Kreg has a new line of bar clamps out that brings a Vise-Grip style of locking to this class of tools. The Kreg Automaxx bar clamps differ from the action of their brethren that use triggers or a screw handle to lock down what they are clamping. The basic idea seems simple enough; turn the thumbscrew one way to create more clamping pressure, the other direction to create less. Squeeze the handles to lock it down, and you’re ready to go.
Opposite the stationary head of the clamp, the sliding head moves freely along the bar. There is a rivet on the end that keeps the head from sliding off. However, I do wonder if this freely sliding head will have the holding capability of one that locks into place. Enough of my mental wanderings for now, let’s take a closer look at the Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamp and put it to use!
Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamp: Upon Further Inspection…
When the Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamp arrived, I admit, I didn’t really know what to do with it. The 16 inch clamp didn’t resemble my preferred trigger style bar clamps and the thumb screw adjustment didn’t jump out at me. As I looked closer, the thumb screw presented itself. The funny thing is that there is an obvious difference in the force it takes to engage the lock even if the sliding head isn’t working against it. On a normal pair of locking pliers, you need something else there or the mechanism snaps easily into place. This certainly made me go “hmmm…”
Moving the sliding head around, I quickly discovered two things. First, putting pressure against the top of the head will stop movement in a hurry. This should mean that simply having material against it will create that slight angle preventing movement. I also found a screw requiring a hex wrench underneath that will hold the sliding head in a specific point if there is a need to ensure that it does not move from one work piece to the next.
Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamp: Putting the Squeeze On
The Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamp claims that it will allow you to put up to 550 pounds of clamping pressure on your work piece. There are also heavy duty varieties that will do up to 700 pounds. Having the thumb screw tightened down as far as you can results in the lightest clamping force. In what I was working with, this was basically enough to hold the wood together, but not much more. It was still very easy to move with my hands.
Turning the thumb screw up a notch with an unscrewing action, it held tighter. With each turn, I got more clamping force. Unfortunately, I was not able to take advantage of the full 550 pounds. My hands just weren’t strong enough to push the locking handle closed. The same issue comes when using trigger style bar clamps; the weaker your hands are, the less force you can apply.
There are a couple of things that I like about the Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamps over my others. For one, this is an all metal construction, save for the rubberized handle grips. Plastic makes me nervous. While I haven’t had any issues with my other clamps, there is a certain amount of confidence that comes with getting rid of the plastic. I also can appreciate that the clamping pressure is tied to a locking mechanism. Dialing in the needed pressure and simply locking it down will have some users saying goodbye to their trigger style clamps.
The Kreg Automaxx Bar Clamp offers some solid innovation and durability in the design. While the issue of hand strength to apply clamping force hasn’t been completely solved with this, I do think that it’s a positive step forward. With the change in the way it clamps compared to trigger and screw handle style, this may benefit from some in store “try it before you buy it” promotion.
So, buy it or don’t buy it? I don’t think that’s there’s a big enough gap in user friendliness to tell everyone to get a cart full of these right now. I do believe that you’re not losing anything by going with Kreg on this though. For most users, I think this offers another style of clamping and there will be some that prefer it while others want to stick with trigger or screw handle styles. Users with strong hands will likely appreciate the faster locking mechanism over other styles.