If you are a novice woodworker, you will find that one of the items you will constantly be buying for your projects will be clamps. You can never have enough clamps when woodworking, and you will constantly be doing projects where you need another style of clamp! Next to wood, glue, and fasteners, clamps will be an item that you are always on the lookout for. We can add another versatile clamp to your list; pipe clamps! Are pipe clamps good for woodworking?
Pipe clamps are great for gluing-up tabletops or other flat surfaces due how long they are, high clamping pressure, and the ability to keep your piece flat by alternating sides while clamping. They are versatile and come in a wide variety of sizes. Pipe clamps are relatively inexpensive and can be easily adjusted or extended. A Pipe clamp is a must have for larger woodworking projects.
Clamps are a must-have in every woodworking shop, and it is often difficult to find good large frame clamps that are suitable for bigger projects or clamping wide slabs together for something like a tabletop. This is where pipe clamps come to the rescue of the woodworker and present a solution for big project problems.
Can You Use Pipe Clamps For Woodworking
Pipe clamps can be used in multiple disciplines, from metalwork to plumbing and woodwork. They are extremely useful for woodworkers because they are a small footprint tool that offers a great deal of versatility, especially for gluing large boards together.
As a woodworker, you will be using many different types of clamps, from C-clamps to F-clamps, bar clamps, corner clamps, strap clamps, spring clamps, and bench clamps. You will find uses for all of these types of clamps in your woodworking shop, but they all have their limitations.
The main limitation for most of these clamps is that they have limited capacity when to comes to the size of the workpiece that they can safely clamp in place. This is where the pipe clamp fulfills a niche role in your woodwork shop.
A pipe clamp comes in two parts when you purchase it. It comes packaged with the two end pieces but with no pipes. The reason for this is that you can buy the length of pipe that will suit your project, or you can buy a variety of pipe lengths so that you have some varying lengths in your shop to cater to different sized projects.
Pipe clamps can be used to clamp wood that is 6-inches wide to 8-feet wide or more. But you will need a solid surface to support the clamps and the workpiece, so this will most likely be the limitation of the size of the workpiece you can clamp.
Of course, if you have a flat, open workshop floor, there is nothing stopping you from using the floor space as the support surface for the clamps. The design of the clamps is such that the workpiece will always be elevated above the support surface of the floor and will remain clean.
It is always best for woodworking to buy pipe clamps that have feet on them that will elevate the workpiece above the support surface. You can get pipe clamps without these feet, but the feet are definitely an advantage for woodworking as they keep your piece well above any dirt on your workbench or floor.
How Do You Use Pipe Clamps For Woodworking?
Pipe clamps are fairly simple to get set up and to use in your shop on your woodworking project. When you purchase your clamps, you will only find the two end pieces included in the package, so don’t forget to pick up some pipe before you head home.
The two ends of the clamps will be different; one piece secures to the end of the pipe, while the other piece slides up and down the length of the pipe to accommodate the size of the piece that you are working on.
Prepare your pipe clamps beforehand by securing the appropriate piece to one end of the pipe and sliding the other end onto the pipe to the approximate width of the piece of wood that you need to clamp.
Place the prepared clamps onto a solid surface such as a workbench to give you enough space to work. Set the clamps the right distance apart on the workbench to support the workpiece.
You will need at least two pipe clamps, but for larger workpieces, you will need three or more pipe clamps, one each to clamp either end of the project and one to clamp in the middle of the piece.
The pipes in the middle of the clamps is where you will rest the workpiece before clamping. The workpiece will be elevated above your bench, which is a great feature since you can place rags or newspaper under the piece to catch drips of glue and prevent them from dripping onto your workbench top.
Once you have the workpiece laid out on the pipes, you can glue the appropriate edges, lay the boards down, make sure they are square, and clamp the sliding end of the pipe clamps down to secure the workpiece in place. Then crank down on the levers to put pressure on the workpiece and hold it securely in place.
Prevent Board Bowing When Using Pipe Clamps
One downside when gluing multiple pieces together to make a wide board using pipe clamps is that the boards have the tendency to bow up in the middle as you are clamping down.
This is normally only a problem on wider boards, and it is an aspect that you need to watch out for when using these clamps in this way.
This problem is easily solved by placing a heavy weight on the middle of the boards to hold them down. To achieve this, only tighten the clamps enough to hold the piece in place. Then put the heavy weight on the middle of the boards. Then you can crank down on the clamps and tighten them up the rest of the way.
You can use weights from dumbbells for this purpose or other heavy tools or whatever you have laying around that will provide enough weight to keep the boards down.
Do Pipe Clamps Need Threaded Pipe?
Whether or not your need to use pipes that have threaded ends will depend on the style of pipe clamps that you buy.
On some pipe clamps, you don’t need to screw the clamp onto one end of the pipe. These clamps have a clutch mechanism to slide the pipe into the clamp end util the pipe rests firmly against the back wall of the socket designed to accept the pipe. When using these types of pipe clamps, you don’t need to have threads at all on the pipes.
This makes it easier to buy pipe and cut it to length without going through the trouble of getting one end of the pipe threaded.
If you purchase a clamp where one clamp end accepts a threaded pipe, then the pipe that you buy for your pipe clamp will need at least one end that is threaded. This threaded end of the pipe screws into one of the pipe clamp ends to provide a surface for the lamp to pull against.
The end of the pipe clamp that has threads to accept the threaded end of the pipe is usually the end that has the crank on it to tighten up the clamp.
The opposite end of the pipe does not need to be threaded, but it is also not a problem if this end is also threaded. You will still be able to slide the other end piece of the clamp over the threads and onto the pipe.
In some applications, it can be useful to have both ends of the pipe threaded. If you want to prevent the sliding end from sliding off the end of the pipe, you can screw an endcap onto the end of the pipe after you have installed the sliding end of the clamp.
What Size Pipe Clamps Do You Need?
Essentially, pipe clamps come in two main sizes, half-inch and three-quarter-inch. These pipe sizes are dictated by the size of the pipes that the clamp is intended to accept.
The three-quarter-inch pipe clamp is the most popular because the additional thickness of the pipe used in these clamps makes for a more robust clamp that will not bend or flex under the weight of your workpiece and give a wider support surface pipe for your workpiece to rest on.
If you generally work on lighter projects, then the half-inch pipe clamps and pipes will probably be more than adequate for your purposes.
What Pipe Should You Use in Your Pipe Clamps
Your choice of types of pipe to use in your pipe clamps is rather limited, but the pipes available will suit most of the job requirements in the average woodshop.
There are essentially two varieties of pipes that you can use; galvanized pipe and black steel pipe. The type of pipe that you use will largely be driven by what is available to you locally and your personal preference.
Galvanized pipe is dangerous to use where any form is heat is involved, especially welding. It releases toxic fumes that can damage your lungs and result in an unpleasant death. While our main topic is woodworking, you may want to use your clamps for projects other than woodworking.
If you fall into this category of DIYer, then you would do well to opt for the black steel pipes rather than the galvanized version. The black steel pipes are usually used for gas lines and are also less expensive than the galvanized pipes, which helps to keep costs lower.
What Length Of Pipes Do You Need For Pipe Clamps?
The length of pipes that you use in your pipe clamps will hinge on a few criteria.
- The size projects you work on most often.
- The amount of storage space in your shop for the clamps.
- Your personal preference in clamp size.
If you only make a certain product range in your woodshop, such as cabinets, then you may need smaller claps for your projects. If, on the other hand, you regularly do larger projects, then you may want to invest in some longer-length pipes.
Pipes take space to store, especially the longer lengths of pipe. You will need to take your storage space in your woodshop into consideration regarding the length of pipes you get for your pipe clamps.
You may prefer a certain size clamp based on the size of your workbench that you use to join your projects, or prefer a size of pipe that will give you flexibility in your project sizes.
When you buy your pipes for your clamps, it is cheaper to buy longer lengths of pipe and request that the store cut them to the lengths that you require. Most stores will even cut threads onto the ends of the pipes for free should your pipe clamp require threaded ends.
The longer lengths are usually 10-foot lengths of pipe, which you can then cut into varying lengths. Buying multiple shorter lengths works out significantly more expensive.
If you don’t need to use the heavier, more expensive three-quarter-inch pipe and the half-inch pipe will be sufficient for your type of work, it will work out cheaper for you to buy half-inch pipe. With the smaller diameter pipe being cheaper, you will be able to get more pipe lengths for the money than buying the bigger pipe that you don’t need.
Extend The Length Of Your Pipe Clamp Pipe
If you do not have a lot of storage space for large pipe clamps, you could use shorter lengths of pipe that are more common to the size of jobs that you do, and when you need longer clamps, you can join pipes together with the use of couplings.
Of course, this means that you will need to have threaded ends on the pipes to enable them to screw into the coupling. It is, however, an easy and cheap method to get longer pipes since these couplings are only a couple of dollars.
This is also a great space saver way to only store shorter pipes in your woodshop but have the means to extend the pipes easily when you have a bigger project.
What Are The Alternatives To Pipe Clamps?
The main type of clamp that rivals the pipe clamp and can offer as wide a grip are the bar clamps. These are clamps that work on a similar principle to the pipe clamps, but they use a flat steel bar rather than a round pipe.
They are also normally a fixed length, so you need multiple clamps of varying sizes to cater to various size jobs. Because these clamps use a flat bar, they generally cannot be joined together to extend the size of the clamp throat.
Disadvantages of bar clamps include the following.
- You need multiple sizes of clamps. Pipe clamps are only limited by your space and the length f the pipe. You can easily make a 10-foot pipe clamp should you need one.
- Many bar clamps take up space. Having multiple bar clamps means having a place to store the clamps. Pipe clamps store much easier, especially if you remove the ends from the clamps.
- Bar clamps are very expensive. In comparison to pipe clamps, bar clamps are extremely expensive.
This is not to say that bar clamps do not have a place in your woodwork shop, but you can much more cost-effectively use pipe claps to do most of the clamping jobs that bar clamps can do.
Pipe clamps are an important addition to any woodworking shop, and many woodworkers swear by them for not only their bigger projects but also the smaller jobs.
Pipe clamps offer versatility over many other clamp types, with their only disadvantage when used on a smaller project being that they may be a little heavy and cumbersome. They are also certainly not single-hand use clamps, in which case for smaller jobs, there are other clamps that will perform better.
For medium to large-sized jobs, however, not many clamps can beat the pipe clamp. They are robust without any delicate parts that are prone to failure and compare to other clamps, they are relatively cheap.
If you don’t have a set of pipe clamps in your woodshop yet, show yourself some love and get yourself at least a pair of these useful clamps! Once you understand their usefulness and versatility, you will wonder how you did without them for so long in your shop!