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Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps
Quality, interchangeability and economy
Text, photos and video by Tom Hintz
Posted – 9-21-2010
Parallel jaw bar clamps have been a favorite of woodworkers for decades because of their even, predictable application of clamping pressure. Now the Sears Craftsman brand has their own (and very complete) line of these woodworking stalwarts. Add the immense marketing reach of the Craftsman brand and these high quality woodworking tools are that much closer to virtually every woodworker.
Mix and Match
Sears offers the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps as complete units or as individual components. All of the jaws fit on all of the bars and the jaws can be installed facing either way. That means that you can build the exact clamp you need whether it is a clamp or a spreader. You can also combine bars to extend the clamping reach or to incorporate more than one clamping station on one set of bars. Because all of the components are sold individually you buy just what you need rather than full clamp sets from which you only need one or two parts. The old adage of never having enough clamps may be losing some of its relevance.
The bars are the backbone of any clamp and the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps take no chances there. The Craftsman steel bars are 1-1/8”-tall by 3/8”-thick and cleanly manufactured including the super rigid hourglass profile. The top and bottom edges have precise rows of serrations that interact with the jaws to withstand the remarkable 1500 LBS of clamping pressure these clamps are capable of generating.
Craftsman offers the bars individually in 24”, 40”and 50” lengths. Need an even longer clamp bar? The Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamp Extender allows you to join two bars together end-to-end. With enough bars and Extenders, there literally is no limit to the clamp length you can create!
Craftsman also sells the End Clips for the bars separately. The End Clips prevent jaws from sliding off the end of the bar but they also act as a foot that keeps the bar level on the work surface. This little piece of precision-formed plastic can make setups for truly flat assemblies faster and more accurate. Two End Clips come with each full clamp assembly or bar.
Traditionally the jaw against which the pressure is applied has been permanently fixed to the bar. The Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps come with a Variable jaw that can be placed wherever needed on the bar. A pushbutton on top of the clamp releases the internal locking plate assembly so you can position it where it works best for your application. Release the button and the Variable Jaw is locked in place.
Another nice feature of the Variable Jaw is that it is two-sided. That means you can use it anywhere on the clamp and even create clamping fixtures where pressure is applied against both sides of the Variable Jaw at the same time. This kind of arrangement can save lots of shop space by grouping smaller glue ups onto one bar.
The Variable Jaw has two clamping surfaces that are 5-3/4”-tall and 2”-wide. 3-3/4” of the clamping face is above the bar giving you plenty of clamping area. Plus, there is ¾” of the clamping surface width available to either side of the bar that gives you access to the full height of the jaw. Because ¾”-thick material is so popular this jaw surface can be very helpful in your shop!
Both clamping surfaces have a slip-on cover that helps protect the wood from marking but also helps protect the clamp jaw from glues. If the cover gets glue on it slipping it off and flexing it usually pops the glue off.
Craftsman also offers the Moveable (pressure) Jaw with Handle as part of a full clamp or individually. The Moveable Jaw is also compatible with all of the bars in this series. The Moveable Jaw surface is 5-3/4” tall and 2”-wide, identical to the Variable Jaw surfaces. The Moveable Jaw also has ¾” of jaw surface available to either side of the bar and comes with a slip-on cover that protects the wood and the clamp.
The Moveable Jaw is positioned where needed by simply lifting the handle to release its grip on the serrations on the bar. When pressure is applied, the internal mechanism grips the bar serrations to prevent movement regardless of how much of the 1500 LBS clamping pressure is applied.
Turning the comfortably-shaped handle on the Moveable Jaw uses the Acme threads to generate the pressure. The Acme thread has been a favorite of better clamp manufacturers for decades because it works very smoothly, resists binding due to wood dust contamination and generates surprising amounts of force with little effort by the operator.
Parallel Bar Clamp Tilting Adaptor
Sometimes it is necessary to clamp objects with at least one slanted surface. The Craftsman Tilting Adaptor slips right onto the face of the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamp jaws. The Tilting Adaptor has a 1”-wide by 7”-long, non-marring clamping surface that is mounted on a pivot. That clamping surface can pivot up to 15-degrees to either side, allowing you to get a firmer grip on odd-shaped projects.
In the Shop
All woodworkers know the value of a good clamp but the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps add a new level of versatility that presents some interesting possibilities. The ability to use one set of clamps, all with interchangeable components dramatically increases the number of situations those clamps can handle. That interchangeability should also translate into fewer clamps needed in the shop which is a direct money saver.
Applying the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps to projects is very easy thanks to the predictable movement of the jaws. Slide the jaws against the project and give the handle a turn or two. The Acme threads make it easy to apply the pressure that you need without accidentally applying sufficient force to crush the project.
Throughout the evaluation I was not able to detect any deflection in the jaws. Each time that I applied a good (sensible) amount of pressure to hold the pieces in alignment the jaws of the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps measured square to the bars. I suspect that it is possible to crank these clamps down hard enough to cause a small level of distortion if you really tried but that would be far more pressure than any woodworking task should need and perhaps more than the wood itself could withstand.
I also like the ability to add jaws to a bar making it possible to clamp up two assemblies in the space regular clamps would need to clamp one. In addition to needing fewer clamps, in many instances you need less space as well. What is that worth to you?
The Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps are well made and the selection of individual components adds a new level of versatility. Despite the quality and wide range of uses the street price remains user friendly. A full 24” Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamp sells for $34.99 (9-18-2010). The full 40” version costs $44.99. The individual components are also economically priced.
Another favorable point about the Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps is that they are available at most Sears stores and through their far-reaching catalog and Internet outlets. For many that do not have a woodworking store in the neighborhood Craftsman Parallel Bar Clamps mean that quality tools are just a phone call or click away.
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