I purchased a pair of Bessey Revo 51″ parallel bar clamps a few months ago, and meant to order a bunch of smaller sizes when they were on sale at Home Depot, but I didn’t. I also own a pair of 24″ clamps, but couldn’t find them.
But, good news – I had brought up a small cache of Irwin parallel clamps that they had sent me a few years ago at my request. I have 6 of the 24″ clamps in my possession, and they ended up in storage until recently.
Great! Just what I need for my weekend project.
I was gluing up 8 drawers that I had cut and sanded last weekend, and they needed some strong clamping, stronger than my Woodpeckers corner box clamps could muster.
I had built these drawers using Festool’s Domino joinery system. With the dominoes being spaced close together, and each being somewhat tight fitting individually, light tapping with a mallet (or scrap piece of 1.5″ x 1.5″ maple stock) wasn’t quite enough to pull everything together. Hence the need for good parallel clamping action.
How do I put this nicely? These Irwin parallel clamps didn’t exactly work out well for me.
Or, as my wife would say, these parallel clamps are so bad, if I saw the designer in the street, I’d want to kick them in the shins.
I’m sorry that I couldn’t run to get some lights and a real camera, as I was more focused on getting the drawer properly glued and set, but you should be able to see how uneven the clamping was.
On some drawers I got decent results using the parallel clamp on one side of the box, and then reversing it to tighten up the other side.
But I shouldn’t have to do this. Parallel clamps should deliver parallel pressure.
Doubling up on clamps did the trick, but I shouldn’t have to use 4 clamps to glue up a single 4.75″ tall drawer.
My Bessey Revo clamps were kind of awkward to use, seeing as how they’re 50″ clamps and I only needed 23-something inches of a 24″ clamp’s capacity. But they pulled the joints together perfectly.
Adding insult to injury, some of the Irwin clamps were finicky to use. They wouldn’t open to set up again unless I loosened the handles fully, jiggled things, and even then not all of them would behave as commanded.
On one hand, I was grateful for those Irwin parallel clamp review samples. They pulled me out of a pinch. I was unprepared for the clamping job, thinking my many Irwin box clamps would be enough, when it turned they weren’t. I’m also glad that the Irwin samples were where I could reach them without too much trouble.
On the other hand, I’m frustrated at the lousy quality.
I researched parallel clamps a while back, and Bessey and Jet usually get top recommendations. Between those two companies, I think I’d prefer Bessey Revo clamps, although I believe I once read about Jet clamps doing better in a woodworking magazine’s parallel clamp review. I also won a Bessey Twitter giveaway once, and have a box of Bessey parallel clamp accessories sitting in a box somewhere.
I was hoping that the Irwin clamps would prove to be competitive, comparable, or just plain decent. They’re none of those things. They complicated my project, slowed things down, and while I guess they proved themselves more useful than not, it was a pain having to clamp down on one side and then reverse the clamps, hoping the joint would hold tight throughout, or doubling up to glue each drawer in shifts with 4 clamps in place of 2.
And don’t believe the Amazon product page description where it says these are made in the USA, as they’re not.
I find this to be rough to say, but I would never buy these for use as parallel clamps. They provide strong pressure, but only close to the bar. But lesser bar clamps can provide single-point clamping pressure while costing a lot less. And, as mentioned, the movable jaw can be finicky to adjust back and forth.
I can’t recommend these clamps. I can’t even find a situation where they’d be recommendable. I guess I could recommend them if they were on sale for a fraction of the price of Bessey clamps, but even then they’d have to be a LOT cheaper since you might need 2 Irwin clamps to do the job of 1 Bessey clamp.
Price: $40 (for the 24″ size)
Buy Now(via Amazon)
The Buy Now link is more intended for reference purposes. I would instead encourage you to look at Bessey clamps. Jet clamps also typically receive high recommendations.
I have had great experience with Irwin’s quick grip clamps, with this being my first negative Irwin clamp experience.
See Also(Bessey Revo Parallel Clamps)
Thank you to Irwin for providing the review samples unconditionally.
Over the past year I’ve had use and need for several more parallel clamps on a few occasions. I look at the various options and keep telling myself to just wait for Black Friday because it’s likely that Jet clamps will be a good price. Thanks for reinforcing that notion!
I might also buy some Jet clamps this year, but also more Bessey’s. If the Jet are good, I’ll buy more next year.
Here are some reminders about last year’s Jet parallel clamp deals:
Rockler had an in-store Jet deal, which sucks for me since there’s no Rockler anywhere near here.
For me, the Jet clamps won due to the quick release trigger. It’s a lot easier to engage for me, and the Black Friday price made for a good deal.
I have to put in a plug for the Wolfcraft-sourced Craftsman Bar Clamps. They really are great and are half the cost of Bessey—maybe less on sale. They may not be as good, but they look way better than the Irwins.
Bar clamps or parallel clamps?
I don’t think Craftsman makes parallel clamps anymore.
I have some basic Craftsman bar clamps, and like them, but they wouldn’t have been as effective as parallel clamps in this application.
I needed a LOT of pressure, and spread pressure. That’s my main complaint against these Irwin clamps, that they performed like bar clamps rather than parallel clamps.
I think that you lost me on the difference between bar and parallel clamps. Here is an example of what I am talking about:
These are on sale at my local Sears for around $15 right now.
I had picked up some Irwin bar clamps and had one completely break in half on first use with only slight pressure. So I am extremely wary of Irwin clamps in general. They look great in the package, but when you inspect them close up and consider the materials used, they aren’t the deal that they seem to be.
So yes, go with Bessey or Jet for quality clamps.
Oh. I have a different style of bar clamp, but still…
Parallel clamps are bar clamps with larger heads and beefier bars, and ideally apply a lot more clamping power and evenly all along their faces.
I’ll try to think of a better explanation.
These Irwin clamps did not apply even pressure along their clamping heads, they only applied pressure right near the bar. A good bar clamp might have performed better.
Even if you have a large faced bar clamp, a parallel clamp usually has a stronger clamping pressure, allowing it to deliver greater clamping or spreading pressure, and a thicker and wider bar that can handle the greater forces involved.
In my recent project, I doubt that my bar clamps would have been able to bring the drawer boxes together, the Domino tenons were just that tight. I would have had to spend more time with a mallet to coerce everything together.
Long story short, parallel clamps are a super-duty type of bar clamp.
For glue up with less force. Swipe your Domino tenons on the sanding block with 120 or 150 grit sand paper about 4 to 6 swipes on both sides, face and back of tenon. Also don’t use too much glue in the mortise or you may get hydraulic lock and the excessive clamping force will only split wood. Just a few Domino tips.
I’m a Jorgensen (RIP) parallel clamps user.
That’s a good tip especially when the domino is parallel to the laminated layers of ply. The laminations will want to split if you’re forcing to domino in.
The Revo clamps leave a huge hole in the wallet, but they are worth it in my opinion.
True, but good parallel clamps are the types of tools you only need to buy once.
I have all 3 brands of these: Bessy, Jet, and Irwin. The Bessy are BY FAR the best. The Jet and Irwin both suck. I thought I would like the ‘trigger’ on the Jet, but its so finicky and sticks so bad it’s worse than not having it. Save yourself some grief and stick with Bessy.
Funny you post this. I was in Lowe’s yesterday and happened upon these same clamps. Pulled one off the hook and it was very obviously out of alignment. I thought to myself it was a shame that Lowe’s stopped carrying bessey to carry this junk.
I have 4 Besseys and 4 of the Irwins, all of various sizes. Granted I wont buy more of the Irwins I havnt had as bad an experience as you, but like you I do not like them. The Besseys are so much better, comfortable, more clamping force, easy to use, ect.
I have lots of the old stanley yellow and black clamps that I bought at Big Lots 10 years ago. They were cheap, chaep cheap, like $15 for the 60 inch one. I only bought 4 because I was worried they would be bad. I also have some Besseys and Jorgs but the Stanley’s, while the heaviest clamp I have ever, used put north of 1000lb of pressure, even with the 60in clamps
Oh geez, my pops bought me a pair of those Irwins, trying to be helpful.
They are absolutely useless.
My limited experience with Irwin products indicates that Irwin is a trash brand that should be avoided.