After I built the two tool-rack pegboards today, I built a six-pack beer caddy. I didn’t have the right kind of wood in the plans for the beer caddy I found online, so I built it using some thinner wood I DID have. The assembly was a bit nightmarish, as I was using 24″ and 36″ long bar clamps to keep the glued bits together during the assembly of the main ‘house-like’ part of the structure. The thinner wood is nice, but I probably needed to cut a finger-hole or two in the horizontal board that acts as a handle. I may drill a hole or two, anyway, and string a loop of cord or rope through it, to act as a handle.
That said, I’m not really confident in the strength and holding capacity of this design. Too many things to go wrong, you see — glue failing, nails working free, boards splitting from water seeping into the wood from condensation on the bottles… a lot of things could go wrong. Should have overbuilt it with the 1/2″ wood instead of this flimsy stuff that I bought for another project. Should have built that other project, too — except, truthfully, that oak 1/4″ hobby board is nice stuff, and that other project was not turning out well.
More than that, I am not a big beer drinker. Mostly, I don’t drink any beer. But I did like the look of this caddy, and I have someone in mind to give this to as a gift. It was simple to build, I had the materials and tools to do it, and I’m trying to use up my wood supplies enough that I don’t have to transport much raw lumber somewhere else before I move.
But back to clamps.
Clamps are an underrated tool in most MakerSpaces. Everybody wants to spend money on the cool toys like the 3D printer and the milling machine and the laser cutter. Everyone thinks about sawing and drilling and sanding, too. But when it comes to assembly, most people think, “yeah, slap a bunch of glue on there, stick it together, and it’ll be fine.”
No. It won’t.
Most wood absorbs moisture like you wouldn’t believe. It wants to warp and change. It does not want to stay flat and true; it wants to be round and it wants to transport water from the ground into the sky. It remembers being alive. So when you add glue, which is moisture and stickiness, to wood — the wood sucks the moisture into its tubules, and then it bends in order to move that moisture from the wood end where it got the moisture, to somewhere in the middle. And that moisture will warp the board.
Clamps help. They allow the stickiness the time and opportunity to attach themselves one to another. They allow you the chance and opportunity to insert a few nails or a few screws to hold things together, and try to counteract some of that warping. They’re not a perfect solution to anything. But this simple four-board operation required at least three clamps at this stage. And a little later on it needed six clamps… all of the largest clamps in my shop, in fact.
Now, multiply those six clamps by the number of people in your MakerSpace working on roughly similar projects — call it fifteen. Six times 15 is ninety. Ninety clamps.
I don’t have storage for ninety clamps, each 36″ long and 2-3″ wide. You don’t either. And more importantly, you don’t have room for ninety clamps deployed. When I have just my six deployed, the room turns into a thicket of steel bars sticking out in every direction from the object being assembled. Essentially, the object being assembled is now at the center of a cluster of steel or aluminum bars radiating out six feet from the center in three (call it two-and-a-half) directions.
So you can forego the clamps, because you just don’t have the space. But then every one of those birdhouses is going to pop open and break at the earliest change in the weather. You have to consider the role of clamping in the design of any assembly process, because clamping is a by-product of your decisions about glue. More on that some other time.