How To Use Woodworking Clamps

An avid woodworker gives insider tips for using woodworking clamps properly to make glue-ups accurate and joints strong and square.

Next Project

1 hour or less




$5-$50 per clamp


It's easy to overlook the humble clamp until you realize you've been working with a non-salaried assistant for years! Woodworking clamps are handy, versatile and necessary to hold projects steady and secure while you glue, drill, screw, sand, rout, cut, nail and install.

Here, I'll introduce you to some of my favorite clamps, showing you basics and insider tricks and linking to some of my favorites.

Tools Required

  • Assorted bar/ratcheting trigger clamps: 6 to 48 in. reach
  • Bench vise
  • C-clamp/handscrew clamp
  • Pipe clamps: clamps and pipe at 2- or 3- and 4-foot lengths
  • pocket hole clamp
  • Right-angle clamp
  • Spring clamp
  • Strap/band clamp

Materials Required

  • Wax paper
  • Wood glue
  • Wood to experiment with

Project step-by-step (12)

Step 1

Experiment with ratcheting clamps

This is the most-used clamp in my shop because I can quickly use it one-handed, it’s not fussy and can be repositioned easily. Ratcheting clamps are also called bar or trigger clamps. A few of my favorite uses include:

  • Holding wood to your workbench when sanding, routing and cutting.
  • Holding joints until your glue sets or you screw them together.
  • Keeping face frames flush when hanging cabinets by clamping the face frames to one another while you screw them together. (Their rubber pads won’t make indentations on your frames.)
  • Ensure your clamp pads are sitting flush on your project and not at an angle. This gives you the most secure hold.
  • Clamping too loosely results in a moveable workpiece. Give it another few ratchets.

Experiment With Ratcheting ClampsBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 2

Push open joints

Some ratcheting clamps let you reverse the direction. Instead of clamping down, use them as a spreader.

I do this when I need to separate a dovetail drawer and don’t want to mar the wood with a hammer, or to open up chair legs to remove a spindle.

  • Reverse the direction of the clamp with the turn knob (if equipped).
  • Pull the top section from the clamp after loosening the turn knob.
  • Install top section below bottom section on the bar, rubber pads facing out.
  • Tighten turn knob and place clamp on workpiece, ratcheting to open the clamp rather than tighten.

Push Open JointsBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 3

Create perfect pocket holes

Pocket holes are my No. 1 joint in the woodshop because they’re hidden, easy and super strong.

  • Drill pocket holes in your wood with a pocket hole jig.
  • Join the pieces with glue.
  • Use the specific, invaluable pocket-hole clamp to hold the joint together while you screw in the other pocket hole.
  • Remove the clamp and screw in the other one.

Create Perfect Pocket Holes 1Brittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 4

Clamp precise corners

The right clamping tools help woodworkers achieve that all-important 90-degree angle.

  • Use a corner-angle clamp to position corners precisely while you glue and screw.
  • Use ratcheting clamps along with a right angle clamping square for perfectly square box corners.

Clamp Precise CornersBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 5

Clamp with cauls

Cauls are pieces of wood, used in tandem with clamps, to spread even force across a large area. This comes in handy when joining many pieces of wood together, like for a tabletop.

  • Use pipe clamps to clamp 2x4s to the faces of edge-glued boards to keep them flat. Place them below and above for maximum alignment and even pressure.
  • Choose 2x4s with a slight bend or crown on the 1-1/2-in. edge. It will give extra pressure to the center of the caul. Label the direction of the bend onto the 2×4 to guide your placement.
  • When gluing thin edging onto wood, use a caul instead of multiple clamps to apply even pressure across the face. Place the caul over the edging, and clamp at either end.

Clamp With CaulsBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Clamp With CaulsBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 6

Get inventive when clamping irregular shapes

Because I make furniture, I often have a project that calls for a clamp that extends beyond the reaches of any in my collection. Two workarounds:

  • A band or strap clamp is basically a ratcheting strap you can tie around your project, thread into the other side of the clamp and ratchet tight — useful for irregularly shaped builds.
  • In a pinch, electrical wire does the trick! Use 12 gauge, wrap it around your project and twist the ends together. Apply more pressure by twisting the wires with pliers.

Get Inventive When Clamping Irregular ShapesBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 7

Use spring clamps on small projects

  • Your basic spring clamp can’t join anything large, but it’s quick and useful on small projects that don’t need a huge amount of pressure. In my shop, I use them for keeping drilling guides in place or holding up edge banding as I measure and cut.
  • Finger-length spring clamps hold glue-ups on miniature items, like tiny trim molding or carved figurines.

Use Spring Clamps On Small ProjectsBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Use Spring Clamps On Small ProjectsBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 8

Clamp round objects with a vise

A bench vise is superior to a hand clamp when dealing with dowels and other round objects. I use this when working with metal, too.

  • Attach the vise to your workbench with enough clearance to work around.
  • Place your dowel into the vise and tighten it down.
  • Cut, sand or drill.

Clamp Round Objects With A ViseBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 9

Keep wood clean with wax paper

After I’ve been clamping for a few projects, the pads can get dirty and will transfer that debris onto my current project. Here’s how I prevent that:

  • Cut wax paper out in a square, large enough to cover your clamp pads.
  • Place wax paper over the pads.
  • Tighten your clamp.

Keep Wood Clean With Wax PaperBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 10

Pin, then clamp

Fight gravity by placing a brad or pin nail to hold joints steady before clamping and screwing. This is particularly useful before screwing in drawer faces, or your first box corner.

    • Make sure your nailer is set to drive the nail just below the surface, so there’s no protrusion.
    • Glue your joint first.
    • Insert one or two small brad or pin nails with your wood placed exactly where you want it.
    • Clamp your joint for the most stability, then drill and screw.
    • Removing the nail isn’t practical, so ensure it will be clear of your screws, and inconspicuously placed.

Pin, Then ClampBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 11

Clamping with force

When you need an unobtrusive, super-strong hold for a joint before screwing, use a C-clamp or handscrew clamp. I use these on mitered corners and face frames, where it’s important to maintain a flush surface.

  • Drill pocket holes, if your project calls for it.
  • Glue your joint.
  • Clamp your two surfaces and tighten down your clamp.
  • With a C-clamp, place it on your project and turn the threaded screw until the clamp faces are secure.
  • With the handscrew clamp, open the jaws and set the opening with the simple screw first, tightening it a hair smaller than the thickness of your material. Place the clamp on the project and lock the jaws down.
  • Screw in your joint.

Clamping With ForceBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman

Step 12

Clamping cleverly

If you have a vertical board, hold it upright with a clamp on either side until you’re ready to screw it in. I use this when I’m adding dividers in a cabinet.

  • Measure and mark your board’s placement and glue the bottom edge.
  • Place a clamp on each side of the divider up top to keep it from falling over.
  • Screw in your board at the base.

Clamping CleverlyBrittany Joyner for Family Handyman