A few years back, Irwin released a series of Vise Grip locking pliers without a release lever. (You simply pulled on the handle to release them.) Now CH Hanson’s come out with another innovation in the field: self-adjusting pliers. Just squeeze to clamp ’em down an whatever you’ve got at hand.
We received the pliers in a press kit, complete with a set of brand name Irwin Vise-Grips and a little piece of steel with two different-sized nuts welded to it and a stopwatch. CH Hanson’s challenge: Lock each of the pliers onto both bolts plus the thin metal to which they’re attached and time the process. So we did. It took us 38.15 seconds to grab all the obstacles with the Vise-Grips and just 19.31 seconds with the CH Hanson automatics. One point for Hanson.
But what about real use? We dumped the automatics in the shop work tray for a few weeks and ended up grabbing them to replace a Moen shower faucet cartridge — kind of a tricky test, actually. To remove the cartridge, you have to grab a relatively brittle plastic piece, digging into it a bit to get enough purchase to turn it (against possibly years of calcium buildup). Clamp down too hard, though, and you’re back in the shop looking for a drill and easy-outs.
With standard locking pliers, getting this perfect grip involves adjusting the pliers slightly smaller than the target to add grip force, or slightly larger to grip less. The Hanson pliers offer similar functionality through a small screw in the center of the pliers. Tightening the screw makes the pliers grip harder, and loosening it weakens the grip. It’s a little more cumbersome than twisting the big knob on the Vise-Grips, but once you’ve dialed in a grip setting, it stays set until you change it again — even if you grab differently-sized items. Another point for Hanson.
The Hanson’s release lever also operates backwards from what you’d expect: You push the Vise-Grip’s lever to the outside of the pliers to release, where the Hansons release with a squeeze toward the pliers. We can see the benefit. We’ve sent Vise-Grips sailing across the shop more than once by popping them loose under a lot of tension. The Hanson’s squeeze-style release promotes a better grip on the pliers. Just be prepared to start at it a second or two before you remember how they work.
Honestly, we kinda laughed it up a bit when these arrived. Why mess with something that’s worked for years? But they’re actually pretty slick. And they feel every bit as sturdily-built as the Vise-Grips, unlike those cheap-o knockoffs you find in discount stores. Individual pricing runs around $9-10, and CH Hanson offers a huge selection of options ranging from needle-nose to C-clamp, and you’ll find plenty of two and three-pair kits online and in stores. If you use your locking pliers a lot, they’re worth a look.