In praise of handscrews

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Blog entry by Greg Guarino posted 12-25-2014 02:35 AM 37687 reads 0 times favorited 2 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth – and had shop class as a requirement – I had my first exposure to handscrews. The pterodactyls, duckbills and I were taught that they had a long reach and could clamp pieces at odd angles.

Fast forward nearly 40 years and I have recently become a novice hobbyist woodworker. My skills and tool complement are still, shall we say, under construction. I was rooting around in my Dad’s garage a couple of years ago and came across two dusty and aged handscrews; large ones, 14”. They seemed a little antique, but I figured I’d eventually come across some strange clamping situation that they might be handy for.

Over the last few projects (which span a couple of years – I’m slow, and have only the odd weekend afternoon to work) I find myself reaching for them more and more often. In the intervening time I have bought two more pairs, 12” and 8”.

I work in a small and temporary space that is frequently occupied by a car. I work alone, and sometimes with improvised methods. At my age (hell, at any age) I really appreciate when the things I’m working on are secure and conveniently situated so I don’t need to bend down. Handscrews are very often the means, used like portable vises.

Some examples:

I think this was the first time I used one, to hold a block of sacrificial wood while routing a roundover on a desktop:
Handscrew and Stop Block

That was a fairly standard reason to use a handscrew: for the “reach. As was this, holding down a top while I screwed it onto my cookbook shelves:
Fastening the Top

... and this; holding a shelf steady so the pocket screw didn’t shift it while it was being screwed in:

They also have a non-marring surface, good for prefinished work like this panel door:
I Knew those Extra Ikea Hinges Would Come in Handy Eventually

But I was just getting started. Sanding edges? Why not hold the work steady?
Dowel Holes

Edges of taller pieces?
Sanding the Edges

Even taller?
Sanding the Face Frame

Ironing on some edge banding?
Gluing on the Edge Banding

The square edges of the wood blocks allow the handscrews to stand stable in almost any orientation. And they can be clamped to the work surface for extra stability, or when the placement is critical. In this example I was prefinishing a very long shelf unit (94”). There were dado grooves in the underside to accept the support units. I clamped a couple of pieces of plywood scrap to the work surface to mate with the dadoes. I’d apply finish to the underside first, with the shelf upside down. Then I flipped it over onto the plywood pieces and finished the top:

On that same project, I used a set of handscrews, held by other handscrews, those in turn held by Quick-Grips to stand the same unwieldy shelf on edge to attach the solid edge pieces:
Attaching the Oak Trim
I can’t tell you how convenient this was. And it left room underneath the work for the clamp heads:
Attaching the Oak Trim

Here’s another variation on that:
I could of course have used longer clamps across the whole unit, but I wanted to get clamps on one side right after gluing rather than wait until I got the second side on.

Sometimes it’s just more convenient. I could have found another way to work on attaching the face frame to this set of CD shelves, but this orientation allowed me to work standing up straight, and the secure clamping allowed me to use leverage when I needed to:
The Top

I bought the two sets of Rockler Handscrews when they were on sale. They have been well worth the price. Go buy some. You may find they are more useful than you might have guessed.


2 comments so far

View bonobo's profile


297 posts in 2533 days

#1 posted 12-25-2014 09:08 PM

Awesome post.

-- “The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” ― Mark Twain

View Grumpymike's profile


2417 posts in 2792 days

#2 posted 12-26-2014 05:40 PM

Hand screws are like many other tools in your shop, there is a bit of a learning curve, then the more you use them the more uses you find for them.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

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