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Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps
How pipe clamps should have been made all along
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 4-16-2009
I don't know why it surprised me that Bessey, the dominant clamp manufacturer in woodworking actually makes pipe clamps. Not so surprising is the innovation and quality of their Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps. Also not surprising is that Bessey makes pipe clamps the way they always should have been made.
The Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamp configuration may look familiar but look closer and you find differences that make them exceptionally durable and surprisingly easier to use. The legendary Bessey manufacturing standards mean that the selection of materials and manufacturing processes assure that their Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps will be a "forever" tool. Nearly all of the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps components are made from cleanly formed and finished iron castings. And, Bessey is not afraid to add cast-in webbing or additional iron in critical areas to make these clamps stronger yet.
One of the kicks against pipe clamps has always been the tendency of the iron jaw to mark the wood. The Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps come with large clamping pads that distribute the pressure over a larger area which itself helps reduce compressive damage to the wood. However, Bessey equips their clamping pads with removable plastic covers that add another layer of protection against marking or staining of the wood. These slip-on/off pads also make removing transferred glue simple.
Pressure Jaw on High
The clamping jaw assembly screws onto common pipe threads (1/2" of 3/4" pipe diameter versions available) with the moveable jaw oriented to the pipe with a cast-in collar. The clamping pressure is applied by turning a large cast iron handle that operates the Acme-threaded shaft. The Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps use the Acme thread because it is extremely dependable, very smooth operating and develops lots of pressure without strain. Like everything else about these clamps, the threads are very cleanly made which means they work very smoothly today and forever.
A nice feature of the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps is the height of the legs. Bessey made the legs tall enough to allow the operator to turn the handle without hitting their knuckles on the table surface. If you have had to arrange the components of a glue-up so that the clamp handle was off the edge of the table, you will appreciate this one feature. It will also make you wonder why pipe clamps were ever made shorter, with no legs or rounded protrusions that suffice as a leg but make it all but impossible for the clamp to be steady on a flat surface.
The Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps pressure jaw also has a wider "H"-shaped foot, extending front to back along the length of the clamp. Adding the "H" shape to the foot makes the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps and the material in them a bit more stable. Maybe not a huge deal but another feature that shows that Bessey is paying attention, even to the little things that make woodworking a bit more enjoyable.
Like the pressure jaw, a removable plastic shield covers the clamping surface on the sliding jaw. The sliding jaw is secured by a set of spring-loaded clutch plates, which on its own is pretty conventional. What is not so conventional is that these plated steel clutch pieces are precisely made. That makes them more effective, easier to use and far less frustrating for the woodworker with glue setting up.
In the Shop
I almost didn't review the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps because like many of you, I considered pipe clamps to be a crude but reasonably effective technology. Also like many of you, I thought all pipe clamps were pretty much the same. Then along came the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps and it no longer makes sense that pipe clamps were ever made the way they were.
The basic functions of the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps are much like any of their lesser cousins but the quality of their materials and manufacturing mean that they are easier to use, more predictable and make applying only the pressure needed for the job simple. Plus, the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps are exceptionally well made which means that barring a major air strike on the shop, they will outlast me by a factor of two or three.
The "H"-shaped feet and their height make using the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps far easier. Just not having to make sure that the clamp handle is overhanging the edge of the table is exceptionally nifty. That bit of thoughtful design also saves the skin on your knuckles and lets you focus on assembling the project correctly. Added to all of the above are nicely sized jaws that are protected by plastic covers right off the shelf. No wonder that I reach for the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps before any other brand pipe clamp in my shop.
The Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps are very well made and equipped with the kind of innovation that keeps other companies chasing Bessey in the marketplace. Despite the high-end features and manufacturing (and the jaw covers that cost extra on most other clamps) the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps cost only a few dollars more than the now antiquated designs on the market. The 1/2" Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps have a street price (4-9-2009) of $15.99 per set and the 3/4"-versions $17.99.
If you are looking for pipe clamps, get the right ones the first time around. Get the Bessey "H" Series Pipe Clamps and you will be happy with yourself for many years to come.
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