Parallel clamps stand out among all woodworking clamps with their quality and precision. And, they are also the most expensive woodworking clamp. Not sure what brand to buy? Or, looking for the best budget parallel clamp? Learn what clamp is best for your shop in this article.
You might be thinking: I don’t need another woodworking clamp.
But, while there are dozens of woodworking clamps on the market, a parallel clamp like the Bessey K-BODY REVOlution offers jaws that are perfectly aligned for precision gluing you just can’t find with other clamps.
Due to an I-beam design the large rectangular jaws will stand at a perfect 90-degrees during clamping. Versus, say, a pipe clamp that is designed to tilt-in during clamping due to a sliding clutch.
So as a premium clamp fit for finer joinery like cabinet doors and boxes you’ll NEED to have a few of these in your woodworking shop.
In this article we’ll review:
- What is a parallel clamp
- Best clamps on the market (features & budget/economy)
- Alternatives to this style of clamp
- Who makes them
- How to use a parallel wood clamp
- And lastly, accessories you should consider
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
Alternatives to a Parallel Clamp
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.
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. Best Parallel Clamp: Bessey K-Body Revolution
When Bessey makes a clamp they go all out.
And, with their REVOlution-series they offer a collection of parallel 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 that make them more useful (and worth the upgrade, at least in my mind):
- 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.
With that, if you are starting to realize Bessey has committed to this clamp, you’ll find they will allow you to grow into this version.
2. Pony Jorgensen (bEST vALUE)
Like various other woodworking clamps, Pony is right there with Bessey on clamps:
- 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. POWERTEC Clamp (bUDGET pICK)
As you know, sometimes it’s best to dabble before you commit.
And, at up to half the cost of a similar length pair of parallel clamps, the POWERTEC clamps are well enough reviewed and from a manufacturer with enough credibility to make them worthy of keeping long term.
4. BORA Portamate Parallel Clamps
You might be wondering just who BORA Tool is.
Well, they date back to 2006 and are part of Affinity Tool Works. And, as a good benchmark for tool manufacturers, they are offered through top merchants like Lowes so they aren’t a fly-by-night brand.
The bottom line: if you’re price comparing these are a solid clamp with all the core features you’ll find in a Jet or Bessey. But for a lower price.
5. BESSEY K-BODY JUNIOR
Want a budget entry point to parallel clamps but the top brand?
Well, be sure to check out the (slightly) smaller Junior lineup as a name-brand way to start using parallel jaw clampls
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 a Parallel Clamp
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.
Key Maintenance and Storage Considerations
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 a parallel clamp is (and isn’t).
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.
Parallel Clamps on Amazon
Last update on 2020-10-26 at 17:07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API