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Thread: First set of clamps: pipe or heavy-duty F?

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2012
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    Baton Rouge, LA
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    61

    First set of clamps: pipe or heavy-duty F?

    Now I have power tool decisions made with the help from the SMC community (thank you so much for those of you posted advices on my other thread!) I've moved on to determine my first set of clamps (other than a few small C clamps that I already own) but quickly became

    One of the first things I want (or rather need) to build is a workbench. I'm planning on building my first one out of 2x4's, including laminating bunch of them for its benchtop. So, I figure I need to have long and strong clamps to do this. Obviously, the first thought was to pick up a few of pipe clamp fixtures and 10' 3/4" pipes.

    But, I quickly figured out that pipe clamps aren't exactly cheap (for my budget, mind you ) if you get quality clamp fixtures (~$20 total with 3' pipe). Then, today I saw in the promo email from Rockler that they have Jet clamps on sale ("Save up to 40%" sign got me to click that link lol). They got heavy-duty F clamps: 3'x5" for $23 and 4'x3" for $13 (and many others). They seem to be good clamps to get.

    So, I'd like to have options on the following to make up my mind:

    1. Is there any distinctive advantages of pipe vs. heavy-duty F? (Other than pipe's length flexibility)
    2. What is a general rule of thumb for clamp spacing for tabletop lamination? (To figure out how many I need at first)
    3. F clamp jaw depth: is it wider the better for the same clamping force spec?

    Thanks!!
    Kesh
    Last edited by Kesh Ikuma; 07-27-2012 at 12:55 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2011
    Location
    Clinton County Michigan
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    9
    For the what it's worth department, I have used Jorgenson 3/4" pipe clamps for the last 40 years or so. 3/4" pipe is readily available and frankly, most of the pipe I use in various lengths I salvaged from job sites so my cost is zero except for the clamp fixtures which seem to last forever. I keep an inventory of various lengths from 12" to 72" and swap the fixtures around as needed.
    As far as the number of clamps needed. Well, you can never have too many clamps. Well machined and jointed lumber will need fewer per foot of glue up than off the shelf yard lumber with it's inherent twists, bows, and curls.
    Stay away from the Cheops sold at hoar freight and walk away from the fixtures that use 1/2" pipe.
    John B.......

  3. #3
    My favorite clamps are the Jorgenson I beam type. Have preferred these over pipe clamps.

    A long time ago I got some aluminum channel type on sale and these have worked great but a little lightweight duty for some things. then I picked up some Rockler aluminum channel ones that seemed the same, but dont work nearly as good (they bind)

    I have one set of Irwin parallel face clamps. Mine dont work so well (they seem to bind before they clamp tight).

    The I beams are a little heavy for some things, but still my preferred go to clamp. You cant have too many clamps, and to build a workbench might need more than you would want to invest all up front (I have always wondered why you couldnt put threaded rod through workbench pieces, and just pull it all tight this way?) Another option is to set it up so you can wedge a 2x4 or something between the stack of pieces and an overhead beam - or something like this - you can get some high clamping forces this way). Point being you might not need as many clamps up front if you can find a way to get the workbench built with other clamping methods.

    (it seems that you are going down the learning curve that you will spend as much, or more on all the 'little things', as you will on big obvious machinery...... welcome to woodworking!)

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    State College, PA
    Posts
    93
    As you've discovered, clamps are expensive. However, I take a bit of issue with the 'never have enough clamps' concept that is frequently bandied about. You need enough clamps to keep them from being the bottleneck on your workflow, and no more than that.

    For me, the bottleneck is the length of time I make it into my shop in a single go - typically not more than a couple of hours at a time. Therefore, the fairly small number of large clamps that I have is sufficient because I'm rarely in a position to glue up multiple panels, sides, carcasses, etc at once. With that working model, I can afford to glue something up, call it a night, and come back to the project the next day. That obviously doesn't work in a commercial shop.

    Here is my clamp inventory:
    6 3/4" pipe clamp fixtures (4 rockler, 2 noname) with 8 2.5' lengths of pipe and some couplers
    4 30" F clamps
    4 12" F clamps
    2 wood screw clamps (these are what I turn to first)
    4 small C clamps

    That's a fairly small number, but enough to keep me working. I don't have any of the fancy I-beam variety - they look nice, but my entire collection of other clamps would only buy 2 of the I-beam ones.

    If you're buying pipe clamps, buy 10' lengths of pipe from the Borg for ~$15. The Orange one will cut them into however many pieces you want and thread the ends for no charge.

  5. #5
    re: advantages and disadvantages

    It's difficult to compare the two because they're two different style clamps. Pipe clamps (and parallel clamps) are great for gluing up flat panels. F clamps are great for gluing smaller things to each other. F clamps have drastically greater reach. The work better on oddly shaped items, clamping things to the workbench, etc. Good luck clamping something down to your bench with a pipe clamp.

    If I could ONLY have one style, I would have F clamps. I can do panel glueups with F clamps, but I can't do everything else with pipe clamps. The great advantage to the pipe clamp is that the pipe serves as a surface to rest the panels on while you're doing the glue up. Gluing up panels with F clamps requires significantly more care to get the glue-up straight and to keep it from squirming around. With the pipe clamp it's trivial...lay half on your surface, install the panel, and lay the other half on top. No bowing and generally no shifting if you're half awake.

    I couldn't function without both, but F clamps for sure if you can only have one style...in my opinion.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Carl Beckett View Post
    (I have always wondered why you couldnt put threaded rod through workbench pieces, and just pull it all tight this way?)
    Well, you can. It works especially well if you put a slightly bowed clamping caul on either end. It's just not convenient and you end up with a bunch of holes through your bench.

    Generally, I suggest buying clamps used if you can. Don't know about your area, but everyone around here is going broke or going out of business, and lots of folks are liquidating their whole shops. Shops have clamps
    Last edited by John Coloccia; 07-27-2012 at 9:34 PM.

  7. #7
    IME the most used clamps in most shops are the 2" f-clamps. My first set of clamps was a 30 peice set of Bessey Tradesmans fire like $350. I have a lot more clamps now including another set of 30 Tradesmans. 90% of the time I reach for these first.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Carl Beckett View Post
    I have always wondered why you couldnt put threaded rod through workbench pieces, and just pull it all tight this way?
    Actually, many older benchs and bowling lanes were made this way. It allows for shrinkage to be account for as it happens. Ends start to check, turn a nut, no more check.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Detroit, MI
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    1,593
    The only thing I have found pipe clamps to be useful for is when you need a really long clamp, 5-6 feet or more, which would be prohibitive in other types. Pipe clamps are heavy and awkward to use. They have little reach (depth), and the crank is always running into something. They can provide a lot of clamping force. The last time I used mine was about 15 years ago when I needed some long clamps for a bench assembly.

    I use F clamps more than anything. They are light weight, versatile, less expensive, and can provide plenty of force for most jobs. For something longer than about 3 feet, something heavier would do better though.

    I'd suggest picking up a couple pipe clamps to have around for the times you need long clamps, and focus on something else for the majority of your clamps.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Bloomington, IL
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    4,304
    I use parallels and F clamps the most. I would get a pair of 48 and a pair of 24 parallels to start your journey (Jorgy Cabinet Master, or Bessie K-bodies/revos, or Jet Parallels w/trigger) clamps and a few sizies of F's (the German made Bessie F clamps) . I would see the Jet F clamps in person before buying them (try HD or Lowes). I don't much care for the Chinese Bessie F clamps either at Lowes.
    Glad its my shop I am responsible for - I only have to make me happy.

  11. #11
    Except for the Bessey "Mighty Minis" I would trade every f-style clamp I have 4 to 1 for parallel jaw clamps BUT, that is because I do what I do. You do what you do and what works for me may not work for you. That being said, your satisfaction with your clamps will depend on what you are asking them to do. I do have a dozen 3/4" Jorgie pipe clamps that I bought many years ago. The last time I used them was . . . many years ago. Parallel clamps will do just about anything any f-style or pipe clamp will do but, they can be a parallel clamp too ;-). If you are doing a lot of sheetgoods work, you will favor one type of clamp, coffee tables and chairs, you may favor another. We would be able to make much better decisions early on IF we knew what sort of woodworking we were going to end up drawn to the most, Since we can't know that, we ask on here and take all the opinions of all the nice folks here and try to render them down to what applies to us. I would have less clamps (but not more money) if I had been able to see the future. Good luck and enjoy.
    “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” -- George Orwell


  12. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Bloomington, IL
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    4,304
    Another good thing you could try - Get some bow clamps (or make some) and use them with your F clamps. With the right glue-ups you could save some on clamps.
    Glad its my shop I am responsible for - I only have to make me happy.

  13. #13
    I find I have trouble getting enough clamps. My shop time lately has been about 6 hours. And when I do glue-ups, never have too many, and lots of times wish I had a few more. I found pipe clamps to be lacking, except for length, Have a couple 8' to use when nothig else reaches, been buying the Jorgy Cabinet Masters, and find them to be great. Use the Jorgys first, and fill in with the pipe clamps.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Feb 2003
    Location
    Broken Arrow(Tulsa), OK
    Posts
    812
    Kesh,

    I have many different kinds of clamps, but not many of any one type. I use my parallel clamps alot on edge glueups and love them for that, but I find them too heavy for alot of other work. The Bessey minature parallel clamps are great for small box work and such. F clamps have their place and hand screws theirs and so on. The best advice I could give you is don't buy anymore of a particular style of clamp at one time than you need to get a project done. As you try different types of clamps for things you will learn what works best for you to accomplish a particular task. You will also learn which types are your favorites. Then buy more of your favorites as you find them on sale or otherwise need them. Good Luck!

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Bloomington, IL
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    4,304
    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Andrew View Post
    I find I have trouble getting enough clamps. My shop time lately has been about 6 hours. And when I do glue-ups, never have too many, and lots of times wish I had a few more. I found pipe clamps to be lacking, except for length, Have a couple 8' to use when nothig else reaches, been buying the Jorgy Cabinet Masters, and find them to be great. Use the Jorgys first, and fill in with the pipe clamps.
    Glad its my shop I am responsible for - I only have to make me happy.

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