Trigger clamps: Beauty over function?
We’re running a trigger (a.k.a. one-handed) clamp tool comparison article in an upcoming issue. I’m taking some of the photographs, so a few of the companies have sent me clamps to shoot.
I’ve owned three brands of trigger clamps, but the brand I most commonly use is my Irwin Quick-Grip. I’ve had three of these clamps for likely 25 years and they work well. I’m also very used to how they operate.
When it comes to operating a trigger clamp there are two main talking points: how you apply force via the gripping trigger (quite simple, really); and how you release the clamp when you’re done with it (there’s more variation on this point). The release trigger on my Irwin clamps is a small lever that works in the same direction as the trigger you squeeze to apply pressure in the first place. Both the gripping and releasing triggers are also accessible when you’re using the clamp with a single hand. In short, it’s a well-thought-out clamp that’s a joy to use.
New kids on the block
For this upcoming article, Pony Jorgenson sent me three trigger clamps. They’re very similar to the Irwin Quick-Grip clamps except for one detail – how the clamping pressure is released. While I find releasing the Irwin Quick-Grip clamps an intuitive process, I find the location of the pressure release on the Pony Jorgenson is a bit harder to get used to. It’s incorporated into the stationary part of the handle that fits into the palm of your hand while you grasp the clamp. When in use, the pressure lever is nicely positioned, but the release mechanism is actually too close to my palm to be easily pressed.
These clamps are still new to me, and I haven’t used them that often, so the jury is still out on the way they release and how these will work for me. It might very well be I’m so set in my ways from using my other clamps that I’m having a hard time changing between styles. Otherwise, the Pony Jorgenson clamps work great. They apply ample force, they’re comfortable in the hand and they have some nice features. They even have an interesting dovetail fixture on the ends of the clamps that allow you to gang them together to form one longer clamp out of two shorter clamps. I’ve not yet needed this feature, as I have more than enough clamps in my shop.
Did you catch that? I just said, “I have more than enough clamps in my shop.” We all know that’s a bold-faced lie. There’s not a woodworker in the world who has enough clamps, let alone more than enough clamps hanging on their walls.
The strange thing, at least to me, is that I find myself reaching for these Pony Jorgenson clamps more often than my older, more comfortable trigger clamps. I even asked myself out loud yesterday why I was reaching for these new clamps, even though I always end up fumbling with them when it comes time to release them.
A short tangent here: I tend to think of myself as a pretty simple guy. I choose tools that work and are most comfortable over anything fancy or flashy. It’s not about the tools, it’s about the process, and most importantly, the final product I’m creating. I’ve never really been the kind of guy who totally geeks out over a tool. It’s always about the potential a tool has to make my time in the shop go more smoothly and for my work to be more accurate.
So knowing that about myself, I was surprised to find myself constantly reaching for the tool that didn’t work as well, at least in my hands. Then it hit me: Maybe I’m someone who likes the flashier, fancier side of tools after all. You know, the side that truly doesn’t matter. I honestly think the reason why I reach for the Pony Jorgenson clamps so often is that they’re a nice colour. On the surface, that’s pretty frivolous, but maybe somewhere deep inside me is a natural desire to use tools that are beautiful. The other clamps aren’t ugly, but they’re more utilitarian in looks. The Pony Jorgenson clamps are an attractive coral orange and I like to see them.
I’m sure I’ll start to get used to how the new clamps work, especially because I’ll be reaching for them often.
I don’t think these are the nicest looking tools I own, but the colours are great. Do you find yourself reaching for a tool that looks more attractive, as opposed to the tool that might be more comfortable or is better suited for the job? Share your thoughts below or send me an email. I won’t blame you for not using the best tool for the job, as long as the tool you’re using looks great.
My new Pony Jorgenson clamps are some of the best-looking items in my workshop.
Can You See the Difference?
My old standards work great and feel like an extension of my hands. My new Pony Jorgenson clamps are comfortable and easily apply force, but they’re trickier to release. But more importantly, which one do you think looks better? I know my answer.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
I really like the Irwin clamps. I wish they were still around to buy. I have not tried the other but look like they would work ok. Will have to try someday.
I didn’t have a chance to try the Pony Jorgenson clamps yet and I have been using the quick grip ones for years. I have a little problem with the quick grip, the two Jaws are not parallel and I think it is part of the design to add more spring like clamping force however this tends to move the glued parts so you always need to readjust them, otherwise they are sturdy, light weight and have a lot of clamping power.
Have set of the oldies and are the first one I pick. Just old habits never die.
I LOL when I read, “Then it hit me: Maybe I’m someone who likes the flashier, fancier side of tools after all.” Me too. I like to tell myself that the process can be as pretty as the finished product. When I see something all clamped up with the same clamps, it just looks good compared to a mish-mash of whatever oddball clamps could be found,
You left out perhaps one of the best features of this new generation of clamps…the ability to convert from a clamping tool to a spreading tool by reversing the fixed end of the clamp.
This feature is a great improvement when separating hide glued joint when repairing or restoring furniture pieces.
Although an Irwin model was my introduction to trigger clamps, more than half my collection is now other brands, including Canadian Tire’s Mastercraft, Princess Auto’s ProPoint, and unlabelled ones. Some use the Pony-style rear release button, which I agree is awkward. (I presume it’s simpler to construct, although I haven’t disassembled any to check.) I really don’t care about looks, but I do care about clamping force and bar strength, and that’s what I look for in almost any clamp I’m considering.
The exceptions are very small clamps, such as the one I’m using right now to keep my keyboard tray from sliding in, and one, Skil brand, with an unusually long reach that was in Princess Auto’s cheap Surplus section. I also picked up an Irwin QuickGrip “mega” model that has by far the heftiest construction I’ve ever seen, with a shallow I-beam bar, heavy and large clamping pads, and a high clamping force that approaches pipe clamps.
One functional difference I noticed between the two clamps you pictured is the size of the clamp pads, including their reach toward the bar. The Pony wins there and likely doesn’t suffer the pad slippage that my Irwin’s often have.
I’ve bought those Jorgensen and I’m very disappointed. Not strong enough. Best are Wolfecraft but are hard to find.
The Pony’s look heavier duty: the bar appears wider, the heads are larger and appear more robust. The clamp area of the jaws are larger as well. Whether these things matter is the question. Do you find the weight to be a factor? Ergonomics seem to be the most important thing in one-handed clamps.
Irwin looks the best and works the best for the price. I’ve had mine since 1998 they get used a lot. Never once had a problem
I have Irwin & Dewalt clamps. Features for consideration, the size of the rubber faces. Usually the larger face works better. However, there are occasions when the smaller face allows the clamp to be used in a tight space, also the size of the fixed jaw sometimes limits the location where the clamp can be used. Most of my clamps are squeeze or spread style. Linking 2 clamps together to create a longer clamp is a welcome feature.
Rob, Like you and others I have a few of the original Irwin Quick-\grip blue & yellow clamps, but a few years ago I bought a pair of Irwin Quick-Grip blue and silver clamps, much heavier duty and also a couple of Magnum Industrial(KMS) which are much stronger than the original blue & yellow clamps. I also have several “tiny” squeeze grip clamps that are great for small glue-ups. Also very handy are four Jorgensen Mini E-Z Hold II #3406, which are 9″ shaft with two sliders and round orange pads, very handy and can be operated with one hand, for small jobs and they are less prone to cause glued parts to go out of alignment; the only problem is I haven’t seen these in stores for a few years, but they are definitely recommended. Great topic!
The ability to convert trigger clamps to spreader clamps is nothing new. You just remove the screw holding the fixed head and move it to the other end of the bar. You can also use that screw hole to join two clamps together, doubling the length of the clamp. I too have a mixture of manufacturers including Irwin, Wolfcraft, Bessey and some very cheap, unbranded little ones that can be perfect in tiny spaces.
I’ve been using the Irwin clamps for decades.
I find it strange that no one mentions the stain that the pads leave on the wood. It’s like they release some kind of oil from the plastic. I find I have to cover the face of the pads with some tape to not get a stain.
Maybe it’s because they are like ‘first generation’ ones ?
I must say the Ponys have larger pad to apply pressure over a wider area as well as being easier to see. As I recall you pay a bit more for them.
I own lots of Irwin Quick Grip, the first ones I bought, then some Mastercraft, older Craftman, some Dewalt, Bessey and the Jorgenson. Price is also important when buying my tools.
Usually I prefer functionality over looks, and I find the Jorgensen better made and versatile.
On the hand plane side, I fell in love with Veritas ones, The good looks won me when I first saw them. First and only time I felt like that about a tool. I like it when I use them.
I have used Irwin clamps for decades. Never had any issues with them. Last Christmas I
received a set of De Walt clamps. I do find myself grabbing the bright yellow ones . Is it
Because they are easier to spot? They both work well for me.