The world would be a far less efficient place without Vise-Grip locking pliers. A Danish immigrant blacksmith named William Petersen patented the concept in 1924 and started a family business that lives on as part of Irwin Industrial Tool Company, a worldwide organization with a wide brand portfolio. Vise-Grips played their part in manufacturing and maintenance of ships and aircraft during World War II and benefited greatly from the popular exposure. Innovation continued after the war, with new designs keeping Petersen ahead of its competitors.
Today, other locking pliers designs seem to aim more at avoiding patent infringement and reducing manufacturing cost than at improving quality. None have the variety of configurations and sizes that allow Vise-Grips to meet the work-holding needs of almost anybody, anywhere. I'd be amazed to find that Vise-Grips haven't flown in space.
The basic curved- or straight-jaw Vise-Grips are found in nearly every household. The locking mechanism allows them to apply a greater clamping force than any other pliers, gripping where others slip. This makes it the tool of first resort for the hack mechanic and of last resort for the careful one when all else has failed. It will put a set of lines on a fastener, but it will also loosen an already boogered fitting without further rounding it off.
A small Vise-Grip is the most elegant way to remove and replace O.E. spring-steel hose clamps, and I've seen one threaded onto a slide hammer. Vise-Grip pliers can even be installed semi-permanently as a window crank or shift lever, but such dirtball applications tend to earn respect only on dirt.
Vise-Grips really come into their own when one steps up to advanced models with more specialized function-in short, when they are used as clamps rather than as pliers. Any professional welder has hundreds of dollars sunk into the C-clamp style, available in several sizes, as shown above or with "fingers" instead of feet. Vise-Grips' instant set and release functions and adjustable clamping force add to both speed and precision, making them indispensable. Just remember that if you weld next to them, they get hot.
New jaw designs have been the primary Vise-Grip innovation for several decades, but a line with plastic grips, making the tool more comfortable to use, will be added soon. Vise-Grip imitators come and go, but for utility and lasts-forever durability, it's tough to beat the real thing.
At left is the classic curved-jaw locking pliers, little changed since 1957. I found these particular pliers half-buried in the sand while driving a 4x4 across the Mojave Desert. After cleaning, they proved to be a far better tool than the little-used imitation that had been taking up space in my toolbox for nearly two decades-and which soon found a place in the dumpster. On the right is the C-clamp style, a welding trade staple since the first one was made in 1951.
The 20R Locking Chain Clamp/Pipe Wrench Vise-Grip can be hard to find and isn't inexpensive, but will hold large and oddly-shaped objects more securely than any other tool. Here, I'm using it to hold a strut while I remove the gland nut. Even pressure and the chain's smooth surface made for a no-slip grip and left the paint intact. A vise or conventional pliers can permanently distort the tube and usually slip anyway, removing paint and raising a burr.
Irwin Industrial Tool Company
(800) GO-IRWIN (464-7946)