Thru-The-Lock Pliers (Modified Channelocks)
By R. Royal
Here is a thought on one way to make your own pair of modified pliers. They save room in your pockets and are actually much easier to use then the commercially made “key tools”. They provide you with more control and more leverage when tripping locks after removing the cylinders. Obviously making these pliers is not a science but I have had a chance to make 35 or so pairs of these pliers and each time learned a few little specifics that improve them. I have had quite a few people email the website in the last few weeks asking for a post about fabricating these pliers.
Above is a before and after picture of the pliers we are going to make. I only use the # 420 Channellock Brand 9 1/2 inch slip joint pliers. It makes a difference to spend the 12 bucks and buy the quality brand pliers that will last forever. They are made with quality steel and do not use a nut to hold together the handles. After you get your pliers we start our process by cutting off the blue rubber handles with a utility knife .
Now you want to mark the end of the handle that you are going to bend. I have found that the best handle to bend is the longer (what i would call the inside ) handle. It fits better in your hand this way if you are unscrewing a cylinder and also improves the grip on the handle. Plus it keeps the handles pretty close to the same lengths when you are done. I mark the handle at 7/8 of an inch, anywhere within 3/4 to 1 inch should be fine but this has seemed to fit in the mortise locks the best for me. You want to mark the handle on a few sides so that you can see the marks when you are heating and bending the handle.
Now we want to heat the handle. I am writing this based off of a small propane torch because it can be found in the firehouse. If you have an Oxy Acetylene torch you will make quick work of this step in about 5 seconds, but for everyone else we will go this route with the propane. The mark you made with the knife will be your vise mark. This is where we want to concentrate the heating. This process of heating the handle will take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes depending on how efficiently you hold the torch. It is important to adjust the propane to a good flame and use the hottest part of the flame. Do not hold the torch to close, it will add a lot of time to your heating. You will see the coating burn off in the first few minutes and then eventually you should start to see a faint glow around your mark. Dont bend it right away, heat it for a another minute or two to ensure it is hot enough.
Adjust your vise so that you do not have to turn it very far once you have your handle heated, you lose precious heat if you do not bend the handle very quickly after the heating. As you can see in the picture below the mark we scratched is not where the bend is, I line the teeth of the vise up on both sides of this mark, the bend should occur above the mark. It is important to bend the handle to the outwards position. If you look at the first picture you can see which way it bends. I have bent them inwards to make them more compact, the problem is it will prevent you from closing the pliers all the way and the jaws will not be able to grab many materials. It also makes it more difficult in the open position to use the bent end while tripping mortise locks. When you think you have enough heat stick the handle in the vise, line up your mark and then attempt to bend it to about a right angle. This should not be terribly hard to bend, if it is you have not heated it enough and may crack the steel. You will feel some resistence when it is heat properly but you should not have to put your weight into it.
Next I like to take the two ends and grind them roughly into shape, make sure you don’t go to thin because it is easier to clean them up and fine tune them with the angle grinder. It is hard to describe the size you want to make these end pieces, look closely at the next pictures for a design, but more importantly trying them in some common locks to make sure they fit all of them is important. I will do my best to give you some dimensions and the reasoning behind it.
You can see below the rough shapes we are going for. The straight end is more specific than the angled end. If you roughly make the angled end about 1/8 inch thick at the end and tapered to about 1/8 inch wide you will be in pretty good shape. Just try the sizes in a standard storefront mortise lock. The straight end however has a lot of different locks it needs to fit into. If you make it the right size you can trip all of these locks with ease. If you grind the end of the straight handle to 1/16 thick and 3/16 wide you will have the best all around size. This allows you to trip rim locks with few problems but also allows you to trip your most common tubular deadbolt throws. Many of these deadbolts have plus signs, stars, half moons and other odd shapes. The half moons can be the most difficult. The size that I gave you will fit all of these. The other lock that this thin straight handle will fit into is the “jimmy proof vertical deadbolt rim lock”. These have the self closing shutter that closes when you pull the cylinder. It is important that your handle can not only trip the shutter but also fit in the lock behind it and turn the bolt. Granted that is another story for another day.
These finishing touches and measurements are best done with an angle grinder that has a sandpaper wheel on it. They allow you good control over the material you take off and puts a nice shine on the metal. When that is done I like to take a quality roll of friction tape and wrap a couple passes on both handles.
Now that you have a nice new set of pliers, you need to give them a try. There is no use making them if you don’t put them to work. Any other questions, let me know in the comments section and we will try to answer them.