How To Use Toggle Clamps

What Are Toggle Clamps?

The toggle clamp is an extremely popular tool in carpentry and an essential hand tool, for both safety and accuracy. Because of it’s specialized use, it’s not quite as recognizable as a two-jawed clamp.

Unlike standard clamps, toggle clamps are permanently bolted to a work surface. They have a single clamping plate to hold the work piece or material in place. They serve the general purpose of locking down an object (or pair of objects), so they do not move.

Most toggle clamps have the same basic functionality and operation, but some variances exist depending on which type you are using. In general, your toggle clamp will have a handle, securing bar, and lever to create a system that applies pressure. Most clamps are designed to secure your material to a horizontal surface, but there are some exceptions. For example, if you are attempting to hold a piece upright, you’ll want a push-pull clamp.

Using Your Toggle Clamp

The first step to using your toggle clamp is to secure it to a jig, moveable working surface, or table. The flanged base will have obvious holes for bolting the clamp into place. Once secured, you should be able to tug on the toggle clamp without any movement.

The next step is to move the work piece or material into the desired position. Once your work piece or material is in place, use the red handle to engage the clamp. The direction of the handle movement will depend on the type of toggle clamp you are using. Toggle clamps are not fully engaged until the handle has locked into position.

The clamp is engaged with a fast-action mechanism. This allows you to engage and disengage with a single swift action. Other clamps require screwing a bolt into place.

Because it only has one clamping plate, the toggle clamp uses the surface it’s attached to for leverage. The amount of pressure applied to the object can be adjusted with a torque screw. This is typically found in the center of the clamp. When first using your toggle clamp you should engage the clamp slowly. Make sure you are not applying too much pressure, and therefore not risking damage to your workpiece. If you’re having trouble with your workpiece shifting or moving, you may want to increase pressure with the torque screw.

Once you are done working on your piece, use the red handle again to disengage the lock.

How Do They Work?

A toggle clamp is simple to use but consists of a pretty complex arrangement of components. The inside contains a combination of levers and pivot pins, all of which are linked together.  When the lever is engaged the links expand or compress, which applies force and moves the clamping plate. Once the handle is fully engaged, the clamping pate will lock into position. It will not come unlocked until the lever is disengaged. Unless you happen to be using a push-pull clamp for a vertical hold your handle will move up and down to engage the clamp.  

Most toggle clamps are made from zinc-plated steel, making them incredibly durable. The red rubber handle is universal among nearly every brand and is designed to be intuitive and comfortable to use.

The clamping pad, which holds the actual workpiece or material in place, is typically around 29.5 mm (¾’’) in diameter, which is wide enough to secure most materials without issue. The pad is made of hard rubber held in place by a steel screw.

Is A Toggle Clamp Right For Me?

Toggle clamps are an excellent choice for a variety of special situations. They allow you to work quickly and accurately and are incredibly adaptable. This is particularly true when using self-adjusting clamps. Toggle clamps also come in a wider variety of options than other clamps, making it more likely that the perfect clamp exists for your project.

Other types of clamps often require tiring and time-consuming actions such as undoing latches or screwing fasteners into place. If your project requires clamping several identical pieces for sawing, sanding, or gluing, you should strongly consider installing a toggle clamp.

If you are working on a large piece and no surface is available for bolting the toggle clamp into place, then more traditional clamps will be necessary.  Additionally, if your project requires clamping pieces together from a variety of positions, and no two clamp arrangements are the same, then a toggle clamp is not a good fit.

Common Uses

Common uses include securing a piece for sawing, sanding, and drilling. The toggle clamp is useful for light or heavy-duty projects. Toggle clamps must be secured to a table, jig, or moveable surface. Because of this, they are best suited for projects with repetitive actions. One typical application is applying equal force to each side when securing miter joints.

There is a trick to using traditional clamps and toggle clamps together to make an extremely versatile tool. By attaching a single toggle clamp to a 1×6 board, you now have a jig that can be clamped to any work surface. If you center the board over your work table and clamp the ends with a traditional two-jawed clamp, you have a secure jig that can lock your materials right to the center of your table. This can be adjusted in any direction, or several toggle clamps can be added for more versatility.

It’s important to note that most toggle clamps are designed for workpieces that are the same height as the jig or surface of which the clamp is secured. There is a small amount of wiggle room afforded by the adjustable torque screw, but if your project requires working with pieces or materials of various widths, then you’ll likely want a self-adjusting toggle clamp.

Regardless of your application, it is essential to choose the right clamp for the job. It’s likely you will end up needing more than one type of clamp for any intermediate to advanced level projects. We recommend keeping a variety of clamps on hand.

Which Type Of Toggle Clamp Should I Use?

Self Adjusting Toggle Clamps

Self-adjusting toggle clamps have a rotating clamp head to grip any workpiece. They also have a spring loaded mechanism in the handle. This applies the same pressure to a ½’’ workpiece as a single sheet of paper.  

If you attempt to clamp an object of the wrong width using a standard toggle clamp, you would either end up with too little pressure to hold the object in place or find yourself unable to lock the clamp into place despite heavy use of force.

Horizontal vs. Vertical Toggle Clamps

Horizontal toggle clamps and vertical toggle clamps have nearly identical functionality, but the specific use will dictate which one you want to use. The main difference between a horizontal and vertical toggle clamp is the orientation of the handle.

When using horizontal toggle clamps, the clamp is engaged when the handle is down, parallel to the working surface. Naturally, a horizontal toggle clamp is going to have a lower verticle profile than a vertical clamp. This is ideal when your blade or hand needs to pass over the handle itself.

The vertical toggle clamp is engaged when the handle is set vertically, perpendicular to the table or work surface. Vertical clamps are typically capable of applying significantly more pressure than horizontal clamps, so take that into consideration when choosing which one is right for the job.

Push-Pull Toggle Clamps

Sometimes referred to as ‘plunger style,’ push-pull toggle clamps are capable of applying pressure to a vertical surface. When engaging this type of clamp, the securing bar will move forward and backward instead of up and down. This is why it’s called a ‘push-pull’ clamp. Typically a push-pull toggle clamp will have a handle similar to a horizontal toggle clamp in that the handle will be parallel to the surface it is attached to when the clamp is engaged.

Push-pull clamps are useful in situations where the workpiece or material must be held upright as opposed to clamped to a table.

Other Types

There are many variations of more specialized toggle clamps available as well. Other, less common clamp types include:

  • Latch toggle clamps are designs to hook into a separate catch and pull two pieces together. Plier toggle clamps are clamps that are completely handheld and operate similarly to a pair of pliers.
  • Diagonal hold-down clamps work similarly to horizontal clamps. However, the handle will point diagonally downward when the lock is engaged.  
  • Toggle Edge clamps are capable of applying force both downward and forward at the same time.

Sizes

Toggle clamps are available with a variety of reaches. This is another reason it can be a good idea to have several sizes on hand. If you’re having trouble with a clamp for a specific objective, you may need a clamp with a different reach.

The reach of a toggle clamp refers to how far out the securing bar can reach from the clamp itself. Most clamps have an adjustable reach of around 1.5 inches. Beyond that, you will need to use a different clamp. The most common reach lengths for toggle clamps are 35mm and 60mm.

Holding Capacity

It’s important when choosing your clamps to consider the holding capacity necessary for your project. If you are buying your clamps online, this information will be clearly visible in the product description. Holding capacities can easily range from 200 lbs to 700 lbs depending on the brand of the clamp.

Toggle Clamp Accessories

As you get familiar with your toggle clamps, you may find your needs change. You might wish the clamping plate was a little bit wider, or shorter. There are a variety of spindle cap accessories available that may fit your specific use better than what pre-installed on your toggle clamp.

For example, do you need to spread pressure among a larger surface area? You may want to look into a ‘Swivel Foot Spindle Assembly’ like the one found here. Is your toggle clamp leaving unwanted marks on your material or workpiece? You may want to change the spindle cap to a cone style spindle cap, like the one found here.

What To Buy

There is no such thing as a one size fits all clamp. The perfect clamp is going to vary entirely on your personal preference, and what you are trying to accomplish. It’s always a good idea to spend a little bit of time checking out different brands. Look for something that feels good.

Once you’ve found a brand that you like, pick up a couple of different sizes of horizontal and vertical clamps. Along with a push-pull clamp and a self-adjusting clamp, they should set you back less than $50.  It’s a small price to pay to save yourself headaches and hand sprains.

You can find a variety of toggle clamps at any local hardware store, but if you’re an online shopper then here are a few affiliate links for the clamps you see in this article:

Once you’ve got everything you need, it’s time to get to work!

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