September 9, 2010

Irwin GrooveLock Pliers - Review


So as not to use the name of Irwin's competitor in the review, we'll use advanced subterfuge techniques which will ensure that you'll have no idea who we're talking about. You'll basically need a Navajo code-talker to figure it out.

Although they're technically called tongue and groove pliers or groove joint pliers, they're really only known as Channell*cks and if you consider yourself even remotely handy, you've got to have a pair. They're useful for their ability to grab, clamp, twist, pull, and grip just about anything. The unique opening and closing of the jaw lets a fairly small tool grip on to things that are up to 3 inches wide.

irwin_groovelock_jaw.jpgRecently, Irwin has made an alteration to the classic design. Their new version is called the GrooveLock and the jaw adjustment is now done, not by opening the jaws all the way and sliding the lower jaw up, but rather with a little release button at the hinge of the tool. Just press the button and slide the jaw. They sent us a few samples so that we could try them out.

To the user this new button method means a few things:

irwin_groovelock_jaw_rear.jpg1) Speed - with the old way, it was quite likely that you could adjust the jaws, and then realize it's not a fit and have to adjust them again. With the grooveLocks, you just put the jaws around the nut, press the release and slide the jaw closed until it's snug. It's a perfect fit every time.

2) Less hassle - Dropping a pair of Channell*cks often resulted in the loss of the adjustment. The GrooveLock's hold firm no matter what you do to them.

3) Versatility - There are many small locking teeth on the GrooveLocks which means a twice as many locking positions as a traditional pair of Channell*cks.

Two other nice features of the GrooveLocks have to do with the handle. First, the grip is excellent, just enough cushion and no 'squish.' Second, they're designed in a way so that there is never any pinch (unless you've got fatty-fat-fat hands). Even with the jaws open to their widest, there is room between the handles.

irwin_groovelock_battery.jpg irwin_groovelock_plugs.jpg

But with all this added goodness, there are a couple minor concerns that we had:

1) The downside of the GrooveLock system is that you can't really adjust the opening on the fly (when you can't get to the button). We were working on the tractor and had our hands and the tool buried in a tight spot to loosed a bolt and then when we moved to the next one which was a little larger, we had to pull ourselves out and make the adjustment to the jaws. This is only the case with widening the jaws, if you're making them smaller, you can open the handles all the way and slide the jaw closed.

2) A fancier locking mechanism means more parts. The traditional design is great in its simplicity, two pieces of grooved metal, but the GrooveLock design has a third piece as well as the little spring-loaed button. To us, more pieces in a tool translates to more pieces that can break in a tool (and anything with a spring is notorious for this). We did a lot of dropping and throwing with these pliers and there's no sign of them being compromised under strain, but it's just one of those things that raises a red flag with us. Its worth noting that Irwin has guaranteed their GrooveLocks for life.

But as we said, those are minor points at best. Overall, we really dig these tools and it's likely they'll become our go-to pliers.

GrooveLocks are available in three versions; v-jaw, straight jaw, and smooth jaw. We tried out all three and it's nice to have the versatility of the set, but if you were to get one, we'd recommend the v-jaw.

There's a large selection of GrooveLocks at

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at September 9, 2010 1:55 PM
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