What’s the difference between a bar clamp and a C-clamp?
Which would work best for your specific project? You’re looking for different types of clamps, sure, but more importantly...
...you’re looking for the best.
Well, I hope you’re thirsty.
Because we’re serving up a batch of cold, refreshing knowledge.
We’ve got the best woodworking clamps picked out for you, all in a neat little list with links and everything. Enjoy them.
But beware: you’re on your own when the spouse asks why you went and bought 15 new clamps...
A quick look at the 10 must have woodworking clamps:
1. Spring Clamps
The runts of the litter...
Spring clamps are small, handheld clamps that work a lot like binder clips for a paper. They’re small and effective: not to be overlooked.
You’ll feel like an octopus:
Let’s be frank: spring clamps aren’t going to give you the most power in the world.
That being said:
They’re great helpers when you’re trying to hold together a lot of pieces while you work.
They’re like the Santa’s Elves of woodworking: small, loveable, useful. You’ll want to use more powerful clamps for your large glue-ups, but you can probably get by with these for gluing very small pieces.
Our recommendation: Online Best Service 12 Pack
We like the Online Best Service 12 Pack for a couple of reasons. In a world of plastic clamps, metal clamps just look and feel sturdier. The rubber grips help you hold onto the clamps--and help the clamps hold on to your work.
The best part?
The price is right for a set of 12 whole clamps that you’ll be using for a very long time.
2. Quick grip/One-handed Clamps:
Pumps for pressure:
Quick grip mini bar clamps use a pistol pump mechanism that lets you tighten the clamp with a single hand.
...It’s kind of like using one of those grip strengtheners you bought 10 years ago but never use.
Keep those hands free...
It may not seem like much, but being able to use one hand to tighten a clamp is actually a big deal. You get to hold your work while you tighten your clamp, and make sure everything lines up perfectly.
That’s not all:
Quick grip mini bar clamps can have seriously wide jaws--I’ve got some that go to about 18”. That blows spring clamps out of the water.
Our recommendation: quick grip clamps from Irwin
We recommend a diverse set of quick grip clamps from Irwin. It’s got a couple of spring clamps, a couple of Handi-Clamps, and a handful of mini bar clamps.
Non-marking stay-on pads keep unwanted clamp marks off your work while keeping everything held together nice and tight.
3. Corner Clamps:
What you see is what you get:
Corner clamps are exactly what they sound like: they hold the wood together in a corner.
In woodworking, corners in store...
Corner clamps are pretty much essential for anything with mitered edges.
Whether it’s that picture frame for your mom, that mitered jewelry box for your wife, or that bookshelf for the living room, you’re going to want a few corner clamps.
Keep in mind:Most corner clamps aren’t suitable for glue-ups, as they don’t firmly clamp, but more just hold the material in place.
Our recommendation: corner clamp from Kreg
Check out this funky looking corner clamp from Kreg: they align quickly and hold tightly. The quick-release handle will save you minutes... minutes!!
4. Parallel Clamps:
The big boys:
Now we’re getting into the real meat and potatoes of clamps.
Parallel clamps boast beefy steel bars, heavy duty handles and screws, real clamping power, and jaws that stay parallel to each other no matter what.
Those jaws were made for eating...
Parallel clamps use their giant jaws to bite down on the biggest projects you can throw at them. Tabletops. Cabinets. Bookshelves.
You know, real woodworking.
A large glue-up without a good set of parallel clamps is a mistake, plain and simple. The glue-up is where greatness is made...
...or where failure happen.
Our recommendation: Bessey KRK 2450
This set from Bessey comes with two 24” clamps, two 50” clamps and a set of KP blocks. The cast steel construction ensures up to 1,500 pounds of clamping force.
Something to keep in mind:
Buying clamps in sets can be expensive, but you get to make sure your clamps are the same size and use the same locking mechanism.
The last thing you want during a fast-paced high-stakes glue-up is to fumble with different clamping mechanisms. That’s just adding extra stress to the mix, increasing the chance of mistakes.
5. Pipe Clamps
Not a pipe dream...
Pipe clamps use two clamp heads (jaws) attached at either end of a length of pipe.
Pipe clamps are cool: the only thing limiting them is the length of the pipe between them.
They’ve got a sliding mechanism to get the heads in place quickly, then a twisting/torquing mechanism to tighten them down.
Jaw transplants for bigger bites:
Pipe clamps are versatile. Like parallel clamps, they can be used in glue-ups and bigger projects.
The coolest part?
You can remove the jaws and switch them over to a different pipe. That means that a 2’ pipe clamp can become a 12’ pipe clamp in a matter of minutes.
Our recommendation: Bessey BPC H-12
These clamps from Bessey feature an H-shaped Foot Assembly which means you can put them on the ground or a table without them rolling out of place.
The rubber pads also handily protect your work.
They’re a high quality, cheap alternative to parallel clamps for woodworkers on a budget. They’ll get the job done, but without quite as much clamping power.
6. Bar Clamps
The most varied clamps, BAR none:
Remember parallel clamps, in all their beefy glory? Parallel clamps are just a type of over-the-top bar clamps--in reality, there are many different clamps that can be called bar clamps.
To glue or not to glue...
Bar clamps are good at clamping across the length and/or width of wood you’re working with.
The thicker the bar, the stronger the clamp.
Bigger bar clamps will be large enough and strong enough for glue-ups, while smaller bar clamps will be useful for general clamping (like clamping work to the workbench, etc.)
Our recommendation: Bessey GSCC2.536
Another Bessey clamp and an all-rounder of sorts, the Bessey 36” bar clamps will be suitable for a wide range of projects. With this clamp, applying a ton of force might cause it to bow a little bit, so keep that in mind.
This is the C-section:
C-clamps are the newborn babies of the clamp world: full of potential. They’re called C-clamps because, well, they’re shaped like the letter “C”. Some C-clamps will have a screwing mechanism to tighten the clamps, while others are vice-grip style.
For the tight fit...
C-clamps are useful in many of the same ways that spring clamps are. They’re usually pretty small, and can get in those hard-to-reach spots that larger clamps would have a problem with.
Here’s the thing:
C-clamps are great at clamping small pieces to the workbench. When I was starting out and making spoons, C-clamps were the first I owned (followed shortly by mini bar clamps).
Our recommendation: Irwin's c-clamps
Irwin’s “Vise-Grip” style C-clamps have the quality you’d expect from the 130-year-old brand. The vice-grip style lets you use them with one hand, and heat-treated alloy steel ensures that they’ll last.
8. Wood Screw Clamps
Old dogs can learn new tricks:
The old school. Wood screw clamps have been around for a long, long time. They use metal screws to tighten and loosen two blocks of wood at either end.
Still got it...
There are a lot of fancy, expensive, metal clamps out on the market right now. I personally have wondered why experienced woodworkers keep coming back to these strange looking clamps.
The bottom line:
These clamps won’t mar your work surface. The deep throat gives you more reach on your piece... and the unique tightening system lets you work with angled pieces too.
Think of it like a rite of passage:
The more you use these guys, the better you are at woodworking 😉
Our recommendation: Bessey LHS-10
The nice oiled maple of these Bessey clamps gives them a clean, modern feel. The threads are steel and treated to prevent rust:
All you need to know is that these clamps will last a lifetime.
The devil’s in the details:
F-clamps and bar clamps are basically two different words for the same thing.
That being said, there are subtle differences:
If you use the word “F-clamp”, it usually refers to a smaller clamp, where “bar clamp” refers to a larger clamp. F-clamps, like C-clamps, get their name from their shape.
Not too big, not too small...
F-clamps can be used in many of the same applications as C-clamps and bar clamps.
They’re like the goldilocks of clamps: just right.
Smaller F-clamps can get at the tight spots that C-clamps can, but will usually have a much wider throat.
Our recommendation: Yost F-Clamp
We like this Yost clamp. It’s iron, it’s 12”, you don’t know what you’ll do with it until you use it.
But I guarantee that you’ll use it often.
10. Edge Clamps
A peculiar sort...
Edge clamps are an interesting sort of specialty clamp that can apply pressure from three sides. It’s basically a C-clamp with a third clamp perpendicular to the “C”.
Truly a specialist:
These clamps will be useful whenever you need to clamp wood to the edge of panels.
Say you’re making a bookshelf out of nice maple boards. You’ve got your shelves made, but then decide you’d like the shelves to have walnut on the edges. You could use bar clamps, but you don’t have any long enough for the length for the shelf. This is a problem...
...if you don’t have edge clamps.
Edge clamps would attach to any edge and allow you to clamp your wood easily. Again, this is a specialty clamp that doesn’t see use in a wide variety of situations.
But, that doesn’t mean it can’t shine.
Our recommendation: Bessey EKT55
We like the Bessey EKT55 because it’s a one-hander. That way you can fuss with one hand while you clamp with the other. It just makes everything easier.
The pressure pads will keep your work safe and the aluminum frame is both sturdy and light. Without a doubt, this tool will be a delight should you have use for it!