You’ll never have enough clamps, and you’ll never run out of clamping challenges. One of the most common is keeping stock in position and lined up while the glue dries. A few days ago, our friend John Dickenson wrote in with a tip on the subject, and since we think clamping wisdom should be disseminated at every opportunity, we’d like to pass it along. According to John, angle iron works great as a clamping caul when you need to keep edge-glued stock lined up flush. He says:
"...I thought this up without having read much about how cauls are made, and decided that to keep things flat when I was edge-gluing, I'd use angle iron. So, I went to Home Depot and bought 6 4-foot long 1-1/2" pieces of angle iron. To eliminate rust or other metal stains, I covered them with clear plastic packing tape.
They work great, didn't cost a whole lot and have been used in a couple of projects, most recently to glue up the many (many, many, many) little pieces in a couple of cutting boards I'm making as Christmas gifts. I also used them to glue up the top of a kitchen table I made for my son's family…"
We think it’s an excellent idea. Angle iron is inexpensive, readily available, fairly straight and rigid, won’t stick to wood glue (although as mentioned, you’ll want to cover it with tape to avoid stains) and you won’t be tempted to saw it up and use it for something else, as might be the case with wooden cauls.
We’d also like to point out that the Sure Foot bar clamps you see holding things together have an extra high foot that gives you the 1-1/2” clearance you need to fit the bottom piece of angle iron underneath the stock. Sure Foot pipe clamps will do the same thing and - as long as we’re bragging them up - both will give you the extra wide, extra stable Sure Foot foot, which makes it a lot easier to get the cauls in position and clamped without tipping over several pipe or bar clamps and creating general mayhem in the process.
If you already have a complete stock of the ubiquitous orange pipe clamps, you can easily give them a boost with a few inexpensive Sure Foot conversion pads. They’ll give you added clearance for cauls (and for turning the handle). They’ll also give you the same stable base as the Sure Foot, and make your existing clamps compatible height-wise with any Sure Foot clamps that add to your collection in the future.
As an aside, we’d like to point out the Bessey parallel clamps used to supplement the Sure Foot clamps. Apart from being an excellent all-around clamp and a clear indication of exquisite taste in clamping equipment, Bessey parallel clamps (and all other parallel clamps) serve a special purpose. As the name implies, parallel clamps are designed to provide even, parallel clamping pressure over the full length of their extra deep jaws, and because of that are the clamp of choice for boxes and other extra deep clamping tasks.
Why do we bring that up? Well, it’s great to have a few dozen parallel clamps on hand, but as you may have noticed, they typically aren’t what you’d call cheap. So we’d like to wrap up by pointing out a relatively new alternative. While many, many woodworkers swear by Bessey clamps, have been using them for years, and will never, ever switch, we’re excited to have Irwin’s similarly designed clamp now available. So far, we’ve heard and read nothing but kind words about Irwin parallel clamps, and right now they’re a particularly attractive newcomer, at 20 percent off on the Rockler website.
Thanks to John for the handy tip, and we’d like to encourage all other readers to send in their favorite clamping short cuts, tips and observations. After all, you can never know too much about gluing-up.