If you work with wood, you’re going to have to deal with clamps. That’s not a bad thing, though. Clamps are very useful tools and proper clamping will ensure that you get a better end product than you might otherwise produce. But just slapping some clamps on without thinking about what you’re doing can cause more harm than good to the time and effort you’ve put into a project. Here are a few tips to keep in mind next time you’re ready to break out the clamps for a project.
Not only will they make your clamping better, but they may save you some headaches down the road as well.
Use the Right Clamp
Clamps aren’t really a one-size-fits-all sort of tool, despite the fact that they can be used on a wide range of products. Think about it – if any clamp could do any job, would we really need so many types of clamps? Take the time to learn about different clamp types like bar clamps, band clamps, and C clamps, including both how they work and on what sort of projects they work best.
Protect Your Surfaces
Clamps are very useful, but if you’re not careful they can damage the surface of the wood. This is especially true with metal clamps or clamps that have very rough surfaces on them. Clamp pads are available for purchase, although you can also use hard felt furniture glide pads, plastic milk bottle tops and even folded towels or other pieces of cloth if necessary. Just make sure that any protectant you use isn’t abrasive and that the clamp isn’t going to slide around once it’s in place.
Take Care Using Glue
Too much glue can make a mess, especially if it’s leaking out from the seams of your clamped wood. If that mess gets all over your clamps, things can get even worse because dried glue on your clamps is an annoyance. Use masking tape, painter’s tape or even wax paper or plastic wrap to protect your clamps from glue while in use. You can remove the tape later, taking any excess glue with it.
Watch the Pressure
It’s easy to forget about pressure when you’re clamping a project. You know that a nice tight fit is important, but if you get the clamp too tight then you’re going to make things worse instead of better. The increased pressure can squeeze glue out from between clamped pieces of wood, leaving the bond between them weaker as a result. More pressure also increases the likelihood of cracking and other damage. Tighten the clamps enough to get a tight fit, but don’t overdo it.
Perform a Test Fit
Before you glue everything up, it’s important to make sure that everything fits together the way it should. Assemble your project and clamp it together to check the fit of the various pieces, making note of anything that doesn’t seem to fit quite right. You may need to do several test runs before you’ve got everything just right, but the effort can enhance your end result. Not only do test fits allow you to catch potential problems, they also give you time to practice assembly before the glue is in play and time is of the essence.
Sometimes, clamps can serve a bigger purpose than just holding things together. Long bar clamps can be used as “legs” to lift pieces off of the work area, with smaller clamps actually doing the work of holding your piece together. You can also attach a random clamp to a project to keep a cord out of the way or hold a bag of screws or other items that you need at arm’s reach. There are a number of creative ways to use clamps to make your job easier.
Know When Not to Use Clamps
If you’re dealing with small or intricate pieces, you might have trouble using a traditional clamp. Sometimes, you’ll find that you’re better off simply using painter’s tape to “clamp” the small pieces together instead of trying to attach an actual clamp.
If you’re dealing with curved surfaces, a tied-off sock or plastic bag filled with buckshot can work as well or better than most clamps so long as downward pressure is appropriate. Not every job requires a clamp – being able to recognize when a clamp just isn’t appropriate goes a long way toward preventing damage and lost time.