When it comes to toolbox essentials, they don’t come much better than a good pair of pliers. But behind modern-day pliers are thousands of years of history and a whole world of innovation and design, as Malcolm Duncan from Klein Tools explains.
Man has been using pliers since ancient times, and over the years these vital tools have evolved in tandem with our needs, from primitive pairs to handle hot materials to the latest models designed to work with electrical and data components.
A company which is no stranger to the history of pliers is Klein Tools. In 1857, founder Mathias A. Klein opened a small blacksmith shop in Chicago. The introduction of electricity, telegraph and telephone bought many tradespeople to the city, and one day a linesman came into the shop requiring a fix for his pliers.
Mathias handcrafted a replacement piece for the half of the pliers which was broken and did such a good job that the linesman returned a few weeks later to get the other side replaced. And so, Klein’s first pair of pliers was made.
The design revolution
Mathias Klein soon focused his efforts on making pliers for the trades of Chicago. He listened to the needs of his customers and quickly branched out to create different pliers to do different tasks. A Klein catalogue from the early 1900s shows the variety of shapes and sizes of pliers that Mathias made including round nose, square nose, curved nose, cutting and long handled pliers – Klein Tools now makes 165 different pairs.
As the electrical industry continues to evolve with new materials and components, and advances to electrical, voice and data network installations, so too does the design of pliers. Today’s pliers vary from those which accomplish a single task, like crimping a terminal, to multipurpose models allowing installers to do more than one job with the same tool.
From the anvil to the production line
When Mathias Klein made his first pliers, he used an anvil and basic blacksmith’s tools, but by the turn of the twentieth century this method would be replaced by the modern assembly production line, all thanks to Henry Ford and the introduction of mass manufacturing.
This was an effective way of producing pliers and in the 1970s and 1980s, high precision technology such as CAD (computer aided design), CAM (computer aided manufacturing) and CNC (computer numerical control) machinery, was introduced to further streamline production and improve consistency.
While computerised machinery and forges, better quality steel and optimised work processes all help to ensure a good quality product, manufacturers still need to get the basic ingredients right – intense heat, high pressure, and a way to drill and grind metal to a perfect finish. Klein Tools still recondition its die casts every few weeks to ensure a flawless product.
Quantity with quality
From its production facility in Chicago, Klein Tools makes a pair of pliers every seven seconds. While the products are mass produced, quality is never compromised. Mathias’ motto was that ‘the best product is always the cheapest in the end’.
In recent years the influx of cheap, mass-produced imports from China and other developing countries has challenged the global tools market and manufacturers are under increasing pressure to compete. Unfortunately, quality is not always apparent from a quick visual comparison, and installers often end up buying and replacing low grade tools time and again before they invest in something that will last.
In the fight against substandard products, more reputable manufacturers now offer a guarantee or warranty to reassure installers that their product is worth the investment.
Quality is important because it goes hand in hand with safety. At the end of the nineteenth century, things were pretty bleak for electricians in the US, who would regularly do 12-hour days, 7 days a week with no training or safety standards in place to protect them. It’s no surprise that as many as one in two electrical workers died on the job in some parts of America.
In this unforgiving trade, making tools which provide some level of protection against injury from electrical current is essential. The introduction of insulated handles for pliers was a game changer for the profession, ensuring any errors when working on live circuits wouldn’t prove fatal.
As a society, we have also become more savvy about occupational health, as well as safety. Many pliers now have ergonomically designed handles to reduce hand fatigue.
The evolution of the humble pair of pliers continues to this day – who knows what the next great innovation will be for this handy little toolbox legend.
For more information about the range of pliers from Klein Tools visit: www.kleintools.com/