Any tool kit without a set of locking pliers is not a tool kit. We’ve all seen them. Most of us have used them and I have thought it would be interesting to compile a list of crazy things people have used them for, because they are not really a task-specific tool, more a tool at the mercy of the user’s imagination.
Pliers themselves are an amazing tool and amazingly useful; multiplying the strength of our grip, fitting where fingers won’t, and isolating or insulating the very same digits from many versions of harm. The nearly unlimited usefulness of pliers and their implementation of the simple machine – the lever, is manifested in their appearance in a wide range of multi-tools, but the Gerber Grappler is the first I have seen that incorporates locking pliers.
So, what’s not to like? The Grappler is made by a company known for its knives, nearly indestructible flashlights and some other pretty innovative outdoor gear. Gerber’s multi-tools, with the sliding jaws, are my personal favorite for handiness anyway, but I couldn’t help but think “gimmick” when I first heard about this tool. After receiving it and studying the works and using it for a number of different tasks, I was convinced that it was a serious tool with some serious and innovative engineering behind it. Gerber thought this one out and has crammed a remarkable tool – the locking pliers, into a pocketable and portable multi-tool. While I would have discarded the idea myself – they set to work engineering a viable tool from a fantasy concept.
Starting with the specs, straight from Gerber’s site and with my comments in italics:
· Overall Length: 6″ I get 6 5/8” (open)
· Closed Length: 5″ I get 4 7/8”
· Weight: 10.5 oz My scale says 10.1 oz
· Opening Style: One-hand opening which works very well
· Sheath Type: Nylon nicely made with a positive snap closure
· Total Components: 12 all present and accounted for below
· Stainless Steel-Stain Finish typical, even finish
Again, straight from their site – features with my comments in italics:
· One handed opening pliers make that LOCKING pliers
· V-cut wire cutters
· Locking plier adjustment screw
· Nail puller I would say “tack” puller but still a very useful prying device
· Pry bar the other end of the tack puller
· Cross driver “Phillips” bit for most of us
· Ruler- Inches/ Centimeters
· One finger open/ close button that really works
· Wire stripper functional
· Liner lock on all components all of which engage and disengage easily
· File & large flat driver “Flat screwdriver” and a reasonably effective file
· 1/2 Fine edge & Serrated blade give me one or the other, but the combo seems popular, so I won’t argue
With the dry stats out of the way, you should have a feel for the Grappler’s functionality and portability. What is left for us to explore are the finer points and subtleties of the features, starting with the central focus – the locking pliers. “As advertised,” the pliers’ head slides out with one-handed operation, by depressing a spring-loaded button with your thumb and sliding it forward or giving the tool a flick. A little jiggle at the end of the stroke helps the latch find its mating recess as the components wear in. After that, you can open the pliers’ handles with one hand, providing you didn’t close the jaws with a death grip previously. Here’s where it does get a bit tricky – adjusting the opening of the jaws is done with a small knurled barrel nut between the open handles and I have to rotate the pliers to get a finger and my thumb on it. Then, no fault of Gerber, I always seem to turn the wrong way, but that’s just me and I have always managed to make that mistake on conventional locking pliers and adjustable wrenches.
The jaws, in their retracted position, are captured by two claws inside the handles, which stop the jaws in the correct position and lock the handles closed. It works so smoothly that you don’t even notice. The jaws have a thin, almost needle-nose shape, but have a generous opening beyond the first 5/16” with very aggressive and well-defined teeth. The jaws are machined precisely enough to grip small objects for finer work yet open sufficiently to grab onto something larger for the times a little muscle is required. The handles, unlike on some folding pliers, are comfortable as well.
Sure, you could do a lot of what you need to do with your tried and true multi-tool and I would not suggest one tosses a perfectly good tool in the drawer and replace it with the Grappler, but after using it for a bit, I can see it being a great addition to what I have already – locking onto things like a wire or nail to heat for making holes in thick plastic, holding smaller items you are trying to work on or an extra bit of non-slip grip on a pin that needs some twisting or wiggling to remove. It works as a semi-permanent handle on a hot skewer or pot and doesn’t fumble my char cloth can when I am trying to place it just-so in the coals. Conserving energy and not getting hurt are two important “musts” in the wild or in a survival situation which are no less important during smaller emergencies as well. Having a set of locking pliers could be just the ticket when trying to make an expedient repair to an aging and sagging exhaust system under your Jeep or patching up your four-wheeler miles from the tool chest in your garage.
There are, of course, other features to the Grappler, which make it a multi-tool and not just a set of looking pliers for your pocket. All the remaining features are accessible and useable without going through contortions to get to them – you do not have to deploy the pliers’ jaws to get to the tools and do not have to fold everything back up to use them. Each additional tool, except for the file, can be opened one-handed and folds compactly away as easily. The tools all lock in the open position with a liner lock – simple and lightweight but effective.
Starting with the file, which has a generous surface area compared to most, it is double-cut on one side and single-cut on the other. It works well on wood, plastic, composites and softer metals like brass and aluminum. I did not try it on steel and it does not cut as smoothly as a dedicated file, but it’s handy to have along. We’re not building a match-winning 1911 here, we’re looking at expedient repairs, so the file still gets the thumbs-up. On the end of the file is a slotted screwdriver tip which is thin enough to be useful and ground nicely. It should work just fine for that hose clamp that needs a tweak or the loose screw on the battery cover of your radio. Of course, as a screwdriver, it is automatically qualified as a scraper and prying tool in certain situations.
Next up is the “Phillips” screwdriver, which is flat but works. It fit #1 and #2 Phillips screws and maybe others that I did not check. You can exert quite a bit of torque on the driver blades with the handle of the Grappler and the bit will ride up out of the slots unless you take a tiny bit of the point off the end, which allows it to seat better. You will shorten it 1/32” but the driver blades are three inches long, and everyone knows that the loose screw may be plainly visible but virtually inaccessible, so the long drivers are a big plus. The omnipresent bottle opener is located on this tool and it works. I happen to consume small amounts of one of the few beverages that does not come with a twist-off cap, so I can report with confidence on the testing of that feature. Just down from the bottle opener is a v-notch wire stripper – something that should be ground into something, somewhere on all multi-tools to keep someone else from dragging the fine edge of your knife across crusty conductors.
Then there is the ruler/nail-puller/pry-bar. The ruler really can come in handy when sizing up a hose or a pipe. If you are making a repair on something and have to trek back to civilization for parts or materials, will you be able to accurately identify the trade size of what it is you are replacing? Many cannot. None the less, it was a convenient place to stamp the graduations. The end of the tool has a nicely ground, forked pry bar tip. Gerber calls it a “nail-puller,” but I made my living as a carpenter for several years and can tell you, it won’t be pulling many nails. This is not to slight the tool, however, as it is an excellent addition that I don’t see on a lot of multi-tools. It will pull staples and tacks easily and is great for working under or between things that need some encouragement to move or let go. I can see it serving as a cap puller for a stubborn percussion cap that won’t come off your muzzle-loader after it’s been fired. I might have traded the graduations for saw teeth or another sharpened edge, but there is a knife blade, which we have not yet discussed.
A robust, three-inch spear-point blade remains and, thank you, Gerber, for putting it where the sharpened edge is at the lower edge of the handle formed by the rest of the tool! I told you they were thinking! Gerber makes some fine blades. They have some tough steel and have the foresight to make it a spear-point on what will have to be a multi-function knife. I have some pricey knives constructed of tool steel and carefully ground by some of the best makers that will blow this little blade away. While not a fair comparison, it serves to note that you could buy two, three of four Grapplers for what I paid for some of those knives. To be fair and honest, I still have to give the nod to the blade that Gerber saw fit to put on this tool. It can be made extremely sharp and holds an edge as well or better than other multi-tools or production knives that don’t cost a car payment. It is an excellent blade with an excellent shape, is nearly three inches long (an imminently useful length) and is no wimp. My only beef is that it is part-serrated and part plain edged. Give me one or the other, preferably both on separate blades, but now I am getting greedy. I have finally accepted serrated blades for their usefulness, but I think there should be enough serrated blade length to effect a sawing motion, which you will not get with an inch and a quarter of serrations. The serrations are aggressive and will cut well, but there’s just not enough of them – or too many if you prefer all plain edge.
Considering all there is to the Grappler, I still don’t think I will toss my other multi-tools in a drawer. I think they still fill the bill for me for most of my uses and are handier in my pocket. The Grappler is only slightly larger and heavier than my other Gerbers but not likely to be found in my pocket on a daily basis, although it’s worth its weight in a pack or a kit and, if I think about what I am getting into on any given outing, it could just find its way onto my belt riding in the included sheath. Overall, it’s a neat tool amd not just a novelty as had first entered my thoughts when I heard of this locking pliers multi-tool. It’s a viable and useful tool for which I have to tip my hat to the maker for making it so, and not just creating something someone else hadn’t. Shopping around, I see the Grappler going for about sixty bucks online, which is a fair amount but lower than MSRP. In comparison to other multi-tools, even some of the seemingly dozens by Gerber, it’s price is right in line in spite of having the added advantages.