Clamp it & Bead It

ClampedIn just over four weeks we are releasing the first projects for the 360 WoodWorking subscribers (if you aren’t a subscriber yet, there’s still time to join the fun before the first few projects start hitting the street…err, website. Click here to subscribe today.) Not only is my project a fun build, but it gives me a chance to address some questions that frequently come up from woodworkers.

One of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “How many clamps does it take to glue up a case?” The answer to this one is pretty simple. If you’ve cut your dovetails to fit, you need exactly the number shown in the first photo in this post – none. That’s right. The case in the picture is freshly glued up (if you look close you might even be able to see some squeeze-out on the dovetails).

With properly cut dovetails on each corner, the joint and the glue should provide all you need. What would the clamps be doing anyway? The hold in a dovetail joint comes from the properly fit angles not the glue.

If your joints are so loose that you have to clamp them together, they’ll fall apart sooner or later (more likely sooner) anyway. If your joints are so tight you need the clamps to pull them together, you just need more practice sawing closer to the line. Besides, with joints that tight, you run the risk of splitting something or (once the water in the glue does its work on the wood) having the joint fetch up before it is tight. And do you really think that clamping side grain (of the tails) to end grain (of the pins) is going to make a dovetail joint stronger? So, cut your joints properly and lose the clamps.

Glued_up_beadYou might be wondering about squaring the case. Again, if you’ve cut your dovetails properly you should be pretty close to square once the joints are seated. If not, a gentle squeeze from corner to corner should be enough to bring the piece back to square. I try never to run clamps from corner to corner in order to square a case. Clamps give you a tremendous mechanical advantage, and running them from corner to corner across a case is just asking for trouble – you can do some serious damage to the joints very quickly by over-stressing them with the clamps. Just don’t do it unless you’ve run out of other options.

Another frequently asked question that came to mind while working on this project involves cock-beading. If you’re unsure what cock-beading is, it’s a thin strip of wood with one edge rounded over to a half-round. These strips can be applied around the faces of drawer fronts, drawer and door openings or door frames. Usually they cover the entire edge of a part or they are set into rabbets cut into the part or the case. Often they stand proud of the plane of the drawer front or case, but on my case they are set flush with the face of a frame.

Bead_close_upHistorically, cock-beading is often glued and nailed into place, but I opted to just glue and clamp it to my frame. I just didn’t want to deal with nails and nail holes. Besides, as I glued the beading to the frame I could make vertical adjustments without having to deal with nails restraining the movement. To ensure I got a good glue joint, I used some cauls, or sticks, to spread out the pressure from my clamps. This way I get good adhesion across the entire bead – stile/rail joint.

After the first section of this post you may have thought I was clamp averse, but I’m not. I’m all for using clamps when the only way to properly construct the joint or piece requires it. A side-grain-to-side-grain joint benefits from the added pressure of clamps and should last more than my lifetime. By adding the cauls to the mix, I ensure my beads are gap free.

Be sure you’re set for the upcoming projects at 360 WoodWorking by subscribing, and use clamps when you need them. And when you don’t, don’t.

—Chuck Bender


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