Parallel Clamp vs. Pipe Clamp: Which to Use?

Parallel Clamp vs. Pipe Clamp: Which to Use?

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If you are planning on doing some woodworking, and you need to glue two pieces of wood together, then you will need to clamp them while the glue dries. This is the only effective way to ensure that the glue adheres to both pieces.

Two popular types of clamps that you may have heard of are parallel clamps and pipe clamps. They might look a bit similar in some regards, but there are some differences between them, and they excel at different tasks. Let’s figure out if it’s a parallel clamp or a pipe clamp that you need for your next project.

Parallel Clamps and Pipe Clamps: The Basics

Before we start talking about the similarities and differences between these two types of clamps, let’s first figure out what they both are.

What Is a Parallel Clamp?

Parallel Clamp First, we have the parallel clamp, which is one of the most popular types of clamps used in woodworking today, as they are generally considered to be extremely useful. If you are an experienced woodworker, then this is a clamp type that you will certainly have use for. The parallel clamp features long and sturdy steel bars, with some reaching up to 80” in length, or longer.

There is a set of resin-covered and steel-reinforced jaws located along the bar, one jaw on either side. These jaws have throats that are usually up to 4” deep, thus allowing this clamp to fit relatively deep pieces.

One of the jaws is fixed and stationary, located on one end. The other jaw can slide up and down the bar, and this jaw then features a screw handle that you can tighten, thus clamping two pieces together. This type of clamp is popular due to how useful and versatile it is, but also comes at quite a high price.

One of the biggest advantages that you get with the parallel clamp is that it allows you to apply extremely even and uniform pressure on larger workpieces because even under a big load, the jaws stay perfectly parallel, and this helps prevent dimples and uneven gluing from occurring. Besides the fact that this is a very expensive type of clamp to consider, it really doesn’t have any other big problems.

What Is a Pipe Clamp?

Pipe Clamp We then have a pipe clamp, which although it sounds like it comes assembled, does not. When you buy a pipe clamp, what you get are two separate pieces, or in other words, both ends of the clamp. These ends of the clamp need to be fixed around a pipe, and what size pipe will depend on the openings in the jaws of the clamp, although between 1/2” and ¾” is fairly common. Generally speaking, the pipe itself will not be included in your purchase.

Here, one end or jaw of the pipe clamp is fixed to the pipe using a special type of stopper, and this end then also has a rotating screw that is used to loosen and tighten the pipe clamp. The other jaw has the ability to slide up and down the pipe to accommodate various sizes of workpieces, along with a special spring mechanism, otherwise known as a clamp plate that applies pressure to the pipe, therefore keeping this jaw in place.

If you need to glue together individual boards side-by-side, whether two, four, or ten boards, then the pipe clamp makes for a good option. It allows you to glue multiple pieces together side-by-side while applying uniform pressure.

For example, if you are making a door out of boards, you would line the boards up to make the shape of the door, then use a series of pipe clamps from top to bottom to hold everything together.

Pipe clamps are ideal in this sense, particularly for larger projects. However, something to keep in mind here is that if the pipes are too long, and you need to apply a lot of pressure, those pipes may bend. Also, if too much pressure is applied, it might bend or warp the wood, plus those pipes can leave stains on your wood.

Similarities of Parallel Clamps and Pipe Clamps

Now that we know what parallel clamps and pipe clamps are, let’s figure out what makes them similar.

1. The Same Basic Style

Both of these clamps feature the same basic style. Okay, so yes, one features a metal bar to which the clamp heads are attached, and the other uses a pipe instead of a bar. However, other than that, the basic style of both is the same. Both have jaws, one of which can move up and down the bar or pipe, with the other jaw featuring a screwing mechanism to tighten the jaws.

While they do have different pros and cons, their basic design in this sense is the same; two jaws located at opposite ends of a long bar or pipe along which the jaws can slide.

2. They Are Ideal for Larger Projects

The other similarity here is that both of these clamps are ideal for larger projects. Both allow you to clamp together large workpieces or multiple workpieces at once. Remember, the bars and pipes used to separate the two clamp heads can be many feet long, therefore accommodating large and/or many workpieces.

Differences Between Parallel Clamps and Pipe Clamps

Now that we know what makes them similar, let’s determine what makes pipe clamps and parallel clamps different from each other.

1. Cost

One of the main differences here is cost. Parallel clamps can be very costly and can easily cost over 100 dollars for a single unit, which is because they are high-quality and very versatile. On the other hand, you can find a pipe clamp for a fraction of that cost, albeit the pipe itself usually doesn’t come included. The pipe clamp is just a more cost-effective option.

2. Need for Assembly

Parallel clamps come in one piece and are fully assembled. However, with a pipe clamp, you need to buy the pipe separately and then attach both of the clamp heads to it yourself. In this sense, a bar clamp is more straightforward and easier to use.

3. Uniform Pressure

One of the biggest differences is that a parallel clamp has much larger clamp heads, which means that they can apply uniform pressure to a workpiece, all without causing the wood to bend or bow. On the other hand, pipe clamps have smaller clamp heads, which means that they can apply much more pressure right under the clamp heads, which may cause the wood to warp.

4. Project Capacity

Parallel clamps rely on the length of the bar to determine their capacity. Although they can be quite long, this only goes so far. With a pipe clamp, the capacity is really only limited by the length of the pipe being used.

Parallel Clamp vs. Pipe Clamp: Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you need something affordable with a large capacity, then a pipe clamp will do just fine. However, if you need something that also has a high capacity and comes fully assembled, then the parallel clamp would be a good choice. Do keep in mind that pipe clamps don’t apply quite as much uniform pressure as parallel clamps, so you may run into trouble there.


Now that you know all of the important facts about pipe clamps and parallel clamps, you can make an informed decision between the two.