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What are Locking Pliers?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Locking pliers are pliers which are designed to be locked closed, holding an object firmly without the need for the grip of a human hand. There are a number of different styles of locking pliers designed for various applications, and this product is readily available from many hardware stores. It is also possible to special order a set of pliers from a manufacturer or specialty company for a particular purpose.

One popular brand of locking pliers is Vise-Grip®. As a general rule, no matter what the brand, these pliers typically have a screw which is used to adjust the pliers to the desired width apart, and a release handle which can be used to force the pliers open when they are no longer needed. When the pliers are locked down, they will hold onto the object without requiring the operator to grip the handles. This can be tremendously useful for all sorts of applications.

In some cases, a pair of locking pliers can act like a second set of hands, stabilizing an object and holding it in place while it is being worked on. These pliers can also be used to hold an object which could not be held by hand, such as something which is being welded. Locking pliers can also be used to loosen stubborn bolts and other fixed objects; it's easier to lock the pliers into place and turn them than it would be to maintain tension on a pair of pliers while simultaneously trying to turn them to loosen the object in question.

The quality of a pair of pliers can vary considerably. If cheap metals are used, the pliers may develop metal fatigue and fail, and they could also tarnish or rust over the course of use. Poor designs can make pliers subject to mechanical failure; for example, the screw used to control the width of the pliers could snap off, or the release could break, making it difficult to remove the pliers.

A pair of locking pliers benefits from some routine maintenance and care. It is a good idea to periodically wipe down the pliers and oil the moving parts so that they will move freely, and to avoid keeping pliers in moist or corrosive environments. In the case of a tool like needle-nose locking pliers, it is also a good idea to store the pliers in an environment where they will not be bent or twisted, as this can impede their usefulness.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By andee — On Nov 27, 2011

I don't use locking pliers very often, but it is nice to have a pair of them around when you need them.

I have an pair of inexpensive Irwin locking pliers that are always in my tool drawer. One thing I really like about them is that they stay adjusted so if you use them for the same thing over and over again, you don't have to readjust them every time.

My dad always said having the right tool can make just about any job easy, and there have been many times that locking pliers are the right tool for the job.

By John57 — On Nov 26, 2011

We have a pair of clamp locking pliers that have come in really handy.

We recently moved to our house that has 3 acres of ground with it. There is only one outside faucet outside the house, and the handle was broken off of it when we moved in.

As a quick fix my husband attached a pair of vise grip locking pliers so we could still turn the faucet off and on.

It is not nearly as handy as a regular handle would be, but it got the job done in a pinch. With the pliers locking on it leaves your hands free to do other things.

By browncoat — On Nov 26, 2011

Yeah, I looked up the history of the tool and apparently locking pliers were invented in the 1920s and the first brand name used for them was vice grip, so it's no wonder that became the name people know them by. It was invented by a blacksmith who struggled to make the company work for years, until finally the sales took off in the 1940's (probably because of WW2 and the amount of shipbuilding that had to be done).

The sad thing is, the original Vice Grip factory continued making the pliers on American soil, and providing hundreds of jobs, until 2008 when they started making them in China instead.

Too bad they couldn't have continued making those grip pliers in the States.

By bythewell — On Nov 25, 2011

I didn't realize that vice grip wasn't the generic name for locking pliers. My father always called them vice grips, even when it was just a cheap, budget pair and that made sense to me, just because the name is so suitable.

I guess it's the same as other names which started off as brand names but became synonymous with the product, no matter what brand they are. Like Kleenex, and Coke and Duct tape.

It's probably a good thing, really, because legally you are still the only one allowed to use the name, and it gets a lot of recognition.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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