Cheap, versatile clamps

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I use a lot of clamps for a lot of reasons. I use a lot of modifiers on lights, often multiples on the same light.


I use modular or articulating arms as much as possible, both to get maximum use out of the minimum number of stands and to make tweaking easier and faster. Those arms need clamps on both ends that will hold solidly on tubes and pipes, boards, light yokes, sometimes the light itself, and they need to be able to support a pound or two. And I need clamps that can terminate  in both  1 / 4″-20 and baby pins. The reason for that is simple – I can go from 1 / 4″-20 to 5 / 8” but not the other way around – that’s my default.

Standard issue grip clips (pony clips) are ok – great for holding things together but lousy at supporting weight. The contact surface is too small and the jaws are too big so they slip, with or without the plastic covers. Naturally there are plenty of clamps and grips available through the usual channels – Cardellinis, Mafers, Duckbills, etc. and I carry a couple of each. For the most part, though,  these solutions are too heavy and expensive for what I need to do and grip clips are too ineffective. So I found alternatives.

The first thing I looked for was a replacement for the standard #2 grip clip with a larger, wider surface area. The Matthews Afflac is basically the right idea but heavier than I wanted for most uses, a little bit of overkill on the strength and relatively expensive. I do carry a couple of them, but I wanted to have 20 or so and at $20 each, that adds up.  

I found these on WalMart online:


$15 for a pack of ten. I used Gorilla Glue and permanently attached the rubber grips (which fall off very easily). If I remember right, I had to drill the holes in the handles out to 1 / 4” – a small chore. For $40 with shipping I have 20 small duckbills.


WalMart Duckbill

The next thing I wanted to find was a solid way to anchor a modular arm on the stem of a baby or c stand. I couldn’t find anything made with 1 / 4″-20. I don’t need the rig to support more than a pound or two and there’s no safety hazard – I wanted a good, fast, easy – but cheaper than a Cardellini – solution. Eventually I discovered truss clamps (also known as trigger clamps or O-Clamps). I bought a few different kinds, tested them and found that the cheapest – American DJ – is also the most versatile and perfectly solid. With a baby pin it’s a very cheap, simple alternative to Cardellinis and Mafers.


American DJ 1″ O-Clamp

This clamp is $4.46 and holds solidly on the top riser of a c stand or baby stand. The bolt included for attachments is a 10mm but that’s easily changed to a 1 / 4″-20 or 3 / 8″. The 1.5” version fits perfectly on the bottom riser (there are also aluminum O-Clamps for 1.5” but I couldn’t find any in aluminum in 1″).


1” O-Clamp with LocLine arm and Walmart duckbill


Aluminum 1.5” O-Clamp and Baby Pin on the bottom of the stem

FilmTools has both a Baby Pin with 1 /4″-20 bolt and one with a 3 / 8” bolt, but the threaded bolts are very short – basically unusable with LocLine. I am probably going to go to Kupo Baby Pins with a female 1 / 4″-20 connection. With LocLine a female connection works best and it doesn’t seem to matter with a baby pin connection provided you’re not putting a very heavy load on it.

Finally (for now), I wanted some serious clamps that would hold onto anything, from the yoke of a light to the edge of a door to the top of a chair, and support a modular arm and light weight well enough to allow an arm to be flexible. Once again, there’s nothing specifically made for this, given the way I wanted to use them, but lockable pliers seem to be the answer.

The standard issue lockable pliers have a curved jaw that allow them to grip a pipe very well. Used on anything else, though, the contact area of the clamp is so small even cranking them down can’t keep them from slipping laterally. I do carry standard vice grips, but there are different flavors of lockable pliers and two in particular are more useful for my purposes.


Standard (curved jaw) Lockable Pliers

Sheet metal clamps are what duckbills are made from – the big blades are simply bolted on – but for my money the originals are often far more useful. You can pick these up for $13 each. Not many hardware stores carry them but they are easy to find online.



The Catfish. A Sheet Metal Clamp with multiple attachment points

The other kind of lockable pliers I like are straight jaw pliers. These have a much better contact area than curved jaw pliers but they are still small enough to get into tight spots.


Straight Jaw Lockable Pliers with LocLine arm and WalMart Duckbill

The straps and angle braces you see on my gear are simply spot welded onto the pliers – very simple, extremely strong and easy for a welder. Even if you have to pay someone, having a few angle braces attached should cost you very little.  You can attach modular arms, baby pins or whatever you want to these.


Straight jaw lockable pliers on the yoke with a LocLine modular arm and a WalMart duckbill holding a small convex mirror.


Same rig as above with the addition of a second LocLine modular arm, held by an O-Clamp on the top riser with a WalMart duckbill holding a foam core sider (white for visibility).




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