This week my choice for must-have tool is an oldie but a goodie: Locking pliers. Often referred to as Vice Grips (a name brand), locking pliers are one of those things that simply must be within an arm’s reach at all times if you hope to retain any semblance of sanity. They make so many difficult jobs a complete breeze that it’s really impossible to mention them all here, but I’ll try to hit the high points.
There are several types of locking pliers out there, but the ones I prefer have a good old fashioned adjustment knob on one grip handle and a release lever on the other. Forget those auto locking types; you want the original. A well made set of locking pliers will allow you to dial in a rock solid, no-slip grip on pretty much anything, and as an added bonus your hands won’t cramp up like they do with regular pliers.
Ok great, they sound neat but what are they good for? Well, my single favorite use for locking pliers is assembling shock absorbers. You know that tricky step when you need to screw an eyelet on the end of a polished and freshly-oiled shock shaft? Just grab a small scrap of cardboard or folded up paper (to prevent damaging the finish on the shaft) and lock your pliers firmly into place. Presto – no more annoyingly slippery shock shafts that refuse to cooperate. Another favorite use of locking pliers is when I need to cut down a bolt with my Dremel tool. Just lock onto the threads of the bolt to be cut (again using cardboard to avoid marring the threads) and cut away. This allows for a steady but easily-adjustable hold on your bolt that does not involve burning the heck out of your fingers.
Other hugely useful applications for the almighty locking pliers include building turnbuckles, holding a nut you don’t have a socket for, and clamping two parts together while glue or epoxy sets. Need a third hand for some soldering? Locking pliers. Need a little more leverage with your Allen key and don’t have a hex wrench? Locking pliers. Trying to hold a tiny lock nut steady in an impossible-to-reach place? Locking pliers … with needle nose jaws!
Locking pliers come in all shapes and sizes to suit just about any task you can think of, from huge industrial monsters to miniature precision versions. A cheap set can be had at your local hobby or hardware store for only a few bucks, but I’d recommend coughing up a bit more cash for a high quality set. Remember, all locking pliers are guaranteed to reduce workbench profanities by 37%.*
* Quoted percentages have no factual basis other than observation by the author.