The Tool You Need
Clamps (not nipple)

When my father was alive,  he would always buy me and my 2 sisters something odd for Christmas.   Not odd in the sense that it was really strange, like a mummified otter tail, but odd in the sense that no other father would buy these things for his daughters.

One year we all got the What-A-Saw.  An “as seen on TV” saw that I still  use to cut down our Christmas tree today.  I love my What-A-Saw.  The year after that it was a small machine that when you plugged it into your car lighter it would become an air compressor to fix a flat tire.   Skip to the next year … a chisel set.  Another year it was a device that suctions onto your counter and cores and peels apples.

You may be noticing a theme here.  Tools.  We always got odd tools.  They may not have been what every little girl wanted but I loved getting them.  I still have and use every single tool he gave me (aside from the apple peeler which quite frankly, didn’t work very well).

But without a doubt, the most useful tool my father gave us were a set of hand clamps.  And if you do not own them you must go buy a pair right now.  At the very least put them on your Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanza/Just Got Outta Jail/Birthday list.

Here are just a few ways I’ve used these delightful clamps.  Yes.  I did describe clamps as delightful.d

Array of Clamps


Holding wood together after gluing it.

Chair clamp


Clamping curtain pleats in place.  I washed my curtains and hung them up wet with clamps to help hold their pleats in place as they dried.

Curtains Clamp


Clamping a straight edge of wood in place to create a makeshift table saw.

Straight Edge clamp


Holding the ends of wood while you’re cutting it to stop the wood from hanging down and therefore binding the sawblade.

wood clamp 2


Setting up my tomato press I had to clamp a 2×4 onto a table.  Worked like a charm.



Used it to hold wood in place, when I needed an extra hand while hammering.

wood clamp


You might do NONE of these things I mentioned, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find delight and usefulness in hand clamps.  You may just use them differently.

But I’m telling you right here, right now that if you don’t own a set of hand clamps your life has been a pitiful shadow of what it could have been thus far. The automatic apple peeler/corer?  Meh.  That you can probably do without.


  1. Woodencanoe says:

    Tools? Clamps? Wrenches? Spokeshaves? Just have a look at the Lee Valley Tools website. Of course they have a garden and hardware site as well. I get their catalogs regularly and can spend hours drooling over the items I’d like for my shop. Woodworking porn.
    It’s too bad my father wasn’t alive to see Lee Valley Tools arrive on the scene. I grew up in the shop with my Dad. He was a cabinet maker, shipwright, carpenter, mechanic, etc. What happened to those men? I call them Renaissance men if I have the pleasure of meeting one these days. Should have checked out those skills before I married my husband, although he does try.

    Dad gave me a Meccano set; Heathkit radios to build; showed me how to hotwire a radio so I could make recordings on a reel-to-reel tape recorder – state of the art! Now I have most of his tools. My BIL got all the mechanics tools. I like warm wood over cold hard steel anyways.

    Now I’m wondering what to do with a huge, angled brace and bit I have that he used for boat building. Actually I have several of them. All his tools were marked with red paint somewhere as he sometimes lent tools or worked with others. I’ve carried on that tradition too as I take my own tools and tool belt to the site when I volunteer for a build for Habitat for Humanity. We just started the first all women’s build in British Columbia. What fun, but I won’t wear a pink hard hat ! I’ll wear my own white one as I have a thing about the “pink ghetto” that a lot of women have been in for many years.

    Oh and I have all the clamps mentioned except the pipe clamps which I should be inheriting from a friend soon. Who will buy me a Biesmeyer fence for my cabinet saw for Christmas?

  2. Kay Gish says:

    I make baskets. I initially purchased clamps to hold the thicker rims while lashing but since I have them in the house I use them often for other things as a third hand. My Dad would be so proud!

  3. Valerie says:

    Hi Karen and Fella
    I was at a garden center yesterday and meet a delightful, full of energy gal, well we got chatting and she gave me your website link. Your a hoot! The clamp story, gift from dad, I can relate. When my father was alive Christmas was always an adventure and the gifts were practical and useful. My clamps are used in everyday life,(kinda like duct tape). My husband found that they make great chip bag clamps – keeps them fresh.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Valerie! Well, that’s interesting! I’d love to hear more about this masked Art of Doing Stuff supporter you found at the garden centre and how the topic ever came up! Funny. I, by the way, just used my clamps yesterday. ~ karen

  4. Grammyshu says:

    My awesome clamps are attached to my 8 ft long sewing table and become an extra pair of hands for stretching out a quilt or fabric. I have two sizes.

  5. Debs says:

    Thanks for this idea! Although I didn’t buy clamps for my daughter (22) and son (18) for Christmas, I did include some Gorilla tape and WD40. It’s a start!

  6. Barbara says:

    At least you all didnt get a chia pet 5 years in a row…. :)

  7. Jack says:

    I had a collection of these clamps myself until I awoke one morning after a small verbal altercation with my wife and discovered my upper and lower lips tightly “clamped” in its vicey jaws.

  8. Kasia says:

    Binder clips!!! They’re just like clamps, right?!? They are on my list of three most favorite and useful things: binder clips, the iPhone, Dinty Moore! (yeah, the canned beef stew – you just can’t ever go wrong!) :)

  9. Alicia says:

    The apple peeler corer slicer from the pampered chef is one of the best kitchen tools my mom ever got, i cheat and use it to make apple pie, with sliced rings instead of cut wedges. and it is amazinnnggg. i highly recommend it.

  10. susan_in_dulwich, well peckham really because I moved 2 years ago says:

    Hiya! Well I fell for your ploy and bought myself the 10 piece variety pack at B&Q yesterday….let me tell you I love these clamps. I am making secondary glazing (for the inside of my windows) because my house if like a sieve for warmth. These clamps have made the whole thing about 8 million times easier. I live in a mid-terrace house in London (UK) and my neighbour is having the wall between our gardens redone, so the brickie spends the day looming 6 feet above me inspecting my sawing, drilling and screwing progress. I am delighted to look like less of a fool in front of this extremely foul-mouthed old man.
    Thank you for the tip!

  11. Amber Lew says:

    Sometimes your posts are eerily similar to parts of my life. Your dad sounds like he was a fantastic father. My dad too has long bought me tools for gifts, usually Christmas. I have more wrenches and screwdrivers than anyone I know. No What-a-Saw for any Christmas, but the cigarette lighter air compressor and portable car battery jumper thing one year. And a set of chisels the next Christmas (I wonder if ours match). Every year, tools. At the time, I never could imagine what I would use a chisel for, but they came in handy when my doctor was out of town the week my leg cast was to come off. Who needs a doctor when you have chisels? My rather large and still growing collection of tools has been lovingly referred to as my dowry. Though, obviously, they revert to me in the prenup. Last Christmas, my first as a married woman, my new husband received the tools. And just this past Monday, my dad was asking what tools I want for Christmas this year. And after reading this post, I can tell him I need clamps. No clamps in my collection. I have no idea how that oversight happened. So, many hanks for helping me populate my Christmas tool list! I likely would have ended up with more wrenches.

  12. Jen says:

    Reminds me of when my stepfather gave me an axe as a bridal shower gift. I still have (and use) it.

    • Karen says:

      Jen! I have a friend who gave me an axe handle for a housewarming present. Not the whole axe, … just the handle! Strangest gift I ever received. Used it up until last year. ~ karen!

  13. Natalie says:

    My dad is wonderfully the same way. He has always given me and my sister tools. My favorite is my multi-head screw driver. He hasn’t given us clamps yet, but he has them EVERYWHERE at his house and he uses them all the time. Why don’t I go buy some for myself?

  14. Lin N says:

    Yep..I got me some clamps as well. Handy little suckers…I have my dad’s hammer. Used it as a child and thought it was a big hammer. When I found it after my mother passed away it was a small wood handled hammer. i love using it and having the memory of being a kid and pounding nails into wood down in the basement.

  15. Centsational Girl says:

    OhEmGee, I love me some clamps! Those kind you’re showing, not the ones you refer to in your title. Seriously, I never knew how valuable they were until I started using them just about every day, like when I’ve polished off half a bag of chips and need a ‘chip clip’ to keep the rest fresh or when my kid gets a runny nose!
    So handy!

  16. karenagain says:

    My Dad is kinda the same way with the gift giving thing. One year I got a can of tire air. Once I got a little battery operated whisk and a big blue rubber oven mit (that works great at opening tough jars). Last year he got me a battery operated head lamp and a key chain that lights up and opens beer bottles. Oh, and I think he also got me mittens that string through my jacket. I’m not sure who bought those for me, but I wore them tonight to my nephews first ever hockey practice and didn’t forget or lose them at the arena. Hurray for mittens on string!

  17. Wendee says:

    I love clamps! They are so handy. Our family’s favorite use for them is making huge blanket forts. :)

  18. kelliblue says:

    I literally hollered “YAY I KNEW IT!” when i saw the first clamp picture. Yer a girl after my own heart. :) But the *only* thing better than those amazing orange clamps…are the teeny tiny mini yellow clamps! My local Home Depot had a bucket of the 2″ variety in front of the checkout lane years ago…I bought about 2 dozen. I use them ALL the time and for everything (they hold like crazy but don’t take a Superman to open). Sadly HD doesn’t carry them any more, so I’ve been on the hunt for more ever since…if you happen to find any, give me a holla!

  19. Melanie says:

    This is how I feel about Zip Ties! I cleaned up my garage this weekend and they were super useful. Must add Hand Clamps to my wishlist.

  20. Shauna says:

    Those are awesome gifts to give a girl. They may have been the very things needed for The Art of Doing Stuff to be born.

    We have hand clamps, we used them a lot during the chicken coop build. Specifically, uses numbers 3 and 4;)

  21. Susan says:

    Clamp fan here, too. We have all sizes, shapes, types, including very, very tiny ones, and even a gizmo with a magnifying glass and alligator-like clamps to act as a third hand for close work, like electronic welding. And our apple peeler works great. It’s a clamp type, not suction, and peels the skin off an apple extremely well and in short order. So perhaps it was just the brand you had.

  22. Jody says:

    My apple peeler has a CLAMP instead of a suction cup. The clamp works better than suction. It has a vise like bottom. Apple pie oven ready in 10 minutes!

  23. Abbey says:

    I would LOVE to receive handy tools for Christmas! Your father sounds pretty awesome. =)

  24. Laura says:

    I am MADLY in love with Lee Valley’s apple peeler/corer/slicer. 15 pounds of apples processed in under 10 minutes, including clean-up? Yes, please!

  25. Rosalie Davis says:

    Hearing about your dad makes me miss my dad. Your dad sounds great.

  26. ‘Makeshift’ table saw Karen? You wound me, I always thought it an honorable hack.

    I like your dad. I lugged my grandfather’s tools all the way to Australia for my brother who asked for them. My sister wanted his books, I swear my hand luggage weighed fifty kilos.

  27. Liz S. says:

    Hand clamps are great! Much easier than getting the fella off of the couch to come hold something for you. Then the fella complains about missing the game, complains about having the get up, complains about having to help, then tells you that you’re doing it all wrong! Arg!

  28. Lisa says:

    My dad does the same thing! Last year I got a socket set. Oh, and every year, he gives us batteries for our smoke detectors.

  29. I use mine (yup, I have those same exact clamps) to hold my plein air umbrella to my easel when painting outdoors. I also use it to hold my palette to my setup and as a counterweight when holding a palette so it balances nicely. Also great for clamping a board to an easel if it is too small to fit in the usual way. Every artist needs some of these! By the way, I have TWO apple/peeler/corer/slicers and lover them – one doesn’t peel so well, but I still use it (have had it for eons) and I couldn’t resist buying what looked like a brand new one at Goodwill – still haven’t tried that one :)

  30. Cheryl in Wisconsin says:

    Firstly, I am proud to announce that I have a fairly impressive collection of clamps, all self-purchased. Those, and bungee cords. I love me a good bungee cord.

    Secondly, I just want to comment that your father’s gifts are shining examples of the most valuable thing a father can offer his daughter, and that is a sense of self-sufficiency, and the tools (tangible or just good instruction) to be that way. Priceless. I was lucky enough to have a father with the same tactics. Growing up, I always felt sorry for my girlfriends whose fathers felt they were too delicate to learn basic mechanics & maintenance. Over the years I’ve watched them struggle because of it.

  31. Sharon North says:

    Picture #5. Thanks for the tip! I hadn’t thought of that one.

  32. Pat says:

    Clamps…my “fella’ swears by them, too. I love my apple corer/peeler especially when I am doing a large pan of apple crisp using freshly picked, crisp apples. I know that the peeler/corer is not great for apples once they become less than crisp. However, it sure beats peeling when you have some arthritis in the aging hands.

  33. Lori F says:

    Clamps are essential for all kinds of projects! And they’re kind of cute, too.
    We have the apple corer/peeler and it works great! Ours was from Wm Sonoma and less than $35. We use it all the time!!

  34. Rebecca says:

    My husband got me a set of fancy clamps a few years ago for Christmas (he’s a real romantic) and it’s actually become a joke how useless they are. They are always just a smidge too small or they won’t fit into the spot I need them in. Maybe I need a new set.

  35. cred says:

    My parents always give practical gifts and I love it. One year I got a car battery charger and another an extension ladder. Once we started driving we would get gasline anti-freeze or lock de-icer in our stockings and windshield washer fluid nicely wrapped from Santa or Jack Frost or something else that my mother would find amusing.
    I wish I could credit this to my dad since my practical mother always does the shopping. I just love the idea that a father, not knowing what to buy a girl, would choose something better suited to give his buddy- yet in the end, the odd gifts suited his daughters perfectly.

  36. I totally believe with a good set of C clamps, you can do almost anything without an extra person around. I just finished my chicken coop and the only time I needed help from my husband was to cover the run with chicken wire. And to tell you the truth, could have done that without him if I was thinking straight. I now want some pipe clamps that would cover longer distances. My wants now a days are a far cry from in my younger days. Then I wanted jewelry. Now I want tools! And jewelry!

  37. Hi Karen,
    Any advice on what type of clamps to get? Some just don’t seem to work as well as others. Some are too weak, some are too strong and hard to open for us wimpy types.
    OH and thank for the pics of how to use. Great for those of us with little hands on experience! I will likely use your table saw idea for something sometime. Never thought wood would bend and wreck the angle of the cut. No wonder my projects are always drunk looking.

  38. Claudia says:

    My dad gave me a hammer as a gift. He come to my house with it and he was so happy and proud of his present like it was an expensive perfum or so. I do use that hammer all the time, of course, and I remember him every time I hammer a nail. I think it was practical and non conventional, a lifetime gift. And I have the same hand clamps as you, Karen, very useful, I agree. Greetings from Argentina!

  39. Hillary Hart says:

    My father gave me clamps, too. Thought it a bit odd at the time. Turned out it was a brilliant gift!

  40. Brenda says:

    Oh yes clamps are so handy..I am the Queen of clamps, spring, quick release, pipe and the wooden screw types… workshop wall is dedicated to them.
    I also have 2 like yours in the house that keep the dog and cat kibble bags tightly closed in the bin……keeps it fresh. LOL

  41. Kim says:

    Yes, I wish I had some of those clamps right now. I need to fix the back of one of my dining chairs and one of the kitchen cupboard doors sure could use a bit of glue and a clamp as well. Sounds like your Dad is cool. I had to buy all of my tools after I was out on my own. Take care.


  42. Sue says:

    I love clamps. Bought a tiny set to use as weights to hold down our clear plastic that we cover our cookies with at the market… I now use one to hold our ripped sign with..and another the hold all my bungee cords together! Love my clamps! … Ever been to the St. Jacob’s market? If not we’ll have to go! The apple fritter ladies have an apple peeler to kill for and couldn’t do without it! They must make 2 million apple fritters in a day there! Mine’s in the cupboard! :-)

    • Karen says:

      Sue – I have been to the St. Jacob’s market but not for YEARS. And I’ve only been once. Definitely never noticed the apple fritter ladies! :) ~ karen

  43. Ah, Karen, have you ever found a good apple peeler? We have sooo many apples this year, and I was going to buy one today. Now I’m not so sure…

    Hand clamps, definitely on my Christmas list though.

    • Susan says:

      I recently bought this apple peeler which has a clamp base, instead of a suction base. I clamp it on the pull-out cutting board. It peels off just the skin, at the setting ours arrived from the factory, and I do mean just the skin. There’s virtually no apple pulp on the skin. We were amazed. We couldn’t be happier with it. We now frequently make apple cobbler, apple pie, apple muffins and just about anything else you can make with an apple, now that it’s apple season.

  44. Lucy says:

    Our fathers may be brothers. My tool chest is stocked with gifts from Dad, everything from hammers (there are different ones for different jobs, you know), several sizes & types of screwdrivers, a circular saw, hand & electric drills (I’ve since bought a cordless one for the collection), hand saws, planes, pry bars, sanders & sandpaper, saw horses, a miter box (pre-compound miter saws), several sizes of levels (our personal favorite tools), plumb bobs, etc., etc., AND clamps (also in several configurations). Aren’t dads wonderful? Oddly, my 5 brothers didn’t have any interest in such things, but I could spend hours pounding nails into an old 2×4 while I waited for him to come up with a project we could do. By the time he died 7 years ago, I didn’t need to inherit any of his tools because he’d already bought me so many. I did ask for his old tool box, though. I think of him every time I pull out any kind of tool. Thanks for sparking the memories.

  45. Jen says:

    Now I’m curious….where do you keep your tools? Do you have your own tool box…..station…..shelf? Or do you and the fella just share all the tools?

    PS. Adding “clamps (not nipple) ” to my Christmas list.

  46. cheri says:

    My mom bought all our presents. I bet if my dad had done it, he would have given us tools, too. And if he was alive today, he’d be proud of how many I can use. Yea Dads!!!

  47. Angela says:

    We had an apple peeler/corer/slicer back in the day and it worked pretty well, as long as the apples were crispy.

    And I LOVE clamps! My favorite aisle in Home Depot/Lowe’s is the clamp aisle! Your dad sounds like he was pretty darn awesome!

    My mom gives us cheapo random gifts that she buys on clearance at Wal-Mart the year before, like an emergency kit for the car and a remote control holder. John’s dad also gives us random gifts, and we have found them surprisingly helpful! The change counter currently has over $140 (US) in it and the solar gadget charger came in handy when we lost power after the earthquake.

  48. Kris says:

    I love the hand clamps. Need to get some for hubby this Christmas.

    The apple peeler, I loved it but now I need to get another since it’s gone. Beats me trying to peel the apple and losing so much of the fruit (yes, I’m a clumsy peeler…lol).

    What great gifts your Dad used to give.

  49. itchbay says:

    Funny you should “meh” the apple corer/peeler, as we just got back from a visit with the in-laws, and the SIL/BIL just had to go get one to keep at the MIL’s house, so they could make applesauce.

    I was curious about how it worked and whether it might be a good investment for me with all my pears, but after seeing it in action, I’m not so sure.

    Clamps rock, though.

  50. Steph says:

    Your Dad rocks!

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