Well over half of the emails sent to me are on the subject of tools. I have no objections to responding to them but I thought it would be beneficial to start a video library of sorts to briefly touch on what I think of a particular tool or set of tools. These won’t be in depth tool reviews as I know very few people are interested in that kind of thing and I really don’t want to go over all the details. Instead I’ll just focus on the things I like about the tool, things I don’t like about the tool, and would I buy it again. I have a huge list of “episodes” that can be made and plan on releasing one per week. Hopefully this will be helpful to some people.
The local store I mentioned in the video is Discount Tools in Starkville Mississippi. It’s hard to touch on every single pro and con for every type of clamp I have and have used so I’m just going to hit the high and low points of the things that stick out to me.
What I like:
- I prefer Bessey 6″ F style clamps over the Harbor Freight F style clamps. Currently a 6 pack of Bessey 6″ clamps are $15 on HomeDepot.com. That actually ends up being less expensive than the Harbor Freight F style clamps.
- The Bessey K Body clamps are the strongest clamps I have and create the most stable platform to begin a glue-up but are also the least convenient in my opinion.
- I prefer aluminum bar clamps and 1/2″ pipe clamps over Bessey K Body clamps. They are waaaaaaaay less expensive and I reach for them more frequently in my shop. I can get 1/2″ pipe clamps locally for $6 and pipe at $1.20 per foot. That means a 1/2″ pipe clamp that is 24″ long is $8.50. Four 24″ pipe clamps or five 24″ aluminum bar clamps cost less than one 24″ Bessey K Body clamp and in 99% of situations I would prefer the multiple pipe or bar clamps. The aluminum bar clamps and pipe clamps clean up very fast from glue drips.
- Irwin quick clamps have never let me down. I really like them.
- Inexpensive 2″ spring clamps are handy. I’ve got some 1″ spring clamps that I don’t recall if I’ve used or not
What I don’t like:
- I used to recommend Harbor Freight F style clamps to everyone. However, every single Harbor Freight F style clamp I own has something wrong with it. They still complete the task but not without compensating for a bend in the bar or the screw bending off to one side. They also have problems with the handles stripping. The best one word description of them is “frustrating.”
- The Bessey K Body clamps are heavy, bulky, and hard to clean when glue drips on them.
- Every non Irwin brand quick clamp I’ve used (a couple knock off’s and Harbor Freight versions) have broke.
- Kreg sent me a few of their bar automaxx bar clamps. I can’t recommend them. I feel like the power isn’t there like in traditional F style bar clamps, the handle is going in the wrong direction, and overall just feel awkward when using them for some reason. I’ve had them for about a year now sitting in the same area as the rest of my clamps and I never seem to reach for them. They are also crazy expensive. I never looked up the price until writing this article and was shocked to see them priced higher than the Bessey K Body line.
What clamps would I buy to start over?
Over the past few years I’ve realized, for the most part, that you get what you pay for with woodworking tools. With clamps I don’t see that as a clear cut situation. I think clamps have a steady middle ground that just seems to work. Stay away from the low end and stay away from the high end. No need to re-invent the wheel here.
On the bottom you’ve got the super inexpensive Harbor Freight clamps that I previously recommended to everyone. They have since become more frustrating than what they are worth in my opinion. If you just need a couple clamps to get by with or you want to invest as little as possible then dealing with the frustrations of Harbor Freight clamps will probably be OK. If you plan on using them year after year and enjoy woodworking you will probably find them to be more frustrating than what they are worth. I would (and already have) pick up some better quality F style clamps if I had to start over.
The middle ground seems to be the sweet spot for me. My favorite clamps are my inexpensive 1/2″ pipe clamps. If I were to rebuild my shop tomorrow I would definitely stock up on 1/2″ pipe clamps first as I find them to be the best value for the money. They are relatively inexpensive, have plenty of power for what I do, clean up easily, and are easy to handle and use. Aluminum bar clamps are a close second on my list.
The “top of the line” is where I think the value diminishes quickly. First, I was blown away to find out that the Kreg automaxx bar clamps were the most expensive clamps I had. Even more expensive than the same length Bessey K Body clamps. The Bessey K Body clamps are very strong clamps with nice wide clamping faces but again are pretty expensive. Regardless of how well these two clamp product lines do or do not perform my biggest complaint with them is the lack of what you get for the money. When there is an alternative that allows me to get four or five clamps that work very well and are very convenient to use for the same price as one of these higher end clamps I’m going to buy, and recommend, the alternative every time.