps for Beginning Woodworkers (and Everyone Else)
Pipe clamps: Pipe clamps are the everyday, high-pressure
workhorses of woodworking. They cost about $15
per set, plus a few more bucks for pipes. Because you
can quickly screw the clamps onto different lengths of
pipe, one set of pipe clamps does the same work as
several lengths of bar clamps. Buy pipes in 2-, 3- and
4-ft. lengths and you’re ready for most situations.
Bar clamps: Quicker and easier to use than pipe
clamps, light-duty bar clamps are perfect when you
need a long reach and moderate pressure. They cost about $8
and up depending on length.
Spring clamps: These are the fastest helpers for
holding your work in place or doing light-pressure
clamping. They’re cheap, too: Most cost less than $5.