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V-Clamp Vacuum Clamps
Sounds wrong, works great
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 3-24-2008
Fortunately there are people who look at things differently. The kind of thinkers that knew heat could come from cold and cold from heat. Such thinking is behind the V-Clamp, that a work-holding vacuum can be generated by air pressure. It would be easy to write the V-Clamp off as a cute bit of trickery if it didn't work so well.
Adding to the mystery of the V-Clamp is its apparent simplicity. There are no odd-looking contraptions or whirligigs, just a cleanly molded, glass-filled nylon body with waffle-like grids separated by channels. The channels are for the rubber gasket that allows the user to size the V-Clamp for oddly sized or shaped objects.
There is only one vacuum passage in each active side of the V-Clamp. This hole is located in a corner so the surface can be configured to be compatible with the widest range of work piece shapes and sizes. The grids on the surface allow routing the gasket to best fit the piece being worked on.
Though plugging a vacuum passage with dust would be a natural concern in a woodworking shop, the principle on which the V-Clamp works makes clearing that passage as easy as putting your finger over the exhaust hole while air pressure is supplied to the unit. Poof (literally) and the offending debris is ejected from the vacuum hole.
The V-Clamp is available in two versions. Both are 6.3" square and 1" thick. The VC4 is single sided and is mounted to a surface with a screw in each of four molded-in tabs at the corners. One side (upper) has the vacuum grid. The VC4 has the interesting capability of being mounted to a vertical surface for when holding the work piece vertically is a helpful.
The VC5 is a two-sided model with identical vacuum grids on both surfaces. One side is used to stick the V-Clamp to a solid (smooth) surface and the other to hold the piece being worked on. Look around your shop and I suspect you will find lots of places where V-Clamp could be used. That kind of flexibility can be precious in an evenly mildly space-challenged shop.
Air consumption is 1-CFM (cubic feet per minute) at 80-PSI. Each vacuum surface is capable of generating 12.5 pounds of holding force per square inch! The only caveat is that the operator installs the gasket correctly and the material being clamped is relatively flat and non-porous.
Incidentally, the V-Clamp just might reveal something about the MDF you use; specifically, how porous it really is. We consider MDF to be more or less solid but apply vacuum to it and it frequently turns out to be far more porous than we might expect, Consequently, the V-Clamp might not get a good grip on lesser grades of MDF.
The base kits come with 40" of clear tubing and standard connectors. A "T" connector is available that fits the included air line and allows using more than one V-Clamp at a time. A simple but effective On/Off valve for the air supply is available that makes working with the V-Clamp fast and very easy.
In The Shop
Using the V-Clamp (either model) is very straightforward. The primary concern is having a smooth, non-porous surface to "stick" the V-Clamp to. After that, an air supply is all that remains. Because the -CFM at 80-PSI air demand of the V-Clamp is so small, virtually any compressor that works in your shop will handle this job easily.
I have to admit that I was skeptical of just how much holding power the V-Clamp would have. However, I hooked it up to my compressor set the V-Clamp on a flat surface and pressed a piece of wood down on it lightly (to be sure the seal engages all the way around) and it held firm. Sanding or many other normal operations simply do not beak the wood free from the V-Clamp.
The only way to compromise the V-Clamp holding power is to use wood with holes in it, an irregular surface or to install the gasket wrong. Those obvious blunders aside, the V-Clamp generates a surprising amount of holding power and makes sanding, routing, sawing, drilling (insert your job here...) lots of project pieces easier. Being able to configure the gasket as needed makes working with small pieces much easier and safer for the fingers that used to try and hold them under the sander....
The V-Clamp is virtually maintenance free. Avoid dropping something big and heavy on them or splashing them with some kind of harsh solvent and they will work for a very long time. I could not find anything in their makeup that appears to be age sensitive. If anything, the gasket material might have to be replaced in coming years but that would be a small price (about $3) to pay for this kind of handiness.
The V-Clamp is a great idea that has been executed very well. High end materials and manufacturing result in an effective, long-lasting tool that will make life in your shop easier and more effective. If you sand, route, drill, saw or in some other way work with pieces of wood, a V-Clamp or two will make those and other processes easier and in many case safer. Letting the V-Clamp hold the wood where your fingers used to be can only be a good thing.
With a street price of $64.99 for the VC5 double-sided version and $54.99 (3-18-2008) for the VC4 single sided model (with mounting tabs) the V-Clamp system is a very cost-effective addition to your shop. The benefits of this investment will enhance your work for many years to come.
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