Tool Review: Kobalt Magnum Grip Self-Adjusting Locking Pliers

January 17, 2014

Survival Gear, Tool Reviews

820909635826The holidays are tool season. Local stores put out lots of bits and pieces, gadgets and gewgaws, assortments, kits, collections and all shades of rugged metal and plastic offerings for the handyman.

This Christmas my wife skipped the tool buying and bought me a reflex punching bag so I can take out my aggression without smashing any more of her oh-so-precious Fiesta ware.

(Just kidding. I like the Fiesta ware and have smashed very, very little of it over the ten years of our marriage.)

But enough about my excess testosterone: back to tools.

I like good tools. This is no secret. I’m moderately good at carpentry, I can do a sweet mosaic on your floor, and I’m a whiz with a bandsaw. I firmly believe that part of preparedness involves owning good tools and knowing how to use them, so I’ve got a collection of them, both hand-powered and electric. The problem is, I’m also rather disorganized, plus my kids often borrow my tools for their own strange projects. (This Christmas my nine-year old son took a half a coconut and some wood scraps, glued them to a piece of plywood, nailed about 3,000 nails around the pieces and declared the completed object as a “lego play area,” then gave it as a gift to his four-year-old sibling. My wife took one look at the terrifying assemblage [which was dropping lots of tiny sharp brads onto the floor without moments of being unwrapped] and quickly banished it to the outdoors.)

One of the tools that disappeared from my workshop at some point was my pair of good vise-grips. (It was probably my fault, not the kids’ fault, but one of the reason to have children is so you can blame your own mistakes on them.) Vise-grips are the bomb. They’re the classic tool you use when you can’t find your pliers, a C-clamp, a ratchet, a wrench or a hammer. They’re also decent for cracking nuts.

I missed my good vise-grips. I have another cheap Chinese pair that are inexplicably painted fluorescent orange. They’re cheap, I hate them, wish they had never been made, and that I never saw them… yet for some reason I still have them.

So – now you know the problem. No good vise-grips.

Last week, I thought I’d found the solution. I was at Lowe’s and saw a display for the new Kobalt Magnum Grip Self-Adjusting Locking Pliers.


They looked sturdy. A lot like a beefier version of the old vise-grips I used to own. And you could get two pair, a big and a little… for $12.98.

I threw them in my cart and kept shopping.

A couple of days ago, I got around to taking them out of their packaging and seeing how well they worked.

My first indication that they were less-than-adequate for gripping was that the little ones popped open on their own, multiple times, after being clenched shut. Obviously, without the “locking” part, supposed locking pliers become just a clunky pair of pliers. The larger pair did in fact lock, fortunately, and I held out more hope for them. Maybe the little ones were just a toy pair they threw in, right? Like they put a toy in with your Cracker Jack’s?

No. It gets worse.

The large pliers refuse to lock down with anything close to a “Magnum” grip. I know what Magnum is supposed to feel like. It’s supposed to be like this:

It’s not like that. It’s… weak. It’s… fickle. It’s the kind of tool that would have you cursing if you ever tried to use it on a serious project.

My question is this: how did a pair of “tools” with such obvious design flaws ever get duplicated a zillion times and sold at Lowe’s stores across the country? Isn’t there some kind of testing that takes place before people hire graphic artists and marketers and display designers?

I mean… if you have a tool that you’ve spent the time and effort to sell… wouldn’t you want it to actually work before putting it in a Christmas display?

I’m a fan of Lowe’s in general. The staff are usually friendly (except for this one foul-mouthed broad who works the paint counter at my local store), the store is clean and there are a good amount of tools, lumber and housewares available.

On first feel, these self-adjusting pliers FEEL like good tools. They LOOK like good tools. But in action, they’re poor. They just don’t work well and they shouldn’t be for sale. Avoid them. Go on ebay and get some classic vise-grips if you need a new pair. I’m let down by Kobalt (which is Lowe’s house brand) and by Lowe’s for selling junk rather than real tools.

I suppose, in closing that I should say something nice, so I will:

Lowe’s has a good return policy… and I’m gonna use it.

About David The Good

David The Good is a naturalist, author and hard-core gardener who has grown his own food since 1984. At age five, he sprouted a bean in a Dixie cup of soil and caught the gardening bug. Soon after, his dad built an 8’ by 8’ plot for him and David hasn’t stopped growing since. David is the author of four books, writes a regular column for The Ag Mag in North Central Florida, is a Mother Earth News blogger and has also written for outlets including Backwoods Home, Survival Blog and Self-Reliance Magazine. You can find his books on Amazon here. David is a Christian, an artist, a husband, a father of seven, a cigar-smoker and an unrepentant economics junkie who now lives somewhere near the equator on a productive cocoa farm. Visit his daily gardening and survival blog here: The Survival Gardener And for lots more gardening info, click here and subscribe to his often hilarious YouTube channel.

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