10 Everyday Uses for Locking Pliers

Locking Pliers Uses

The first locking pliers as we know them today were invented in 1924 by a blacksmith called William Petersen. He christened them Vise-Grips, and the range continues to be manufactured to this day as part of the Irwin brand. Given the high levels of clamping force afforded by these compact hand tools, Petersen’s choice of name was apt, and has endured as a generic term for all brands of locking pliers. Since they were originally introduced, a huge number of design variations have appeared on the market from just about every hand tool manufacturer on the planet, and they are widely regarded as some of the most useful and versatile hand tools available. In this article we will look at some everyday practical uses for locking pliers which have resulted in them becoming an essential component in the household and professional tool kit alike.

Locking Pliers – how they work

If you’ve never used a pair of locking pliers before, they all operate on the same basic principle: a screw at the back of the tool is used to adjust the spacing of the jaws, and it usually takes a few seconds of trial and error to achieve the required setting for whatever object you want the pliers to grip. When the optimum setting has been dialed in, the jaws will close together with an audible “click”, and lock in place. Once locked in place, the pliers literally grip material like a vice; to release the jaws, there is a separate lever built into the handle which instantly disengages them when it is pressed.

Locking Pliers – uses

Locking pliers are something of a unique tool, being derived from both vices and pliers (as a blacksmith, Petersen had become frustrated by the limitations of the vices and pliers in his workshop and had the idea that he could combine the best features of both into one device). As a result, they can be used for many applications that either clamps or pliers would be used for, as well as numerous other applications that hardly any other tool would be suitable for. Let’s take a look at some of the most common uses.

1. Clamping

The locking vice grip that is characteristic of these tools makes them a go-to solution for many clamping applications; some locking pliers are designed exclusively for clamping purposes,  but all variants are suitable for this job. The heavy duty metal construction of locking pliers means they are especially favoured amongst welders, and it is common to find specialized locking pliers intended for the metalworking industry. Locking pliers are also useful for firmly clamping jigs and components in woodworking applications, but bear in mind they can easily damage bare wood if clamped directly onto it.

2. Holding

Locking pliers can be used to handle materials whenever it would be awkward or uncomfortable to grip them directly, for instance when working with heat or maneuvering small components into position for gluing or soldering. Long nose locking pliers are some of the most common tools for precision applications, and their tapered jaws enable the user to access more cramped workspaces and recessed areas.

3. Pulling Nails, Staples & other Fasteners

Because they clamp down on objects with considerable force, locking pliers can be used to extract stubborn nails and other fasteners where many standard pliers would struggle to provide sufficient hold under pressure. They are especially useful for extracting broken fasteners where there is no head to facilitate levering with a pry bar or claw hammer.

4. Extracting Rounded Nuts & Bolts

Similarly, if a nut or bolt has become sufficiently rounded that there is no chance of getting a spanner or socket to fit it, locking pliers can be used to grip the damaged part and turn the component in its threads, enabling the fastener to be removed (or tightened if necessary). If you are in a tight spot and there are no spanners or sockets available, locking pliers can also be used to drive undamaged nuts or bolts too. This can cause increased wear to fasteners so is not usually recommended except as a last resort; however some types of locking pliers have jaws which are designed with hex bolts in mind, and suitability can vary from model to model.

5. Replacing a Broken Knob or Lever

In the event that a knob, lever or other control handle is damaged or removed from a piece of apparatus, the operator is often faced with an unergonomic stub or shaft that can be difficult or impossible to turn by hand, especially if it is recessed or otherwise hard to access. Locking pliers make ideal replacement handles in these situations; once locked securely in place, they will generally enable sufficient turning or levering force to be applied to restore functionality until the component can be repaired or replaced.

6. Wire cutting

Though it is not a universal design feature, a great deal of locking pliers are built with an additional function built into the rear section of the jaws: an integrated wire cutter, which makes them a practical tool for snipping wire as well as bending, shaping and holding it. These cutters can also be used on pallet strapping, string, cable ties and various other materials.

7. Pinching off Pipes, Lines and Tubes

If you need to squeeze a tube or pipeline closed, e.g to suppress a leak or temporarily shut off a system for maintenance or repair, locking pliers make a quick and easy solution. Many of the commonly available types of locking plier will be suitable for this application in a pinch (pun intended) but professional plumbers, mechanics and maintenance engineers will often buy specialized variants like the Irwin Vise Grip Locking Pinch Off Tool, which was developed specifically for the requirements of the refrigeration industry.

8. Driving screws

If you find you’ve broken or misplaced your trusty screwdriver handle in the middle of a job, locking pliers can be pressed into service as an emergency screwdriver bit holder. Simply lock the bit in place between the jaws and it will be held securely enough to apply ample torque for most light duty applications. It’s not the most ergonomic solution but it works well enough to finish off a half driven screw or remove a couple of fasteners in a hurry.

9. Light Duty Demolition and Shaping Tasks

If you need to bend or break materials like plastic and thin metals, locking pliers can be a useful piece of kit. The locking jaws do the gripping for you, enabling you to put more energy into twisting, levering and prying. Smaller long nose types are ideal for gripping material in awkward spaces, while larger models enable greater force to be applied for more heavy duty work. As well as greatly increasing the strength it would be possible to employ by hand alone, using pliers also ensures there is less risk of being injured by any sharp edges encountered in the process.

10. Pressing and Squeezing

Due to the force they are able to exert, locking pliers can also be used for fixing or assembling components like chain links and for crimping wire connectors.

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that locking pliers are just about the most versatile hand tools available and this article only covers a handful of typical everyday uses for them. Check out the categories below to see the full range we stock at Tooled-up, and if you have any unique or ingenious uses for them that aren’t covered in this blog post then let us know in the comments!


Categories discussed in this article:

Locking Pliers

C Clamps

8 thoughts on “10 Everyday Uses for Locking Pliers

  1. I have seen them used as a steering wheel on a rally car when the steering wheel broke off on landing after a jump … don’t worry it was only a very temporary fix to get the car to safety and clear the stage

    Peter - 1st March 2018 8:06 am
  2. Great article Very well written and very clear.
    Makes me wanna rush out and buy some.
    These were always an important part of my toolkit and I don’t know where I lost them (or how I’m managing without).
    I used to know it as a Mole Wrench – is that the same piece of kit ???

    John Barrow - 1st March 2018 8:27 am
  3. Hi John,
    yes – Mole wrenches were a brand of locking pliers manufactured in the UK and were more well known over here than the American Vise Grips. Both brand names have endured as generic terms for locking pliers in their respective countries of origin.

    Blog Admin - 1st March 2018 3:44 pm
  4. Under Pulling Nails you state that they can be used to remove fasteners that cannot be removed with a claw hammer as they have no head. A proper claw hammer should be able to cut into the plain shaft and still remove the nail – there is no need for a head.

    Another use is to provide extra torgue for tough screws either clamped onto a square shafted screwdriver or else onto the flat on the blade.

    JohnM - 1st March 2018 4:40 pm
  5. Yes good tips John; you get some screwdrivers (like the Wera chiseldrive range) that have hexagonal collars designed for this kind of purpose. Claw hammers will dig into larger headless nails with no problems but with some of the smaller broken ones I find it can be hard to get enough purchase to lever them out

    Blog Admin - 1st March 2018 5:00 pm
  6. A simple grip makes an excellent nut cracker. Much better than the purpose built ones!

    martin - 6th March 2018 5:50 pm
  7. I used Vise Grips to stop a gas leak in a poly underground line. Went right thru it with a shovel. The gas was at 15-psi. I’ll never forget it. The dirt flew up like a bomb hit it and the sound of the gas hissing out was terrifying. I ran for the vise grips and sealed the leak. I probably should have kept running. I had a mark-out but they missed the line. Good thing because the NJ Natural Gas Co sent three trucks and a backhoe. If I didn’t call for a mark-out, it would have cost me plenty. Since then I always had a Vice Grips handy on any underground work.

    Anthony F Gargani - 25th November 2019 4:39 pm
  8. Good to know am interested in construction I use almost anything in the house in creative work so good to learn more

    Kingsley - 1st November 2020 3:58 pm

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