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When choosing a multi tool the pliers are one of the core tools to evaluate carefully and match to your needs – an auto mechanic needs a different pliers than an IT technician. With few exceptions, today’s multi tools come with jaws that combine needlenose and regular pliers, so the remaining choice is between spring loaded and non spring loaded. Spring loaded pliers are the norm for keychain multi tools that get used for delicate and precision work, but pocket sized and larger multi tools typically are not. Here are the multi tools with spring loaded pliers:
|Full Size||Gerber||Center-Drive, MP800 Legend|
|Full Size||Victorinox||RangerGrip 74, 174 Handyman, Boatsman|
|Gerber||Suspension, Suspension-NXT, Truss, Bear Grylls Ultimate Multi-Tool|
|SOG||SwitchPlier, Micro ToolClip, Baton Q3, Baton Q4|
|Keychain||Leatherman||Style PS, Squirt PS4, Squirt ES4|
When you look over the list you notice something is missing… The flagship multi tools are all non-spring loaded. Leatherman decided not to put spring-action pliers on the Wave+, Charge+, Surge, or their new FREE P2 and P4 models. SOG decided not to spring load the pliers on their PowerAccess, PowerAssist, PowerLock or other big sellers.
One could argue that Gerber stepped up and put spring loaded pliers on their flagship product when they launched the Center-Drive in 2016, but their MP600 series still far outsells the Center-Drive. None of the Victorinox SwissTools have spring loaded pliers but they do have a full-size needlenose pliers on the three RangerGrip models listed.
Advantages of Spring Loaded Pliers
You can find lengthy debates in online forums about the personal preferences of multi tool users regarding spring loaded pliers. The discussion centers around seven topics, 4 pros and 3 cons.
Spring loaded pliers reduce hand fatigue
For repetitive motions the action of re-spreading the pliers after each squeeze can quickly tire your hands. This is more noticeable during light-duty work such as running network cable. After trimming the cable to length each wire may need its own cut in quick succession.
Try this exercise for yourself with just your hand – rapidly close your hand and then extend your fingers in quick succession and continue for a minute. Within 30 seconds most people will start to tire. Having the spring return the pliers to open after each squeeze means your finger extensor muscles don’t have to do the work and reduces hand cramping.
Spring loaded pliers are easier to use one-handed
The spring action makes the plier handles press into your palm and allow for a better grip. The pliers feel more like a natural extension of your hand and you can focus on positioning them correctly for the task. With non-spring loaded pliers you have to spend some energy and attention to holding the pliers in addition to positioning them to grip the work.
Spring loaded pliers are better for working inside confined spaces
Because of the spring action on the handles you can use all of your fingers to grasp the handles and control the pliers, even when your arm is behind a wall or inside an engine bay. With standard multi tools you need to use at least one finger between the handles to re-open them, reducing your grip and making it more likely to drop your multi tool. With spring loaded pliers you can have all fingers on the outside of the handle, giving you more flexibility in angles and how to put the tool to work.
Spring loaded pliers have better control and precision
There is a reason why smaller multi tools nearly always have spring loaded pliers – these tools are used more frequently for precision work. Imagine if your tweezers replaced their spring joint with a simple hinge – it would be almost impossible to remove a splinter from your finger! Small multitools are controlled more by your fingertips than the palm of your hand like larger tools, and their smaller size makes it even more difficult to have one finger inside the handles to re-open them. With spring loaded handles this problem doesn’t exist.
Disadvantages of Spring Loaded Pliers
After reading about the advantages of spring loaded pliers you might think they are the greatest thing to have on all multi tools. As with most choices in life there are no free lunches, spring loaded pliers make tradeoffs.
Spring loaded pliers add additional mechanical complexity
Adding the spring action mechanism is not trivial, significant engineering effort goes into designing spring loaded pliers that work. The spring strength needs to balance the weight of the tool and the friction in the pivot joint for smooth operation. The spring material needs to be selected for reliable operation even when poorly maintained. Additional complexity also leads to the next item.
Spring loaded pliers have higher manufacturing costs
Anytime you add components and add processing steps you increase the cost to manufacture a product. The overhead costs to maintain inventory, production costs for machine time to process the tools, labor costs to support it all, and also warranty and service costs increase. Higher costs equal less profit for the business.
Now, if consumers showed a strong preference for spring loaded pliers and the multi tools with this feature vastly outsold other models I’m sure we would see the major brands respond. That obviously hasn’t happened. We consumers have spoken with our wallets and the winner is clear, we don’t want to pay extra for spring action pliers…
Spring loaded pliers have weaker jaws
Smaller multi tools can get away with an external spring to re-open the jaws. The Leatherman Squirt and SOG Micro ToolClip show two common ways external springs are used. These designs are proven but are also known to break and the tension spring goes flying across the room.
For larger multi tools the manufacturers have settled on designs with the spring internal to the plier jaws. This design is safer for the user because the stronger spring needed for larger multi tools is contained if it does fail.However, in order to put the spring inside the jaws they needed to hollow out a cavity for the spring. Less metal in the jaws makes them weaker than the same size jaws with no cavity.
Which Leatherman have spring action pliers: OHT, Wingman, Sidekick, Style PS, Micra, Squirt PS4, Squirt ES4
Which Gerber multi tools have spring loaded pliers: Center-Drive, Multi-Plier 800 Legend, Suspension, Suspension-NXT, Truss, Bear Grylls Ultimate Multi-Tool, Dime, Vise
Which SOG multi tools have spring loaded pliers: SwitchPlier, Micro Toolclip, Baton Q3, Baton Q4
Which other multi tools have spring loaded pliers: CRKT Bivy, Victorinox RangerGrip 74, RangerGrip 174 Handyman, RangerGrip Boatsman
Which multi tools have spring loaded scissors as the main tool: Gerber Splice, Leatherman Micra and Style CS, SOG Snippet, Crosscut 2.0, and Baton Q1.