Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Irwin's mucho macho GrooveLock pliers:
It's a Vise-Grip, but it looks like a Channellock

Kimberly-Clark wants you to remember that they are the only company that makes Kleenex tissue. 3M wants you to remember that not all transparent tapes are Scotch. The Thermos company, however, is not the only one that makes thermos bottles. RCA doesn't make RCA plugs. In the tool business, too, it's easy to get confused by company names, brand names and product names.

Channellock is a brand name that appears on many types of pliers. But it was originally the name for a specific type of tool: a multi-position, tongue-and-groove, slip-joint style pliers, patented in 1935 by the Champion-DeArment Tool Company. By 1963, the word Channellock was so synonymous with their product that the company's name was changed to Channellock, Inc. in order to preserve the trademark and capitalize on its extensive name recognition.

Vise-Grip is also a brand name that appears on many types of pliers. Like Channellock, it was originally the name for a specific type of tool: a hand-held gripping tool, sort of a combination vise and pliers patented in 1921 by farmer/inventor/blacksmith William Petersen.

He started selling the Vise-Grip Pliers out of the trunk of his car to farmers and mechanics in Nebraska. Despite the Depression, they sold well, and in 1934, the Petersen Manufacturing Company was formed. The company got a big boost in World War II. Defense industries in the US and England used thousands of Vise-Grips. Builders of the Liberty cargo ships found them so useful -– and the time pressures to finish ships so great –- that welders simply welded the Vise-Grips into the hulls rather than remove them from the pieces they were holding together. The tool then sold for $1.25.

The war saved Petersen Manufacturing because 1941 was the year that their original patent ran out. Without government contracts, competition could have destroyed the fledgling company. Bill Petersen kept inventing and improving, and marketed the Vise-Grips to new homeowners after the war.

In recent years, the company has gone through several ownership changes and mergers. Petersen Manufacturing became American Tool Companies in the mid '80s, and purchased Irwin Tool (originally a maker of drill bits) in the early '90s.

In 2002 Petersen/American/Irwin was bought by Newell Rubbermaid, which owns about a billion companies. Petersen/American/Irwin became known as Irwin Industrial Tools, and produces a wide range of tools under the Vise-Grip and Irwin labels. Irwin's cousins in the Newell Rubbermaid family include Lenox tools and tool accessories, BernzOmatic torches, Amerock cabinet and window hardware, and Shur-Line paint applicators and accessories.

Anyway, Irwin recognized the power of the Vise-Grip name, and is wisely using it as a brand for lots of tools that grip, and even some that strip (wires).

It often seems like some tools and gadgets have evolved far enough; but inventors, tinkerers and tool-users are restless and relentless, always thinking of ways to make things better.

The Irwin Vise-Grip GrooveLock pliers (DON'T YOU DARE call it a Channellock) has some important innovations, and has quickly become one of my favorite tools.

It has double the available groove positions and fifty percent faster adjusting than traditional groove joint pliers. It's fast to set up to hold what it has to, and its sliding jaw won't slip out of position when you need rotational strength.

To grip something, just slide the movable jaw inward (as you hear the reassuring ratchet clicks), and then stop sliding and start squeezing. If you need to open up the jaws to grip something bigger, press the silver Press-n-Slide button that says IRWIN on it, and the ratchet lock is released.

The GrooveLock has a well-designed all-purpose jaw that goes way beyond the original "water pump" pliers. It can grip flat, round, hex, square and irregular surfaces. It's ideal for a wide range of professional or amateur work, not just plumbing. You'll find it very useful if you mess around with cars. It can hold things while polishing or grinding or soldering or welding, it can separate stuck segments of electrical conduit, bend metal, fix bikes, chew notches out of plastic, assemble barbecue grills and light fixtures, open walnuts, and provide defense against muggers and marauders.

Few females will be impressed, but Tool Guys will think the GrooveLock has plenty of appeal. It's mostly black metal (like iron hand-forged by the village smithy) with silvery jaws, and snazzy two-tone no-slip plastic grips to take it into the 21st century.

This is a tool that's also a great big boy's toy. Even if you have absolutely nothing you NEED to do with it, it's hard not to pick it up and play with it. You can test your strength and build up your hand muscles by trying (and failing) to squeeze the handles together; and the ratcheting BUZZZZZZ sound is as intoxicating as the exhaust note of a BMW or Ferrari.

GrooveLock was initially available in 8”, 10” and 12” sizes, but Irwin recently introduced 16” and 20” monster sizes that you can use to intimidate visitors to your garage. If you're going to buy just one, get the ten-incher. The jaw opens to a hair over 2-1/4 inches. It should cost you about $20, a very reasonable price for a very useful tool with a lifetime guarantee.

CLICK for the Irwin website. (some info from livinghistoryfarm.org)


Neil McDonnell, PMP said...

Thanks for the tool/history lesson. :) I remember growing up with all these ever changing names and not being allowed to touch my dad's tools. These days I could careless about tools myself. :)

Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

Neil McDonnell

Anonymous said...

You convinced me. Who sells them? I have to fix my kid's Schwinn on Saturday.

Anonymous said...

Petersen Manufacturing became American Tool Companies in the mid '80s, American Tool Companies purchased Irwin Tool in the early '90s and in 2002 Newell Rubbermaid purchased American Tool Companies ... the history lesson ends.

Tom Chervenak
Irwin Industrial Tool Company