No question, vintage bar clamps look cool in photographs. But they're not all built the same, nor do they all work as good as they look. Also, vintage clamps are not readily available in stores - you have to monitor Ebay closely, bid high, or crush the "Buy It Now" button right away if you want to that vintage look on your clamp rack. Expect several months of hunting to assemble even a modest set this way. My best advice is to pay a little more (like $10 per clamp) for the best tools that come up for sale every month or so on Ebay.
In this post, we'll take a closer look at the form, function, price, and availability of 5 vintage bar clamps. We'll also compare them to the closest modern equivalents, the Bessey Heavy Duty Tradesman and the Jorgensen Pony #37HD.
1.) Wetzler #412
2.) Hartford #4G
3.) Hartford #6G
4.) Jorgensen #4501
5.) Eweke #2
6.) Bessey Heavy Duty #30 (modern)
7.) Jorgensen Pony #37HD (modern)
Other Vintage Clamps Not Reviewed Here:
Hargraves - Connecticut
Diepaca - Germany
Elzett - Germany
Henry Boker/Buker - Germany
Pall Call - Australia(?)
Smyder - Modecraft in Muncie PA and/or Maspeth, NY
Stanley - UK
Gross Stabil - Germany
James L. Taylor Manufacturing - Poughkeepsie, NY
Peck - Germany
Bessey - Germany
Colt - Batavia, NY
Handle design doesn't differ all that much. There are three shapes: turned wood, metal paddles (not shown), and metal T-bars. From left to right: Hartford #6G, modern Bessey HD #30, Jorgensen #4501, Wetzler #412, Hartford #4G, Jorgensen Pony #37HD, and Eweke #2.
The design of all the clamps reviewed here is basically the same, including tightly-fit bars into cast heads. From left to right: Eweke, Hartford #6G, Wetzler, Hartford #4G, Bessey HD, Jorgensen Pony, Jorgensen HD.
These are the clamps I reach for most often. They are well built and well scaled for day-to-day woodworking clamp-up jobs. The #412 is a great all-around size: Not too heavy and fitted with red painted wooden handles. Its the handles that wear out after 40 years. You see a fair number of cracked handles, a few bent bars, and the occassional missing swivel pad, but all in all there are plenty of good Wetzlers out there for those in the market.
Wetzler Clamp Company, founded by German immigrant Max Wetzler in 1928, went out of business in c.2011. More on that HERE and HERE.
Its easy to mistake Hartfords for Wetzlers. Look for the little squarish cam-grip cast into the lower jaw to tell its a Hartford - a patented feature, I think. I discuss this cam-grip in the next section down. Details of the castings, as is the function, very similar to Wetzlers. Nice clamps, but to my hand a half step down from the tools made in Long Island City. Availability varies with most coming as singles or pairs. Rarely in perfect shape. These are user's tools, which is a testament to their utility.
The #6Gs really belong in a class of their own. These are big, heavy, industrial tools that are best suited for semi-permanent intallations involving a lot of weight or force. They are built to hold stuff down, rather than to clamp things up. You don't grab three of these in each hand and move to the bench, like you would with the others. Nevertheless, they look really cool, so I own a couple. There are complaints (other than their enormous weight). They have a small, toothed cam-grip cast into the underside of the lower jaw. It rides along the front edge of the bar and is supposed to help with holding power, but I find it unnecessary and a little annoying. The cam's teeth sometimes catch when opening the clamp. Also, the clamps have 90-degree solid steel T-handles that, while plenty functional, feel weird in the woodshop and just don't perform as well as turned wooden grips. I feel like I'm going to dent things with the T-bar handle. Its not uncommon to see bent bars on these big clamps (like mine); you kind of feel compelled to tighten them with a hammer. I see these sold alone or in pairs rather often on Ebay.
These Jorgensens are a heavyweight clamps, which is not a quality I appreciate in an everyday woodworking clamp. Too heavy and clunky for me. The extra weight does not translate into better function. You could probably drill two or three 1/2" holes through the head to reduce the weight without affecting their strength. On the positive side, these things are super tough and will never wear out in the course of a career. They are built for heavy clamping applications - metalworking, timberframe construction, or boatbuilding. Time and use mellows out the garish "Jorgensen Orange" paint job. I acquired a few at an auction, so I keep those around. They stay on the rack most of the time.
Eweke (AY-vik-uh) clamps are a little on the small side and wouldn't qualify as heavy duty, despite being constructed similarly to Wetzlers. The handles have slightly squarish turnings. The bar edges are nicely chamfered, a distinguing characteristic of Ewekes. The cast lettering on both jaws is terrific. While few sets are found on the used market in the US currently (usually singles are sold), you do see them on Ebay from time to time. I own a Eweke #2, an "E&A #1, and an unmarked German-made model that someone stamped the letters "HO" into. All are great for smaller tasks.
At one time there were several German clamp manufacturers, each with a slightly different take on design. Common to most are a squarish pad and small wing-stands cast into the upper jaws. The head on the "Eweke 2" measures 5-1/4", the "E&A" is 5-1/2", the little "HO" is 4-1/4".
The size, the weight, balance, deep reach, and the grippy handles make the new HD Besseys top performers. The profile of the maleable iron castings are fairly classic as well. While they fall a bit short in the style department - they are thoroughly modern with their red rubber grips and shiny, corrugated bars - these things flat out work. In fact, they are a joy to use. The "2K composite" grips are great. They are widely available for a reasonable price. If you can't find or afford vintage tools, fill your rack with these. In 50 years, they'll look like classics, too.
You actually can have too many clamps - if they're crappy ones. You cannot, however, have too many HD Besseys.
Widely available and cheap, these capable (if dorky looking) clamps can fill out your rack quickly and fairly painlessly. I have at least a dozen of these and use them daily. I hate the color, they're poorly balanced (but pretty light weight), and lose their plastic pads almost immediately. But they work fine. The heavy duty Bessey #30s (above) are a classier choice - or just go with a set of new Bessey Tradesmans (not reviewed here) if you want to make the no-brainer clamp purchase. Besseys look better than Jorgensens in photos and are likely to stick around your shop for decades. Ponys will ever be at risk of being given away to that young niece or nephew who takes an interest in woodworking.
Photos of vintage F-style bar clamps similar to Wetzer.
Here's a curious clamp. I have been unable to find any information about the Smyder company of Maspeth, NY in patent searches or general internet searches. Please email me if you know something about Smyder. Maybe connected to Merrill Bros. toolmakers of Queens/Maspeth, NY?