Guide written by:
Alice, Furniture Maker, Manchester
Whether you're working with metal or wood, you’ll need clamping tools to hold your parts securely in place when machining or assembling. Clamps, clips, bench clamps, arbor presses, vices... Don't get your fingers caught!
- Clamping power
How can clamping tools be classified?
There are two main types of clamping tools, which can be defined as:
- Assembly tools - to tighten two pieces together when assembling;
- Holding tools - to keep a piece in place while you work on it.
The first category includes panelpresses, framepresses, arbor presses (mainly used in carpentry); as well as corner vices,spring clamps and adjustable clamps / cramps (used in various assembly contexts: welding, gluing etc.).
Although they can also be used for assembly, holding tools are primarily designed to keep a piece fixed in place while you work on it. These include vices and bench clamps.
Most claming tools have jaws: metal (or occasionally rubber) parts that contact the piece to be clamped. These jaws come in a range of shapes to fit all profiles.
Six assembly tools...
Depending on your needs, you can choose between different presses and clamps.
- Panel press: consists of a set of parallel threaded rods, held at the ends by a square wooden or metal element, allowing you to press together wooden batons for bonding. Pressing height is about 1m on an average-sized model; length can be increased by adding as many rods as you need!
- Frame press: ideal for assembling decorative frames, these presses can work with a strap or a cord. In either case, this flexible element surrounds the frame assembly and, by means of four reinforced corners, consolidates the corners of the frame. Pressure is then applied by means of a ratchet mechanism.
- Bench clamp: as the name suggests, this tool is fixed to your workbench. It will keep a firm grip on any iron component (e.g. rod, flat iron) so you can machine it without risk - it's a sturdy workhorse! These clamps will accommodate fairly large pieces (up to 40cm).
- Quick-release clamp: this small, handy clamp lets you rapidly press two pieces together; super-practical in delicate situations! Pull the trigger and the jaws instantly lock.
- Spring clamps: these look like giant clothes pegs made of rigid plastic or metal. Very practical for gluing small pieces together, their aperture varies between about 2-7cm. However, clamping power is limited by the strength of the spring.
- Adjustable clamps: coming in different sizes and designs, these clamps are characterized by their aperture, clamping power and depth. They can be tightened by screwing (pump clamps, screw clamps, C-clamps) pinching (one-handed or quick-release clamps) or striking (masonry clamps).
Two holding tools...
Essential kit for any DIY enthusiast!
- Vice: the essential workshop tool. Made of hardened steel, with a rotating base and variable jaw aperture, it includes an anvil . Its role is to immobilize everything that passes between its jaws with a turn of arms. The clamping lever operates a screw, closing the movable jaw against the fixed jaw along a parallel slide. Other, more compact and portable models can be attached to a drill press table. These let you keep your pieces (e.g. planed timber, metal sections) dead still while you work on them. You can get angular jaws (90° angle) and U-shaped jaws (for round pieces such as tubes), generally made of hardened steel or aluminium. Some vices allow transverse clamping, while others are tiltable.
- Angle vice: also made of hardened steel, these are fixed to your workbench. An angle vice lets you lock two separate pieces together at right angles for assembly (i.e. welding etc). It also consists of a fixed and a movable jaw.
A final word of advice on clamping tools?
Apart from vices - an essential tool in any workshop - clamping tools should be chosen according to your specific needs and DIY plans.
If you need to cut and twist pieces of metal, go straight for a bench clamp. No problem at all with a hefty piece of kit like that!
If you want to fix your treasured favourite mug after your cat has smashed it, go for the spring clamp or quick-release clamp: simple but effective!
Panel and framepresses are specific to their respective applications, as is the mason's clamp. Adjustable clamps are essential for carpentry work.
Watch your fingers!
Learn more about woodworking equipment...
To find out more about DIY equipment, follow our editors' advice and check out their other guides:
Guide written by:
Alice, Furniture Maker, Manchester, 10 guides
I have been handy since my childhood, I have always been fond of new tools and other small practical machines. Beyond my interest in tools and materials, I am interested in building of all types. My professional experience as an artisan craftsman (ok the word says ‘man’, but it can work for me too.), allows me to with a material and that’s both noble and common at the same time: wood. Surrounded by carpenters and other builders, I am constantly interacting with professional and amateur wood workers, but also various kinds of manufacturing. I am also an amateur gardener, I like to cultivate my vegetable garden. You could say that summer ends under the sign of ratatouille. So, with two passions, I hope to answer your questions.