Types of Small Bar Clamps
Back in the late 1970’s, when the X-Acto™ brand name was on The House of Miniatures™ boxes, the light blue, plastic bar clamps that came in the X-Acto™ hobby kits seemed pretty good.
In the late 1990’s, as THoM was disappearing, ratchet bar clamps were coming into vogue. Too bad. As I found out in 2006, ratchet style clamps are a perfect match for miniature furniture builds.
These days there are many styles of small bar clamps. There are plastic, steel, and brass clamps that all have their use. Let’s review several of these and see what works best in our little hobby.
Note: I covered Jigs and Clamps in general in an earlier article, which you can read here.
The six-inch variety of these clamps are available from many manufacturers. I use Tekton brand, but have two Craftsman clamps, as well. They have built-in pads, are easy to use, and work well in most applications.
One nifty feature is that they can be used as spreaders as well as clamps. That means you can swap directions of the pads. Then you are pushing apart instead of clamping together. I’ve used this feature twice. Limited application, but nice to have.
They are very quick to use and workable with one hand. Their one drawback, though minor, is that to ratchet you must slightly over-compress things. That’s fine most of the time, but not for fragile applications.
The standard F-clamp is a very useful small bar clamp to have on hand. Ratcheting clamps have not replaced all functions of this older style. I have a well-used Bessey model that I use in a few specific situations.
When you need to control pressure applied very carefully, the screw thread is the way to go. When you need a little more depth to reach your pressure point, most ratchets won’t do. Or when you need your ratchet for something else, this old faithful clamp comes to the rescue.
The little, brass bar clamps from Scientific Models are not the easiest to use. Nor do they offer a high pressure hold. They are precision tools… and they are fun to play with, and very lovely to look at.
These clamps do come in a longer version, but the 3 3/4″ ones I have are perfect for the more delicate miniatures like chairs and small tables. For all of their beauty and precision, they are not very expensive. I got my pair for about $15 from Micro-Mark.
One thing these lack is some sort of pad. Brass is non-marring to most metals, but may dent soft wood. Light pressure is best, which is the only use the brass bar will stand up to.
So, what about those blue-plastic clamps that came in the X-Acto™ hobby kits that was advertised in the THoM catalogs? They worked well enough for most purposes in kit making. I’ve used mine quite a bit, but much less since getting a good selection of ratchet f-clamps.
They are a little fidgety. And they can’t apply much pressure. I find the notch in them annoying most of the time. But they are handy and they don’t take up much room.
So, what kind are your favorite? Have you used the blue ones and have they worked? Please share your experience and insight in the comments. Or stop in at The House of Miniatures™ Facebook page and join the conversation. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.
I used the blue clamps for many years because that’s pretty much all they had. Also liked to use hair clips and sometimes clothes pins. All the clamps available now are so much better and much easier to use. I do keep the blue ones around because they are excellent “squares” for minis.
I am at the point of needing more clamps and I have 2 brass ones which are getting heavy use. THANK YOU for this article as I am about to buy some more and will go for some more brass ones as well as small F-clamps (I have BIG ones for full size items) and ratcheting F-Clamps. This article is very clear and helpful for the mini-builder. I also use clothes pins and rubber bands on occasion!
The brass ones used to be offered in several lengths, but I mostly see the 3.5 inch anymore. That’s what I have, but I’d like a 6 inch set. And yes, I’ve used rubber bands many times 🙂
Ive been trying all sorts of clamps, my biggest battle is finding clamps to use for small furniture builds such at the HOM kits. I tried binder clips and those seem tone too much pressure, and I agree that the blue clamps from Xacto can be not enough….what a quandry!
In addition to the ratcheting bar clamps there are also quick release ratchet clamps, such as the ones in this set (on right side): https://amzn.to/2BUb9Mx
I have several of those and they work well, allowing you to set just the right amount of pressure.
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