Yes, I Really Clamp Stuff This Way

Kodak Tri-X @ E.I. 400
Developed in HC-110
June 2016

  2016 June 29     Tech   Shop Tips


If you read this site much, you know it's mostly about film photography.  Artists often work in multiple media, though;  eventually a photographer might get into painting, woodworking, or metalworking.

And then, there's the fact that many of us have about a thousand handyman projects to do.

Gluing stuff together and clamping it is one of the most basic skills required for woodworking.

A Quick Note

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Clamp Blocks

When you glue wood, clamps can dig into the wood surface.  That can mar it permanently.  Clamping blocks will stop that from happening. 

If you're anything like me, making a pile of clamping blocks is probably not very high on your priority list.

If you work with wood, though, it should be.  Looking around for the right sizes of scrap wood can waste a lot of time.  It seemed this was happening every time I would try to build something or fix something.

Before you try to make clamp blocks, a word of safety.  Sawing short pieces with a circular-bladed saw is very dangerous;  don't do it.  Instead, get a long plank, such as a four-foot length of one-by-four, and mark it off using a speed square every three to eight inches.  When the board stops having enough length to be clamped down safely for sawing, stop. 

As for the blocks, you'll probably want an assortment of different lengths, but try to make them in pairs.

If you have to cut down shorter pieces, clamp them securely to the edge of your work table so there's enough overhang to cut with a jigsaw.  The jigsaw is one of the safer types of power saws, although obviously it should still be treated with respect.  This one looks really good;  I haven't tried it yet.  Useful for about a million handyman projects, the jigsaw is for more than just cutting out clamping blocks. 

There's something even better for cutting short scraps of wood.  That's the scroll saw.  I don't have one right now, but if I were shopping for one, I'd probably get this one

For use with really big clamps, the blocks could be made from two-by-four scraps.  For more typical clamps, you might have to stick with 3/4" or thinner.  Scraps of cabinet-grade particle board work great.  For thinner clamping blocks, you could even use scraps of old wooden siding, as long as the wood is solid underneath the weathered exterior.

Steel is a great material for these, because it can be even thinner.  Save short scraps of angle iron or steel plate.  File or grind off the sharp edges;  make them nice and smooth. 

You know those old c-clamps that lose that one little part that sort of wobbles, which protects the wood somewhat?  I can never remember what that's called, but it's weakly crimped on the end of the threaded portion.  And often it gets lost.  Well, if you have steel clamping plates, you can even use those clamps.

Finishing & Storage

There's no need to put a fancy finish on clamping blocks;  they're clamping blocks.

That said, it really helps to sand off any rough edges or splinters.  Sand as needed;  remove any spongy, weathered surfaces that could disintegrate and smudge up your nice cabinet project.

Now, for the storage.  If they're just piled with other scraps, they'll get lost and do you no good.  Clamping blocks want their own storage bin.  Mark it with a big, clear, neat label that says what they are. 

Make a few extra clamping blocks and keep them in your toolbox.  Steel clamping plates are space-efficient;  throw two or four of these in the toolbox and leave 'em there with a couple of three- or four-inch C-Clamps.


Clamping blocks distribute the force of a C-clamp, so that your clamps won't mar the wood surface.

Often you can make clamping blocks for free. 

Steel clamping plates are especially useful because they work with a greater variety of clamp sizes.  They also take up less space in a toolbox or storage bin.  Supposing you needed some 1/8" steel plate for welding projects, be sure to save a few scraps to make clamping plates.

This has been a "shop tips" article on one of the most simple but useful items for a woodshop.  I hope you've found it helpful;  you can help keep this site on-line by shopping for your gear through any of these links.  Thanks for reading!


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