Bargain price, Bessey quality
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted - 3-16-2009
Most woodworkers are certain that they need more clamps than they have. Unfortunately, the reality is that many do not have the budget to buy the truckload of high-end clamps necessary to fulfill that dream. Bessey has long been considered to be at the top of the clamp mountain but the price for their top line models can keep some of us at least partially in the foothills. Now, the Bessey UniKlamp brings their legendary design and manufacturing to woodworking in the form of a light duty clamp with an equally light impact on the budget.
Despite the money-saving price, the bar on the Bessey UniKlamp looks very familiar. Though lighter overall, the 3/4"-wide by 3/16"-thick bar retains the hourglass shape that increases its strength and rigidity. It also has the fine row of serrations along the top and bottom edges that interact with the locking mechanism to lock the moveable jaw and generate the clamping force.
The bar also has a removable eye clip at the end that keeps the moveable jaw from slipping off the end and provides one way of hanging the Bessey UniKlamp when not in use. The Bessey UniKlamps come in 6", 12" and 18" capacities. Incidentally, those are measured between the jaws, indicating the real capacity and not the overall length of the clamp assembly. In fact, Bessey may be fudging on the capacity a little in your favor. The 18" versions of the Bessey UniKlamp I measured up would open to nearly 20" between the jaws in the normal clamping mode.
The Bessey UniKlamp jaws are 3-1/8"-tall above the bar, 4-3/8" tall overall and 1-1/4" wide. Because it is centered in the jaws, there is 1/2" of useable gripping area on either side of the bar where the full height of the jaw can be used. That gives you maximum flexibility because all four portions of the jaws can be used.
The jaws are made from a non-marring, impact and fracture resistant material that resists glue, paint and grease solvents. If you have ever spent an afternoon trying to pry glue off of your clamps, you will appreciate the Bessey UniKlamp surfaces.
Under pressure the Bessey UniKlamp jaws remain surprisingly square to the bar and parallel to each other. That makes it easier to close joints properly and wind up with a square project. The stability of the Bessey UniKlamp jaws mean that if the wood is correctly prepared, closing tight, square joints is both accurate and cost effective.
The moveable jaw on the Bessey UniKlamps can be slid off of the bar and reinstalled backwards to create a spreading tool. In the spreading mode the screw handle mechanism retains its function and pressure capabilities so the Bessey UniKlamp is equally effective in either mode.
Because the Bessey UniKlamp uses a solid machined pressure arm rather than a series of plates, reversing the moveable jaw is surprisingly easy. Remove the clip at the end of the bar, slip the jaw off, reverse it, feed it back over the bar and position as needed. It really is that simple.
The Bessey UniKlamp clamping handle and mechanism is physically smaller than those on its big brothers in the Bessey K Body clamp line but it generates all of the power you need for many normal woodworking jobs. The familiar acme-type screw and wooden twist handle generate a respectable 330LBS of clamping pressure. That is more than sufficient if the wood itself is straight and square.
The Bessey UniKlamp pressure mechanism is very simple but works predictably. The screw handle is smaller than on the larger K Body clamps but applying the precise amount of pressure needed remains easy. An occasional drop of oil on the screw keeps that effort low and the screw functioning smoothly.
In the Shop
The Bessey UniKlamps are noticeably smaller than the Bessey K Body Revo clamps I reviewed earlier but don't let that throw you off. These clamps work very well and handle a wide range of common shop tasks. Woodworkers are way to fascinated with how much pressure a clamp is capable of generating rather than how much is even remotely needed. If you buy clamps based on that measure, the Bessey UniKlamp may not be for you. If you consider clamping wood to be something this side of a crushing event, the Bessey UniKlamp have all the pressure you need for most jobs.
I did a series of clamping and spreading operations during this evaluation and never felt that the Bessey UniKlamp lacked for power. Once pressure was being applied, the moveable jaw stayed locked in place with no slipping or "jumping" along the serrated bar. Also, under all normal clamping pressure loads, there was no excessive deflection noted at the jaws or bar. I am sure you can make the Bessey UniKlamp (or any other clamp) flex if you really try but those pressures are have no use in tasks that are relevant to woodworking.
In the spreading mode the Bessey UniKlamp also work predictably. It is easy to apply enough pressure to spread the parts open only as much as is needed without going too far or struggling to get enough pressure. Turing the handles in the spreading mode generates just as much pressure as they do in clamping mode. Most of us do not use a clamp for spreading operations very often but it is a very handy capability when you do have the need!
The Bessey UniKlamps are well made yet economical. Their design and pressure capabilities make them perfect for many clamping jobs encountered in the home woodworking shop. With street prices of $17.68 for the 6", $20.83 for the 12" and $24.49 for the 18" version (3-12-2009) you can populate your shop with Bessey UniKlamps without strangling the budget! The Bessey UniKlamp can also be purchased in a money-saving 6-piece set for $94.99!
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