Pipe clamps - Will I ever be satisfied?

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Forum topic by William Shelley posted 06-07-2014 06:59 PM 2875 views 0 times favorited 21 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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William Shelley

609 posts in 1740 days

06-07-2014 06:59 PM

This post might come off as something of a rant. But I imagine that I’m not the only one that is rather miffed at the lack of quality of the pipe clamps that are out there to buy.

Originally, when I was getting my shop ‘set up’, I bought a couple Irwin 3/4 clamps at home depot, and some lengths of black iron pipe from the plumbing section, brought it home… and was promptly disgusted by the fit and finish of the clamps. The jaw faces were rough, convex, and in some cases, not even close to square/parallel. The bore and tap for the clamp screw was even crooked on several. Needless to say, they ended up at the returns counter. I felt like $14/ea was way too much for such a shoddy product.

After that, I did a ton of digging around online and reading reviews and looking at pictures… I ended up buying some Bessey clamps off Amazon, and I paid more for them thinking I would get a better product. Not so. Same problems as the Irwins. I ended up keeping these because I liked the ‘H’ shaped ends better. But still not really satisfied.

Is it really too much to ask for clamps with at least a cursory machining of the jaw face? With accurately drilled screw bores? Consistent length legs? I’m not much of a metalworker so perhaps I don’t have a clear idea of the work required for this to become a reality.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

21 replies so far

View Shawn Masterson's profile

Shawn Masterson

1325 posts in 2219 days

#1 posted 06-07-2014 07:23 PM

No you’re right. In my experience pipe clamps have pretty piss poor quality. I generally stick with PONY. I have had pretty good luck with them. The tolerances are pretty acceptable for the price. You have to remember you are buying pipe clamps, not k-body.

View kdc68's profile


2708 posts in 2547 days

#2 posted 06-07-2014 07:34 PM

+1 for Pony

If you have a Menards near you then you can get them there and take advantage of an 11% rebate as well that’s offered through today

-- Measure "at least" twice and cut once

View redSLED's profile


790 posts in 2163 days

#3 posted 06-07-2014 07:35 PM

Thanks for the heads up. Post your evaluation in LJ Reviews! This speaks to a deplorable level of quality control. I have a bunch of old Pony pipe clamps – with no issues whatsoever. Haven’t thought of what I would buy if buying new pipe clamps – Pony is on my list, but I will inspect them closely then.

-- Perfection is the difference between too much and not enough.

View JAAune's profile


1864 posts in 2587 days

#4 posted 06-07-2014 07:36 PM

Yes, pipe clamps are budget clamps at best. They work fine but like Shawn said, they aren’t parallel clamps and the slop requires compensation during the glue up process. Alternating clamps top and bottom is almost a necessity. It’s that or put some plastic or paper between the clamps and the wood then press the boards into the pipes to keep them flat.

You’ll also need to use clamp pads to protect the boards from dents.

If you really want precision and don’t mind the extra cost, head over to the hardware store and check out some cabinet clamps. You may like those.

-- See my work at and

View SCOTSMAN's profile


5849 posts in 3856 days

#5 posted 06-07-2014 08:16 PM

I have never seen one in the flesh only on youtube or Norm Abram using them I understand they sometimes twist warp is that true? Anyway I have never seen them here in Europe for sale maybe it is an American idea.
As an old saying goes the Americans come up with the ideas,and do the research, and make the first prototypes then the Japanese make them and sell them .LOL I am sure there is some truth in that.Alistair

-- excuse my typing as I have a form of parkinsons disease

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5168 posts in 4231 days

#6 posted 06-07-2014 08:22 PM

Dang! I guess that I need to trash all my “pipers”.
Sure hate to see ‘em go ‘cause they have been welllllll used.

-- [email protected]

View bondogaposis's profile


5219 posts in 2622 days

#7 posted 06-07-2014 08:23 PM

That is the reason I got rid of all my pipe clamps and went to parallel jaw clamps. Much more expensive but way less frustration during glue ups.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3918 days

#8 posted 06-07-2014 08:28 PM

You might be happier with this sort of thing:

Back in the day wooden clamps were made like this too. Antique
sash clamp heads can be found on ebay too.

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

609 posts in 1740 days

#9 posted 06-07-2014 08:28 PM

I have only eight pipe clamps right now, I will probably keep these because they are great when you need to clamp really large things, for example diagonally clamping a 36w x 80h cabinet to pull it into square. I buy straight connectors (unions?) and attach them to the threaded end of the pipe, so if i need a longer clamp I can just add another piece of pipe to make it longer. I suppose that’s really where the advantages of pipe clamps are. But I think that I will probably go with other types of clamps from here on out.

I picked up the pipe clamp thing from my dad, who uses them almost exclusively. He’s somewhat of an old-timer though, has been doing woodworking professionally for over 40 years now. I believe every pipe clamp he has is a Pony (orange/salmon color?)

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

609 posts in 1740 days

#10 posted 06-07-2014 08:35 PM

Also here are the best pictures I could get of some of the issues, and a comparison between Irwin and Bessey…

The sliding jaw on the irwin has a noticeable convex shape. This particular irwin clamp has a better (flatter) fixed jaw than most of the others.

On this Bessey, you can see that the clamp screw is WAY off. It also has a huge amount of slop.

The bessey seems to be built tougher, there is more cast iron in the body, but the tolerances are worse. However the casting itself seems to be more consistent. All four Bessey clamps I got were about the same. The irwins have a lot of variance in the casting quality.

EDIT: forgot the last picture. The bessey jaws are relatively flat, but very rough.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

View JAAune's profile


1864 posts in 2587 days

#11 posted 06-07-2014 09:08 PM

Our old Pony pipe clamp fixtures are better than that.

Yes, we’ve got several dozen pipe clamps and like you say, nothing beats them for really long glue ups. That’s how we were able to butt joint 8 foot long panels into 20 foot long pew seats.

But we also have 16 parallel clamps and almost exclusively use them for day to day assembly. By waiting for sales or auctions, we avoided paying full price for any of them. I think $30.00 for the two 48” clamps is the most we paid.

Perhaps the Rockler pipe clamps are the best made these days? I’ve never seen one in person so I can’t say.

-- See my work at and

View DocBailey's profile


584 posts in 2630 days

#12 posted 06-07-2014 09:57 PM

View Redoak49's profile


3805 posts in 2259 days

#13 posted 06-07-2014 10:12 PM

I make a wooden face for all of my pipe clamps. They are bigger than the pipe clamp face and spread the pressure a little wider. In addition, they are made of pine so that they do not cause a dent in the wood I am clamping. Even if the face of the clamp was machined flat, I would not use them directly on the wood parts I am clamping.

I think that my Rockler big foot clamps are the best of the bunch but I probably have a little of everything.

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 3918 days

#14 posted 06-07-2014 11:13 PM

View William Shelley's profile

William Shelley

609 posts in 1740 days

#15 posted 06-08-2014 07:44 AM

@Redoak – I thought about this. But at the end of the day, time is valuable even for a hobbyist and I have a lengthy “to-do” list. I typically just use a sacrificial stick between the jaws and the workpiece no matter what style of clamp is being used.

@Loren – After buying a pipe clamp, those pads, and the pipe, I might as well have just bought a parallel clamp because it would be the same cost. Although they do look useful if you already have a large arsenal of pipe clamps.

-- Woodworking from an engineer's perspective

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