Toolsday: Bar Clamp

Ah, the humble bar clamp, also known as the F clamp. Similar to the good old C clamp, but easier to use.

Small Bar Clamp

This is a small one, only about 5 inches long. I have a handful of these, plus two low-profile kind, four 12 inch, two 24 inch, and two 36 inch. Yes, awesome yard-long clamps.

C clamps basically have only one way to adjust them. You have to turn the screw many many times to make large adjustments. With the bar clamp, you slide the clamping head to make gross adjustments, and then turn the screw to tighten things up a bit. The larger clamps have a ratchet to hold the sliding part in place, so you can set multiple clamps up, then tighten them one by one.

The screw can exert quite a lot of force, which is useful sometimes for easing parts together. With enough clamps, you can force warped wood into position, then hold it there long enough for the glue to set. The larger clamps enable you to pull this trick on bigger and bigger projects. You still need the smaller ones, though, because having giant 36" clamps on a tiny box is not only unwieldy, but liable to make the small workpiece flip up off the bench. If you visit the shop of somebody who does a lot of cabinetry, they will have whole racks of clamps, in many different varieties.

These little ones only cost $5 or so, but the prices increase pretty rapidly. I would recommend holding off on larger ones until you need them, but don't hesitate to buy once you decide you need them, because trying to "make do" never works out. Since you can always use more of them, they make good gift items from your friends and relatives. Pick a favorite brand and learn how to describe it. (Mine: Bessey, with the red handles.

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2010.10.26 at 12:00am EDT