As the saying goes, you always need one more clamp than you actually have. Or maybe you’re working with small pieces of wood, and you just can’t clamp them. Don’t worry! It’s really easy to glue wood without clamps!
To glue wood without clamps, apply the wood glue in dabs, with a little space between each dab. Add superglue to those spaces, then press the wood pieces together. Hold the wood together for a few seconds. The superglue will set, holding the wood in place while the wood glue dries.
If that won’t work (say, you don’t have superglue in the house,) don’t worry! I’ve got a whole list of techniques, so keep reading!
Note: This blog contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive compensation (at no additional cost to you.)
Method 1: Superglue
This is my favorite method, since it’s super versatile, and superglue is something most people have in the house.
Start by spreading wood glue on the joint, leaving gaps in the glue.
In those gaps, dab a couple drops of superglue.
Then hold the wood together for a few seconds. Superglue sets really fast, so those few seconds will be enough for the superglue to attach. The superglue will hold your wood in place while the wood glue dries.
Now, just to clarify, you don’t want to use only superglue. Wood glue is stronger when holding two pieces of wood together (even stronger than screws!)
But the wood glue is strong enough to temporarily hold your joint in place while the wood glue dries, making it the perfect thing to use if you don’t have a clamp!
Method 2: Masking Tape
Masking tape is a great option if you’re gluing small pieces of wood together. Rip a piece of tape off that’s wide enough to cover the joint, and preferably long enough to tape over a nearby side.
Apply the glue and press the wood together, than tape it up with masking tape. Try to make your tape as tight as possible; you want to push the pieces of wood together as much as you can.
This isn’t the perfect solution; the masking tape isn’t going to apply that much pressure to the pieces. But it’s great in a pinch!
Method 3: Use Heavy Objects
This is my go-to method, possibly because often times I’m gluing things in a way that gravity can help me out.
As an example, I once added molding to a 1/4″ panel on a door. I would have loved to nail it in place, but the 1/4″ panel was really too thin for me to use nails.
I placed a couple of books on the molding, and let them sit for an hour or so. It’s been over a year, and the molding is still going strong!
Fun fact: As much as I love Harry Potter, I definitely use the books to glue pieces together more often than I read them.
In another example, I made a wreath from some wood slices. A few paint cans were all it took to hold everything in place.
Use whatever heavy object you can find – I bet you can make it work!
Method 4: Brad Nails
This method is gold if you have a brad nail gun. If you don’t have a brad nail gun, it’s more trouble than it’s worth.
Nail guns insert nails quickly and efficiently, while if you have to hammer in a nail, you’ll probably wiggle your wood around a little to much to end up with a good joint.
Either way, if you do have a nail gun, it’s a quick and easy way to temporarily hold wood in place while the glue dries. You’ll leave the nails in place forever, but once the glue is dry it’s what’s doing the structural support.
Also, using a nail gun means you can move the piece and continue building while the glue dries. Big plus.
I used brad nails on my drawer organizer, and the whole project was done in under an hour. I simply added glue, held the pieces together, then added a nail or two and moved onto the the next joint.
Method 5: Bungee Cord or Rope
This is really a great method if you’re building something big, and run out of big clamps. Add your glue, and get everything lined up. Then wrap a bungee cord or a rope around the structure, and tighten as much as you can.
Bungee cords will probably work better than a rope because of the elasticity, but either will get the job done.
Method 6: Ratchet Straps
Similar to the rope/bungee cord method, ratchet straps can be used to secure wood in place. The nice thing about ratchet straps is that the ratcheting feature can help apply pressure to the joint.
The key is to ratchet slowly – you don’t want to apply too much pressure or the structure may buckle, depending on how you’re gluing the pieces. You just want to apply enough pressure to tighten the joint.
It’s also worth noting that if you tighten the ratchet straps too much on softwood, it could dent the wood. This is unlikely to occur with hardwoods, but if you’re working with softwoods, definitely be careful not to tighten too much.
Method 7: DIY Clamps
It’s actually really easy to make a quick clamp if you need to. You’ll need a few pieces of scrap wood to make then main “clamp” part, and a wedge-shaped piece of wood.
Screw or nail the pieces of wood together so that they’re a little larger than the wood and joint you’re about to make.
Then glue-up your joint and place it in the “clamp. Using a mallet, tap your wedge into place until it fits tightly between the piece of scrap wood and the joint you’re trying to glue.
When wait for the glue to dry, and enjoy!
Bonus Method: Pocket Hole Screws
I saved this one for last, because I think it’s silly. Many people recommend using pocket hole (Kreg Jig) screws/joints to secure the joint in place while the glue dries.
Problem is, pocket hole screws need to be clamped themselves to get a good joint. Exhibit A: These barstools. It was one of my first big woodworking projects, and I cracked a couple pieces of wood before I realized that pocket hole joints really need to be clamped.
Otherwise, the small movements make the wood much more susceptible to cracking. Sure enough, once I started clamping my wood, I didn’t have any more problems with the wood splitting.
All this to say, pocket hole joints are a method many people recommend if you can’t clamp your wood. I say: pocket hole joints are great, but they don’t negate the need for a clamp.