Clamping without long clamps
March 15, 2009 7:30 AM   Subscribe

How do I clamp a 3' long bookcase for gluing, without expensive long clamps?

So I'm about to start my first carpentry project. I'm going to build a 3' wide x 4' tall bookcase with 12" x 1" pine, using dowel joinery. So I have my circular saw, my lumber, my drill and dowel jig, copious instructions from the internet and books. The one thing I don't really have, because I balked at the price, is the long cabinetry clamps that would be required for the glue-up, to clamp across the width of the whole case. They're 40 bucks each.

So... what's a poor man's gigantic clamp? Are there other ways to do this? I have weights and a couple cinder blocks, I could try rope, but I'm curious what the ask mefi woodworking team will say. Feel free to yell at me, too, if any of my plan sounds misguided.

(I realize this is a pretty big project to tackle as my first, but it's actually the test project for building much bigger bookshelves, and I've done some set-building in high school so I know basically how to use the tools)
posted by condour75 to Home & Garden (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well, those pipe clamps aren't usually $40. You can get them have some standard pipe cut into different lengths and have a slew of clamps for a reasonable price.

Or for about half what you are talking you can get strap clamps. I don;t think I would got the rope and brick route, as you not going to get stuff squared.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:35 AM on March 15, 2009

Hi - you can clamp with rope among others. Works well, you just need to know how to use the right tension. Check out the instructions on this site for rope clamping (scroll down) and other methods as well.
posted by watercarrier at 7:45 AM on March 15, 2009

A cheap ratchet (with cloth/wood between any of the metal parts and the wood of the piece) would do it. A more rustic alternative would be two wood strats (a hole in either end) and pass a piece of rope around the piece through the holes. You can use a further piece of wood as a means of applying tension - after going through the holes and tying off the loop, leave enough slack in the loop to shove a stick in there and wind it to give a more controllable tension than just heaving on the rope as you tie it.
posted by Brockles at 7:45 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

I, er... I buy the clamps, use them carefully, and then return them. The ripoff prices help reduce the guilt.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:46 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Pleas insert 'ratchet strap' into (And before) the link that I royally screwed up. Thanks.

posted by Brockles at 7:46 AM on March 15, 2009

This is a really good blog for you to look at because he utilizes some nifty homemade ideas into his work including a cool twisted rope clamp.
posted by watercarrier at 7:48 AM on March 15, 2009

I like the rope ideas, but you can also just use weights. Providing you have a weight set.
posted by Max Power at 7:49 AM on March 15, 2009

Best answer: You can improvise some clamps by gluing and screwing blocks of scrap to a 2x4, a little further apart than the dimension you want to clamp. put the clamp over the work and then drive a wedge between the work and one of the blocks.

That said, dowels may not the best sort of joinery here. It will be tricky to get them all to line up well, and it sounds like you'll be buying 1 x 12 pre-planed lumber which won't be very flat. If you're not worried about having this look like fine furniture, you might consider using pocket screws. A one-hole Kreg jig is affordable, and screws can pull slightly deformed lumber together in ways that are difficult to do with clamps.
posted by jon1270 at 7:49 AM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, threaded rod, nuts, and blocks of wood are cheap -- you could build a bigger version of this.
posted by Krrrlson at 7:56 AM on March 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

Two thoughts-

- for stuff like clamps, go to Menards or Harbor Freight and buy the cheapest junk they have. If you were running a cabinetry shop, the expensive ones would be a value. But for the weekend warrior, the cheap stuff should work just fine. And/or, maybe just get one clamp- it will slow the process down, but just doing one side at a time will save you money.

- failing that, I would make the design of my project fit with the tools I have at hand. Do your shelves have backer panels? They should- these add unbelievable stability. Without something to support the joints, a loaded bookshelf will fail quite quickly as soon as there are any forces tending toward making it unsquare. Even the wood-colored cardboard junk that the $40 shelves at K-Mart use add tremendous strength. If that's not what you want, at the very least, use some of those brass L brackets on the back for some corner stability. And/or build a face-frame that crosses the joints.

So, do this: build the shelf as designed. Flip it on its face, square it up, and fasten the backer panel. This will hold the unit square. Then use whatever you have to cinch the glued joints down while they dry. Rope ought to work in a pinch, provided you use a knot that lets you get good clamping force.

Or, this: Build the shelf as designed, and use a couple of screws to cinch the joints down. Counter sink them, and fill the holes with putty or buttons of dowel stock. Sand them flush when its dry. Or use decorative ones.

(other tips- make sure your glued surfaces are as true as possible. After you cut them with the saw, get out your plane and make them nice and square. The glue will hold better, and the joints will look better.

I don't have experience with it, but that Gorilla Glue is purported to be stronger.)
posted by gjc at 7:59 AM on March 15, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: These are all great tips (as always) -- gjc, by "backer panel" do you mean a single large panel of plywood covering the back of the case? Yes, my "design" will use that -- the whole thing will have a beadboarded plywood backing. This should keep the entire cabinet square, but i was going to do the glue-up prior to this.

jon1270, I did buy a doweling jig to this, but the wood is indeed less-than-perfect pre-planed lumber. I may try that Kreg tool -- I'm a lot more comfortable with screws than I am with dowels, and matching all the dowel holes did seem a bit daunting. Would using pocket screws completely obviate the clamps in your opinion? IE, do you think I would need to clamp at all at that point?
posted by condour75 at 8:31 AM on March 15, 2009

Why clamp them at all? Why not just screw or nail them together? Fasteners like screws and nails act as clamps. Norm Abrams does this all the time and is a huge advocate of nails as clamps. If you're worried about the look of the nail/screw holes, countersink everything and fill the holes with woodfiller or with wood plugs that are available at any Home Depot or Lowes. If you want to get fancy on a budget, buy a plug cutter bit and cut your own wooden plugs. I got some scrap mahogany boards from my neighbor's deck project and made my plugs for a pine bookcase. Some people like the contrast but I could have easily used the same pine and hidden the holes.
posted by birdwatcher at 8:32 AM on March 15, 2009

If you're planning on doing more projects, buy the clamps (whether Harbor Freight disposables or Bessey Budget Busters). Buy a couple now. Buy a couple more on your next project. You can never have too many clamps.

Pipe Clamps are affordable and since you provide the pipe, you can make them as long or as short as you need them to be.
posted by notyou at 8:37 AM on March 15, 2009

I've used bungee cords to good effect, but be careful; bungee cords are actually quite dangerous, especially to your eyes.
posted by jamjam at 8:41 AM on March 15, 2009

Would using pocket screws completely obviate the clamps in your opinion? IE, do you think I would need to clamp at all at that point?

I successfully built a 6' x 6' bookcase using countersunk screws and no clamps for all major structural joints.
posted by Krrrlson at 9:23 AM on March 15, 2009

An off the, shelf suggestion: buy a big roll of plastic wrap and wrap the whole thing tight after you've glued it up.
posted by jamjam at 10:35 AM on March 15, 2009

Just use screws, then fill the holes when you're done.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:43 AM on March 15, 2009

If you haven't used the dowel jig yet, I'd return it because it's very easy to make your own custom jig for each project. Just drill the holes in a scrap of hardwood and screw another piece to act as a "stop" against the back of the bookshelves and sides.

I wouldn't mess around with ropes or weights because it could lead to a lot of panic/exasperation when the glue is being applied. You can make clamps for this job cheaper if you buy some threaded rod from the hardware store (I'd get the thinnest available because you only need enough pressure to hold all the boards flat against each other while the glue dries). You'll need to cut them with a hacksaw, two sections for each shelf and the top. Cut two scraps of 2x4 to a few inches wider than the depth of the project (two for each shelf and the top) and drill holes so that you can pass the rods in front and behind the project for each shelf. Then put washers and nuts onto the ends of the threaded rods. When it's glued and assembled, slide the clamps into place and tighten (an extra pair of hands will probably be helpful.

Still, keep your eyes peeled for used clamps.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:04 PM on March 15, 2009

Lots of good ideas here. You could also use screws and scrap wood as temporary clamps. Put a chunk of scrap over the joint, drive the screws through the scrap to pull the glued case together, and remove it all after the glue dries. The advantages are that the scrap would distribute the pressure and the hole to fill would be much smaller.
posted by LarryC at 1:01 PM on March 15, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your help! The wood is pretty out of square, but I returned the doweling jig and asked for the Kreg set Jon1270 recommended. It worked quickly and perfectly and I think it saved the project -- dowels would've required too much perfection in the wood (and my sawing skills). The screws pulled everything together. I went with gorilla glue to set everything, although I may have been able to get away with just the screws.

As an aside, the old Lowes' guy's eyes lit up when I mentioned the product.

Here's what it looks like tonight:
posted by condour75 at 5:31 PM on March 15, 2009

Response by poster: (and also linked to such as.)
posted by condour75 at 5:32 PM on March 15, 2009

posted by bonobothegreat at 7:15 AM on March 16, 2009

Nicely done.
posted by jon1270 at 7:20 AM on March 16, 2009

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