Choosing the right clamp to use for woodworking can be quite confusing. There is quite a large pool of options, and various clamps are better suited for different projects.
What you use to hold two pieces of wood together should seem like a simple choice – but the decision can get complicated!
Two of the more versatile and popular clamps that woodworkers, both beginners and pros alike, choose to work with are pipe clamps and parallel clamps. These two clamps should be kept in every woodworker’s toolbox, as they can help with many different applications and projects.
However, if you are trying to decide between pipe clamps and parallel clamps, what is the difference? A pipe clamp uses a sliding pipe to allow the clamp to fit opening capacities allowed by the pipe, suiting large projects. A parallel clamp also allows for large opening capacities, but the clamp jaws are made to give a large distribution area and to prevent any dimples being left in the wood.
As you can see, while both pipe clamps and parallel clamps are similar to the popular F-clamp, they have their differences.
Seasoned woodworkers know that you can never have enough clamps, but you do need to be aware of what clamps you are purchasing, to make sure that you have the right equipment for all different projects. To help you do that, we’ll explain the differences between pipe and parallel clamps in more detail in this article.
What Is A Pipe Clamp?
Larger woodworking jobs, such as making a raised panel cabinet door, or making a tabletop, usually call for the use of a bar clamp. You will more than likely need a few bar clamps to keep your whole project in place, but for the average woodworker, this can be incredibly expensive.
Bar clamps are expensive, so many look for an alternative which costs less.
Pipe clamps happen to offer a good alternative to bar clamps, and manage to get the job done much the same.
A pipe clamp is a two-piece kit that attaches to a length of threaded galvanized pipe, or black pipe, in your desired length. There are clamp sets which are designed for either ½-inch diameter or ¾-inch diameter pipes.
For most projects, all you will need is between 2 to 4 pipe clamp kits and you will be able to securely clamp your work, for a fraction of the price.
How Pipe Clamps Work
As we said, pipe clamp sets contain two parts, a stationary foot which has an adjustable clamp plate, and an adjustable foot with a flat plate, which adjusts along the length of the pipe.
To use a pipe clamp:
- First adjust the clamp to the workpiece, so it is loosely clamped between the foot and adjustable head.
- Then screw the clamp plate down, applying enough pressure to hold the boards securely in place to allow for glued-up points to harden.
Pipe clamps are most commonly used to glue up individual boards to form a flat surface, such as a large tabletop.
Choosing The Right Pipe Clamp
When it comes to the type of pipe clamps to choose, you need to also choose between the two types of pipes which can be used in pipe clamp kits – galvanized pipe or black steel pipes.
Both of these work fine, but you might find that black pipe is less expensive, suiting woodworkers who are on a stricter budget. However, it is important to note that black pipes could leave stains on the surface of the wood, so you will have to take precautions to avoid this happening.
Common Problems With Pipe Clamps
Pipe clamps are a popular choice due to their affordability and versatility, but there are some common problems to be aware of:
- The pipes may bend under pressure, especially pipes which measure over 4 feet. To combat this, you should use a ¾-inch pipe instead of a ¾-inch pipe, and by using multiple clamps on either side of the glue-up.
- Applying too much pressure using pipe clamps can cause the boards to deflect, which can lead to bowing. This can be avoided by alternating clamps on either side of the workpiece to spread out the pressure, or by just using enough pressure to just tighten the joints.
- Black pipe can leave stains on the wood it comes into contact with. To prevent this, you can leave a space between the pipe and the boards, or you can place a piece of scrap wood between the pipe and the board. You need to make sure however that the scrap wood does not become glued to the other boards. To then prevent this happening, you can instead use a piece of PVC pipe over the pipe. (As PVC doesn’t bond well to wood glue, you will not have the PVC pipe sticking to the wood.)
What Is A Parallel Clamp?
Parallel clamps are prized among woodworkers, and are seen as some of the best clamps to work with. You’re likely to see them in the experienced woodworker’s toolbox.
Parallel clamps have steel-reinforced, resin-covered jaws which are 3-inches to 4-inches deep, which tighten up towards each other in parallel directions. The clamps also have strong steel bars, heavy-duty handles, and screws, which give them strong clamping strength.
Parallel clamps have a reputation for high performance, but also for having a high price tag that comes along with it.
How Parallel Clamps Work
All parallel clamps have a fixed jaw at one end of the bar, and another sliding jaw that travels along the bar. On most models, the sliding jaw often moves uncontrollably, and crashes into the fixed jaw if it is held vertically. However, there are a few parallel clamps that have a finger trigger below the handle which triggers the jaw, so there is no backsliding when the jaw is being tightened.
To best use parallel clamps:
- Fix the fixed jaw onto one side of the wood project, and adjust the sliding jaw to fix on the other side.
- Tighten the sliding jaw until there is enough pressure to hold the work together.
Parallel clamps are known to offer the most even pressure for larger projects, and as the jaws remain parallel under increased loads, they give a large distribution area of the pressure, which prevents dimples from forming on the wood.
Common Problems With Parallel Clamps
Parallel clamps are considered to be one of the best clamps for woodworkers to use, and because of this, there aren’t too many problems that people experience when using them.
However, what some might consider to be a problem is that parallel clamps are quite a bit more expensive than other clamps, which put them out of the league of hobbyists and beginners. You would also need more than one parallel clamp for most projects, so the cost keeps compounding.
Parallel clamps have been created to eliminate many problems you would find with other clamps, including a large distribution area of pressure which prevents dimples in the wood, and high pressure being put onto the wood for better adhesion.
As the design of parallel clamps allow for large opening capacities, there is not much that can be said about insufficient opening or size. They are made to solve many problems other clamps might have, but this is why the prices are as high as they are.
Is It Better To Use A Pipe Clamp Or Parallel Clamp?
In a perfect world, everyone would have a good set of parallel clamps in the workshop. However, parallel clamps are out of most woodworkers’ budgets.
Pipe clamps make for good alternatives for parallel clamps, and are considerably cheaper. There are a few issues you might come across when using pipe clamps, but with some foresight, you should be able to avoid any of these problems happening during your project.
What Can You Use a Pipe Clamp For?
Pipe clamps are used in woodworking for edge gluing, with several boards being joined edge to edge to create a wider surface, such as when creating a tabletop or cabinet front. Pipe clamps can also be used to assemble four sides of a box together.
Why Are Parallel Clamps So Expensive?
Parallel clamps are more expensive because they are made from high-quality metal and other materials, and are made to be the toughest wood clamps possible. Parallel clamps are made to last longer, so it might be an initially large investment, but the parallel clamps do last for a considerably long time.
How Do I Prevent Damage to Wood When Using a Clamp?
An option to prevent damage being done to wood when using a clamp is to place a piece of scrap wood between the clamp jaws and the wooden board to prevent any marks or scruffs.
Pipe Clamps Vs Parallel Clamps
If you are just starting out with woodworking, or looking for a budget-friendly clamp option, pipe clamps are a great choice. However if you are looking for the best possible option, and do not have a budget to stick to, parallel clamps are amazing to have in your workspace.
Parallel clamps and pipe clamps both work similarly, but they are suited for different budgets and for those who are at different stages of their woodworking journey.
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