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Clamps and Vises used for Model Building

May 05, 2015

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Airfield Models ( and Vises

Not everything in this section is strictly a clamp.  However, if the purpose of the tool is to hold two or more parts together, then this is the place for it.

I do not think it is even possible to have too many clamps.  The more clamps you have the more assemblies you can have drying at one time.  A greater variety of clamps increases the possibility that you will have the "just right" clamp for any given situation.

Also see



For wood models there is nothing simpler or more basic than pins.  There are a variety of types but the kind most modelers prefer are T-pins.  These come in a few sizes.  Usually the pins are put directly through the piece of wood being held in place.  In some cases they may be criss-crossed over pieces rather than through them.

In addition to pins I use a product made by Rocket City called Pin Clamps.  These are small plastic disks that fit tightly onto a pin and are used to spread out the clamping pressure.  I really like them.

For smaller models, such as rubber powered airplanes, dress makers pins are more appropriate because they have a smaller diameter.

Pins do not stay sharp forever.  It is a good idea to buy new ones every so often.  I can not say how often because it depends on how many kits you build, but they are inexpensive enough that you can dump your entire supply and buy new ones when needed.

Another basic clamping item is common masking tape.  I use cheap tape for general purposes and reserve my higher quality tape for actually masking when it comes time to paint.  This is one of the few expendable items I use a lot of.

Hayes Rubber Band Clamps

My favorite commercial clamps are made by Hayes.  They use rubber bands to apply tension and come in two sizes.  The photo shows the smaller size.  They have snap-in jaws that can rotate to clamp surfaces that are not parallel.

Craftsman Spring Clamps

I really like the Craftsman spring clamps.  I have seen similar clamps under different brands and wouldn't be surprised if they are all made by the same company.  There is snub-nose version and a needle-nose version that allows them to get into hard to reach areas.

All of these clamps have soft rubber pads on the jaws but the needle-nose clamps have a small surface area and apply a fair amount of pressure.  It is a good idea to use a scrap piece of plywood between the jaw and the work if you are clamping balsa.  Otherwise the clamp will dent the wood.  Actually, clamp blocks are almost always a good idea.

More Spring Clamps - Manufacturer unknown I came across a bin of inexpensive miniature spring clamps in a store in Germany.  I think they were about ten cents a piece so I grabbed a handful of them.  They are great for holding the trailing edge of wings together on plastic models and other small clamping chores.

Next on my list of favorites are common spring clothes pins.  Keep a bag of these around your shop.  You will find a lot of uses for them.  You can also take them apart and reassemble them with the inside faces on the outside.  You will have to trim some off the nose and you now have clamps that work great for trailing edges.

There is something I like even better for holding trailing edge sheeting in place my heavy 36" stainless-steel straightedge.  I use it to weight down the trailing edge sheeting and use a few pins just to the rear of the trailing edge to keep it from sliding off.  If you look through the various How-To articles, you will notice that I am very fond of using weight to provide clamping pressure.

Rubber bands are excellent clampsRubber bands also make excellent clamps.  Keep a variety of sizes around the shop and store them in a sealed, light tight container with talcum powder or kitty litter.  I have some that I have had in a jar with talcum powder from 15 years ago that are still in good condition.  I wouldn't use them to hold a wing on but they've held up pretty well.

Avoid multi-color rubber bands because they tend to decompose after a year or so.  Gum rubber is the best type followed by latex.  Both types will decompose if exposed to light hence the light tight container.

Another great clamp is the Ace Bandage.  A hobby shop owner suggested I use them to hold on turtleback sheeting and I have found uses for them ever since.

I have a few small metal C-clamps but I do not use them very often.  They are too heavy for use with balsa aircraft.  They are useful and worth having however.  I mainly use mine for clamping things to my workbench or stationary power tools.

The more clamps you have, the better.

Did I mention that it is almost impossible to have too many clamps?



Weight is often better than using clamps particularly where a clamp won't fit or for broad areas.  I use whatever I have handy such as batteries, tool boxes, etc.

The denser the material the more compact the weight can be.  More often than not that's a good thing because you can concentrate a lot of weight over a small joint.

Sometimes you'll need to spread the weight over a larger area such as when laminating pieces together such as doublers.  If you do metal work or have a friend who does then you probably have access to all types of metal bars which also make good weight.

Ziploc-type baggies make excellent "bean bags" for holding lead shot. I purchased a 25 lb bag of lead shot to make bean bags with.  I never did get around to making the bean bags but Ziploc storage bags work just as well.

The bag of shot cost about $20.00 at a gun shop.  Get the smallest shot you can to provide the most weight in the least volume.

Fill film cannisters with lead shot to make compact weights. I filled about 20 film canisters with lead shot.  I didn't realize how much these would weigh until after I filled the first one and weighed it.  I was pleasantly surprised to find they weigh about 7-1/2 oz. each and I've found them to be very practical.

So far I've had no problems with the lids coming off but I am very careful when handling these because dropping one would be a shop catastrophe.  I would probably be finding lead shot throughout the shop until the day I die.

Weight is used to hold the decking while it dries. Weight is often a better choice than pins or clamps because it can create uniform pressure over large areas.
The blind nut helps prevent the clamp from racking over as it's tightened. These easy to make board edge clamps can be used for a variety of purposes.  Shown here is a large benchtop sanding block clamped in place so it isn't moving around in use.

Any tool that can be mounted to a board can be held down.  Use as many clamps as necessary for safety purposes.


Vises for Model Building

I consider a bench vise to be a basic and essential tool.  It is hard to imagine working without one.  However, a bench vise is not very gentle and should not be used to hold delicate model parts.

A Panavise is excellent.  This model has a centering head and parts tray which is very useful.

A great vise made for our kind of work is the PanaVise.  I bought mine with the wide, centering head and the parts tray shown here.  These items are not usually standard.

The standard Panavise head.

I later purchased the standard head shown here which has been much more useful.  I have not found much use for the centering head though.

Panavise with Standard Head and Homemade Wood Jaws

The nylon jaws that come with the standard head have sharp edges and are hard.  They will damage soft materials such as balsa wood airplanes.

I made a set of hardwood jaws with softened edges.  I finished them with Danish Oil.

Panavise with Standard Head and Homemade Wood Jaws

These jaws are not thick enough to provide clamping pressure toward the ends.  There are two ways to fix that problem.

I can sand the faces so they are slightly concave.  I've never tried that before and don't know how much concavity they will need to work properly and don't know if I can perform the operation accurately.

The other option is to simply make new jaws that are thick enough to be rigid for their entire length.  The only problem with thicker jaws is that vice capacity is lost.

Doodlebug 580f in Panavise with Standard Head and Homemade Wood Jaws

The Doodlebug 580f control line model aircraft is the project that prompted me to make these jaws.  Like everything else I do I never get it quite right the first time.  I haven't gotten around to making an improved set of jaws yet but they're on the list of things to do.


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