There’s no mystery to locking pliers. They do exactly what their name says they do. They lock onto objects – typically nuts and/or bolts – with a pair of serrated jaws and hold fast while you free up your hands to do other things. The secret is to set the jaws to be slightly smaller than the object you need to grasp and then apply pressure to the handle and let the levers and pivot points create tension and lock them in place. They’re great for grabbing stripped nuts and screws and they have saved a million tradesmen and DIYers from a million tight spots on the job and around the house over the years. Below are the best locking pliers for 2019.
The Best Locking Pliers
The original Vise Grip invented by Bill Petersen almost a century ago was a groundbreaking implement that found immediate application in virtually every trade and home. The idea was to create a way to free up the hands while at the same time holding nuts and bolts firmly. The Vise Grip remains the standard by which all copycat locking pliers are judged today and for good reason. They not only continue to live up to expectations but they never compromise on quality and Irwin Tools (which now owns Petersen Manufacturing) continues to find little ways to improve their bread and butter device.
This Vise Grip 2 piece grip plier set is a good example of all those points. They never fail to obtain a solid grip on even the most elusive object (if the standard Vise Grips won’t grab it the needle nose will). They incorporate a small but significant upgrade in the screw mechanism that allows it to be turned via Allen wrench. And, although they’re now manufactured in China, they continue to use high-grade heat treated steel alloy that isn’t going to snap regardless of how much pressure you bring to bear.
The original and still (by many estimations) the best.
Perfect for all types of clamping and gripping tasks.
Includes 1 standard 7” and 1 needle nose 6” plier.
Easy, reliable trigger release.
Hardened steel teeth won’t let go.
Fashioned from high-quality heat-treated steel alloy.
Irwin Tools limited lifetime guarantee.
- Brand Irwin Tools
- Weight5.4 ounces
Workpro has assembled a small but extremely useful 3 piece locking plier set that will satisfy everyone from veteran tradesmen to weekend DIY warriors. The set includes two curved jawed pliers, a 7 inch and the another 10 inch, as well as a 6.5 inch set of locking needle nose pliers for detail work. They also have something a lot of Vise Grip fans have been requesting for years, namely anti-slip handles. This is a small but significant touch that makes working with this type of tool easier and less impactful on your hands.
The pliers themselves are crafted from heat-treated, drop forged steel alloy and possess a high degree of corrosion resistance. The teeth are strengthened to provide a stronger grip regardless of the surface and build quality and usability in general are very good to excellent throughout. Those delightful ergonomically shaped handles are a real treat for anyone who has spent years grasping the cold clammy steel of the original locking pliers. Finally, the locking mechanism is reliable and the release mechanism dependable, if on occasion a bit temperamental.
Set includes both straight and curved jaw pliers.
Fashioned from drop forged steel alloy.
Highly corrosion resistant.
Easily lock on to any object.
Anti-slip handles provide comfort and control.
Outstanding price point.
- Weight1.87 pounds
The Crescent Tools 5 Piece Locking Plier Set is an outstanding value that includes 3 curved jaw standard locking pliers and 2 straight jaw needle nose locking pliers of varying lengths. On the quality scale most tool experts would place them on par with some of the best known names in the industry, including Irwin.
The hardened jaws of the Crescent locking pliers ensure that once they grab hold of a workpiece they’re not going to let go until you flip the release lever. The corrosion resistant nickel plating on all the pieces means that if you leave them out in the rain by mistake you’re not going to be greeted with a pile of rust. And the proven design blueprint they work from means there’s no unpleasant surprises from experiments gone wrong.
Deluxe set of 5 locking pliers.
Curved jaw, straight jaw and needle nose variants.
Needle nose pliers with integrated wire cutter.
Corrosion resistant nickel plating.
Simple, effective release mechanism.
- BrandCrescent Tools
- Weight1.5 pounds
Kobalt 3-piece locking pliers set is a minimalist set of 3 locking pliers that includes a 6.5 inch set of straight jawed needle nose pliers, a 7 inch set of curved jawed standard locking pliers and a 10 inch curved jaw standard design locking plier. They’re fashioned from high-quality drop forged chrome vanadium steel alloy – renowned for its resistance to oxidation, corrosion and abrasion – and feature precision machined jaws, molded ergonomic anti-slip handles and simple but effective locking and release mechanisms.
Kobalt doesn’t reinvent the wheel here. What they do is take a tried and true form and add a few touches to it to make it their own. And for the most part they succeed. Kobalt was begun by Lowe’s and intended to be that company’s house brand. It was hoped Kobalt would rival the Craftsman brand owned by Sears. And while they never quite realized their lofty ambition (at least in the public consciousness) the brand will likely live on long after Sears shuts down and Craftsman (now made by Stanley) slowly fades into the sunset.
Reliable locking mechanism.
Curved jaw and needle nose locking pliers.
Anti slip ergonomic hand grips.
Chrome vanadium jaws don’t let go.
Ideal for pros or do-it-yourselfers.
Kobalt limited lifetime warranty.
- Weight2.6 pounds
The final item on our list of best locking pliers is this exhaustive Maxpower locking pliers set. Maxpower is the largest tool manufacturer in China. And that’s saying something, considering virtually all the hand tools made today are produced in that country. This grip plier set is like a guided tour through the company’s locking tool product line and includes everything from the standard straight jaw 10 inch locking plier to their 11 inch locking C-clamps and everything in between.
While build quality is not quite up to Irwin standards it’s pretty close with just a wiggle or a waggle here and there to give away where corners have been cut. But for the most part this 15 piece locking plier set is a great deal that will be a valuable addition to the workshop of any furniture maker, welder or HVAC company. This also makes a perfect DIY gift for your loved ones.
A full range of curved jaw, straight jaw and needle nose locking pliers.
Pinch off, metal sheet, U Shape and 90 degree offset pliers included.
Ideal for HVAC technicians, welders, wood workers and more.
Includes rugged nylon storage sack.
Limited lifetime warranty against defects.
- Weight15.85 pounds
Locking Pliers Buying Guide And FAQ
About Locking Pliers
When they first came on the market locking pliers were a revelation. Today, we take their many benefits somewhat for granted. They allowed you to effortless clamp down on a workpiece and transfer the energy you used to waste squeezing the grip into energy you could use turning. In other cases they allow you to essentially bring a vice with you wherever you go, enabling you to hold items even in out of the way places firmly while you work on them. Widely known by the proprietary name “Vise Grips” they are a hand tool like no other.
Locking pliers perform their magic by way of a double lever system. When you first approach an object to be worked you close the pliers onto it like you would any standard set of pliers. But that’s where the similarities end. Once in place on the object to be worked you adjust the jaw opening by turning the screw-drive that runs through the handle. Once the screw and the grip agree you apply a bit more pressure and lock the pliers in place.
At this point you are free to redirect all your energy to other aspects of the job because you no longer need to apply pressure to hold the pliers closed on the work item. When it’s time to release the locking pliers this is done by gently squeezing a lever built into the handle. Just make sure to be holding the pliers when you hit the release handle or they’ll fall to the ground.
While Vise Grips are the property of Irwin Tools there are many other types of locking pliers on the market today produced by a range of companies large and small. Most are similar in concept to the original locking pliers but vary in things like length, jaw shape, clamp configurations and handle characteristics. Because they typically have serrated jaws you should be careful how and on what items you use locking pliers. Since the intensity of the grip combined with the teeth may damage the item.
Features To Look For In Locking Pliers
There are a number of features you should look for in locking pliers including:
Size - The size of the locking pliers you need for a job will be determined in part by the logistics of the job (is the item to be clamped in a tight, out of the way place or in an open shop) and by the amount of leverage that’s needed to get the job done. All other things being equal if the job requires intense leveraging you’ll want to use longer handles. If it’s a matter of precision work smaller, needle nose jaws and shorter handles are usually called for.
Material - While the market is flooded these days with locking pliers from all over the world many tend to be made of cheaper materials that will snap, bend or otherwise fail when under heavy pressure. So do your homework and check on the type of steel used in making the locking pliers you have your eye on.
Ease of use - Not all locking pliers are created equal either from a material or performance perspective. Some grab objects with ease and can be released just as easily, time after time. Others however, have a clumsier locking mechanism that may be a chore to unlock. Another consideration is the handle. Does it provide adequate leverage? Is it comfortable? Is it padded?
Warranty - Some brands offer extensive warranties while others offer none and try to sidestep the issue by blinding you with a blizzard of upbeat, positive marketing. Always look to see what kind of warranty a company offers. It could be the difference between money well spent and money wasted.
Locking pliers are an essential item in any modern tool box. They earn their keep every day on a thousand different types of work. One could say they’re the duct tape of hand tools. Whether you are a journeyman carpenter, electrician or machinist or whether you just like tinkering around the house your tinkering will be much more effective and productive if you have a pair of good locking pliers at your beck and call.
Other Types Of Pliers
There are a lot different types of pliers on the market today, many of which you’d be wise to have in your tool bag to augment your locking pliers and maximize your options.
Electrician’s Pliers - Sometimes called engineer’s pliers or lineman's pliers this variety of plier typically features an insulated handle to protect against electrical shocks. Today’s electrician’s pliers can trace their DNA to a 19th-century tool called bell pliers that were designed to help bell hangers manipulate the wires used to hang bells.
Channel Lock Pliers - Also known as water pump pliers these are designed primarily to help plumbers get a grip on pipes. The jaws of the channel lock pliers are angled along the long axis and can be adjusted in a series of steps in order to more effectively grab pipes that occupy tight spaces.
Slip Joint Pliers - Slip joint pliers are the simplest type of adjustable pliers. As the name implies the joint has the ability to slip a single notch either to enlarge the mouth or to shrink it. Whichever the task calls for. Slip joint pliers are what most people think of when they think of pliers and are used by countless tradesmen and do-it-yourselfers every day to crimp sheet metal, remove nails, fix bicycles and tighten or loosen nuts.
Needle Nose Pliers - The needle nose plier is a variation on electrician’s pliers. They feature a tapered jaw, or nose, and insulated handles to protect from shocks. Needle nose pliers are used for precision work such as manipulating wire in tight spaces. In truth though, people put them to use in myriad non-electrical capacities. Most notably they are a staple of the jewelry maker’s toolkit.
The Bottom Line
The best locking pliers are like having an extra pair of hands to help out on the job. They free you from the mundane task of having to constantly hold the pliers and let you reallocate your energy to other aspects of the work at hand.