What's a suitable lubricant for woodworking clamps?

I have several different types of clamps all of which I’ve noticed over time get a little harder to operate, the motion isn’t as smooth or easy as I’d like. I’m thinking of F-clamps, "quick" clamps, pipe clamps, etc. Its the metal components which seem to have the issue.

I feel like they should be lubricated but I’m concerned about contaminating my wood workpieces with whatever oil or other substance would go on the clamps. Even something like wax which wouldn’t be liquid and drippy could still get transferred by mistake.

Any suggestions for a suitable lubricant or an alternative that might keep the clamps operating smoothly?

Woodworking Asked on June 28, 2021

1 Answers

One Answer

Wax is actually widely considered the lubricant for this application.

While it's an understandable concern, the small amount that may transfer to wood from incidental contact is a non-issue. Bear in mind the fact that planes, including smoothing planes which may be the last tool to touch a workpiece, often have their soles waxed. Some users even lubricate the soles of their planes with a liquid oil such as 3-in-One or a grease like tallow and with these too there doesn't appear to be any problem.

There's a good video on YouTube about clamp maintenance on Kings Fine Woodworking channel, showing how a good clean and waxing1 can transform the function of bar-type clamps; the title says it all, 83 - How to Clean Dried Glue from Parallel Clamps and make them slide Better Than New.

I want to mention that they also use a silicone lubricant to spray the internals on the moving clamp head, something I'm not sold on. Many woodworkers avoid all silicone lubricants in the workshop because of the persistent nature of silicone contamination1. Expect decent improvement on any sticky/grabby bar-type clamp if a normal oil or grease are used instead, if you too would prefer not to use a silicone lubricant.

Spoiler safety note: the testing in the video shows that acetone and MEK (methyl ethyl ketone) are both suitable solvents to help in cleaning off hardened yellow PVA glue residue. Acetone is significantly less toxic than MEK and is generally much cheaper too, making the choice between them easy IMO2 (they make the same recommendation).

1 Silicone is infamous for how it interferes with finish application (on new pieces and in refinishing) and in how difficult it is to get rid of every trace completely.

2 This isn't to say don't buy MEK at all (where it's still legal to buy retail....... sorry Californians, people in other places with a Nanny State), there are other applications where it is the ideal solvent choice. But take suitable safety precautions to protect yourself when using.

Answered by Graphus on June 28, 2021

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