Searching for shop vacuum parts, I came across this tangentially related new product from Rockler: Vacuum Clamp Pods. These new vacuum clamps hold your workpiece in place by attaching to a flat spot and lowering the pressure on it until the surrounding air pressure keeps it in place — or less precisely they hold the workpiece using suction.
One big advantage of vacuum clamps is that you have full access to the top of the work piece, there are no clamp jaws in the way. Another advantage is that vacuum clamps can be faster — just stick the workpiece on the clamps and turn on the vacuum pump. Lastly, they should be non-marring.
When the workpeice comes in contact with the pod, it opens the ball valve which starts the suction. The foam gasket creates a seal to the bottom of the workpiece. To release the workpiece, you stop the vacuum pump and wait a few seconds for the suction to release.
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These vacuum clamp pods from Rockler will work on nearly any workpiece as long as it has a flat side at least 4″ square. They measure 3-1/2″ square by 7/8″ high without the mounting brackets or fittings. The housing is made of nylon, the gasket material is PVC foam, and the center ball valve is made from stainless steel.
The pods can be mounted by simply screwing them down to your workbench, or with the included T-bolts they can be mounted to any surface that has compatible T-Track.
The vacuum clamping pod kit includes two pods with brass fittings, a brass plug, four T-bolts (5/16″- 18 threads, 3/4″ long), Rockler hold-down knobs, 8′ of 1/4″ ID polyurethane vacuum hose, and an extra vacuum gasket. The kit will run you $60, but with the caveat that you need a vacuum pump that can provide continuous suction of 25″ Hg. Rockler sells such a pump for another $400.
You can use up to four pods with the Rockler vacuum pump. If you need more, you have to either use more than one pump, or buy a more powerful pump.
Price: $60 (plus $400 vacuum pump)
(The vacuum pump seems to be excluded from promos or discounts.)
Vacuum clamping is nothing new. In fact Stuart just covered the Festool Vac System last year. There are also very similar products to these Rockler Vacuum Clamp Pods out on the market like the Podz Vacumm Clamping Jigs that seem to be a better value — four pods for $78. For under $100, V-Clamps from Lee Valley are an even less expensive system that only require a small air compressor rather than an expensive vacuum pump.
You may be asking, “why do I have to pay $400 for a vacuum pump, when I can find one online for less than $100?” The problem is that those pumps are not designed for continuous use. They can overheat when left running for the amount of time you require to perform more complex operations like carving or CNC cutting.
So here’s my big question: Does anybody know of a more affordable vacuum pump that can draw 25″ Hg continuously for hours?