Get a Grip!

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This article is from Issue 86 of Woodcraft Magazine.

Need a shop helper? These quick-action clamps are ready to lend a hand.

By Joe Hurst-Wajszczuk

Bar, pipe and K-body clamps are your best bet for most glue-ups, but what about all those clamping jobs that simply require a third hand? There are plenty of times when speed and easy operation are more important than clamping pressure–like affixing a workpiece to a jig or workbench, holding parts together while you drive a screw, or keeping an assembly from falling apart as you position additional clamps. For these assignments, fast-acting bar clamps are worth their weight in gold.

These days, trigger, or pistol-grip clamps are commonplace in most workshops, but surprisingly, “quick-grips” are a relatively recent invention. American Tool introduced the first clamp with a moveable jaw and one-way drive mechanism in 1988. In the decades that followed, manufacturers continued to innovate with new features and improved functionality. The result is an impressive array of capabilities that go beyond basic clamping in many cases. To help make sense of the new generation, we’re offering this side-by-side comparison with key specs plus a few details you may have missed. 

As you select your next set of shop assistants, it’s smart to consider all the variables: bar length, throat depth, clamping pressure, and clamping action (how the clamping mechanism works). Although the mechanisms differ, a trigger-clamp’s maximum clamping pressure is largely determined by your hand strength. But design variations like threaded arms and cam-action levers enable you to increase the pressure without employing a killer grip.




WoodRiver 

Max. Force: 180 lbs.
Throat Depth: 31⁄4"
Sizes Available: 6, 12, 24, 36"





Irwin SL300


Max. Force: 300 lbs.
Throat Depth: 33⁄4"
Sizes Available: 6, 12, 18, 24, 36, 50"





DeWalt

Max. Force: 300 lbs.
Throat Depth: 27⁄16"
Sizes Available: 6, 12, 36, 50"



Bessey DuoKlamp 

Max. Force: 260 lbs.
Throat Depth: 31⁄4" and 13⁄8"
Sizes Available: 6, 12, 18, 24"





Bessey PowerGrip

Max. Force: 200-1000 lbs.
Throat Depth: 4"
Sizes Available: 12, 24"



Bessey EZS

Max. Force: 445 lbs.
Throat Depth: 31⁄2"
Sizes Available: 6, 12, 18, 24, 36"

One size doesn’t fit all

Several manufacturers offer trigger clamps in a range of sizes. What mini and light-duty clamps lack in brute strength, they make up in convenience, fitting where bigger clamps can’t. Obviously, larger clamps are designed to deliver more pressure, but their size also offers a mechanical advantage. If you lack the hand strength needed to achieve full clamping pressure, a larger clamp (with a longer handle) can provide the grip you can’t get from a smaller clamp.

Lever-Action Bar Clamps

Unlike pistol-grips, lever-action bar clamps aren’t new (Klemmsia, a German tool manufacturer, has been making wooden-jaw cam clamps for over 100 years.) However, the old and new versions can hold their own in any workshop.

A lever clamp may not offer the same one-handed convenience as a trigger-clamp, or the force of an F-style clamp, but the simple cam mechanism possesses several winning attributes. The lever action makes it easy for users to quickly and easily apply full pressure, or dial back the clamping force. Unlike other types of clamp heads that twist or slide as pressure is applied, the cam mechanism exerts pressure directly in-line with the pad. This means that parts are less likely to shift during assembly. Finally in terms of weight, lever clamps are featherweights compared to heavier trigger-activated and threaded-jawed F-clamps.

Although traditional wooden-jawed clamps are still widely used by woodworkers and luthiers for chores that don’t require tremendous clamping pressure, manufacturers have created new versions that are suitable for a wider range of applications. Unlike the simple rotating mechanism used on the original design, newer metal and plastic jawed clamps possess ratcheting mechanisms that can’t slip and come loose, even under vibration.



Pinnacle Cam

Max. Force: 260 lbs.
Throat Depth: 41⁄2", 81⁄2"
Sizes Available: 4, 8, 12, 16"



WoodRiver Quick Gear

Max. Force: 270 lbs.
Throat Depth: 3"
Sizes Available: 8, 12"



Bessey KliKlamp

Max. Force: 260 lbs.
Throat Depth: 3"
Sizes Available: 4, 8, 12, 16



Bora

Max. Force: 330 lbs.
Throat Depth: 4"
Sizes Available: 4, 8, 12, 16"



WoodRiver Q-Lever 

Max. Force: 400 lbs.
Throat Depth: 41⁄4"
Sizes Available: 6, 8, 12, 18"





Kreg Auto-Adjust 

Max. Force: 300 lbs.
Throat Depth: 11⁄2"
Sizes Available: 8, 16, 24"

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