Of all the woodworking clamps sold, the parallel clamp is arguably the most accurate. But it is also the most expensive. And while the best parallel clamps come down to a bit of brand preference there are also features of the top clamp brand to consider.
First, a parallel clamp is as simple as two large jaws that stay parallel during assembly and clamping.
Why do woodworkers want these types of clamps? Well, for precision glue-ups of boxes and furniture they outperform a standard pipe or f-clamp. And they won’t mar soft wood as easily, all of which make having a pair or two on the wall worth it.
Best overall pressure:
Top Bessey alternative:
Wall storage rack:
Buying Guide: Best Parallel Clamps
As most woodworkers know, a parallel clamp is expensive.
While you can use bar or pipe clamps for gluing panels, when it comes to precision gluing without damaging the wood a parallel clamp is a justified purchase.
Features That Matter Between Brands
- Jaws stay perfectly at 90-degrees while clamping
- Reversible jaws
- Clamping power in PSI
- Comfort of grip (it is a twisting force)
- Accessories like clamp blocks
- Variety of lengths
- Stainless steel bar
What is a Parallel Clamp
Let’s start off with understanding what makes a parallel clamp unique. First, and as you might have guessed, the jaws are not only parallel but offer a HUGE clamping surface that extends around 4″ from the I-beam design found on most of these clamps.
Key features of these clamps:
- Hand screw handle: most clamps use a screw handle to tighten the parallel jaws.
- Wrench tightening: For extra clamping pressure some designs offer a hex nut that can be tightened with a wrench.
- Spreader: with the I-beam design and movable jaws most parallel jaw clamps are a both a clamp and a spreader
- Lengths: generally 12-50″ in total length
- 90-degrees: high quality clamps will have jaws that stay at a, well, parallel 90-degrees during clamping.
- Non-mar jaws: Lastly, and most importantly, versus their close cousin the pipe clamp, a parallel clamp is designed to NOT damage the wood it is clamping.
Who Makes Them: Manufacturers
Best Parallel Clamps
First, best is not always measured by most features. In fact, for a lot of woodworkers you can define best as meeting your budget OR a specific type of woodworking you do.
With that in mind, and after lengthy research, here are the best parallel clamps on the market:
1. Bessey K-Body Revolution (Most Force)
Shown: Bessey REVOlution Clamp
When Bessey makes a clamp they go all out.
And, with their REVOlution-series they offer a collection of clamps that feature:
- 1700 pounds of clamping force
- Ergonomic handle with 6mm steel hex key socket
- Converts to spreading quickly
- Available in clamping capacity from 12-98″
- 3-3/4″ throat depth
- Heavy duty at just under 5 pounds up to over 13 pounds for a 98″ clamp
While these clamps are expensive, they offer a few unique accessories vs. the competitors that make them more useful and worth the extra upfront cost:
- K-Body tilting adapter for wider horizontal pressure
- Framing set to hold clamps perpendicular (a MUST for four corner glue-ups)
- K-Body extenders for increasing clamping range (without upgrading clamps)
- Space clamping jaws for using multiple jaws on one rail
- And to round out the list: table clamps, spare jaw pads, rail protection pieces, and end clips.
2. Pony Jorgensen
In woodworking clamps Pony and Bessey are always head to head.
And, that’s because they engineer clamps with top quality, similar features and have a solid brand reputation for durability over the long haul.
Key features of the Pony parallel clamps are:
- 1500 pounds of clamping force
- Rapid action jaws
- Can stand vertically without holding
- Available in clamping capacity from 12-72″
- 3-3/4″ throat depth
3. BORA Portamate Parallel Clamps
Shown: BORA 571140T 40-Inch Clamp
If you frequent big box stores like Lowes you might have seen Bora before. And perhaps, like most, question if its a brand you can invest in or is a no-name import. Well, if it helps, they date back to 2006 and are part of Affinity Tool Works.
The bottom line: if you’re price comparing these are a solid clamp with all the basic features you’ll find in a Jet or Bessey. But for a lower price.
4. JET Clamps
JET is a well known manufacturer of woodworking supplies and has a wide range of sizes in paralllel clamps. And as a testament to their durability, their clamps come with the JET RED Assurance lifetime warranty.
- Size range from 12″ to 98″
- Non-marring composite resin jaw faces
- Precision-rule measurement system
- Up to 1000 pounds clamping pressure
5. BESSEY K-Body Junior
For parallel clamp precision but in a smaller form, Bessey offers the “K-Body Junior” collection of clamps that range from 12 to 50 inches, weigh just under 3 to almost 5 pounds (varying by length) and offer up to 900 pounds of clamping force.
Why choose these? Well, consider:
- Smaller projects
- Projects with many clamps required (cost, weight of glue-up)
- Compact for storage or use in a construction vehicle
6. POWERTEC Clamps (Budget Pick)
Shown: POWERTEC 71368
If you are looking for quantity versus high end cost, then Powertec is a niche woodworking manufacturer that produces a range of woodworking products.
And at a worthy discount to other manufacturers of parallel clamps that lets you buy a few more clamps.
- 3-3/4″ throat depth
- 880 pounds clamping force
- Pressure release
- Removable end rail clip
- Soft grip handle
While every clamp type is unique, there is usually a clamp or two that can be substituted. And the pipe clamp is arguably the closest in design and function you’ll find as an alternative.
Parallel Clamp vs. Pipe Clamp
If you’re not sure you need the precision features of a parallel jaw clamp one of the best alternatives to a parallel clamp is a pipe clamp.
- Advantages: Pipe clamps are cheaper, length can be customized with black pipe they use, and they can apply a massive clamping force
- Disadvantages: But, pipe clamps can damage wood if the work piece isn’t padded, they have shorter jaws and the jaws aren’t designed to be parallel.
Screw Clamp vs. Parallel Jaw Clamp
The deep throat screw clamps are a great utility clamp. But, their design is inherently clumsy for the one job a parallel clamp is best at: precision clamping.
Sash Clamp vs. Parallel Jaw Clamp
Meanwhile, the powerful sash clamp is the king of wood clamping power. And while most commonly used to glue up heavy duty tabletops a sash clamp can be used for many of the same jobs as parallel jaw clamps.
How to Use a Parallel Jaw Clamp
Once your parallel clamps arrive you’ll want to do a little playing around with them to make sure you find the best uses for a parallel clamp.
Tips to Using
Like most clamps there are always a few ways to use them right. And, a few ways to use them wrong.
Here’s a few pointers on parallel clamps you’ll want to keep in mind:
- Glue: be careful with the glue to keep it off the clamp body – and especially off the non-mar pads.
- Framing body: the reason Bessey is #1 is they offer up the framing body that will allow you to stack two clamps perpendicular.
- Clean bars: be sure to cleanup the bars after every use. While pipe clamps are easy to “slide and scrape”, as a more precision tool you’ll want to keep your expensive parallel jaw clamps clean.
Shown: Parallel Clamp Rack
First off, I’m guilty of just storing my pipe clamps anywhere. And while they have a rugged design that’s impossible to break, a parallel jaw clamp should be treated with care. So either invest in a manufactured storage rack or custom build one for keeping these clamps safe from accidental damage.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need parallel clamps?
If your woodworking projects include cabinetry or making high quality small furniture you’ll want to consider adding a non-marring parallel jaw clamp to your toolbox. Due to a precision 90-degree jaw, non-mar pads and a huge clamping force they will handle delicate jobs with ease.
How many clamps do you need?
For this type of clamp I recommend starting with just two. And, if after use, you find you want to buy more you’ll know the lengths and quality you’ll want in your next purchase.
How long of a parallel clamp should I buy?
With the primary use of these being for cabinet door assembly and similar sized boxes or furniture a 24″ or 40″ pair is a great starting point. Due to weight and space, a longer clamp may be too much. And a 12″ clamp too short for most panel-sized glue jobs.
Hopefully this article was useful in helping you understand more about what the best parallel clamps feature and what might be best for your projects.
If you haven’t used one before you’ll quickly find they are a premium woodworking clamp and one to add to your shopping list.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.