Shop Tool Reviews
With a growing custom furniture fabrication business, glue-ups were the bottleneck. The 12′ JLT panel clamp and pneumatic panel flattener is increasing our shop’s efficiency with time and space.
The JLT panel clamp and pneumatic panel flattener saved my life. Not really, but it does add for a catchy opening. Read on for the rest of the story.
“Glue press”, “large glue rack”, “clamp rack”, “glue large flat table tops”, “glue multiple panels at a time”, and on, and on, and on… I can’t tell you how many hundreds of hours I’ve spent Googling and scouring every nook and cranny of the internet, looking for just the right gluing setup for the size of my shop and business. Many options are way too big, and quite frankly, very confusing. Also, I find twice as many options that seem way too small, sized for cabinet doors or jewelry boxes. I need a system with beefy clamps that will flatten and hold up to 12-16’ long table tops, which weigh hundreds of pounds each. In addition, I want the capacity to be able to glue multiple pieces at a time. Oh! I also need it to take up a small footprint and not be too expensive. Easy, right?
A Sticky Problem
The layout/gluing area of my shop is my biggest production bottleneck. We constantly have layouts waiting for clamps and free space. We’ve been getting by for a few years, using 3/4” pipe clamps and cauls, as well as a custom rack I built to hold 8’ of Plano glue press clamps. Pipe clamps and cauls work fine, however it takes up a lot of shop space to layout and glue up 3-4 large pieces simultaneously.
Adding cauls everywhere to keep the table flat increases process time and clutters the space: half the shop is a jungle gym; you have to bob and weave to get from one side to the other. Although the Plano clamps have served me well, it is very difficult to lift heavy pieces straight up and out of vertical clamps, especially without a hoist or gantry crane. Additionally, the Plano system only allows for one piece at a time, and doesn’t apply as much flattening pressure as I need across the middle of a wide tabletop.
The Solution – 12′ JLT Panel Clamp – #79F-12-PC
After practically earning an associate’s degree in understanding the differences between a clamp, a glue press, a clamp rack, and a clamp carrier, I stumble upon the JLT Panel Clamp systems. I couldn’t tell by the pictures alone, just how heavy duty the clamps and rack were, but the specifications were sufficient for my application. So, it was worth an inquiry. After talking with one of the representatives, I was confident this setup would best suit the size and needs of my shop: the 12’ JLT panel clamp (#79F-12-PC), 13 – 52” clamps, 26 – 40” clamps and the pneumatic panel flattener (#180A-M2). Furthermore, at the advice of my sales rep, we add the impact socket for power-tool tightening the clamp handles.
I have a 14’ section of wall, right next to a roll up door, which is perfect for the 12’ panel clamp. It leaves me 2’ on one side and I can easily extend a couple feet in front of the door on the other side. So, when I have a 16’ glue up, I’ll just extend the table out each end and add a few pipe clamps.
Why I Chose The Panel Clamp System
- Made in USA: they’re made right here in the USA
- Custom: they’re fully customizable to suit your needs
- Expansion: all the individual clamps can be used on the larger clamp carriers as your company’s needs expand
- Available: the products are typically in stock and ship out within days
- Improving: the company specializes in manufacturing high production volume heavy industrial gluing and clamping machinery. The engineering that goes into the more industrial clamps and machines works it’s way into their simpler setups, too.
Receiving and Setup
The crate arrives safely and is very well packed. It is also very heavy and looks much larger in person than what I expected. The clamps themselves are extremely impressive, very heavy duty, hence the threads are massive and built to last. These clamps are worth ordering by themselves, if you’re looking for something better and stronger than pipe clamps. You can even get the clamps first, then add the rack when you have the space and money.
The plates that mount to the back of the clamps and lock them into the rack need to be assembled, but the process is simple and the directions are clear. The rack is also very simple to assemble, two bolts per leg. Make sure you drink a protein shake before tipping it upright.
As for the #180A-M2 Pneumatic Panel Flattener, it is a bit more complicated to assemble. It also seems some of the components have been updated since the directions were printed, but it’s not rocket science. If you’re smart enough to order the JLT panel clamp – #79F-12-PC, I’m sure you’ll be able to figure it out.
The clamps arrive pretty oily. Make sure you take the time to clean off the areas you’ll be handling, however keep the threads oiled periodically as well as moving parts that won’t affect the wood surfaces.
Glue Release Preparation
JLT also included a can of Bates Glue Release to spread on the clamps. I use a cheap paint brush to apply it and buff it off with a cotton rag. The glue release doesn’t harden like a wax, and after one month of use, I find it needs to be re-coated. I’ll give it another round or two, but may just switch to wax after that.
Needless to say, I’m pretty eager to get this rack full to capacity and learn the nuances of the new system. Thankfully, I have a couple hundred board feet of maple ready for gluing, so within a couple hours of buffing off the Bates glue release, I have almost every clamp on my JLT #79F-12-PC snugged up.
Right off the bat, it’s surprising how easily the clamps slide back and forth on the rack. I try to have a clamp roughly every 12”, so I’m constantly making small adjustments to evenly space the clamps across the work-piece. It helps that they have a little play in and out; this also allows the clamps to accommodate a slightly uneven edge, while maintaining a level plane with the rest of the clamps.
I made two mistakes on this first round. First, I wasted time with a tape measure trying to set the opening to the correct measurement before putting the wood between the jaws. This is much easier and faster to just leave more than enough room and simply slide the top jaw down to the back board after everything is in place. This allows you to get to the closest notch possible.
The second newbie mistake I made was failing to back the handle all the way out before sliding the top jaw down. These clamps have a lot of thread travel, but if you forget to back them all the way out, you’ll get to the end of your threads before you’re all the way tight on a couple of the clamps. Remembering these two simple changes made the next glue up much faster.
Say Hello To My Little Friend
Speaking of clamping much faster… I want to mention the impact driver socket for tightening the handles, and what an amazing addition this is. We did the first few rounds of gluing by hand tightening (and loosening) each clamp. This takes more effort than you expect, and in hindsight it is also time consuming.
I lent out my pneumatic impact driver at the time and I don’t have a cordless impact driver with any sort of torque. Luckily, Tim from Shop Tool Reviews popped by the shop with a shockingly powerful Milwaukee M18 FUEL high torque impact wrench – uhm, yes please! At ~800 ft-lbs of tightening force, this impact driver got the first clamp so tight, I can’t break it loose by hand. I quickly learn to stop a little sooner and make the final turns by hand. I may not need to, but at least I know each clamp has about the same amount of tension and I won’t snap off a handle with the sheer torque of this thing!
JLT Pneumatic Panel Flattener
The impact socket also works well in conjunction with the #180A-M2 Pneumatic Panel Flattener. This JLT pneumatic panel flattener is a must for me on this setup. I frequently glue up long table tops and we try to get the boards as flat and straight as possible. However, over that length of board, you’ll always have a little variation. The thickness capacity of the panel flattener is 2.5”, which is the thickness that I mill my 12/4 lumber down to before gluing.
Flatter Is Better
Knowing that I will be using the flattener to its capacity in both thickness and width, I was a little concerned. Will it be able to pull the solid hardwood down flat? After the first use, I find it has no problem applying enough pressure to flatten the jobs.
The #180A-M2 pneumatic panel flattener works by sliding over the top of the wood and underneath and across two of the clamps. When you actuate the pneumatic valve, the long steel tube clamps down on the top of the work piece, while the cross tube presses up on the bottom of the clamps on either side. While the pressure remains, you tighten the clamp to the left and right of the flattener. Next, release the pneumatic panel flattener and move on to the next set of clamps. This process is much faster if you use the impact wrench and handle socket, rather than tightening each clamp by hand.
It’s also worth mentioning here that the JLT panel clamp jaws are toed in 1º, so when you release the #180A-M2 the inward pressure keeps the glued panel tight and flat against the clamp. The only issue I ran into was that the panel flattener barely slides onto the lowest level of clamps. I ordered 52” long clamps for the bottom level, which is longer than the standard 40” clamps. Because of the angle of the rack, the 52” clamps are closer to the ground than the 40” clamps. My rep warned me about this potential issue. I figured, worst case scenario, I could just move the longer clamps up a level. Instead, I found a better solution.
Solution In The Solution
Underneath the clamps, at the outward end, there are two weld beads. These stick out just enough to give me trouble getting the #180A-M2 onto a 2.5” thick panel. To resolve this, I flipped the clamps over and ground the welds down flat with a flap wheel. This single modification made the JLT pneumatic panel flattener slide on and off much easier on the 2.5” thick panels. Furthermore, I decided to take down the welds on all the 40” clamps as well.
One more thing I’d like to mention. It is so easy to unload heavy panels from the #79F-12-PC with a forklift. The way the clamps suspend and the angle at which they rest allows the forks easy access. I have a few employees, but often find myself working alone early in the mornings and on weekends. It’s nice that one person can safely lift large table tops out of the clamp rack.
If you’re at the same point in production that I was, where you have an obvious bottleneck at the gluing stage, I strongly encourage you to reach out to JLT. They have a solution for just about every size shop and capacity. Their clamps are compatible across many of their racks and carriers, making your investment long term, even if your production needs expansion down the road. They offered the perfect mid-size solution for my shop with the #79F-12-PC JLT Panel Clamp. It’s much more efficient and heavy duty than my previous setups and my glue seams are tighter. This single investment has made the biggest direct impact on my productivity at the shop. The JLT #79F-12-PC is the perfect step between individual clamps and a high volume production clamp carrier.
To purchase or consult about your clamping needs, click here.