As a DIYer with no formal training in wood-working, my clamp game was sketchy at best. To resolve this – and to help you – I’ve done the research and talked to the professionals to help you with a beginner’s kit that will see you through most small-build projects.
What are clamps for?
Despite common misconceptions, putting together furniture isn’t about a hammer and nails. Most pieces you’ll build – from nightstands to coffee tables – will be held together with a combination of wood screws (often pocket hole screws) and wood glue. You will be surprised at the strength of wood glue by itself – but in order for it to set tightly and to its strongest capacity you need clamps to “clamp” pieces of wood together with enough strength, and for enough time, for it to set.
What kind of clamping pressure do you need?
This is far more involved than a beginning, or even intermediate, DIYer really needs to know, other than to say that hardwoods like Maple and Oak need a lot more clamping pressure than the soft pine you tend to find at your local home improvement store. This article by Fine Woodworking breaks down the ideal clamping pressure by wood species should you want to learn more.
How many clamps do you need?
This is interesting – many people under-utilize clamps. A general rule of thumb would be to draw a line 45° out from either side of the clamp to the seam being glued (aka. edge of the board or glueline). This area is called the “clamping cone of pressure” and is where the majority of the force is radiated from each clamp. This article by Fine Woodworking has a great graphic to show you what that means. To get the best and most equal clamping pressure throughout your glue-up, you’ll want to add the next clamp so that its cone of pressure slightly overlaps that of the first clamp. The wider the board you are gluing, the further apart the clamps can be and still exert proper pressure.
To avoid any bowing of the wood, you’ll want to space your clamps above and below the piece being glued and alternate the handles from one side to the other.
How long should a piece be clamped after gluing?
This will depend on how “stressed” the joint will be;
- If it’s a simple fit of one piece to another then glue times can be anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the brand of glue you choose. Cabinets tend to have simple joints.
- if it’s a joint that will see a lot of tension, movement or weight – ie. “stressed” – then glue/clamping time should run closer to 24 hours. Table surfaces tend to have more stressed joints.
Up to this point, buying clamps has been dictated by whatever I find on the shelf at my local home improvement store and/or have purchased used online. This hasn’t been a successful game plan. I have broken almost as many clamps as I’ve purchased – cheap means just that – cheaply made and easy to break.
Save your money!
Based on the 5 or 6 brands of clamps I have tried, Bessey has proven to be the best (in my opinion), so I reached out to a professional at Bessey to find out what this, and any other, home DIYer should start with. I set the parameter that the clamps need to be sturdy and good quality, but still be in the realm of affordable.
The recommendation I received was that the “Light Duty TGJ series” was a great place to start.
The TGJ series is what is called a malleable cast bar clamp, and this series is excellent at resisting flex.
The throat depth refers to the space between the clamp edge and the steel rail. For a home DIYer building smaller projects, a 2 ½” throat is a good starting point
The clamping force of the TGJ series ranges from 600lbs to 1320lbs on the longer clamps – plenty of pressure for most soft to medium woods.
So what clamps should I buy?
In speaking with the professionals at Bessey, they offered up two suggestions:
- the TGJ TG kit (BTB30) which includes 30 malleable cast clamps;
- (4) 6″
- (6) 12″
- (4) 18″
- (8) 24″
- (4) 30″ and
- (4) 36″
This is a FANTASTIC kit, but might be a little pricey for the home DIYer coming in at around $664 Cdn.
As an alternative, to grow your clamp collection slowly over time, you could instead start with pairs of 6″, 12″, 24″ and 48″.
To give you an idea of pricing (just based on current pricing online) you could purchase:
- 6″ clamps, 2½” throat with 600lbs clamping pressure for roughly $17.99 each (TGJ2.506)
- 12″ clamps, 2½” throat with 600lbs clamping pressure for roughly $19.99 each (TGJ2.512)
- 24″ clamps, 2½” throat with 600lbs clamping pressure for roughly $23.99 each (TGJ2.524)
- 48″ clamps, 7″ throat with 1320lbs clamping pressure for roughly $83.99 each (TG7.048)
This kit (consisting of pairs of each size) would run approximately $292 Cdn.
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My personal preference is to begin with longer clamps because they can be used for a larger number of DIY projects – although the long ‘tails’ hanging out can be awkward and dangerous to work around. The downside to this is that they won’t fit in smaller spaces like cabinets.
If your DIY project repertoire includes making boxes or frames, then a strap clamp should definitely be included on your wish list. A strap clamp is essentially a woven strap that can wrap all the way around a project and then gets pulled taught to hold all four sides of your piece together. Bessey has a strap clamp that applies pressure from both sides of the strap ensuring that your piece doesn’t get pulled askew when tightening. (Bessey VAS-23)
Full disclosure: I contacted Bessey to flesh out this article; I wanted product expertise and suggestions for the best and most economical clamps for the home DIYer to start with. I did receive some free clamps after the article had already been written and approved – but this article was not sponsored by Bessey. Information has been verified and as always, my opinions are sincere and my own.
My clamp game is improving and now that I know the best clamps for the home DIYer, I’m off to do a little online shopping!
Have a great one!