It is an exceptionally beautiful morning here in my fair city (Wheat Ridge Colorado). Thus, I went out on to my deck, obscenely large coffee cup in hand, and sat down for a “think”.
As the water fall in our Koi pond sang it’s relaxing song, I went over my new shop’s inventory…..again. Not only did I mentally note what implements of construction I had already, but also what they may need in order to be fully tuned, and ready for service. In addition, I pondered what was left to do. That particular list was much, much longer than the first.
I have my sights set on a little lunch box planer at an unbeatable price. (thanks Glenn for sitting on it for me until I can get up to Greeley to get it) I also have settled on a design for the bench for the shop as well as having priced out everything I will need to build it. (comparatively speaking, it’s dirt cheap to build. The vises will be nearly as expensive as the lumber).
One issue that rears it’s ugly head when going through my favorite mental exercises is the issue of clamps. Clamps may not be as sexy as that new table saw, or jointer, or planer, or hand plane, but without them, at least for the work I do, nothing can be done. Without the ability to clamp joints together, the woodwright is dead in the water.
In a previous post, I mentioned my favorite type of clamp, the Pony clamp, or 3/4″ pipe clamp. In my view, NO shop should be without a large complement of these clamps. They are simple, robust, and economical. However, they are also not cheap when you factor in the purchase of the fixtures, and the black pipe. They are certainly less expensive than 90% of the other options out there, that is why I sing their praises, but my mind tends to look for other options to add to the ponies in an effort to economize and round out the arsenal of clamps for the shop.
Some time ago, I stumbled upon Mr. Paul Sellers woodworking blog. For those of you who don’t know of him, do yourself a favor and seek out his blog for a good read. Mr. Sellers advocates the use of aluminum (or as the Brits say….Al-loo-min-eee-um) bar clamps. He relates that in his shop(s) both in Wales, and in Texas, he uses them virtually exclusively. He says that unless he is gluing up something REALLY heavy or REALLY big, he uses these lightweight clamps for 90% of his operations.
The clamps are often referred to as “bar clamps” or “Sash clamps” (or “cramps”). There are two different flavors of these. One flavor made by The Dubuque Clampworks are the creme de la creme of aluminum clamps, and made right here in the the U.S.A. They are well known for their quality, but nearly as expensive as the equally vaunted Bessy clamps. WAY too rich for my blood at nearly $30 a pop.
The second flavor the Mr. Sellers advocates comes from a suprising source. According to Mr. Sellers, the sash clamps available from Harbor Freight Tools work as a very, very good alternative to the Dubuque clamps with just a little modification. When I went to Harbor Freight’s web site to find out what the financial hit would be for these clamps, I was shocked….SHOCKED I tell you. One of these clamps, in either 24″ or 36″ will set you back $9.99 at the Harbor. (48″clamps run $13). So, at full price at Harbor Freight, I could get three clamps for the price of one Pony (with black pipe included) or Debuque. You have my attention Mr. Sellers, please do go on.
Below is a link to Paul Seller’s Blog. Specifically, to a post from 2011 in which he describes some very simple modifications that can be made to vastly improve these economical clamps. Copy and paste this into your browser to read, or simply google “Paul Sellers/aluminum clamp”.
Basically, all these clamps need is a batton of some decent hardwood to be cut to fit inside the extruded aluminum bar to provide improved rigidity, and perhaps some other minor fettleing to make them smooth and easier to use.
BUT WAIT…..THERE’S MORE!!!
I have also been shocked to read that Harbor Freight also has suprisingly good quality “F” style clamps at rock-bottom-prices. I’m talking REALLY cheap.
The name brand version of the above pictured clamp starts at around $8 per in most stores. The Harbor has these starting at ….get this….$3.99.
For those not aware of Harbor Freight Tools, they are a national chain that supplies very inexpensive tools and supplies. Most folks steer clear of them because the quality of a large percentage of their tooling is …well….known to be less than high quality.
However, it is also known that there are a number of “Harbor Freight Gems” to be found. Tools that somehow got through the quality controll department at the Harbor, and are of “More than acceptable” quality. The above clamps, their 1hp 70 gallon dust collector, shipping blankets, 4 wheeled dollies, and most of the “consumables” they offer, are of generally good quality, and real bargins.
So, whaile I am indeed a tool snob, and only try to use the very best I can find, I am also no spendthrift. When a quality tool can be had at more than half off a name branded tool (and often even more than that with H.F.’s perpetual 20% off cupon) I am more than happy to do a little modification to improve on an already perfectly functional tool if I am saving well over 50% to do so.
Now this may seem like a huge commercial for Harbor Freight Tools…..well on some level I suppose it might be. That said, I was just floored by the news that I did not have to plan only for a huge investment in Pony clamps, and that I could supplement them with some really versatile and well regarded bargins.
There you go fellow woodwrights, a couple of true “gems” that can be found in the bargin basement…..happy hunting!!!
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