Some Things Look the Same (2024)

In this thing called ‘progress‘, we often consider the lower price to be our gain. That would be called progress in many camps, maybe most. In the reality of life, what’s now called the shrink-economy would have at one time been called simply a con. Why we don’t name it for what it is I don’t altogether know but I can give a good stab at it if needed. As we now know, it is to keep the outer looking just the same but make the contents inside somewhat less. Candy bars and cereal packages are a good example and key players in this. They did this so as not to lose sales by upping the price. Mostly it’s about perception and perspective. It’s only when you look inside that you see the shrunken candy bar wrapper and half empty packet that we get to see the differrence before and after.

In times past, I am talking three decades ago now, a good bench vise was somewhat hard to get hold of. At that time the English-made Record vise made by the then Record Tool Company in Sheffield discontinued the line of quality woodworkers vises. A decade later we saw some Asian vises replace them but not quite. There were good and bad versions but none matched the Record versions. That’s changed. I have seen some good quality vises come in from Asia and even trialled one or two of them.

The clamps I now use and prefer to all others are something of a good example of reverse progress relying, like any good lie, on standing in truths stead. From the outside these clamps on the outside all look similarly made. The makers kept the outer the same but shrank the insides by reducing the thickness of the walls. This was done in the interests of competetion, I understand that. There is no doubt that the original aluminium sash clamp with its extruded U or box profile was a substantial clamp––more than adequate for just about all of any woodworkers clamping needs. The Harbour Freight version and then many others too had similar-looking alternatives made but by shrinking the thicknesses of the walls by at least two-thirds and more: not all clamps are created equal or anywhere near. So too the threaded adjusters. The original Acme thread was substantively made with deep, square threads that were well made and accurately matched. Those that followed did not set the same standards and after a short while wear caused the clamps to jam and to bend under very little pressure. The three clamps to the right of the six below are substantially made while the two on left of centre are much thinner and the far left one resembles the tinfoil used in baking.

Place the clamp bars alongside one another and you see the contrast but they do all work. It’s good that clamps of recent make can show improvement in wall thickness. The clamp on the right is the most recent version offered for sale here in the UK. It is the most substantial model sold here and comes from Rutlands. But I don’t think anyone should simply dismiss the mid-weight lighter weight versions for heavier ones. These do work as I said and especially for the shorter lengths around 24––36″. I have used these mid range quality ones since 2007 and 2010. That said, I am surprised the prices of these have risen so markedly and the Rutland do give the very best value for money by comparison. I find this especially so because the clamp is so very well made. I bought four of their 600 (24″) length clamps as a package deal for £80 delivered and they are twice and three times the quality and standard of say Hilka. The equivalent from Juuma in Germany, which is a close comparison to Rutland, is around £29 but then you will have taxes and shipping to pay outside the EU.

The Universal Clamp Corp version above is out of most woodworker’s price range I think being as you need so many. $68 per clamp, so £55.

The UK Faithful and Silverline are very much cheapo versions and this is definately needs some thought as the difference in cost between Rutland and these makes it a no-brainer to go Rutland even if you must buy in packages of four.

This is the Juuma. After years of using them, and this is the best way to really assess anything, I find the mechanism a little clunky. That should not put you off though. You might like them and they are very substantial clamps.

You can see that Rutland made an increase to the clamp heads in both width and height. This was not necessarily a plus for me as they can be so big they can get in the way on some tasks. I will give it a year to see. I will say that this area of the clamp is very nicely made and finished with all metal components that look and act the part of a quality mechanism.

All of the clamp bars measured close to one another on the outside sizing at close to 7/8″ (21mm) by 1 3/8″(33-34mm). You’d think that all makers and suppliers were all singing from the same hymm sheet and I did wonder why this was the case. Of course, the walls of the clamps are where the sizing was reduced in some poorer grade and poorly made clamps.

All of my clamps have wooden inserts to improve the feel and reduce the torque on the thinner-walled versions. This makes an amazing difference to the clamps and I added wood to one of the Rutland ones and it takes out the rattle caused by metal on metal but for strength and functionality it does not need it.

On all of my clamp heads I prefer birch plywood facings and I added them to the Rutlands. This cushions the clamped wood very nicely and provides an absorbing feel when clamping.

The fixed winding handle instead of the ‘tommy’ bar version might be a problem on occasions. It does affect my clamp-in-a-vise method of work holding because the handle hits the apron or face of the bench. But there will be many ways around that so not really an issue.

Moving the clamp along past the bench end will solve 90% of issues.

A drop of machine oil resolved any sticking issues as it does on all clamps from time to time.

As usual I will make my disclaimer. Rutland surprised me with the quality and price of their clamps but I take nothing from them and neither did I forewarn them of this blog. The only reason I mention it now is that people are always looking for a good clamp and here it is.

Some Things Look the Same (2024)
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