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37…How to make poorboy Parallel Clamps

Learn how to make Parallel Clamps


“Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
John Keats…English Romantic poet (1795-1821)

The Need for Parallel Clamps

We have all heard that a woodworker can never have too many clamps. However, what do you do when you need parallel clamps for gluing up lots of panels of Koa wood, you are on an island, and you don’t have any clamps available? You simply have to be creative and use the materials available to you make your own parallel clamps. This was the case for me twenty years ago while working as a finish carpenter at a 5-star resort on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

At that time there were no hardware stores available that one could easily purchase parallel clamps or woodworking supplies. All of our materials and equipment were shipped in a cargo container from Southern California and would take weeks to receive. Waiting for any parallel clamps to arrive was out of the question. However, a fellow finish carpenter and I came up with a solution that worked like a charm. In this post I’ll share it with you.

Cost Effective Parallel Clamps

The poorboy parallel clamps are easily made from scrap material and are adjustable for varying widths of material to be glued. All you need for a clamp is a beam, two pillow blocks, and two drywall screws. Drill pilot holes and then drive the screws through the beams and into the pillow blocks. Make as many wood parallel clamps as necessary to get even clamping pressure. (Also…make sure to place a piece of plastic or wax paper between the parallel clamps beam and the glue seam to avoid gluing the clamp.)

The distance between the pillow blocks should be the width of the glue-up plus about 1/4″. Place the parallel clamps over the wood to be glued and simply tap the pillow blocks to create an evenly distributed pressure along the glue joint. The tightened woodworking parallel clamps will produce a nice, tight joint. It doesn’t get any easier than this.

Recommended Video… Woodworking Tip…The Power of the Shim

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  1. COOL… sneaky… technique!!

    I’ll have to remember that one!

    Thank you very much,

    I thought you were going to use wedges… NO… you did it simpler than that! LOL


  2. Joe…

    It doesn’t get much simpler…does it? Glad you enjoyed it.

  3. Ross Henton says

    I have to try this now. Just so I can say I did it. That’s so elegant.

  4. Ross…

    Let me know how it works out for you. The key is getting the “right” angle once the clamps are tapped into place. The total width of the 2 boards in the example were 14.” So, I made the space between the pillow block about 14-1/4.” (eyeballed)
    For larger widths of glue-up make the length between pillow blocks proportionately larger. Thanks for viewing.

  5. Diggerjacks says

    Hello Bob

    A very good and simple and effective jig

    What type of wood is better to make one like yours?

    I must do a lot like yours for my future projects

    And always the beautiful music I enjoy

    Have a nice day

  6. DJ…
    When making the poorboy clamps I used basic construction grade wood because:
    1.) it was available in my shop.
    2.) it is cost effective.
    3.) the blocks at the ends (pillow blocks) are soft and provide a cushioned grip on the wood being glued. (avoid using hardwood blocks so not to bruise the material to be glued.)

    Thanks for taking a look and enjoying the “bestial” sound. Let me know how the clamps work out for you.
    Bon chance

  7. Miguel Zamora says

    great woodworking clamps !!! for me the most value are very light. I have 3 pairs of them in my workshop now. Thanks!

  8. Miguel…
    Glad to hear the poorboy parallel clamps are working out well for you. You bring up a good point that the clamps can be very light in handling. Having 3 pairs is a great start also. You may find in time that you have different length clamps as well. A longer clamp can simply be made shorter by moving a pillow block or adding a third pillow block temporarily. It’s a pretty flexible low cost system. Thanks for your imput!

  9. roger says

    I think you could cut a slot so the pads would be adjustable for different glue-up widths

  10. Roger…

    That’s an interesting thought. In theory you could have one stationary pillow block and a pillow block that is adjustable in the slot. Then you could simply slide the adjustable pillow block into position.
    However, my concern with that is that the adjustable pillow block could slip in the slot when tapped into position. Why? Because there would be nothing to back up the screw to hold it in place. You’d be counting on just the tightness of the screw to hold the position unless the adjustable pillow block was at the very end of the slot. Again, this is theoretical as I’ve not tried this method. I’d be curious of your results once you try it out.
    Yet, I am sold on the original poorboy parallel clamp because I have used it many times. It is very simple and quick to adjust the second pillow block when adjusting for length.

  11. Darrell says

    Great clamps at a price that I can afford, I’m going to make a few this weekend.
    Thanks for posting the info.
    Darrell, in Mississauga

  12. Darrell…

    You’re right! The price is pretty hard to beat. Let us know how the poorboy parallel clamps work out for you. We’d love to hear about it.
    And…stay warm, eh!

  13. Guy says

    …awesome. Great information. I am making 20 bee hives and having to glue A LOT of 8″ white cedar together… needless to say I am working with quite a bit of lumber and these poorboy parallel clamps ROCK… I give to you the “You Rule” pin of the day… Thanks !!! /s/ Guy… N.C.

  14. Guy…You’ll love the poorboy clamps. There are simple, economical, and effective. Please let me know how the poorboy clamps work out for your bee hive project. Question…How do you make a bee hive? Feel free to share it on the blog if you like. By the way…thanks for the pin! Bob

  15. Philip,
    These wooden clamps can work quite well for kitchen cabinet doors. Just make sure to place some plastic between the clamps and the cabinet doors so that the glue does not stick to the clamps.

  16. kevin says

    Epic solution. simple and effective. Thanks so much!

  17. Kevin,

    You’re very welcome! Give it a try. This simple gluing technique can be used for many different gluing applications both large and small.

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