Making a Clamp

IMG_1189.jpgToday was the day I planned to start cutting boards to build a woodworker’s tool chest a la Chris Schwarz.  I chickened out and built a clamp instead.
Whenever I see some photos of someone assembling boards into a panel, though, clamps rather like these appear to be in use.  Essentially, each clamp is a pair of boards with a series of holes down the length of the board, and a pair of pegs. The pegs are matched through the two boards, and a wedge is used to drive the assembly tight, and hold the boards together during a glueing operation.

I’m going to need three or four of these clamps, I think.IMG_1188.jpg

I wound up designing a couple of flying jigs as I built these clamps.  First, I built a small template for marking out where the holes go, and how long to build the clamp.  Then, I clamped the two boards together to drill the wood on my drill press, so I got precise matches between one board and the next.  Then, I attached a piece of wood to the build plate of my drill press, and used that to press the future-clamp boards against, so that I maintained the point of the drill in a firm line down the board.

Then I got really creative.  I marked the center of each hole on the side of the future clamp-boards, and put a line on the jig clamped to the drill press, and used the matched lines to decide when to lower the drill press bit into the wood.  You can see that complete system at work here in the third picture:

IMG_1148.jpgWhen you look closely, you can just see the clamp holding the two future-clamp-boards together on the right.  And then in the middle, you can see two clamps, a spring clamp and an adjustable bar clamp, holding the straight-edge in place while I drill the holes.  Being left-handed while trying to manage a right-handed drill press isn’t the easiest.  Adding a camera makes the whole thing look impossible.

The next stage of development would be to build a ‘sled’ which supported both ends of the wooden bars for the bar-clamp, while allowing me to center both boards easily at the next drill point. (It occurs to me that it’s very hard to write about making tools with jigs and templates, because I’m writing about clamping things to make a clamp, but I actually have several types of clamp holding down several different pieces of wood doing different things… and all these different bits and bobs and thingamajigs have actual names, but I don’t know them.)

Midway through the whole operation, there needed to be an adjustment of clamps — on the jigs, on the project — so that the holes could be drilled at the ends.  And then there was further adjustment so that I could finish drilling the holes all the way through the lower board.  And… and…

Did it save me any time?  No? Yes? I’m not sure.  But I note that I have a new tool in my workshop that I didn’t have before.  In any sort of design work, in any sort of maker work, it’s important to remember that Tools Make Tools Make Things. 

So if you can’t or won’t make the thing itself, make a tool that makes it easier to make the thing when you’re ready to.  I’m more ready to make the tool chest tomorrow, because more of the tools I need are ready as a result of the work I did today.

I also discovered what feels like an important principle of my work in wood:  Use power tools to make tools and jigs and templates.  But the project is why I have hand tools, and so that’s where I use them.


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