Handscrews: More than Clamps

IMG_0661I gonna bet that many of you reading this post do not have any of these clamps in your arsenal. You should. Handscrew clamps do not do a lot in my shop, but when I do put them to use, they work. My primary use of handscrews is to hold parts upright as I work. What they do not do, unless I have an odd setup to clamp or need a great amount of force, is clamp parts together. The combination of threaded rods and pivoting barrel nuts allows for large amounts of torque and for these clamps to move into odd shapes to grip and clamp.

IMG_0662The problem today, is that the handscrews we have available in most stores and online are not the same as the old clamps my Dad purchased 30 years ago. And not all old handscrews are worthwhile either – I hate handscrews with wooden dowel rods. I think they’re junk. At the right is a photo of a relatively new handscrew I have in the shop. A close look shows a mixture of wood dust and cobwebs. I don’t use these often.

I don’t know why these are so different. It may be the arrangement and location of the barrel nuts, or it could be that over time parts wear to make actions smoother. Whatever it is, I suggest you grab any old handscrews when your find them. I scout antique malls and old farm auctions – if I run across any this day and age. I’m sure you can find them if you hang out with old tool collectors, but those guys know the value and I doubt you get a steal.

Below are two examples of how I use handscrews. In the top photo I position the clamps to hold the clock waist sides vertical as I attach a face frame. (Yes, in the photo my face frame is already attached.) The bottom photo shows how you can use handscrews to hold something from moving. Clamps grip the case and butt against the front edge of my bench to make it easy to cut grooves for stringing.

IMG_0659IMG_0660If you have handscrews in your clamp arsenal, leave a comment to let me know how you use them and how much you use them while woodworking.

Build Something Great!



Filed under Hand Tools, Shop Tips

8 responses to “Handscrews: More than Clamps

  1. Tom

    I use them about the same as you. Are the newer ones just harder to tighten or just don’t function right? I have had mine for 30 years and don’t know any difference. I am asking because I do need to buy one but it hasn’t been a high priority.

    • Tom,
      Newer handscrews, at least the ones I have or tried, seem stiff and movement is more jerky. In other words, not smooth. Clamping pressure is just as good with new handscrews as with the old.

  2. Hi Glen,

    I never thought much of those clamps until I read about them & their uses.
    I used them many years ago in my first woodworking class back in 1951-1952… but didn’t like them very much.

    Rockler, a few years ago, had a huge SALE on them & I bought a bunch of them… I don’t use them a lot… but, they don’t just lay around collecting spider webs & dust either.

    Ways I have used them:
    1. Holding pieces at the Drill Press… to be sure they are Vertical… and another clamp to clamp the Clamp to the table to keep it all stable.

    2. Using them in pairs is always a good way to ALSO clamp the combination SOLID so the whole complex will not move… One for the workpiece and one for the Clamp-to-table.

    3. I form Clamp trees, if you will… Clamp one to a vertical side of a cabinet… then, clamp to That clamp, etc. etc. (as long you keep it from expanding to get in your way LOL)… Seems to be a good way to store them where you can always get some when you want them. I also hang my Ear Protection (old set of earphones) as well as my Face mask with air filters, on them… for easy access.

    4. Holding small parts being cut on table saws, sanders, router tables, etc. are good too… Keeping fingers, etc. safely out of the way.

    Those are some of the ways I use them, in addition to actually clamping things together, etc.

    Thank you…

  3. Glen,

    I don’t have a tail vise on my bench, so I use hand screws a lot when planning the edge of a board. Butt the leading edge of the board against a bench dog, put a hand screw on the trailing edge, and you have a nice stable board to plane a true edge. I’ve also used the hand screws as a twin screw vise. Half the jaw held on the bench with a hold fast, and half the jaw hanging off the bench. Put a second hand screw down the bench however wide your panel is and bingo…instant twin screw vise.

  4. I have them, but use them similarly and not often. I also like to use them to extend my hands on small piece router table work for additional distance from the bit.

  5. Jason M

    I have four hand screw clamps and they as among the most used in my shop. Mine are from Harbor Freight and work very well. They are the only ones I’ve ever used so I can’t say how they compare to others. I use them to hold small bits of wood for carving. I use them clamped to a fence as stop blocks. Right now two of them are holding some glued up panels on edge under my out feed table so they have even air flow all around so they won’t warp. Unfortunately, they’ve been there for a couple of weeks now and I’m missing them dearly. You can clamp them onto something and then use an f clamp on them to clamp at unusual angles. They’re great for the ends of panel glue ups to keep the glue line flush. Yeah. So. Great clamps.

  6. I use mine clamped onto the work then clamped in my end vise to either hold the work upright or just up higher.

  7. Johnnyangel

    Mike Russo’s right: two handscrews clamped off the edge of the bench, facing each other, allow you to hold any size panel. People who don’t know this go to considerable trouble and expense to build a Moxon vice. That’s good business for Benchcrafted but I say keep It simple (and cheap!)

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