Locking pliers, commonly called by the brand name Vise-Grips, are, well, basically what both names suggest: they’re pliers, whose jaws lock around an object, providing a vise-like grip. Practically, they’re typically used in two fashions:
- To provide a non-slip hold on hardware, arms, rods, or objects, and used as a level for turning or bending an object
- To hold an object or piece of hardware that won’t respond to a traditional wrench – such as a rusted or rounded over nut, to allow force to be applied and the object unstuck
That sounds a little like a physics lesson, but in reality, these things are awesome. They’re the kind of tool that you grab when nothing else will work, and are useful for creative projects involving pre-made parts or hardware, or household and auto repairs and tasks that involve annoying, stuck-in-place screws, nuts or bolts.
They work by using an adjustable lever, that widens or closes the jaws. When the jaws are opened and the handles squeezed together, they move the lever over its center point, which locks the jaw of the pliers onto whatever they’re gripping. There’s an easy-to-press trigger to release the hold for one-handed operation.
They’re essential for an project using metal – welding, bending sheet metal or rods, holding objects on a drill press table, etc. One of my favorite “not obvious” uses is while cooking – I take a small pair with me when camping to help move cast iron pans and dutch ovens that are covered in campfire coals. I regularly use them while grilling to grip the hot grates, and even to remove sheet and roasting pans from the oven. If you’ve ever been to a deep dish pizza joint, this practice is pretty similar to the clamps they use to carry the hot cast iron pans. It’s heavy, but it works.
Oh, and I totally use these to crack nuts all. the. time. They’re the only nutcracker I own. I’ve also employed them to open stuck jars and bottles.
Locking pliers come in a variety of sizes and shapes: needle-nose, locking wrenches, and a variety of clamps to hold items still. We recommend starting with a medium-sized pair in both traditional and needle-nose plier shapes, as well as a locking c-clamp with swivel pads.