If the tablesaw is the backbone of most woodworking shops then woodworking clamps are the tool that holds everything together (pun intended). The old joke goes that no matter how many clamps you have in a shop you will always seem to be one short.
With that in mind choosing the best woodworking clamps for your shop is extremely important. While it can be painful to fork over your hard earned money for such a simple tool the right clamps will make your woodworking job so much easier.
I have cycled through a number of clamps over the years in my shop.
Starting off I went with simple pipe clamps as they were the cheapest option at the time. I also liked them as I had some long glue-ups and they could easily be lengthened to my needs by swapping out the pipes.
Over time I have slowly built up a collection of parallel clamps to replace the old pipe clamps. While expensive, parallel clamps have been a dream to work with and I’m always on the lookout for more!
Luckily, if you’re willing to be patient, there are usually a few pretty good sales on clamps throughout the year. Sadly, the old Woodcraft Black Friday sale of buy-one-get-one on Jet and Bessey clamps seems to be gone for good, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still deals to be had.
Types of Woodworking Clamps
Woodworking clamps come in a ton of different variations and they all have their time and place.
As I mentioned earlier, in my shop I have a collection of pipe clamps and parallel clamps. I also have C-clamps, trigger clamps, F-clamps, spring clamps, hand screw clamps, hold down clamps, and corner clamps.
And honestly I’m not sure I could live without any of them!
Pipe clamps will often be the most inexpensive way to start building up a collection of longer clamps. These clamps are sold in packs with the clamping hardware only. They can then be attached, depending on which size your purchased, to either 1/2″ or 3/4″ steel pipe that can be found at almost any hardware store.
Some downsides of this style are the smaller clamping faces and metal surfaces can more easily mar your piece while it is in the clamps. The handles are also always a bit cumbersome to turn as, for some unknown reason, they are always just long enough to not have enough clearance when the clamp is sitting on a flat surface and not overhanging an edge.
With that said I would still recommend these clamps either as a first clamp or just to have as backups for larger glue-ups. These clamps are pretty easy to find at garage sales so they can be had for even cheaper if you put in the time to look.
Parallel clamps are going to be, in my opinion, your best woodworking clamps. While they are expensive they are well worth the price if you are using them frequently or are gluing up larger panels where keeping a flat surface is key.
These clamps usually offer large, deep clamping faces made from composite materials that are much less likely to mar your wood. They also have small tabs that keep your wood from resting directly on the clamping bar. This makes for a much cleaner glue line and keep the bar from getting as gummed up with dried glue.
Woodworking tip: a great way to clean dried up glue off of your clamp bars is to attach a wire brush to your drill. It quickly strips the glue out of the ridged surface and edges of the clamp bars.
F Style Clamp
F-clamps are probably the most used clamps in my shop on a day to day basis. I have purchased a few sets of these Bessey 12″ clutch style F-clamps over the years and frequently find myself using every one I have.
The smaller size, deep throat, and impressive clamping force make them a go-to for smaller glue-ups. They are also great for gluing up rings if you do any segmented woodturning work as they are often deep enough to fit around the curve of vases and bowls.
C Style Clamp
C-clamps are probably my least used clamp in the shop although I do find situations where the come in handy.
These are probably the most inexpensive clamps you can find so if you are often doing thin, long glue-ups then these can be an inexpensive way to add a lot of clamping pressure.
I picked up a bunch in different sizes at Harbor Freight a few years back and they have held up just fine.
Tigger clamps are going to be your quick-action clamps where you maybe just need to temporarily secure piece before adding additional clamps.
I keep two of these clamps fairly close to my bench at all times and will use them pretty frequently. They don’t provide a ton of clamping pressure, 140 lbs for these versus 1,700 lbs for some parallel clamps, but they do provide enough to keep pieces together temporarily.
I would say they get the most use clamping pieces to the work bench when I need a little extra stability.
Hand Screw Clamp
Hand Screw clamps are another clamp that I keep around the shop but don’t use all that often. I find these are best used for securing pieces while making what might be an unsafe cut otherwise. Cuts such as sending a small or unstable piece through the bandsaw. Or if I need to use a chisel on the end of a small piece these can hold it securely to keep my fingers out of the way.
The deep throat depth on hand screw clamps also comes in handy when doing surface glue-ups and you want to get more clamping pressure near the middle of the pieces.
Other Woodworking Clamp Types
Some other types of clamps you might run into or need include hold-down clamps (great for table saw jigs), corner clamps (great for gluing up boxes or picture frames), face clamps (great for pocket hole joinery), and strap clamps (great for gluing up large pieces like cabinets or chests).
Ranking the Best Woodworking Clamps
Here are our picks for the best woodworking clamps in each of the categories discussed above.
Best Overall Clamp: BESSEY K Body REVO Parallel Bar Clamp
The Bessey K Body clamps are, hands down, the best woodworking clamps available right now. They are what I use in the shop and they do the job extremely well.
These clamps come in sizes ranging from 12″ all the way up to 98″ long. A number of neat features include feet that keep the clamps elevated off the work table or ground and a hex wrench insert in the handle that allows for easier application of clamping pressure.
The clamping head can also be reversed with no extra tools to apply spreading rather than clamping pressure.
Best F-Clamp: Bessey Clutch Style Bar Clamp
F-style clamps are a great addtion to the shop for their versatility with small glue-ups and impressive clamping pressure. We love these clutch style clamps as they are easy to adjust, have a deep throat, and easy to turn handles.
I have put these clamps through the ringer over the years and have never run into a single issue with one yet so I can confidently say that these clamps will hold up to some abuse.
Best Pipe Clamp: Bessey H Style Pipe Clamp
These are the first clamps I bought when I started putting together my shop 5 years ago and they are still in use today.
I love that I can swap these clamps out onto different lengths of pipe as I don’t always need 60″ of clamping capacity for my day to day woodworking needs.
The reason I chose these over some other brands is that they include small plastic tabs that cover the clamping faces. I have found that these really help reduce how much the clamps mar the wood. Although they are kind of annoying in that they fall off way too easily but it is worth the trade-off in the end.
Best Trigger Style Clamp: IRWIN QUICK-GRIP Bar Clamp
I picked a few of these clamps up on a whim a few years ago when I noticed them on sale at a hardware store.
Ultimately I’m happy I did as they tend to get a lot of use around the shop. The trigger action is easy to operate with one hand and that is exactly what I want in a clamp like these. I’m often reaching for them when I am holding a piece with the other hand and just need something I can use to hold it down.
While the clamping pressure on these style of clamps isn’t all that much it is easily enough to hold pieces down to the workbench when needed.
Best C-Clamp: BESSEY TOOLS Drop Forged C-Clamp
Once again Bessey takes the cake when it comes to my favorite clamps on the market. I have a number of harbor freight c-clamps in my shop and they work fine but I have had a few break over the years. So I’d be hard-pressed to say they are anywhere near the best.
For such a simple clamp these c-clamps from Bessey are inexpensive and just get the job done.
Best Hand Screw Clamp: Pony Jorgensen Size 2 8-1/2-Inch Handscrews Wood Clamp
When it comes to hand screw clamps they really are a simple tool. A couple of pieces of wood and two screws are really all they are yet these clamps are really useful around the shop.
I love the Jorgensen model but really almost any of the well made hand screw clamps will do the job just fine. These clamps are great for really securing jigs or work pieces to your workbench or tools. Their wide surface area also allows them to act as an extra set of hands to manage small or oddly shaped pieces.
Final Thoughts on the Best Woodworking Clamps
Its hard to imagine doing most any woodworking project without needing a clamp at some point. Luckily, the clamps I have listed above are all made to last so take your time and build up a collection as needed. I’ve taken the approach of picking up clamps as my projects demand them and over time I have built up a set that is capable of handling almost any project.