Sunday, May 26, 2019

Light Clamps for Cheapskates

Right now I am using some of my Golden Dumpster Wood to make a Jasmine Jewelry Box, designed by Gary Rogowski. The wood is 3/8" sapele (Entandrophragma cylindricum) that I got out of a dumpster. It has some really stubborn paint on one side, so I decided to try to build the box while leaving the paint on. Kind of use it as a feature.

The jewelry box was obviously intended to be made using some machine tools, since it is suggested to use box joints. I don't have machines. In fact, I don't even have a proper bench! This should be fun.

I'll write more about the jewelry box in a follow-up post, as what you really came to this blog post was to learn about my clamps that I made.

Well, here they are:
Free clamps.
This looks like a hot mess, but it is doing it's job perfectly. If I had been smart and used dovetail joints instead of box joints, I would have only needed to clamp the box in one direction. Box joints have to be clamped in two directions to make sure all of the joints are tight.

I'll be honest about the reason I made these clamps: I would have bought some, but there were none in my area  that were long enough. I would have even ordered them online and waited a day or two for delivery, but clamps are expensive. I would have spent at least 80 Euros for some quality clamps new, and I didn't really want to wait for some to become available in Spain on eBay.

With none to buy locally, and spending eighty bucks and waiting a few days for them online, I looked to making my own.

I found two good videos on YouTube about making bar clamps: one by Izzy Swan, and one by Shannon Rogers. Rather than doing what I did, you are better off building clamps like theirs.

Shannon and Izzy's clamps both are adjustable and are much more heavy-duty than these. I took inspiration from those videos for mine, and I suppose if I want to use them again for something, I can drill more holes.

I need some light clamps for a quick and dirty glue up. Let's get started!
I pulled this oak out of the Golden Dumpster, too. It's a little over 1/2" thick oak skirting.
First I pulled some of my reclaimed skirting off my pile. A chunk about three feet long ought to do for the short side of my box. I do have one F clamp that will work for the other end of the short side. We'll figure out if this clamp can be made to work before  I make any more.

I needed a dowel for the clamps. I happened to have a couple of broom handles that I bought a while back that should be perfect. I thought they were about 7/8" in diameter, so I bought a 22 mm spade bit from the local Chinese Crap store for about 3.20 Euros.

I used my electric drill (I think it is my only power tool I have here in Spain) to drill holes with space between them a little longer than the length of the clamp I needed.

So far, so good.

Well, it turns out the broom handle was quite a bit bigger than the hole, so I used a gouge to whittle down the dowels to fit in the holes. It was a bit of effort, but I got them all to fit snugly.
Prototype #1.

All the dimensions are just right.
I didn't feel like whittling four more pegs down like that, so I went back to the Chinese Crap store, and they had a 25mm spade bit for 1.50 Euros. Perfect.

It turns out that the holes the 25 mm bit gave me were a bit oversize, but that didn't matter. Once the wedges are in, everything should hold nicely.
Blue Tape use #974, keeping dowels from dropping through.
I now have three "clamps" that should work just fine for gluing up box joints. The fourth side will be clamped with my F clamp. No need to do any more work than absolutely necessary.

The only thing missing is some wedges. I sawed eight wedges out of some scrap that I had laying around, and lined one face of each with packing tape so they won't stick to my jewelry box during glue up.
Wedges? We don't need no stinking wedges! Well, maybe we do.
Since the box joints all sit a little proud, my idea was to put a wedge on the long grain of each box joint with the hope that it would put pressure right where it was needed to close up the joints.
I did a dry, test clamp to make sure everything would work as I hoped..
Everything looks good, so all that's left is the real thing. I slathered hide glue on all of the box joints, snugged them up with hand pressure the best I could, dropped the bottom of the box in to keep everything square during glue up, and went to work with the wedges.

It all went pretty well. I wound up putting the wedges on opposite sides where I had two, and on the long ones I put the wedges on the inside.
Clamp in place with wedges.
With a little effort (and some cursing), everything tightened up as much as it needed to.

I think it would have worked better if I had made a flat on the dowel for the wedges, as every time I whacked a wedge with the hammer the whole clamp moved a little. Or, perhaps using two wedges together so it eliminates any lateral forces.

Tomorrow I'll take the box out of the wedges, and I'll see how I did. From what I can see now, all the joints are nice and tight.

I figure I've saved 75.30 Euros making these clamps. Perhaps they will come in handy again later.

Good luck if you try making clamps like this, I'd love to see them. (Believe it or not, #ghettoclamp had entries on Instagram on it before I posted!)


  1. Looks like a fine and low tech solution,
    and saving money is definitely a positive thing!


    1. Thanks, Jonas! I spent my tool allowance on #4s, so a way to save money is always good.

  2. Hi Brian some time ago i saw Greg using a cheap clamping solution for small boxes, witch i experimented myself.
    You can use a cloth ribon with wax...

    1. Hey Antonio! Thanks for that. It very well may have worked. I should have looked at Greg's blog first. I think my box may have been just a bit large and unwieldy for that, but I don't know. For smaller boxes I do have more small clamps that probably would have worked. That's the thing with clamping. Really what works is whatever you can get to achieve enough pressure.


    2. I forgot to mention, later, after reading Greg's post i dicovered that in the old day Portuguese Guitars were glued that whay too. Just in case you never saw one ;)

    3. Cool! I think you should make one!

  3. Using wedges is a technology that used to be so common, but these days we've almost totally lost touch with them. I love using wedges any time I can (and I happen to think of it). Nicely done, Brian.

    1. Thanks, Matt. They were a bit fiddly, but with the longer open time of liquid hide glue I didn't feel too rushed.