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Small bar clamps get their name from the sturdy steel bar that runs the length of the clamp. They have two jaws: a fixed one at the end of the bar, and a sliding one that includes a threaded rod (typically an Acme thread) with a handle on one end.
Among all the various types of small clamps, the bar clamp has several advantages. It adjusts quickly and easily. Plus, it provides plenty of clamping force, around 760 lb. in our test.
For those reasons, I reach for a short bar clamp more than any other small clamp. It is ideal for applying side pressure to open mortise-and-tenon joints (also called slip joints or bridle joints). For bigger edge-gluing jobs, like making a tabletop, I’ll use short bar clamps to squeeze the ends of clamping cauls and the ends of boards at the glueline. When gluing bent laminations, woodworkers take advantage of the bar clamp’s wide capacity, quick adjustment, and substantial clamping force. And I could easily list a few dozen more places where a short bar clamp gets good use.
Clamp manufacturers typically offer bar clamps in three strengths: light duty, medium (sometimes called standard) duty, and heavy duty.
My favorite bar clamp is the Bessey medium-duty Tradesman. It was easy to handle, produced lots of pressure, and didn’t discolor the wood. I liked the heavy-duty Jorgensen, but when the clamp remained overnight on a workpiece, the plastic clamp pads sometimes left the wood slightly discolored. It took some light sanding to remove the oily smudge.
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