Handscrews – the Great Brake Pedal

Handscrews – the Great Brake Pedal

Handscrews don’t get enough credit in the shop. This ancient clamp is often neglected in favor of modern clamps. But the handscrew is often the simplest solution to a tricky workholding problem.

One of the handscrew’s many charms is that it will clamp to almost anything and keep the piece stable on the floor or workbench. Pretend you are trying to screw two panels together at a 90° corner. A handscrew can hold one panel upright on the bench while you hold the other panel and screw it in place.

But today I am squawking about the handscrew as a way to hold pieces immobile while drilling. Today we had to bore some high-precision holes in chair parts. The problem was that the rotation of the drill bit made the chair frame rotate as well, throwing off the compound angle.

The solution was a handscrew. Shop partner Brendan Gaffney grabbed a handscrew, clamped it to one leg and then put his foot on the handscrew to keep the chair from moving or rotating. It’s a simple and elegant solution to a common problem.

You can get handscrews from a variety of sources, both new and vintage. I recommend old ones (apologies) from Jorgensen. Use this ebay link, and you’ll find plenty for sale. You can also make ones yourself using atap and die. Please don’t buy the cheap imported ones. If you are going to do this, do it right and buy the better ones from Germany.

Yes, they are expensive. But they work like crazy.

— Christopher Schwarz

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