Tuning Up a Bench Grinder

Tuning Up a Bench Grinder

This article, “Tuning Up a Bench Grinder,” by Don Geiger, is from the pages of American Woodturner and is brought to you by the America Association of Woodturners (AAW) in partnership with Woodworker’s Journal.

Most woodturners use a bench grinder to sharpen their turning tools. Quite some time ago, I recognized that many people were unhappy with the performance of their grinder. If yours produces significant vibration and your tools bounce on the surface of the wheels, there is a problem. Tools bouncing on the surface vibrate at a harmonic frequency, like a chatter tool on spinning wood. This type of vibration is easily recognized because it leaves evenly spaced dark spots on the surface of the wheel—solid evidence that the wheel is not concentric to the grinder’s axle.

I developed a process for tuning up a bench grinder at minimal cost and only about forty minutes of your time. I have performed this tune-up on numerous grinders myself and have instructed others, who have reported good results. A well-tuned grinder will produce a better edge on your turning tools.

What You’ll Need

Supplies for tuning up a bench grinder

Tools and supplies you will need to tune up a grinder as described in this article are as follows:

• Two ring-shaped card stock disks with an outside diameter about 1/4″ (6mm) smaller than your wheel and an inside diameter about 1/2″ (13mm) larger than the cup washers on your grinder
• Spray adhesive (re-positionable photo mount works well)
• Several 3/4″- (19mm-) diameter adhesive paper dots (price marking dots work well)
• Two steel bushings (headless drill bushings work well)
• Two or three pencils of contrasting colors
• A wheel truing/dressing device with a mechanically guided single diamond that is micro-adjustable
• A wrench to fit the axle nut on your grinder (not shown)

Wheels and Bushings

Bench grinder wheel label
A wheel hardness of “K” is ideal for sharpening most woodturning tools.

Most woodturning tools (except carbide) can be effectively sharpened with an aluminum oxide wheel with 30% to 60% ceramic content. The correct hardness of the wheel is important. Wheel hardness is rated on a scale from A to Z, with A being the softest. A “K” hardness wheel is ideal for sharpening most woodturning tools. The identification code printed on the wheel manufacturer’s label should include the hardness rating. An 80- to 120-grit wheel is a good choice for sharpening most woodturning tools, and a 46-grit wheel is good for producing a burr on scrapers and for rough shaping tools. A properly dressed 80-grit wheel can produce excellent results on most woodturning tools.

Steel and plastic bushings for bench grinder wheel
Steel bushings perform better than the plastic variety.

I recommend using wheels that have an outside diameter made for the size of your grinder, with a 1″ (25mm) width and 1″-diameter hole in the center (arbor hole). Most 8″ (20cm) bench grinders have a 5/8″ (16mm) shaft diameter (some have a 3/4″ shaft). Wheels with a 1″ hole are usually supplied with three or four tapered plastic bushings of different diameters to fit various shaft diameters. The plastic bushings are usually loose fitting, which allows the mass of the wheel to be mounted off center — a major source of vibration. I recommend discarding the plastic bushings and replacing them with precision-made steel bushings. Steel bushings provide a solid foundation, center the mass of the wheel on the axle, and improve the perpendicular position of the wheel in relation to the axle. Steel bushings are readily available in a variety of useful sizes.

Note that when installing a steel bushing, do not force it into the wheel’s hole. Never attempt to adjust the size of the hole in the wheel; if the bushing does not fit, try another bushing and/or wheel.

Ring Test

OSHA test for bench grinder wheel safety

Prior to mounting a grinder wheel, inspect it visually for any cracks or chips. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which regulates worker safety in commercial and educational facilities, recommends testing the integrity of a grinding wheel by performing a ring test prior to mounting. Details about this test can be found at osha.gov.

Support the wheel in a horizontal position on your finger tips and tap the wheel using the plastic handle of a screwdriver about 1″ from the edge in each of the wheel’s four quadrants. The sound of an undamaged wheel will give a clear ringing tone. If cracked, there will be a dead sound, and the wheel should not be used. Make sure the wheel is dry and clean before applying this test. After you test one side, turn the wheel over and repeat on the other side.

Mount the Wheels

Remove the nuts, wheels, and cup washers from the axle. Note that the nuts on either end of the axle have opposing threads. The right side has a right-hand thread, and the left side, a left-hand thread. This is a safety feature designed to allow the nuts to loosen, thus stopping the wheels, if an object inadvertently jams a wheel.

Visually inspect the shoulders on the axle where the diameter changes. Remove any rust and debris. Test fit the steel bushings to ensure they slide over the shaft and fit well. If you have difficulty sliding the steel bushing over the shaft, use sandpaper to remove obstructions such as burrs, rust, or paint.

Unevenness in some grinders’ stamped metal cup washers can be a source of sideto- side wheel wobble. If you suspect your wheels do not run true, consider replacing the washers with machined circular saw blade stabilizers. These are available from several sources to fit perfectly over a 5/8″ diameter axle (though I am not aware of any sources for stabilizers designed to fit a 3/4″ shaft). For each wheel, mount the inboard washer, wheel with new bushing, outboard washer, and nut.

Attaching bench grinder wheel with a wrench and hand
Never hold a grinding wheel or axle with a tool while tightening the nut; your hand will do the job without damaging the wheel. Determine the recommended torque for tightening the nut.

Most wheel manufacturers recommend tightening the nuts to 8 to 10 footpounds of torque. Determine the specified torque for your wheels. Never use a tool to hold the axle or wheel stationary while tightening an axle nut; use your hand to avoid damaging the wheel. Excessive tightening could result in breaking the wheel. Once the wheel is secured, stand safely off to the side of the grinder and turn the grinder on. Let it run for five to ten minutes to ensure the wheel remains intact and spins without excessive vibration.

Correct Wheel Wobble

Never attempt to correct side-to-side wheel wobble by dressing, or truing, the sides of the wheel—a very dangerous practice. Side-to-side wheel wobble is usually the result of the wheel being poorly mounted, not an inconsistency in the wheel itself. In rare cases, the axle may not be running true. The accurate placement of paper shims between the edge of the cup washers and the wheels can minimize wobble. Keep in mind only so much adjustment is available. Here’s how to determine where to position the shims and how to install them.

Identify the apex of the wobble

Attaching marking paper to side of bench grinder wheel
A paper disk adhered to the side of the wheel provides a surface for marking the apex, or high spot, of the wheel’s side-to-side wobble.

1. Adhere paper disks to the outboard side of each wheel to provide a smooth surface for marking the apex of the wobble.

2. Position the grinder’s tool-rest about 1/8″ (3mm) from the wheel and secure it in place. Rotate the wheel by hand to verify it clears the tool-rest. Wearing a faceshield, turn on the grinder.

Marking apex spot on grinding wheel

3. Use the tool-rest to support a colored pencil, and lightly touch the paper disk about 1/4″ from the outer edge. Since you are trying to identify “high spots,” do not use much inward force on the pencil; simply touch it to the side of the spinning wheel.

4. Stop the grinder and inspect the mark you’ve made. The center of the length of the pencil mark indicates the apex of the wheel wobble on the outboard side of the wheel and where shims should be installed to correct the problem. The length of the mark indicates the severity of the wobble. If the pencil mark is very short (2″ to 3″, or 5cm to 8cm), the wobble is pretty severe. The longer the mark, the less severe the problem is.

Install Shims and Retest

Note: Use only paper shims; hard shims such as metal, wood, or plastic can concentrate too much pressure, possibly cracking the wheel, and could become a safety hazard if they fly out while the grinder is running. I recommend using adhesive paper price marking dots, available inexpensively from numerous sources.

Marking installation point for installing shims for grinding wheel

1. Rotate the wheel so the pencil mark you made is toward the rear of the grinder, and mark a line or arrow from the center of the test mark to the edge of the cup washer. This line indicates where shims need to be installed on the outboard side of the wheel. Shims also need to be installed on the inboard side, 180° from the outboard location.

Inserting small sticker shim on grinding wheel
Adhesive tag sale price markers make excellent shims.

2. Install the shims on the inboard side first. Loosen the axle nut about 1/4″ away from the outboard washer. Slide the wheel and the outboard cup washer in the outboard direction against the loosened nut. This provides space between the inboard cup washer and the wheel to allow the insertion of adhesive paper shims between the cup washer and the wheel. Install a stack of about five dots for severe cases and fewer for less severe wobble. Adhering the stack of adhesive shims to the tip of a straight blade screwdriver facilitates easier positioning on the inboard side.

Sticker shim placed at interior of grinding wheel
Install them to the inboard side first, then outboard.

3. Install an equal number of shims between the outboard cup washer and the wheel precisely at the center of the pencil line marked earlier. Push the outboard washer and wheel toward the grinder and tighten the nut.

Marking second apex point on grinding wheel
Retest to find the new apex using a different colored pencil.

4. Re-test the apex of the wobble using the pencil marking method as before. It may take a few tries, so be sure to use a different colored pencil each time so you can distinguish the current mark from previous ones. Add or remove paper shims as needed until you are satisfied with the results. A mark that runs ≥75% of the way around the wheel is acceptable.

Once both wheels have been corrected for wobble, ensure the nuts are tightened to the recommend torque and replace the safety guards.

True the Wheels

Wheel truing tool set for bench grinder
Commercially available wheel truing systems, all of which make use of a diamond to cut, or dress, the wheel.

To minimize vibration and prevent tool bounce, the circumference of each wheel needs to be made concentric to the axle. A wheel-truing device will do this more effectively than a handheld wheel dresser. Wheel truing systems feature a single diamond, whose position, relative to the wheel, is controlled and micro-adjustable. By mechanically controlling the diamond, it is possible to remove high spots from the surface of the wheel. Sharpening tools on the resulting smooth surface significantly improves the appearance of bevels and sharpness of edges.

Shop made truing tool set with edge guide
A shopmade truing system, comprising a single-point diamond dresser mounted firmly in a grooved block with an integral edge guide on the bottom.

Wheel-truing systems with a singlepoint diamond dresser are available commercially (Photo 10) or can be shopmade. If you are inclined to build your own truing system, there are several sources for inexpensive single-point diamond dressers, including McMaster-Carr; MSC, formerly Enco; ebay.com, and Amazon.com. A 0.50-carat diamond mounted to a 1/2″-diameter, 6″- (15cm-) long shaft will serve you well in most cases—for wheels up to 10″ (25cm) diameter—though a 0.33- carat diamond can be used for smaller wheels (up to 6″ diameter).

Step by step

1. If your wheel-truing device utilizes a tool-rest for support, position the tool-rest within ⅛” of the wheel. The top surface of the tool-rest needs to be pointing at the axle of the grinder or slightly downward. Do not position the tool-rest in an upward position.

2. Use a file to remove any nicks or bumps from the edge of the tool-rest facing you. It is advisable to chamfer this edge as well. Tighten the tool-rest securely. Rotate the wheel by hand to ensure it clears the tool-rest.

Removing high points in grinding wheel with diamond
Steady side-to-side movement of the diamond will remove high spots around the wheel’s circumference, making it concentric with the grinder’s axle. Be sure to wear an appropriate dust mask and faceshield.

3. Position the diamond so it barely touches the face of the wheel. Once the position of the diamond is set, put on a dust mask and faceshield. Move the diamond away from the wheel and start the grinder.

4. Traverse the truing device left and right across the face of the wheel five or six times, then very slightly advance the position of the diamond toward the wheel. Repeat this procedure a few times, stopping the grinder to inspect the wheel. Repeat as necessary until the diamond has contacted the entire circumference and width of the wheel.

5. Repeat the same procedure on the other wheel.

Maintenance and Use

Continue to use the truing device exclusively to maintain concentricity of the wheels and smooth and deglaze the outer surfaces of the wheels. (De-glazing is the removal of clogged metal particles.) Using the wheeltruing device routinely will prevent re-developing vibration and will keep your wheels in top-notch condition.

Once the tune-up procedure is complete, your grinder should perform with optimal results. The vibration of the grinder will be minimized and tools will not bounce on the surface of the wheels.

Don Geiger is a professional woodturner who enjoys leading workshops, teaching, and demonstrating at symposiums and clubs. He has been active in the woodturning community since 1999. Don markets several of his own inventions and is a dealer for Robust Tools, LLC. He lives in Newberry, Florida. For more, visit geigerssolutions.com.

The Black Hole of Chaos

Those who know me understand that I do well with details and can juggle multiple complicated tasks and bring them to completion very professionally. They also know I can spend 15 actual minutes looking for my measuring tape, followed by 10 more minutes looking for the pencil behind my ear.

As I continue the task of creating a small shop from the over-abundance of my large shop, the importance of organization becomes clearer to me. But it is a mixed blessing. My creativity actually feeds on and is benefitted by chaos; my efficiency is not. What about you? Does getting organized become its own black hole, taking up shop time that could be spent “doing the fun stuff?” Or does it make your time in the shop more fun and effective?

If you have a quest to create order over chaos, today’s two videos offer a couple of interesting and useful tips. (I should watch them a few times …)

Rob Johnstone, Woodworker’s Journal

Featured Videos

Setting Up a Small Woodworking Shop

Every woodworker would like to have more workshop space. A large space is nice for many reasons, but you actually don’t need a large space to set up an effective shop. In order to demonstrate, we set up a complete woodworking shop in one corner of a typical two-car garage. This workshop includes all the key tools necessary to tackle a wide variety of woodworking projects and still allows two cars to park in the garage.

Improve Shop Organization with Magnets

If your shop contains bags, buckets and boxes of who knows what tiny bits and parts (and ours does), Chris Marshall has a simple solution to get more organized.

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Congratulations! You qualify for FREE standard shipping and handling on orders of $35 or more! To get free shipping, simply place your order of $35 or more at Rockler.com by using the link above or entering promotion code wjwkly at checkout. Sale prices expire on 9/26/2019. Additional shipping charges will apply for select over-sized items, express orders, and orders to Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This offer does not apply to international customers. This offer cannot be combined with other offers, applied to previous orders or used in conjunction with Rockler Professional pricing. Some offers available only online. Rockler Woodworking and Hardware reserves the right to limit quantities, correct errors or omissions and modify or end this promotion at any time. Not all items available at retail stores. Offer not valid at Rockler’s independent resellers. Rockler reserves the right to end this promotion.

Routers Aplenty

Routers Aplenty

Last week Rob was a bit embarrassed to admit how many routers he currently has, as well as his plan to purchase a cordless model sometime soon. A couple of you divulge similar stashes of this most useful power tool. – Editor

“I couldn’t agree with you more. I have a similar load of three 1 hp routers, a 3 hp one, a trim router and even a Skil with a permanent 1/4-in. roundover bit in it. But unlike yours, I bought this one myself in 1960 or so. It’s a noisy little devil, but I have to say that after almost 60 years, it’s been pretty darn reliable! Mine doesn’t smell (when it runs) yet either!” – Donald Tweed

“I too still have my first router, which happens to be a Skil obtained with Raleigh cigarette coupons back in 1972. It has been rewound twice and the armature re-cut once. Haven’t used it in years … I still miss my Craftsman shaper and the 50 sets of cutters that I had (all gone due to lack of shop space).” – Jim Gier


Why Own Routers?

I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to handheld routers. I have three mid-sized routers, one 3-hp router, and two trim routers. I also have an aluminum body Skil brand router my dad owned in the 1960s … I don’t use it too often (it smells kinda bad when I do), so I don’t count that one.

But despite that, I am finding myself drawn to the idea of a battery-powered router … and I believe that one will reside in my shop pretty quickly.

Why so many routers? There is method to my madness. When I am making raised panel doors, I like to set up three different router stations: one for the cope cut, one for the stick cut and the other for raising the panel. Set them up, lock them in and it is show time!

I also like to leave a small router set up with an 1/8-inch roundover bit. I can break edges in a hurry and get uniform results.

Why am I thinking about routers? Just check out this week’s Weekly videos to find out. There is some great information there that will help you become a better woodworker through routing!

Rob Johnstone, Woodworker’s Journal

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Tool Overview: Cordless Compact Routers

Do you need a cordless router? Woodworking routers are now available in compact cordless models.These compact routers share most of the same features you expect to find on corded compact routers. Learn how to choose the best compact cordless router for your shop. Chris Marshall takes a closer look at cordless routers from Makita, Bosch, Ridgid, and Ryobi.

Router Bits for Beginners

In this video, the most common types of router bits are explained for the novice woodworker. The Rockler router bits highlighted in this video include: Straight, Rabbeting, Round Over, Flush Trim, Roman Ogee, Chamfer, and Undersized Plywood Bits. All of Rockler’s router bits are covered by an unconditional guarantee.

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Congratulations! You qualify for FREE standard shipping and handling on orders of $35 or more! To get free shipping, simply place your order of $35 or more at Rockler.com by using the link above or entering promotion code wjwkly at checkout. Sale prices expire on 9/26/2019. Additional shipping charges will apply for select over-sized items, express orders, and orders to Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. This offer does not apply to international customers. This offer cannot be combined with other offers, applied to previous orders or used in conjunction with Rockler Professional pricing. Some offers available only online. Rockler Woodworking and Hardware reserves the right to limit quantities, correct errors or omissions and modify or end this promotion at any time. Not all items available at retail stores. Offer not valid at Rockler’s independent resellers. Rockler reserves the right to end this promotion.

What Is the Best Finish for Marquetry

What Is the Best Finish for Marquetry

Do you have a recommended finishing method for marquetry pictures, given that they typically incorporate a variety of wood types, wood grains, grain directions, etc.? Would you have any pro or con comments about the idea of finishing a marquetry picture with several coats (eight to ten) of Zinsser SealCoat™ Sanding Sealer, sanding between every two or three coats? I find that this product goes on rather easily and, since a marquetry picture doesn’t experience any appreciable wear, I thought it would be an acceptable alternative to the much “smellier” Deft® lacquer that I’ve been using for a number of years now.

— Robert Swanson
Wichita, Kansas

You chose wisely. Zinsser SealCoat Universal Sanding Sealer is pure, dewaxed shellac, and that is an excellent finish for a marquetry picture. Dewaxed shellac seals well over all woods, comes in a variety of hues, and has good wetting and clarity. I like to flood on the first coat liberally, then wipe it all off. Woods prone to absorb more finish will do so, resulting in very uniform sealing. Thus, by the time you get to the second coat, you have a more uniform surface than you started with.

Because it contains a polar solvent, the first coat of shellac will raise the grain of wood slightly, leaving it not rough, but furry. I like to knock back the “fur” with a very light scuff using 800-grit sandpaper, taking pains to avoid cutting through to raw wood. Because shellac dissolves itself with each coat, you don’t need to sand after that unless you get dust, dirt, brush marks or spray marks (runs, overspray, etc.) in the finish. As long as it goes on smoothly, there’s no need to sand between coats when using shellac.

I Need More Power, Scotty!

Do you like woodworking adventures? How about learning new and different techniques to add to your woodworking bag of tricks? Me too.

I have been doing some power carving this summer, and I have to say I am really having fun. I’m no expert, but I have had some success creating an antique-looking “dough rising bowl” and an unusual table that some folks think is actually a bench. For these projects, I used Arbortech™ cutters and a couple of Makita tools, and they performed well.

Trust me, your woodworking knowledge will be a big advantage if you decide to give power carving a try. Understanding how wood grain cuts and wood movement issues in general are key to making the most of your time creating power carved sawdust. And let me just say, you’ll make A LOT of sawdust!

So check out the videos below … maybe they’ll help you add a little adventure to your woodworking life!

Rob Johnstone, Woodworker’s Journal

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Power Carving Project: Turning a Log into a Coffee Table

Rob found this huge section of a cottonwood tree and decided to turn it into a coffee table. Watch him use a combination of Arbortech power carving tools and a chainsaw to form the table. The back side of the table was charred to create a dark contrast with the natural finish he used on the front side and top.

Power Carved Ripple Bench

Evan and Katelyn made a simple bench and power carved an AWESOME texture into it! It’s modern, easy, and they are obsessed with the texture. Hope you enjoy the how-to!

How many clamps do you REALLY need? Woodworking basics.

“You can never have enough clamps!” Is that really true? In fact, you can accomplish almost anything with just 9 key clamps. Plus, I’ll talk about 3 overrated clamps. I mean seriously, clamps can be super expensive and I’m a cheapskate. 

Just a reminder, if you are just starting out in your woodworking journey, feeling a bit overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, I’ve created a step-by-step woodworking course just for you called The Weekend Woodworker. If you’ve never held a saw in your life, you’ll be able to complete your first project this weekend. To help you get started, I want you to download my free guide to setting up shop for under $1000 at mytoollist.com. 

Essential Clamps

Pipe clamps

Pipe clamps are probably the cheapest clamps you can own. You buy these jaws separately, then buy whatever length of pipe you want. These are sold to fit ½” or 3⁄4” black pipes which you can buy at most home centers, lumber yards or hardware stores with threads already on the ends. Some places will cut them to length and cut the threads for you. 

These jaws screw onto the threads, then this other piece slides up and down the pipe for quick adjustments. 

Mine are ¾” pipes, but I recommend saving money and just getting 1⁄2” pipe. There is no reason why you would need the extra strength of ¾” when clamping projects together. I find 36” pipes the most versatile, especially for gluing up panels. And they aren’t too bulky if you need to use them for smaller projects.  I recommend having 4 along with 4 sets of jaws. That way you can edge join boards with two on each side. 

I also have 4, 48” pipes for bigger glue-ups, tabletops and such and a couple short, and 2 16” pipes that sometimes come in handy. I have jaws for all of these, but really you can get by with 4 sets of jaws and just swap them out as needed. 

If you need to glue up something really long, just clamp two clamps together. Oh, and if you need to cover a little more surface make some clamping blocks to slide onto the pipes. They will also help protect the surface of your project. 

Bar Clamps

Bar clamps are easily my most used clamps. These 6 Bessey Style clamps probably account for 90% of all my clamping. They are simply that useful. I’ve had these for many many years and there is hardly a project they haven’t been used in. 

I have three different sizes, about 6”, 12”, and 24”…at least that’s about the effective working distance of the jaws. The handle broke off this little one a long time ago, but it’s still useful.

I use bar clamps for everything. From gluing just about anything, to holding stop blocks, to just providing a third hand. 

Strap Clamp

Lastly, and this might seem an unusual pick, but I consider a strap clamp essential. Any time I need to glue up something with four sides…say a box or a picture frame, a strap clamp is the best way to square everything up. And considering how many projects are based on a simple box, I’m always amazed at how handy this clamp is and how often I use it.

Those are my recommendations for essential clamps. If you are a beginning woodworker, these will serve you fine for years. Bottom line: 4 bar clamps, 4 pipe clamps and a strap clamp. You actually may not ever really need anymore. 

Of course, if you’re like most woodworkers, you will probably accumulate more clamps than the essentials. There are bazillions of different types of clamps, from specialty clamps to gimmicky clamps. It can be pretty fun and enticing to imagine them in your shop, but as with all tools, stop and consider if it’s really solving a problem you have or if it’s just something you think might be handy. If you’re itching to spend money, consider just buying some extra bar clamps. 

Overrated Clamps

I want to talk about three types of clamps that I’ve acquired over the years that I hardly ever use. I’m sure there are woodworkers who will strongly disagree, but remember…this is just based on my experience. 

Handscrew clamps

Hand tool woodworkers seem to be drawn to these wooden handscrew clamps. I’ve used this on a few occasions, mostly as a third hand to hold something in place, but overall, I’ve never had any specific need for it that I can’t accomplish with other clamps. Plus it’s kind of mind-boggling to figure out how to use. And they’re expensive. I must have been in a quaint kind of mood when I bought it. 

Spring clamps 

Spring clamps are mostly useful for holding things temporarily in place. Photographers might use them for holding up backdrops. Sometimes I use them for hanging sheets over the window if harsh sunlight is interfering with a particular video shot. But for woodworking they are just not very useful.

One problem is that the way these clamping heads pivot, it can cause glued boards to slip, unlike bar clamps and pipe clamps that provide straight horizontal pressure along the axis. This can be super frustrating.

Second, the larger spring clamps are, the more grip strength you’ll need to operate them one-handed. And even then, they might not provide enough pressure for glue-ups anyway. 


Look, I know plenty of woodworkers who love using c-clamps, but honestly, I’ve never seen the point. There are very few times when a c-clamp provided the only solution to a clamping situation. Maybe that extra-wide mouth came in handy once or twice for having to over or beyond something. But mostly they are just time-consuming to use because of all the threads. Again, a bar clamp is just more efficient.

Let me know in the comments: what are your essential clamps and what clamps do you think are just overrated?