An Inventor Tackles the Venerable Toggle Clamp
Issue: Issue 2.21
Posted Date: 12/4/2001
If you leave woodworkers alone long enough, they're going to get ideas. Put a few of them together, and the ideas can really get flowing. That's what happened to Bob Webb. His friend, Paul Terban, was getting frustrated with the toggle clamps he ordered, and he talked to Bob about it at work one day. The two of them work at the Department of Energy, and while Bob is a general DIY kind of guy, Paul is a fine woodworker.
Paul's trouble with the toggle clamp centered on adjustability. He had built a jig for his shaper, and he needed to adjust the clamp for the different thicknesses of the woods he was shaping. Trouble was, to adjust the tightness of the traditional toggle clamp he needed to loosen two nuts and readjust using a wrench. Even then it was a trial and error process to get it precisely locked down on the wood.
Bob had a flash of insight into the design of the clamp and quickly went home, did some drawings and built a couple of prototypes. What he came up with was an easily adjusted toggle clamp with a knob right on the spindle that could be adjusted by hand.
Paul loved it. It did precisely what he thought a toggle clamp should do, and the prototypes clamped down on stock much more firmly than the ones he had been using. They both concluded that they really had something in this new design.
Since Bob was a lawyer by day, his next move was to get the toggle clamp patented. He and his patent attorney did a lot of research before filing. Bob discovered the toggle clamp had been developed in the 1930s for the auto industry and, to his surprise, it hadn't been changed much since then.
After the usual back and forth with the patent office, they called Bob in for a meeting. A written description and diagram is no substitute for a working model of the real thing, he explains. "It's funny how words don't convey the picture," says Bob. When he brought in the prototype, most of their questions vanished.
So Bob got the patent and now he's in the process of figuring out how to bring the new clamp to market. He has talked with traditional clamp manufacturers and has looked into producing the improved clamp himself. He also showed it off at a meeting of the American Wood Manufacturing Association and got a very cordial reception.
In case you are worried you're going to need to replace your old toggle clamps, Bob has also designed his improved adjustment so it can be retrofitted to existing clamps. He's also working on another patent for an even better toggle.
It's a little strange that a lawyer for the Federal government could so easily improve a tool that's been around for decades, but Bob is pretty stoic about it. He's always been interested in tools and is particularly disappointed in those he has purchased that didn't perform as they promised. His friend, Paul, is also working on some woodworking tools and projects that he hopes to patent. It just shows what happens when a couple of woodworkers put their heads together. Paul says, "Whenever I had knotty problems to work through, I always brought it to people who had similar interests. And this particular time, something terrific came from it."