For my first real woodworking project, I'm trying my hand at making an end table. For the tabletop I'm using 1x6 planks with tongue and groove edges. To join the planks, I know that all they need is to be glued and held tight until it sets. However, I don't have any big clamps to hold the planks together. How can I keep the tabletop together while the glue sets without using clamps?
If you're using most modern glues you do need clamps*, or some substitute, here. Hide glue is the one exception since it can be used to create rubbed joints. Although some people use PVA-type glues in this way in limited circumstances hide glue is the only adhesive that you can really do this with and achieve a proper result at a large scale (that result being that the joint ends up stronger than the wood around it).
So you need 'clamp pressure' but you don't have clamps. There are two ways around this, first is to use a type of clamping board and second is to build your own wooden clamps which as you'll see below is not quite as daunting as it seems.
This is a jig that's like one big flat clamp, see Techniques for gluing thin panels? The tips in that Answer, as the title suggests, are primarily used for thin panels but similar methods can be used for thicker stock if needed (but they need to be made much stronger).
Make your own clamps
There are a great many versions, from simple to more elaborate, cheap to more expensive.
If you need clamps that costs the least and take little time to make this is probably the best basic design:
Original source unknown, possibly Wood magazine.
I'll also include a selection of others posted online that may be of interest:
See the notes here on clamping pressure. Whatever you build it must be quite robust as you need to exert significant pressure for a good glue joint to form — your glue lines should be invisible or nearly so. In addition to looking so much better thin glue lines are much stronger than thicker ones using most adhesives.
*There is a school of thought here that the correct answer is you should just go buy the necessary clamps. They don't have to be expensive to work well and they will have use in the future, you can be guaranteed of that. And in case you haven't heard it yet there is a common understanding in woodworking that you can't have too many clamps :-)
These days the best kind of longer clamp on a budget is arguably the extruded aluminium sash clamp. There are many makes and apparently most are virtually identical. They're usually very affordable and in some markets sets of four, six or eight are sold at a significant discount.
Where they're commonly available pipe clamps may also be worth considering since you can buy the clamp heads and then make clamps of almost any length by buying suitable pieces of iron pipe.
Other clampless options include:
- using pocket holes and screws (on the under side of the table) to clamp the boards together. The screws can be left in or removed once the glue dries, your preference.
- Using a cleat on the underside with angled screws that pull the joint together as they are driven.
- Drawbored loose tenons. See here for an example. Although this may seem like advanced joinery, the actual joint can be pretty sloppy and this will still be extremely strong. See here for some more nice things about drawboring.
I had an antique blanket chest, mortise and tenon construction, with loose joints. I applied hide glue and clamped the entire thing with bungee cords (I put socks under the metal hooks to prevent damage to the wood) and it worked fine. In another instance, I weighted glued items down with cement blocks.