Blog: Why Make Your Own Clamps? By: John Heisz
I often get comments that it’s better to buy things like clamps and other small shop tools instead of making them yourself, and the reason given is that it’s more cost effective to spend that time doing the work you want or need to do. And I’ll agree – there’s little point in making clamps if your only interest is in building furniture, and you already have the skill and experience to do that. Likewise if you are running a production shop, it makes more sense to buy those tools, and the best you can afford, to make your work more efficient.
However, if you are just starting out or doing woodworking as a hobby that you enjoy, I think that making your own clamps, jigs and other small tools is time well spent. Not only do you end up with something useful that can last for many years, you also gain some experience along the way.
My most recent clamps are a good example of this. They will fill a need in any shop – you can never have too many clamps, after all. And while they are not overly complex to build, they do offer a challenge for the average woodworker. The joints need to be cut accurately and the parts need to work well together, and this is valuable experience when you are looking to improve your skills. There are also lessons to be learned about the physics of wood and how strong it is and how strong joinery, glue and metal fasteners are.
And while I did show and demonstrate the simple jig I made to cut the saw tooth notches, there are also lessons to be learned on going about doing that for your own projects. Thinking up ways to deal with unusual situations using various jigs and fixtures is an invaluable ability to develop for woodworking.
On top of the benefits listed above, there’s also the potential for saving money. Well made clamps are expensive and while they are certainly worth the investment, it can be hard to justify the outlay of cash when you are not turning a profit from the work that you will use then on. I know this from my own experience.
Since you already have the means to build your own and the material cost is normally very low (or free, if you have suitable scraps), time is the only thing you’ll spend. When you look at how long the clamps will last, the time becomes fairly insignificant.
And because you made them to begin with, you can always repair them if something breaks, or make more as you need them. Or when you have some free time and just want to build something, but can’t decide what that should be.
This may not be a big factor for some, but it’s worth pointing out that wooden clamps will normally weigh less than metal one. And they are “softer”, as in, less likely to mar the wood you are working on. I know that’s one of the reasons why I don’t like using the pipe clamps that I have, they are just to heavy, especially for a delicate glue up.
I have a number of homemade clamps and even though I don’t use them every day, it’s great to have them on hand when I need them. And that’s another point that goes back to the cost – who wants to spend hundreds on clamps that will rarely be used? I know I don’t.