Clamps are critical to almost every project you make. Depending on the work you do, some of these clamps will be more or less useful to you, but it’s rare that a woodworker won’t reach for every one of these clamps over the course of a year.
1. Spring Clamps – A small selection of adjustable spring clamps will help with lots of miscellaneous tasks around the shop. Alternatively, a set of 1″, 2″ and 3″ spring clamps are widely available.
2. Quick Grip/One-Handed Clamps – When you’re alone assembling projects in the shop, it’s nice to have an extra hand, and that’s exactly what these clamps give you. Although they don’t exert a lot of force, they can be manipulated and operated with one hand, while the other hand positions the wood parts. Brilliant. A pair of 6″ one-handed clamps will likely be enough.
3. 6″ C-Clamps – Whether you’re clamping a work piece to a shop jig or fixture, flushing up surfaces in a large solid wood assembly or working with smaller parts C-clamps will get lots of use. Although the more expensive models are smooth running, and a joy to use, more economical models are widely available if money is tight. Plan on having at least 10 of these on your clamp rack.
4. Toggle Clamps – Horizontal versions are the most common and useful. They’re great for holding down workpieces on jigs, making the job of machining small and similar parts safe and easy. You should have two horizontal versions on hand, and a few other versions as well, for good measure.
5. Light Duty 12″ F-Clamps – It’s common to have at least 10 of these on hand for thousands of uses around the shop. They don’t need to have wood-crushing strength, and I often find their light weight is a pro, for easy manipulation. Stay away from F-clamps with thin, light threads, as they have a tendency to strip. You can’t have too many of these shop workhorses on hand.
6. Heavy Duty 18″ F-Clamps – Once in a while, a serious combination of strength, throat depth and jaw opening capacity is required. This is when I reach for one of my two heavy-duty F-clamps. Maybe it’s working with bent laminations, or securing a workpiece to a bench; I don’t use them often, but once in a while these save the day. They are expensive, so if money is tight just get one.
7. 24″ or 48″ Parallel Clamps – When building case-goods, these clamps will be your ‘bread and butter’. Size them depending on the scale of work you do. If sheet goods and built-ins are your ‘main course’ be sure to have at least 10 of these next to your assembly table. Otherwise four might do.
8. 48″ Pipe Clamps – Similar to parallel clamps, these strong, easy to use clamps are great for many larger tasks around the shop. Buy heavy-duty pipe clamp from a reputable supplier, and make sure it’s threaded on both ends so a coupler can be used to attach two or more pipes together to clamp long lengths. Purchase the clamp heads and thread them onto each pipe. Have at least four 48″ long pipes, each with clamp heads, on hand.
9. Light Weight 24″ Bar or F-Clamps – Medium-length, lightweight clamps are handy for many reasons. Often you don’t need a lot of clamping pressure, and in these cases it’s much nicer to not have to wield a heavy clamp. Depending on the work you do, and how many other medium-length clamps are in your collection, I would aim to have between two and 10 of these.
10. Band Clamps – When clamping round or multi-directional projects, band clamps are great. Most woodworkers will get by with only one, but if you like building chairs you might want to pick up a few extra.
Rob is a studio furniture maker and the editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.
I noticed you didn’t mention wooden hand screw clamps. I have a half a dozen of these and I find them indispensable in my shop especially for those little oddball shaped pieces.