Editor’s Note, May 2014: The name of the Alpha Clamp has been changed to JackClamp. Links within this article have been updated.
Lowell Thomas is, by his own admission, a professional inventor that has, as he puts it, never held a real job. “My father invented a couple of things, and I followed suit,” he explained when I asked him how he came to practice such a curious career. “While I was still in high school, I invented a part for a snowmobile that netted me enough money to allow me to pursue inventing as my full-time career, in spite of the fact that I do not have a degree in engineering. In fact, my college degree is in business, and after college I went to law school.
“Most of my inventions are not very visible. They include a stove safety switch that prevents accidental fires, a unique water bottle cap, a method of separating vermiculite from rock in mining operations, and even a biodegradable clamshell foam. One of my more commonly seen inventions is the small whistle often put on the front of cars to keep deer away. As you can see, there is no real pattern to my inventions; they show up in all manner of things in all fields.
“As for the Alpha Clamp, I invented that about five years ago out of necessity. I was putting a holding tank in a sailboat and was trying to level it. I assumed I could buy a quick grip clamp, take the handle off and turn it around to make a jack. It turns out I could not. I researched the patent and found there was a patentable improvement I could make. Thus, the Alpha Clamp was designed and patented, but it took about three years until I started manufacturing and selling them.
“We build the entire clamp right here in Bozeman, Montana. We make the molds, stamp the steel, harden it, mill it:we do it all. The company itself is small; the whole shop where we do our machining is only 2,000 square feet and houses only seven employees, but we can produce about 200 units a day. By expanding our space and employee numbers, we could easily make 10 times as many.
“When people look at our clamp, their first comment is often how burly it is. The clamp weighs three pounds, about three times the weight of a normal clamp this size, is guaranteed for life and frankly, is really tough. In fact, if at any point you decide you don’t want this clamp, for any reason, we will buy it back from you. How’s that for a guarantee? So far, we have never gotten one back, though.
“I call the Alpha Clamp the intelligent tool for intelligent people. Alpha is the name of the intelligence test given by the military, the brightest star in the visible universe, and of course, the first letter of the Greek alphabet. I thought it was an appropriate name for a clamp that does what other bar clamps are unable to do.
“The biggest difference is the adjustable top bar. There are no other bar clamps on the market with a throat deeper than thee inches. Ours is adjustable up to 13 inches, and that means you can use it to clamp around L stock, inside cabinets, and in any place where you need part of the clamp to go inside a recess. You can even assemble it around a project and take it apart after the glue-up. That allows you to remove it in places where a normal clamp would be permanently captured in the piece.
“The bottom bar contains a ruler with standard units on one side and metric on the other, and because it is square to its attached head, can be used as a marking square. The head contains both horizontal and vertical levels. Slide the handle off and turn it around, and you have a cabinet jack capable of spreading, or a lift capable of hoisting about 250 pounds. There are four internal brakes as opposed to the more common two, so that the handle, unlike many bar clamps, simply will not slip. The clamp is modular so that you can add more than one handle to the bottom bar, thus allowing you to clamp and spread with the same clamp. You can even use it as a come-along or a hoist, since it gives you the ability to slowly release under tension as well as slowly increasing compression.
“We will soon be releasing several accessories, one of which is an oversized foot. Take off one of the pads, put the clamp in spreader mode, and the foot makes it a freestanding jack. Another option on the way is a fitting for clamping corners with just one clamp. There will also be jaws for clamping pipes and other round stock, welding jaws and even thin spreader fingers that will allow you to slip in between and accurately space the boards on decking or tightly spaced slats.
“At present, except for a few local hardware stores, the only place you can buy the Alpha Clamp is online. That may change, of course, but for now, your best bet is our website.
“I know your readers do not have anything like this tool,” Lowell assured me, “because there is nothing else like this in the world. In a sense, it is six tools in one: buy it, and you will save yourself not only a lot of money, but a lot of headaches as well. Once you figure it out, you will be surprised at what it can do. It almost has to been seen to be believed, because it does things no other clamp does. The Alpha Clamp is not just another clamp; it is a unique tool.”