If you have been around woodworking you have heard the following phrase: "You can never have too many clamps". If you have been around woodworking for a few years you know it's true. In fact, it seems there are always have too few clamps in the shop.
Spending thousands on just clamps is entirely reasonable. Someone just starting with this hobby will probably not want to spend that amount right away. So. what are the different clamp styles, and which ones are the most versatile?
F clamp(on Amazon)
These clamps are the go-to clamps in the shop. Capable of 600-800lbs of force this relatively inexpensive clamp excels at joining small pieces. The offset screw part allows these clamps to reach into tight spaces. The F-clamp is also the most useful clamp to hold a work piece securely on your workbench.
Any beginner should invest into 4-6 medium size F clamps. The more the better.
Parallel Jaw Clamp(on Amazon)
Parallel jaw clamps, as the name suggests, have jaws that are always parallel to each other. They are most commonly used in casework and assembly of everything that is square. These clamps are what every woodworker wants more of. I would have 40 of all different shapes and sizes, if it wasn't for their price. They are expensive.
This type of clamp is the best choice for glue-ups of table tops. The parallel jaws apply the force perfectly perpendicular to the glue face. There is nothing better short of a dedicated machine.
Your first set of parallel jaw clamps should be 4 clamps in the 3 foot range. These clamps allow you to assemble drawers and square carcasses like a dresser. Larger clamps are useful, but pipe clamps are a better choice for very large pieces. Buy those later when you are building a project that requires them.
Spring clamps(on Amazon)
Spring clamps are often used as extra hands. A few spring clamps can hold fine stock in place while you position the larger clamps.
Spring clamps derive their holding power from a spring. Because of this their holding power is severely limited. They do not provide adequate holding power for glue-ups.
Bar Clamp(on Amazon)
Bar clamps are very similar to parallel jaw clamps. They are capable of +1000lbs of force and keep their alignment. Bar clamps are almost equivalent to parallel jaw clamps. Most bar clamps look like they are F clamps or parallel jaw clamps. The term bar clamp is often applied to these other types of clamps.
Pipe Clamp(on Amazon)
Pipe clamps make use of a pipe to spread the force between a screw end and a block end. They are relatively inexpensive, but crude instruments. The pipe shows massive deflection under force, which pulls the faces out of square. Due to this pipe clamps are used mostly in longer lengths where the other types of clamps are not economical.
When used in large numbers the out of square faces of each clamp no longer matter as much. The individual clamps can be adjusted to create even pressure on the work piece as a whole.
A set of 4 pipe clamps should be your first purchase when you dive into larger case work. The parallel jaw clamps you bought earlier should cover everything below 3ft. The pipe clamps cover 3-6ft.
C clamp(on Amazon)
C clamps are the kings of force. At well over 1000lbs nothing beats these clamps. They are relatively inexpensive. Pro shops keep them around because they do the job of a F-clamp with more force. For the hobbyist this is not really a concern. The versatile F-clamps are the better choice.
Strap Clamps(on Amazon)
Strap clamps use a band to apply pressure to irregular shapes. These clamps are not in the same league as the others on this list. Strap clamps can only exert several hundreds of pounds of force. This is not enough for general purpose woodworking. Stay clear of these clamps until you know you need them.
Edge Clamps(on Amazon)
Edge clamps do one thing very well: join a thin strip to the edge of a board. In most cases parallel jaw clamps will do just fine for this.
Cabinet shops, however, value the edge clamps for its ease of use and speed. A typical glue-up will require 5-10 of these clamps, which puts them out reach of most hobby woodworkers.
Wood screw(on Amazon)
The wood screw is versatile tool that has been in use for centuries. The angle between its jaws can be adjusted. The tool is able to generate ~1000lbs of force at these angle. It's small throat limits its overall effectiveness.
This tool is a throwback into the old days of woodworking. While it is not the first choice of clamp to get, it is certainly a tool you should add to your shop eventually.
Images credit: Bessey, the maker of arguably the finest parallel jaw clamps on the market today