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Woodpeckers Clamping Solutions
Flat Bars, Side Kicks & Magnetic Clamping Blocks
Text & photos by Tom Hintz
Posted – 9-6-2006
Panel glue-ups are a fact of life in woodworking. Though considered a simple operation initially, when the glue has dried the work is often just beginning. The frustrating tendency of glues to be super-slippery before they tack up on the way to drying often results in one or more boards slipping under clamping pressure and causing irregularities amongst the boards making up the panel. That miss alignment often leads to an extended stress test of your sanding equipment and your own frustration abatement abilities.
Woodpeckers Inc has developed a new line of clamping solutions designed to help you produce straight, flat glue-ups that let you build more and sand less. There are few woodworkers who would not benefit from using Woodpeckers new accuracy-inducing tools.
Woodpeckers Flat Bars
While the concept of using long flat bars, (often called clamping cauls) for keeping the boards making up a panel flat is not new, Woodpeckers approach is typical of their “do it right” philosophy. Made from heavy aluminum bar stock and fitted with high-end hardware, Woodpeckers is taking no prisoners with this offering.
Woodpeckers Flat Bars are precision-machined from solid 1” by 1 ¼” aluminum bar stock, chosen for its superior resistance to flex and distortion. After machining, the bars are anodized to prevent corrosion caused by exposure to the moisture in woodworking glues.
The top bar has slots machined in its ends that fit around the heavy-duty studs. One slot is longer than the other so the top bar can be mated with the bottom one without having to remove the knobs and washers. Clamping pressure is applied through a pair of large three-winged knobs that make tightening the bars against the wood a low stress (and tool-free) event.
Woodpeckers Flat Bars are available in 12”, 18”, 24” and 36” lengths off the shelf. The 36” model has additional holes for converting them to 24” capacity if needed. However, if you have need of larger Flat Bars, Woodpeckers will produce them for $3.00 per inch per set. (Two set minimum)
Available direct, the Woodpeckers Flat Bars cost $37.95 (12” set, #FB-12), $54.95 (18” set, #FB-18), $69.95 (24” set, #FB-24) and $99.95 (36”-set, #FB-36).
The Woodpeckers Side Kicks represent new thinking for an old, troublesome clamping problem. Aligning the ends of boards within a panel glue up perfectly has always been difficult. Allowing extra size for trimming or sanding to get the ends flat and true has wasted lots of wood, time and effort. Side Kicks are an easy to use, effective solution.
Essentially a pair of short clamping bars, the Side Kicks are made from solid aluminum bar stock, the top bar ¼” wider (front to back) than the 1 ¼”-square bottom bar. This creates an overhang that makes spreading them for installation a one handed job. The bars are mounted on a pair of spring-loaded, ball-tipped shafts that generate sufficient tension to hold the Side Kicks in place while a speed clamp is applied.
When fully spread, the machined-flat faces fit over wood up to 1 1/8”-thick. Recesses machined at the center of the opposing faces are designed to bridge the glue line. This makes the Side Kicks efficient at aligning the boards in part because glue is not trapped between them to throw the boards out of alignment. Also, the recess prevents the Side Kick faces from spreading and driving glue into the wood. This may seem like a minor point but it streamlines glue cleanup and preparation for finishing substantially.
Side Kicks (#SKC-4) cost $24.95 individually or $22.95 in quantities of 3 or more. The convenience and time savings are free – and consistent.
Magnetic Clamp Blocks
Pipe (and some bar-style) clamps are relatively cheap but have their drawbacks. The face that contacts the wood is relatively narrow and can compress the wood, leaving a dent when released. The narrow clamp face also concentrates the pressure in a small area that can require using additional clamps to close the joint evenly along a glue up. Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks remedy both situations.
Made from 1 ¼” by 1” solid aluminum bar stock, the 4”-long Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks are far more rigid than the wooden blocks many of us have tried using. Better yet, the Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks have a powerful rare earth magnet inset into one face that holds them firmly to the clamps while you use your hands to manipulate the wood. While the magnets grip bare or painted steel and iron clamp faces tightly, they are not designed for plastic or rubber-covered clamps.
The large face on each Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks is machined flat and the edges slightly rounded to provide the maximum surface to spread the clamp pressure without leaving dents in the wood. The length of the Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks spreads the clamping force over a much larger area, making each clamp more effective and often reducing the number of clamps needed.
The Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks (#Woodpeckers Magnetic Clamp Blocks-4) sell for $23.95 per pair.
In The Shop
It might be easy to dismiss these Woodpeckers clamping solutions as superfluous gadgetry – until they are used. I had some of these concerns initially but somewhere between my confidence in Woodpeckers products and actually using them, I became a believer.
Throughout the evaluation process, I tried to decide if I liked the Flat Bars, Side Kicks or Magnetic Clamps Blocks best but it was a draw. Individually they each make one aspect of panel glue ups easier and more accurate. However, when used together, the panels I produced were flatter and needed less sanding than any I have made in the past.
Before using the Flat Bars I gave them a light coat of Johnson’s Paste Wax just to be sure any glue that transferred to them would peel off easily. The anodized finish is itself resistant but the wax insured they stayed clean and ready for the next use.
The large knobs on the Flat Bars make aligning stubborn pieces of wood easy while still controlling the amount of pressure applied. I tightened the Flat Bars down just enough to align the individual pieces of wood and then applied light pressure with the pipe clamps. I also installed a Side Kick to align the ends of two boards that refused to flatten out. Then, snugging down the pipe clamps fitted with the Magnetic Clamp Blocks made sure the joint was closed.
While there is certainly less time devoted to aligning the individual boards in a glue up, I think the real time savings comes after the glue has dried. The assembly is so flat that there is little in the way of corrective sanding needed. In most cases, I could scrape the dried glue away and go right to finish sanding. That is a huge time (and wood) savings over using pipe clamps alone.
If you have fought with panel glue ups, take a long, hard look at the Woodpeckers Flat Bars, Side Kicks and Magnetic Clamp Blocks. Your panel-making life is about to get easier – and more efficient.
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