Useful Clamps for Model Building
By George Riley/photos by the author
Creating miniature models requires a number of specialized tools to get the best results. Probably the tool that I use the most often in model construction is the clamp. There are literally scores of this simple and common tool around my work shop of all different shapes and sizes. When assembling a model you can never have too many of them. Clamps do more than just holding the pieces in place while the glue sets. Tight joints allow adhesives to bond more completely and require less of the agent. This makes for not only a stronger model, but also a neater job when it comes to finishing.
The most recent project on the work bench is an O scale LaBelle Woodworking Lake Shore Electric express motor. This body kit has a number of different assembly steps that require several different construction techniques. Building the express motor demonstrates some of these methods.
Choosing the right clamps for model building can be a challenge. When you visit any hardware store or do-it-yourself super store you will find hundreds of clamps in all different shapes and sizes. The problem that we face as model builders is that most, if not all of the offerings, are designed to hold full size items and not our delicate models. As a rule these tools are both too heavy and unwieldy to use in model making. What we are looking for are tools that are light weight, easy to install (often with one hand), and apply a constant pressure to the piece that is being assembled. We are working on a much smaller scale, so we need to make sure the clamps we use will not apply too much pressure or otherwise damage our fine work.
Over time I have added several categories of model making clamps that are useful for working with wood and styrene. Spring clamps, beam clamps and other specialty clamps are always at my model workbench. You will notice that "C-clamps" did not make the list. While they are great for carpentry and bench work, I rarely use them in model building with the exception of soldering projects. They tend to be heavy and usually require both hands to apply.
The spring clamp, its name implies, uses a spring to apply pressure to the jaws. Made of either plastic or resin they are light weight and can be used single handed. The swivel pads on the jaws apply even pressure two the parts for a good bond. Additionally, small spring clamps re very inexpensive so you won’t have any pangs of conscience if you need to sacrifice or modify one or two for special use.
Their use is demonstrated in the photograph of the glue up of the laminated car side at the top of the page. The express motor car sides are made up of scribed wood panels laminated to an interior wall. Spring clamps are perfect for holding the panels in place while the glue sets.
Beam or bar clamps as their name implies, have their jaws set on an adjustable beam that allows the throat to be opened wider than normal clamps. There are a number of different versions of this tool. As a rule choose clamps that are light weight, made of either plastic or resin and can be used single handed. Lightweight plastic mini-clamps and cam-action clamps are useful examples. By virtue of their range of adjustment, beam clamps are an excellent choice for attaching car sides and ends to floors as well as other larger sub-assemblies. They are often the right tool for complex clamping challenges.
This is a fairly broad category and can cover a lot of items. However, there are two specialty clamps that should be in every tool chest. The first is the right angle clamp. One of the challenges in building the express motor is assembling the ends. Not only are the pieces for the top and bottom of the cab delicate, but also they need to be attached at a 90-degree angle at a very thin joint.
The second must have specialty clamp in the tool chest is the four corner clamp. These were originally developed for use by picture framers and cabinet makers for assembling rectangular items. A smaller version is available to modelers and is a necessity for holding any sub-assembly that needs to be square. Having a four corner clamp handy proved to be a life saver when completing the cab ends of the express motor. The finished ends came out square and strong so no additional work was needed when it came time for final assembly.
This installment of the Craftsman Tool Chest has highlighted one of the most overlooked but necessary categories of tools. There are many shapes, sizes and applications available for model building. As a general rule, clamps are inexpensive and one of the most useful items at our disposal, and you should consider adding some to your tool chest to make your next model project a breeze.
Cam-Action Bar Clamp (Item #15125), Original Right Clamp (Item #83044),
Mini Plastic Bar Clamp (Item #80383), Four-Corner Clamp (Item #60716), 4" Spring Clamp (Item #84575), and Mini Clamps (Item #82979) are available from Micro-Mark.