Joshua Farnsworth clamping up maple lumber with bessey woodworking clamps

Introduction to Buying Woodworking Clamps, Glue & Fasteners

By Joshua Farnsworth

In this guide I’ll be focusing on tools and products that are used for holding furniture together, whether temporarily (like clamps) or permanently (like wood glue, nails, and screws). Below are my recommendations of the products that are useful for woodworkers looking to make quality, long-lasting furniture, whether historical or modern.

Pointing finger vertical

Buying Woodworking Clamps

Bessey Woodworking clamp holding an end table together during a glue up

New woodworkers can feel overwhelmed by all the different wood clamps on the market, and often get puzzled by which clamps they need for woodworking. In this guide I will show you some different wood clamps that I use for different situations. But I want you to understand that you don’t need to run out and buy a bunch of clamps to cover all future clamping contingencies. I know a big rack of clamps can look pretty cool in your workshop, but I recommend that you buy clamps (and other tools) one project at a time. Plan out what you want to build, then build it, and then figure out which clamps you need to sufficiently clamp that piece of furniture together during the glue-up stage. And then on the next project do the same, and if you feel that you need a couple more clamps, then go ahead and buy more. Frugality! Below are different types of clamps that I use in my woodworking workshop and school:

Popular Types of Clamps for Woodworking:

HANDSCREW CLAMPS

Wooden handscrew clamps have been around for a long time, and are still being manufactured because of how useful they are. The long jaws give nice reach onto your wood surface, and won’t hurt the surface of your wooden furniture. The top and bottom screws are independently operated, which enables you to clamp abnormal work pieces. These clamps also work great as cauls during panel glue-ups. My most common use for these wooden handscrew clamps is for holding smaller work pieces, and then I place these handscrews in my workbench vise. This helps me get the small piece of wood closer to my face, and gives me quick adjustability. I like to have 2 or 3 different sizes of handscrews on hand. See below for links to handscrews that I recommend.

PARALLEL CLAMPS

I use parallel clamps more than any other type of wood clamp. The immense clamping power, larger jaw size, non-marring padding, and versatility make parallel clamps more appealing to me for most uses than normal I-beam bar clamps or pipe clamps. Bessey invented the “K Body” parallel clamp back in the 1990’s, and since then they have become a standard in woodworking shops due to the advantages mentioned above and due to their square and parallel jaws. Because the jaws are parallel, they distribute even pressure along the surface of the clamp pad. I use 3 different sizes (mentioned below) for a variety of tasks, including panel glue-ups, laminating workbench tops, special clamping of large boards to my workbench, and many other furniture glue-up tasks. 

F-STYLE CLAMPS

F-style clamps are a simpler design than parallel clamps, and thus less expensive. Rather than providing even pressure along the jaw, this type of clamp concentrates all the pressure at the end of the jaws, where the clamp pad is screwed against your wood work piece. If you need to apply targeted clamping pressure, or if you’re just on a budget and can’t afford enough parallel clamps for the job, then F-style wood clamps may be your best bet. They come in various lengths with various jaw reach. Some F-style woodworking clamps come with rubber pads, and some just have bare metal. I like the rubber padding because it protects the wood surface from impressions, but I’ve found that with some brands, the pad leaves an oily residue on the wood. So just plan to use scraps of wood to protect your furniture. 

PIPE CLAMPS

Pipe clamps are very useful for when you need to glue up a piece of furniture or a workbench that is too big for your parallel clamps or F-style clamps. Pipe clamps are also more affordable, because they come with just the two jaws of the clamp. You provide the pipe (1/2-inch or 3/4-inch), which is typically gas pipe. I purchase “black pipe” from my local hardware store, and they cut it to length and cut threads on the ends at no additional charge. Then I just thread the threaded part of the jaw onto one end and slide the other part of the jaw onto the other end. Pipe clamp jaws usually cost about $14 each, and 3/4-inch black pipe usually runs around $2 per foot at your hardware store. So you could buy a 10-foot pipe, cut it in half, and then buy two clamp jaws (for a total of $30) and have two 5-foot pipe clamps for about $25 a piece.  That’s not a bad deal. 

C-STYLE CLAMPS

Metal C-clamps are a multi-purpose clamp, with a lot of clamping pressure, that is used for myriad tasks around my woodworking shop. My C-clamps range from 3-inches up to 8-inches. My main uses for C-clamps are keeping panels flat during glue-ups, and for clamping table legs to a board in my vise, so I can securely chop mortises on the workbench surface. We use a lot of C-clamps in our woodworking school, especially when we’re making smaller tool projects, like Try Squares, Bench Hooks, Shooting Boards, etc. Guitar makers, violin makers, and other luthiers use a lot of C-clamps when they bend the frames of their instruments. C-clamps are pretty simple clamps, but can come with some features like a quick release button, which is quite convenient. 

RATCHETING CLAMPS

Ratcheting bar clamps lack the clamping power of other woodworking clamps in my workshop, but they make up for it in convenience. Being able to clamp two pieces of wood together when I only have one hand available is appealing, and the quick-release trigger offers additional convenience. The soft rubber pads on the clamp jaws are excellent for clamping delicate work, because the padded jaws protect the surface from indentations and marring. I use ratcheting clamps for glue-ups that don’t require much pressure, for holding wood to the workbench top, and some ratcheting clamps can be reversed to act as a spreader, for giving outward pressure. And best of all, a set of these clamps are usually quite affordable. I’ll discuss brands further below. 

SPRING CLAMPS

Spring clamps are very affordable for woodworkers, but provide probably the least amount of clamping pressure. This makes spring clamps unsuitable for all but special circumstances, such as glue-ups that require very light pressure, holding delicate objects, edge banding, and temporarily holding tools or random objects in place. Guitar makers and other luthiers use a lot of spring clamps when forming the delicate bodies of their instruments. 

SPECIALTY CLAMPS

You’ll find a whole lot of other specialized clamps that will occasionally be used in your workshop for woodworking. These can include various clamps for miter joints, clamp guides (straight edges that clamp to a panel), toggle clamps, strap clamps, hose clamps (for dust extraction), etc… Some of these specialty clamps I use a lot, some I use on very rare occasions, and some I never use. See below for links to specialty clamps that I recommend.

Pointing finger vertical

BUYING WOODEN HANDSCREW CLAMPS

Old wooden handscrew clamps on a woodworking workbench

Buying one or two wooden screw clamps, of different sizes, is a good idea for any woodworking shop. I like a bigger clamp, around 10-inches or 12-inches, and a smaller clamp, around 6-inches. I’ve had pretty good luck with a variety of new wooden handscrew clamps (both higher-priced and lower priced), and have had good luck with used wooden handscrew clamps, especially Jorgensen brand. The really old wooden handscrew clamps that have wooden screws can also work, but may have broken screw threads, so look carefully. Here are some good places to find wooden handscrew clamps….just compare the reviews to make sure you’re getting a good brand:

BUYING PARALLEL CLAMPS

Bessey Parallell bar woodworking clamps sitting on a woodworking workbench

Several manufactures make decent parallel clamps (see the different brands & models here), but I have always used Bessey K-Body style parallel clamps. I use 3 different parallel clamp sizes for a variety of tasks in my workshop, including the following:

shaker cherry wall cupboard gluing face frames and clamping with woodworking clamps

The 6-inch parallel clamps are extremely powerful for their size and I use them very often for gluing up small items. The 24-inch parallel clamps are my mid-sized clamps that are very useful for many case piece glue-ups, and for smaller table top panels (under 24-inches). The 50-inch parallel clamps are really great for most table top panel glue-ups, because most table tops are well under 50-inches wide. This larger size can be a bit heavy for smaller glue-ups, which is why I don’t just own a bunch of 50-inch parallel clamps. Here are some other places to look for parallel clamps:

BUYING F-STYLE CLAMPS

F style woodworking Clamps on a woodworking workbench

As mentioned earlier, F-style clamps are a more economical clamp than parallel clamps, though most of the time I prefer to use parallel clamps. Occasionally I need to concentrate clamping pressure on a small area, which would make F-clamps or C-clamps a better choice. It’s not a bad idea to have some around, especially when you’ll be using a lot of clamps for a glue-up, and you can’t afford to buy a whole arsenal of parallel clamps. Just make sure the steel of the F-clamp is strong, and the screw threads are deep.

F style woodworking clamps gluing up a donkey's ear shooting board

I was given some small, cheaply made F-clamps that won’t hold well, and can bend under too much pressure. As always, check reviews before buying F-clamps, so you can see what experience other woodworkers have had with certain brands. I use Jorgensen and Bessey F-clamps, but there are other brands that work well. You can find them at these stores:

BUYING PIPE CLAMPS

Two Bessey Pipe Clamps on a woodworking workbench

As mentioned above, pipe clamps are a great way to extend your reach while reducing the amount of money that you spend. When I was building 8 workbenches for my woodworking school, I was in great need of some very long clamps. No other type of clamp would have reached as far as pipe clamps. I already owned pipe clamps, so I just bought longer pipes, and easily extended my reach. I use 3/4-inch pipe clamps, because they feel stronger to me. I have only ever owned the Bessey brand of pipe clamps, but I’ve heard that PONY brand is also good. Some of the cheaper imported brands seem to be of inferior manufacturing quality, and parts have been known to fall off and threads have been poor, which can prevent you from attaching the pipe. Here are sources for buying good pipe clamps…just check the reviews:

BUYING C-STYLE CLAMPS

Woodworking C clamps sitting on a woodworking workbench

My favorite model of C-clamp was the quick release C-clamps (with the little yellow button), manufactured for Lowe’s hardware store, under the Kobalt brand. But obviously the decision makers at Lowe’s didn’t really understand how good those clamps were, because they’ve replaced it with inferior non-quick release c-clamps. I haven’t seen any other C-clamp that had that cool quick release mechanism, which allowed you to avoid so much turning of the screw. I do occasionally see the Kobalt C-clamps on Ebay, which you can find here.

Kobalt Quick Release C-Clamp holding a table leg for chopping a mortise with a mortice chisel

Aside from that amazing C-clamp, I haven’t found that any of the other brands of C-clamps are too much different from each other. As long as they have good threads and decent manufacturing, I don’t think the brand matters too much. I purchased a whole bunch of C-clamps for my woodworking school, from Harbor Freight (under the PITTSBURGH® brand name), and they have worked just fine, and are very affordable. Here are some links where you can compare prices and reviews on different brands of C-clamps:

BUYING RATCHETING BAR CLAMPS

Irwin Quick Grip clamps sitting on a woodworking workbench

Ratcheting bar clamps aren’t intended to apply an immense amount of pressure, but they are meant to be convenient. I use ratcheting bar clamps all the time, and love them. You can see the uses in the summary box above. I own quite a few Irwin Quick-Grip ratcheting bar clamps, and I like that brand. I’ve tried some other brands, and the clamps slipped too much, so you need to ask around, or read online reviews before trying another brand. I prefer this 12-inch size over the 6-inch size, as the 6-inch ratcheting clamps often have too narrow of a jaw opening for what I need to clamp.

Irwin quick-grip ratcheting clamp gluing up a small bench hook with polyurethane glue in the background

The one drawback of the Irwin Quick-Grip ratcheting bar clamps is that they don’t reverse to act as a spreader, as some other brands do. When you visit the links below, I’d recommend that if you plan on ever using clamps like this for spreading, then buy clamps that mention the word “spreader” in the title or description.

• See Ratcheting Bar Clamps at Rockler Woodworking
• See Ratcheting Bar Clamps at Amazon
• See Ratcheting Bar Clamps at Highland Woodworking
• See Ratcheting Bar Clamps at Ebay

BUYING SPRING CLAMPS

As mentioned above, spring clamps (both plastic and metal) are very affordable, which means you should have a set in your workshop for those occasions when delicate clamping pressure is needed. Just make sure you check reviews when buying spring clamps, because they are not all created equally. Most plastic and metal spring clamps will work decently, but I’ve had some break on me. Here are some places to buy metal or plastic spring clamps…just buy sets that have good star ratings & reviews:

BUYING OTHER SPECIALTY CLAMPS

Miter clamp holding a picture frame together on a woodworking workbench

Above I’ve talked about the most common types of woodworking clamps in a workshop, but there are many other types of clamps, for every kind of task imaginable. For woodworkers, these might include various clamps for miter joints (for making picture frames), clamp guides (straight edges that clamp to a panel), workbench clamps, toggle clamps, strap clamps, edge clamps, hose clamps (for dust extraction), sash clamps, etc. See all the assortment of clamps for woodworking at these online stores that I shop at:

• See all Woodworking clamps at Rockler Woodworking
•See all Woodworking clamps at Amazon
• See all Woodworking clamps at Highland Woodworking
• See all Woodworking clamps at Ebay

Buying Historical Fasteners: Screws & Nails

Woodworker holding a historical style cut nail for hammering a wooden desk top on

A lot of modern woodworkers have a skewed view of the history of using fasteners, like nails and screws in fine furniture. Nails are especially looked down on. But looking at antique furniture reveals that nails and screws are more historically accurate than many realize. But not all nails and screws are created equally, and there are certain types that I prefer to use, both because they’re more historically accurate and because they just work better than modern versions. First, let’s start with nails.

Buying Historical Nails for Woodworking

Rose head nails on a wood shelf

If you’ve ever walked through a historical building you may have noticed rectangular headed nails or round, rose-shape headed nails in the flooring and furniture. The round headed nails are called “wrought nails” and were originally forged by blacksmiths for centuries (and still are, at a premium price). The heads of these nails sit proud of the surface (as seen above). The rectangular headed nails are called “cut nails”, and were introduced in the 1700’s. They are set below the surface of the wood. Both of these styles of historical nails not only look better than modern “wire nails” but also have much better holding power. The wedge shape has much better holding power than a thin wire. Modern wire nails are really good at coming loose in no time at all.

traditional cut nails and rose head nails inside a pottery jar for woodworking

Then why did modern-day wire nails take the place of the much-better antique nails? Because wire nails are much cheaper to manufacture, and now most people don’t know the difference anyway. Christopher Schwarz wrote an interesting “treatise” on historical nails, which you can read here. He also shared another helpful article on which nails you need for woodworking, which you can read here.

I typically use wrought or cut nails to attach the backs of cupboards, the bottoms of chests, and the tops of case pieces, among other tasks. They hold “tight as a tick” (as my friend Will Myers says) and they look great. I use the wrought style nails on hidden cabinet backs or on furniture where I want to display the pretty nails. I use cut nails in areas where I want them to be hidden, such as on visible parts of furniture, in trim (fine cut headless brads) or on the bottoms of boxes, where the nail needs to be below the wood surface.

The only downside to using these tapered wrought & cut nails is that you need to take a little extra care to prevent your wood from splitting. Drilling an appropriate sized pilot hole is important before driving the nail in. You can read about how to do this on Schwarz’s article above. And I’ve found a great little pack of 50 small drill bits, that contain various common sizes, all stored in a perfect little plastic case with a snug fitting lid. This pack of High Speed Steel drill bits are sold at Rockler (buy them here). To further prevent splitting you should also orient the nail so that it’s longest side runs parallel with the wood grain.

box of new Rockler drill bits with a millers falls No. 5 egg beater hand drill in the background on a woodworking workbench

Where can you find wrought nails and cut nails?

Rose head nails on a pine woodworking workbench top

Option A: Buy or find antique wrought nails and cut nails: I’ve been given antique nails over the years. Some had just been lying around, unused. And others had been extracted from old buildings or furniture when they were torn down or broken. This is the best method of obtaining wrought or cut nails, since they are absolutely authentic and amazing. The only drawback is that you usually have to remove rust, and you have to find these nails.

Rusted antique cut nails sitting on a piece of wood

So where do you find antique nails like this?

  1. Honestly, the easiest way to find these is on Ebay. You can search here for these antique nails.
  2. The next best place to find antique nails is by visiting an architectural salvage store near you, like Black Dog Salvage in Roanoke, Virginia, where I used to rummage around (yes, these are the guys who now have a TV show). Companies like this specialize in taking out all the special materials when a historic home has to be demolished.
  3. Try stopping by a Habitat for Humanity store, which also receives a lot of historical home material.
  4. Some antique stores will carry some jars full of antique nails that you can sift through. But don’t expect the nails, or anything else for that matter, to be affordable in an antique store.
  5. Become a scavenger. Ask around for old, broken furniture or architectural materials. If people know you’re looking for antique nails, then they’ll eventually show up.

traditional cut nails on a pine woodworking workbench top

Option B: Buy new wrought nails and cut nails: If you’re not keen on treasurehunting, and you haven’t found some good antique nails on Ebay (or they were too expensive), then don’t fear. There are options to buy wrought nails and cut nails new. Here are some sources:

  1. Find a local blacksmith. From what I understand, wrought nails will usually cost about $1 per nail. That sounds expensive, but if you’re making a nice piece of furniture, and you only need a handful of nails, then it’s not all that expensive overall. And you’ll have authentic forged wrought nails on your furniture. That’s just plain cool. You can find people selling new wrought nails on Ebay (look here), on Etsy (look here), and maybe some other botique maker markets.
  2. Buy machine made wrought nails (that look forged) and machine made cut nails. Here are some sources:
    • Tremont Nail company manufactures great historical steel cut furniture nails in Mansfield, Massachusetts. I’ve used these a lot and have been happy with them.  You can see their nails here. 
    • Clouterie Rivierre manufactures lovely historical die-forged nails in France. I haven’t used these, but have heard great things about their holding power, and they are surprisingly affordable for being imported from France. You can see their nail selection here. You can also buy some of their nails from Lee Valley here. This is probably the best deal. Especially their assorted 140 nail packs of different nail sizes, which works out to about $0.17 per nail
    • Rockler sells a 50-pack of “wrought head nails” for super cheap (between $6 and $8, depending on the length). They aren’t quite as nice as the above nails, but I’ve used them and they do look nice and hold well…and the price is right. You can buy them here. After economy shipping, they work out to be about $0.22 per nail.

Here’s a really cool video that shows a blacksmith forging wrought nails:

Buying Historical Wood Screws for Woodworking

Grace brand screwdrivers sitting on a woodworking workbench with historical style slotted screws

Screws are required for attaching hardware, like hinges and locks to your furniture, and attaching wood to wood. And nothing looks more ugly (in my opinion) than using shiny, zinc-coated Phillips head screws. This photo below illustrates how lovely furniture looks with historical slotted wood screws.

slotted wood screws clocked in antique style desk hinge

Wood screws are usually the fastener of choice for attaching hardware, but how about for fastening pieces of wood together? Although screws are usually stronger at holding wood together, I personally think that historical wrought nails or cut nails look better. But on the other hand screws are reversible, whereas wrought and cut nails are often pretty hard to remove. So you just need to decide on which type of fastener is best for your particular furniture project at hand. I usually just stick with using nails for holding two pieces of wood together (like attaching moldings, backs of cupboards, the bottoms of chests & boxes, and the tops of case pieces, clenching, etc.) and use screws for hardware…unless I choose to use really old hardware that requires “clenching”. Clenching is where you drive an old nail through the two pieces of wood, bend a hook on the point, and drive it back into the wood. I also often hang furniture on the wall with screws, because it’s removable.

Where can you find historical-style slotted screws?

Woodworker adding brass screws into a cupboard door brass hinge with clocked screws

If you’re attaching quality brass hinges, then slotted brass screws usually come with the hinges. But most non-brass hardware either comes with no screws, or ugly Phillips head screws that have shiny zinc coating on them. This will stand out on your lovely furniture like a huge pimple on a beauty queen. So where can you find antique style slotted screws? You can certainly try buying antique slotted screws, but I’ve found most of them to be rusted. Rust on nails usually isn’t a big deal, but I’ve found that rust on antique screws means that the thin threads weaken and often flake off. Some companies sell vintage screws (that have been used) and “new old stock” screws, which have never used. Usually these are large quantities of screws found in an old factory. I have friends who shop at some of these online stores, but I personally feel like I have a better option. I buy new slotted steel wood screws and strip the zinc coating off of them. And they look exactly like the “new old stock” screws that some of the companies sell, and usually better. In fact, I’m almost certain that one of the companies is just buying new screws and stripping the zinc coating off of them, and selling them for a lot more money as “new old stock wood screws”.

Zinc plated slotted screws sitting on a piece of wood

You can read my article and watch my video titled: “Make Historical Wood Screws Using Toilet Bowl Cleaner“. I usually buy a bunch of different sizes of slotted wood screws, and do bulk zinc removal.

Pouring the works toilet bowl cleaner into a glass jar to strip zinc plating from slotted screws to get historical wood screws

This method only takes a few minutes, and the resulting screws look amazing. Oh yeah, and they are much more affordable than “new old stock” slotted wood screws. Just make sure you keep them oiled, to prevent rusting, and use appropriately-sized flat head screw drivers, like these amazing Grace USA screwdrivers (which can be found here):