It Doesn’t Hurt

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When I started teaching in Germany about 10 years ago, I noticed they performed a lot of woodworking tasks differently than Americans. There was the obvious stuff – pins-first dovetails are the norm, they use bowsaws instead of handsaws, wooden planes instead of metal.

But the more I worked with the traditionally trained joiners and cabinetmakers there, I also picked up a lot of small differences that are just as interesting.

Here’s one that stuck with me. While Americans might sticker their work to help keep it flat overnight, the German woodworkers I’ve worked with tend to clamp the pieces together instead. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying this is universal. It’s not. I’ve just noticed it a lot there in the small number of shops I’ve worked in. Do you know how much it pains me to put this parenthetical in both italics and boldface?)

When I asked if clamping the pieces together helps keep them flat, the Germans shrugged and said, “maybe.”

It’s a good answer.

These days there are times when I clamp parts together. Maybe it helps keep them flat, but I’ve found other reasons to do it.

  1. It keeps the parts together, in a particular order and makes the whole mass quicker and safer to move. When resawing armbows and the like (as shown above) I want to keep the pieces in order. And when I move a stack of them, it’s easy for the stack to fall apart. Clamps fix this.
  2. People are less likely to mess with your parts if they are clamped together. This is huge in a communal or commercial shop. Loose parts get knocked around. Or picked up, examined and put down elsewhere. Or used as backing boards. Or worse. Clamping them up reduces careless and unfortunate events.
  3. Maybe it helps keep them flat. In my experience it doesn’t hurt.

— Christopher Schwarz

About Lost Art Press

Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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10 Responses to It Doesn’t Hurt

  1. Joseph erthal says:

    Interesting. I remember when I first started woodworking I had some severely cupped boards. In place of planing them I misted them with a bit of water and clamped 2 opposing cupped boards together overnight to see if they would straighten one another out – they didn’t. But it always made me wonder if there was a way to clamp reactive wood and move it into a desired state. Almost approaching steam bending without the heat…

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  2. ctrega says:

    Keeps it flat until you are ready for the next operation.

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  3. Mike says:

    I like this idea. I will probably still sticker after heavy milling or resawing, but once I get to secondsry milling or joinery this makes a lot more sense to me.

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  4. Benoit Rochefort says:

    Sometimes, I sticker my boards, but when it is convenient I clamp them together. The difference from what’s shown here is that I put a sacrificial part on top and a sacrificial part on the bottom (plywood, MDF, whatever).

    30 years ago, when I was working in a shop where we sell doors, doors where piled in bundles by width and the first door on the top of each pile would always want to bend (sometimes, it happens within just a few hours). This was, we thought, because the moisture was left to get out more easily from the top. The trick was to put a sacrificial door on the top.

    I think in both cases the idea is to try that both sides of each piece is in a similar environment.

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  5. Alex A. says:

    Cant hurt and might help

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  6. Bob Zimmerman says:

    I like it. Might help won’t hurt but more than anything I needed an excuse to buy more clamps!

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  7. The way I learned: Rough or unmilled lumber should be stickered. Stickering is to allow drying and movement. Once the board is milled or cut to final shape, stickering will just let it warp, which we don’t want in finished pieces. Finished pieces should be clamped together, and if possible put in plastic bags or wrapped to keep from changing moisture content.

    This has always worked for me.

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  8. It’s probably unnecessary work, but (especially for wide stock) I typically sticker, with heart facing heart and bark facing bark, and clamp the whole stack together or put weights on it over the stickers. I’m just deathly afraid of cupping. I have no idea if it helps.

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  9. ROBERT YOUNG says:

    Since I end up with long intervals between project time, I’ve taken to using the plastic wrap that movers use (sometimes called plastic twine) to bundle up the pieces. Three ideas occurred to me which made me start doing this.
    1) Keep related parts together
    2) May help keep long/wide boards from cupping as much (I also cover up the end grain so slows moisture transfer a bit — at least I hope that is the case)
    C) Easier to shift piles of stuff around as project priorities get changed.

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  10. I feel like I work in a communal shop sometimes. I wish those other “me”s would start organizing their shit a bit better.

    I keep all of my parts together by putting them in a big container called “Unfinished Projects”. Er… I might have one called “More Unfinished Projects”, as well, come to think of it.

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