Workbench clamping methods: Bench dogs and bench clamps


In woodworking, there are many different types of clamps for various tasks. They all have their limitations and benefits. One of the limitations that most clamps have is that you cannot clamp a workpiece in the center of the workbench.

In this article, I will explain the issue that most woodworkers face at some point in their career and possible solutions.

Directory

  1. Why use bench dogs and dog holes
  2. What are bench Clamps
  3. 3 Types of bench clamps
  4. How to mount a workbench vise
  5. How to mount a workbench clamp
  6. Dog holes and bench dogs
  7. Dog holes and bench dogs

Why use bench dogs and dog holes?

The Issue: Securing wood to the center of the workbench

Most clamps are designed to clamp two pieces of wood together or wood to your workbench.

You would clamp two pieces of wood together during joining to keep the wood in place and to allow the glue to dry. Additionally, you would clamp a piece of wood to the workbench to keep the wood steady while drilling, cutting, sanding, or chiseling.

Many clamps are only designed to clamp the wood to the edge of the workbench, like a bar clamp.

However, you may want to clamp the wood in the center of the workbench for weight and size reasons. You may need the workpiece clamped in the middle of the workbench to join another part to the workpiece.

You may have trouble clamping the wood to the center of the workbench.

This is an issue that many woodworkers face. Luckily, with the help of bench clamps and bench dogs, you can clamp wood almost anywhere on the workbench.

What are bench Clamps

A bench clamp is a clamp that is secured on the workbench. It allows the user to clamp the wood almost anywhere.

Bench clamps can be workbench vises or actual workbench clamps.

3 Types of bench clamps

There are two different types of workbench clamps and they can sometimes be used for the same task.

Workbench visesWorkbench clampsBenchtop vises
Clamp orientationClamps wood parallel to the side of the workbenchClamps wood parallel to the top of the workbenchClamps wood horizontally
Clamp forceHighMediumMedium – High
Ideal useSawing, chiseling, and hammering woodSanding and screwing woodSawing, chiseling, and hammering wood
ProsVery strong clamp forceIdeal clamps for assembling and sanding woodPortable
Serrated jaws for metal objects
ConsPricey if purchased
More difficult to build
Not a very strong clamp forceCan get very heavy with size
Smaller than workbench vises

Workbench vises

Workbench vises are very good in holding wood still while chiseling and sawing.

Chiseling and sawing have to be very precise, and movement of the workpiece can cause mistakes. Additionally, movement in the workpiece will waste exerted energy while chiseling and sawing.

Cons

Workbench vises are integrated in the workbench can be expensive to purchase. Many workbenches are made handmade, and a handmade vise is more difficult to build than workbench clamps.

To learn how to build your own workbench vise, you should check out my article “Workbench Vises”.

Workbench Clamps

Bench clamps are clamps that are mounted to the workbench. They are light weight and can be used almost anywhere on the workbench.

Some bench clamps clamp the top of the wood with the use of a quick release lever and others clamp the wood from the sides.

Top clamps are useful for flatter workpieces and clamping joinery, while side clamps are useful for securing larger workpieces, like a partially assembled bookshelf.

Cons

The main downside to workbench clamps is that you do not have as much clamping force as you would with a vise.

The lack of clamping force and the clamping orientation of the wood makes it more difficult to chisel and saw the wood end grain.

Benchtop vises

Benchtop vises are similar to workbench vises, but they are mounted to the top of a workbench and can be removed.

Benchtop vises are commonly made out of metal and have serrated jaws for holding metal objects.

Cons

Stronger workbench vises can get very big and heavy quickly.

Smaller workbench vises are around 25-30lbs starting. These vises are for smaller workpieces, but larger vises can get up to 100lbs, 200lbs, and even more.

How to mount a workbench vise

Most workbench vises have screws at the base of the vise that allows you to screw the vise into the wood.

While you can place the vise anywhere, this isn’t the best method if you want to remove the vise and add it back to the same spot.

Re-screwing screws into a wooden hole will wear out the wood and loosen the hole.

If you want to remove and replace the vise often, I recommend that you use a wooden screw insert.

You will insert the wooden insert nut into the wood using a flat-head screwdriver and you will be able to screw into the same spot without wearing down the wood.

How to mount a workbench clamp

Screw-on clamps

Screw-on clamps are very similar to workbench vises. You will have 4 holes at the base of the clamp to screw the clamp to the wood.

With this, you will get the same issue with the workbench vises if you want to be able to remove the clamp and remount it in the same position.

Remounting a screw-on bench clamp will wear the wood and loosen the hole. With screw-on clamps, I recommend using threaded wood inserts to allow for remounting without wearing out the wood.

Doghole clamps

The other common bench clamp type is doghole bench clamps. These clamps are inserted into dog holes.

Dog holes in workbenches are holes allow you for you mount bench clamps and insert bench dogs.

I will discuss more on dog holes and bench dogs in the next section.

However, doghole bench clamps use either bench dogs or screws designed to be inserted into the dog hole.

This allows for the user to mount and unmount the clamp when needed without damaging the wood.

Dog holes and bench dogs

Dog holes in workbenches are holes allow you for you mount bench clamps and insert bench dogs.

Additionally, Bench dogs are inserted into dog holes and are used to secure the workpiece to the workbench.

There are two types of dog holes, square and circular shaped dog holes.

Square dog holes Pros and Cons

ProsCons
More secure than round dog holesCannot secure wood in any angle
Can be used with round or square bench dogs and aftermarket productsMore difficult to make

Square dog holes and bench dogs are able to hold the wood pieces more securely with minimal force but can only secure wood horizontally or vertically.

However, square dog holes can hold round bench dogs and aftermarket attachments.

Round dog hole Pros and Cons

ProsCons
Can secure wood at any angleNot compatible with square bench dogs
Compatible with most bench dogs and holdfastsNot as secure as square dog holes
Compatible with most bench clamps

Round dog holes are much more common in woodworking because they are compatible with most aftermarket items like bench clamps and holdfasts.

Additionally, round dog holes allow for you to secure the wood at any angle, and they are much easier to make.

Where to put dog holes/How to make a bench dog table

If you have a face, end, or leg vise with dog holes on the top, you should have at least 2 rows of dog holes going down the work bench in line with the vise.

This is because one common clamping method is to tighten the vise to allow the dog holes on the vise and on the workbench to clamp the wood.

Most clamps and workbenches are designed to where it is difficult to clamp more than 4 inches away from the edge of the workbench.

I recommend having a line of dog holes 4-6 inches away from the edge of the workbench.

The spacing of the dog holes are often determined by the opening of the vise.

A common rule of thumb is to have a 2:1 ratio for the vise opening and dog hole spacing.

So, for example, if you have a vise with a 6-inch opening, you will want to have your dog holes 3 inches apart.

If you do not have a vise and are not planning on installing one, you can look at the accessories that you will use to determine your dog hole spacing.

Holdfasts commonly go up to an 8 in reach, with many smaller ones being 4 1/2 inches or less. A 6-inch spacing seems reasonable to allow you to use a variety of hold fasts.

Conclusion

In this article we went over what are bench dogs and dog hole and why you should use them. We also went over how to create bench dogs and dog holes and how they different from the other clamping methods.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this article and I wish you luck on your woodworking journeys!

Rachel

My name is Rachel Blanding and I am a woodworker. I started woodworking at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. I mainly create and refurbish furniture and create art. In this site I will share with you the knowledge I have gained over the years, and what worked for me and what didn't.

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