The other day we talked a little about these new Kobalt Magnum Grip locking pliers that self-adjust to whatever you need to securely grip. I have no shortage of locking pliers in my toolbox, but was curious to see how well these worked, and so I purchased this 2-piece set at my local Lowes to test out.
This set can be purchased online for $20 via Lowes, and there is also a special set that comes with a free bonus pouch (check availability).
Update: Special holiday price is $15.
Better Locking Pliers to Consider Instead: Grip-On, Irwin Vise-Grip, CH Hanson
Ratings Explained: The design seems sound, because the pliers do work as intended at least some of the time. But during testing, they rarely worked well, when they worked at all. Most of the time I wanted to throw them across the room and into the trash bin.
In theory, these pliers are easy to operate. The thumbscrew at the base of the larger handle is used to set clamping pressure, and a button between the jaws is used to set the jaw width from standard to extra-wide settings.
Open the handles, place the jaws around whatever it is you want to securely clamp onto, and squeeze the handles closed.
The pliers are designed to automatically clamp down on any size object or material that can fit in their jaws. To release, you simply open the handles.
That was in theory. In practice, I had a lot of problems with these pliers.
Small Kobalt Magnum Grip Locking Pliers
My first impression was optimistic. Both pliers felt solidly built and the handle grip material was comfortable. Not very soft and cushiony, but non-offensive and grippy.
Opening the jaws wasn’t easy to do with one hand, so I used two.
I wanted to see how the pliers worked right away, so I grabbed a test piece that was close to me – the larger Magnum Grip pliers.
I could NOT lock onto the smaller handle of the larger pliers. I could squeeze the handle closed most of the way, but it would not automatically clamp down like it was supposed to.
After a couple of failed attempts, I thought that widening the jaws might help.
To widen the jaws, you press the button and closed the handles slightly such that the button pops into its second setting.
This didn’t help. I tried a few more times and gave up.
The pliers work great on larger objects, although the handles don’t feel as secure and pop open a little too easily.
But for some reason, they just don’t lock down on certain sized objects. I pulled out various-sized pieces of hex, square, and round-shaped hardware. Parts about 1/4″ thick and smaller can be very securely clamped, but require a lot of strength to do so.
Similarly, with the jaws very close together, opening the pliers is another strength exercise.
Objects about 3/8″ to 1/2″ in size can be a struggle to clamp down on. As mentioned, the small pliers cannot grip the larger pliers’ lower handle at all, but that could be due to its outer grip material and not its size.
Large Kobalt Magnum Grip Locking Pliers
I didn’t have any problems getting the larger pliers to clamp down on objects or materials of different sizes.
However, as with the smaller Magnum Grip pliers, the large version requires a lot more strength to clamp down on and release smaller items.
The larger pliers have a small note about how to press a button to release the jaws.
This button? It doesn’t work.
When holding smaller objects, both pliers can only be released by separating the handles with both hands. One-hand operation is not so difficult when clamping larger objects.
The jaws have a tendency to jam up. I show this a little bit in the video.In most cases a little wiggling of the lower handle is all that’s necessary to free them up. It’s not a big deal, but does slow down how fast you can use them.
Don’t even think about using these pliers on soft materials. That’s probably why I had difficulty clamping down on the larger locking pliers’ handle with the smaller ones, despite the softer-than-steel grip layer being very thin.
For instance, I tried clamping down on a thick air hose, and both pliers completely failed. I tried to adjust the clamping pressure, and it didn’t help. The jaws just stop moving and the handles don’t lock when squeezed together.
You can adjust the clamping pressure by turning the thumbscrew at the base of the upper handle. For most of my initial tests I set clamping pressure to the minimum setting. After I started running into issues with the jaws not locking, I tried setting the pliers to medium and maximum settings to no avail.
When clamping onto larger objects, the clamping pressure feels to be a lot lower than when gripping smaller ones. For instance, when holding onto a 5/8″ hex-shaped object, the smaller pliers release a little too easily. In one case, it popped open unintentionally when I bumped into it.
These pliers perform unpredictably, in how they react when clamping onto different types of objects and workpieces.
Smaller objects require a lot of hand strength to clamp into and release.
Larger objects require a quick turn of the clamping pressure knob to ensure sufficient locking tension.
Softer objects that can bend or compress, even those that are relatively firm, cannot be gripped at all.
Multi-material objects, such as lined steel pliers handles cannot be gripped.
I have no use for pliers that only work sometimes. While the Kobalt Magnum Grip locking pliers work reasonably well on larger rigid materials and objects, that’s not good enough for me, and shouldn’t be good enough for you.
When used on ideal objects and workpieces, these pliers self-adjust quickly and easily. But they are a hassle to use on smaller objects, and practically useless on anything that can compress or bend even the slightest bit.
If you still want to give them a try, Lowes has a good return policy.
Buy Now(via Lowes)
The biggest question now is which disappoints me more – these locking pliers or the new Kobalt Triple Cut utility cutters that we reviewed yesterday. I wouldn’t be as disappointed if these were specialty tools, but they’re not – they’re pegged as general purpose tools. General purpose tools that apparently don’t work on many of the things I want to use them with.
I will probably keep these around in case anyone has questions or wants me to test them on something different. But I want my money back. You can ask my wife – this is not something I ever say about tools.
If you want to try something better, I recommend CH Hanson Automatic locking pliers.
I can also recommend Grip-On locking pliers and the newer Irwin Vise Grip Fast Release locking pliers. Those styles are manually adjusted and perform predictably and on all material types. They don’t fail when trying to clamp a material that bends or compresses a little bit.
I have the Hansen’s and they work great. I wouldn’t call them a one handed operation either, but they clamp reliably, predictably, every single time. As I buy them (they are a bit $$$), I give away my ‘regular’ vice grips. They’re that much better. I had hopes for the Kobalt as, due to the lower price, I could complete my retrofit and replacements, but alas, I won’t even bother trying.
Thanks for the review!
The biggest issue with the CH Hanson Automatic locking pliers is that the handles spread far apart to open the jaws up all the way. That’s why I don’t necessarily consider them one-handed pliers either.
I don’t even give any on Kobalt’s gimmick tools more than a glance these days. I appreciate what you are trying to do here on ToolGuyd but I suggest you spend your time reviewing better tools.
I try not to waste time testing, reviewing, or using tools I know in advance that I won’t like. But when I tried these out at the local Lowes, where they have a simple “try me” display, they seemed to work well.
I had last years Magnum Grip pliers and thought they were gimmicky, fragile and had poor gripping strength. Just yesterday I tied the new Magnum Grip, and found them to be much better at gripping, but awkward to adjust. My first impression was they may be useful if one was using them repetitively on the same size object, where new adjustments were not required. I’d say they are generally much better than last year, but only as a niche use tool. For a general purpose tool, Stuart is right, I’d probably end up throwing them across the room.
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I like what you’re trying to do here, reviewing tools to give people an idea of what they would be getting with a purchase. That being said, with all the locking pliers you’ve got, I’m curious as to why you would review these ones without actually showing them taking on tasks typically associated with locking pliers… gripping pipe that would otherwise be difficult to turn, rounded off bolts, setting up for spot welding, etc. This review isn’t very helpful, the only thing you focus on is the one hangup that you have with them, disregarding intended uses completely. Can you elaborate on grip pressure compared to other locking pliers (namely the staple, vise grips)? I personally have the other set of Magnum Grips and quite like them… they have their flaws, but there are several tasks in my shop that they accomplish better than anything else I’ve tried. Try spending more time on the intended uses and less on nitpicking, not to say leave out your dislikes because that is important, just give a more thorough review. Using two hands has no bearing on whether they would be useful to me, yet it was your primary focus, so I’m left wondering how they perform the tasks for which they were designed.
I mainly use locking pliers on small fasteners and materials, not pipes or for welding. Normally with a new tool, I test it on the types of things I use my own tools on, and then integrate their use into my projects and tool-related activities.
With these, I made a point of using them a bit more, and they’re still poorly suited for many of my needs. I sheared the heads off two 1/4″ hex head lag bolts and tried to use these to removed the threaded parts. Neither were comfortable or effective, so I pulled out Vise Grips and got the job done.
These were designed to be general purpose do-everything pliers.
Nitpicking would be pointing out how the “p” in “press button to release jaws” marking is a larger font lowercase p and not an uppercase P. Describing how the pliers are uncomfortable to use, how they jam up, and how they are completely unable to grip a wide range of materials and object sizes I typically work with is a reflection of my experience in trying to test the pliers in as natural a way as possible.
I tried to use these a bit more, in hopes I could follow up with more positive assessment. Maybe they did something in a better way than the other locking pliers I own or have used. Unfortunately, all that came from that were additional frustrations. I figured it would be a waste to spend the time and effort following up with more words of frustrations and disappointments.
In regard to grip pressure, I don’t have quantitative measurements, but Vise Grips are a little more predictable because you can feel the tension. With these, you can get high grip pressure, but only on certain materials. With others, such as ~1/4″ fuel hose, they won’t even lock down. In some usage, or attempts at usage, the pliers required a lot of hand pressure to lock down, but slipped a bit, indicating insufficient clamping pressure. Clamping strength doesn’t seem to be proportional to the grip strength needed to lock the pliers.
Tragically, I found this review after purchasing the same set – I was looking for a tutorial on how to use them, as obviously I was doing something wrong. Neither would lock onto anything reliably, and I finally decided there had to be a trick to it. There isn’t. They simply do not work well on anything – wood, metal, or plastic – that I tried them on. I figure 45 minutes of tinkering with them is enough, and they will be returned tomorrow.
I prefer the good old american made Vise Grips. I buy all I can at yard sales. It is a shame that Irwin started making them outside the USA.
I feel for the gimicky infomercial. I use vise grips often on round bolts, 1″ heads usually security type heads. Vise grips set tighten and bit into anything than lock on. I had the same problem described in review, squeez all you want they won’t lock shut and the smooth metal, partial teeth won’t bite into objects. Tried using them also on daughters bike 5/8 nut on rear wheel wouldn’t lock and couldn’t squeeze tight enough to loosen. Grabbed the socket & rachet done in a few seconds.
Thanks for doing this review. I had noticed it when it was first posted, but came back for a closer look after my dad put these on his Christmas list. I ended up buying the C.H. Hanson auto-locking pliers for him instead, and he was impressed with their quality, and certainly seemed worth the money.
I never buy Kobalt or any Lowe’s brand foreign tools, but unfortunately I was given this sorry set for Christmas. The pliers do not work as advertised, and the screw at the end is very difficult to turn back to unlock. These suck, suck, suck in a very big way. Don’t even take them if they are free.
Update: I dropped them off at Goodwill this afternoon.
I received these pliers as a gift for Christmas. First time out of the box, the pressure adjustment screw wouldn’t turn at all on the larger pair. Thinking it may only need a start on the threads, I tried turning with a pair of pliers and the screw broke right off. Interesting part is you would have thought the screw was 1/2″ in diameter from it’s appearance. not so….Once you get past the end you turn, the neck reduces down to ~1/4″ bolt. took them right back to the store and got a credit. Nice thought…they look good on the TV but they are junk…..
Got a set of these pliers for Christmas …..took them out of blister pack last week..the thumb screw on large one broke off first time I used it ….looks durable but the shaft is really quite small ……In the meantime Lowes has dropped this item… ( wonder Why ) so what good is a lifetime warranty if it’s not available any more …and unless you can find your receipt you don’t get the purchase price which I think was 19.95 but the close out price of the last one sold..and they were not inclined to replace it with something similar ……OUCH
I have had the same problem !! These are trash (exactly where they are going).
I would feel guilty selling them at a yard sale so they go into the metal dumpster at the town dump.
Thanks for verifying my findings.
I was searching to see what I was doing wrong. Sadly I have two sets of these received as gifts.