Posted tagged ‘tools of the trade’

Fine Tuning Your Halligan


                           By R. Royal

 The Halligan (Pro Bar)  is hands down the most important and versatile forcible entry tool we carry on the rigs. We have had a few different articles on this website regarding the Halligan, some about the differences between the Pro Bar and its imitations, also understanding the advantages of bevel to the jamb, versus bevel to the door during inward swinging forcible entry operations. This next article is to discuss a few little modifications that can be done that make this tool even more superior.  

The first two improvements just assist you in seeing what you should be feeling when setting the tool. What we have done as seen in the pictures below is scratch a small thin line and add some drops of red paint to show our proper depths when setting the tool. After enough practice with the tool, setting to the proper depth should come  just by feel, but adding these marks just makes it that much easier.

The first mark we have added is on the Adze end. This mark has been scratched in at about 1 3/4. This is the standard width of commonly found doors, by making this mark it will assist us in knowing when the adze is about to hit the jamb on outward swinging doors. This can assist us in navigating the Adze around the back of the door and not tearing into the jamb. It also can prevent us from stopping to shallow and then tearing the skin and seam of the door when we start to make our gap.

The second mark is made on the fork end and is used for inward swinging doors.  This mark has been made to show where the “crotch” of the fork is. As you can see in the picture the crotch is where the two forks come together and meet. We want to make our marks on both sides lining up with the crotch of the fork. This landmark comes from the term “crotch to stop”. Basically our tool is set to the proper depth when this “crotch” or red mark has lined up near the back of the door stop or jamb. This can be very helpful to prevent you from stopping to shallow, or going to deep when the Halligan is being driven in very quickly. If we drive it in to far we lose a large amount of leverage when we go to force. When it is stopped to shallow, it becomes very easy for the forks to slip out when you force the bar. Again this just makes it a little easier to see, and is a very big aid in teaching the concepts of crotch to stop.

The next two pictures below show what should be  necessary maintenance to the tool. The next step is a very slight change but goes a real long way. I think this is the number one improvement you can make to this tool. This may be difficult to explain through writing, but we will give it a shot. When the Halligan comes from the factory the ends of the fork will have a bevel to it. It is a dull bevel and is in the center, on the tip of these forks. What we have done is filed down the ends of these forks slightly, thinning them and giving the tips more of an edge. Instead of having the dull bevel in the middle of the tips, they come to a clean edge on the inside of the bevel.  This makes a huge difference on inward swinging doors that are set very tight to the jamb. It will make enough difference that the clean edge will probably bite and start to navigate around the door whereas the old bevel may tend to bounce off many times.

Lastly we have the squared shoulders of the fork. When the bar comes from the factory it has a small curve from the handle into the forks. What you can do is file down the curve into a nice right angle like you see here. This has created a new striking surface that we can use when alternate techniques are required. Such as tight hallways or cellar entrances, low visibility, or when there is only ne firefighter available to start forcible entry,  this small change allows that to happen. This will enables one guy to effectively get started doing both the striking and the Halligan work on a door (which we will hit on a later date).

You can find numerous different improvements out there that have been done to these tools, we feel these are the most advantageous for what we do and really can make a difference in how they perform. Like many other articles on here, again we say we didn’t invent this stuff, just feel it is worthy information that should be passed on to those who wish to use it.

Wire Cutters…What Works For You?


I came across these pictures that I had taken from a while back. They demonstrate a decent example of what we may find above our heads. There is always a lot of talk about carrying wire cutters, and these photos show a couple of examples of why we may need them. We had a good view of the void space above the drop ceiling in one of our local buildings. The amount of wires that are run above our heads is pretty unbelievable. This is what was above the ceiling and the bottom picture shows the pile that they had already removed. 

 Here is a picture of some of the most common cutters that are carried by guys. The bottom line is we will use these for all of the other utility work that we do and probably without ever using them for wires that are found in the ceiling. Obviously these all have advantages and disadvantages which is what we would like to hear. I am a big fan of trying things out, using them on real materials before ever counting on them to do any of your work. You have the heavy-duty cutters (pictured on the left) with crossing blades that will handle most gauges of wire with ease. Granted they may cost more, they are a bit bulkier and are usually a two hand operation. The second pair shown will not handle as many wires at once, but is spring loaded making one handed operation possible. The third pair can handle a large amount of wires and is spring loaded, but the drawback is the blade is much more fragile and easier to damage. Lastly the cheapest option is the shears that maybe laying around the storage room, they cut well and are a one handed operation but take a little longer to use when cutting the wire. I am not going to swear by one pair or the other but I do believe they are all worth a try to see what works for you. I prefer that they handle all of our wire cutting tasks, are easy to use and get to, and are fairly easy to replace ( I lose them more than not). What are your thoughts? What works for you?….

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.

Halligan bars….they are not the same.


The Halligan Bar

By Ryan Royal

In any profession, how well you know your tools directly reflects in the way you use them. A well made tool has obvious design and durability advantages in comparison to the cheaply made imitations. This is true with anything from channel locks to Halligan bars.  A well made tool is typically easy to identify if you pay attention to the details. Sometimes the fire service will sacrifice quality for price. This seems insignificant at the time, until we call upon the tool to perform.  Very rarely will a good mechanic settle for a cheap set of sockets, or a seasoned electrician use a set of discount lineman pliers. It is our responsibility as the grunts, the ones who will have the most hands on time with the tools to educate ourselves in the quality that they are made. If we are carrying sub standard forcible entry tools, the only way we can effect change is to be educated in their differences.

What we call the “Halligan Bar” has transformed through the years into many different variations. The original tool was made by Hugh Halligan in the 1940’s. This tool was an in-house invention and maybe the most widely used tool in the fire service. Hugh Halligan also invented the Halligan hook (also commonly known as the roof hook). The whole history of these tools can be an entire article in itself, but a major point to take from this is two of the most durable and useful tools still used today were developed by some creative firehouse ingenuity. Developed by problems that were identified on the fireground, taken back to the firehouse, and solved by a man who designed every specification for a reason. The problem with many of today’s different types of bars is they have varied from the specs of the original design in a negative way.

The tool that has stayed most true to the original specs and has actually improved on them is the Pro Bar. The Pro Bar has numerous advantages over its competition which are poor imitations of a Halligan. We will discuss some of the key points that make the Pro Bar superior as they relate with the following pictures.

The picture above shows you an overview of three types of “Halligans”. The Pro Bar (the upper most) is one piece drop forged steel, no parts to fail and at 30 inches is the perfect length. The other two are longer and are made by three pieces attached together. The details can be seen better in these close-ups. Many people buy a 36″ bar because they want extra leverage, however the 30 ” bar has plenty of leverage to defeat very fortified doors but will also fit inside of most standard door frames, something that the 36″ bar may not be able to do, but instead will hit the wall when you apply the leverage.

                                                                                                                                                                                           PICTURE 1 – (The Pro Bar fork is on the right)

(PICTURE 1)  This picture of the forks shows you the big differences between the fork end of the bar. You can see the one piece construction of the Pro Bar on the right and the two imitations on the left.  As you can see, the three piece bars have been attached by a pin, and/or a weld. You can also see the tapered V shape of the space in between the forks of the Pro Bar. This angle of the fork gives you a good design to slide over hinges and take a solid bite to keep the bar in place.

                                                                                                                                                                             PICTURE 2 – (Pro Bar fork is on the right)

(PICTURE 2)  The side view of the forks shows one of the most critical differences in the bars,  the difference that makes the Pro Bar the well designed tool. You can see the Pro Bar has a nice gradual curve of the forks to give you the leverage you need once the tool is set. The key advantage is how much thinner the forks are, this allows you to set the tool on those tight inward swinging doors/jambs. The other two bars have an obvious thickness to them that adds to the problem of what we are trying to defeat. Why would we want our tool to work against us? If the door we are trying to defeat is worth its weight, then we are going to want the thinnest possible fork to drive in between the door and the jamb. The well designed curve is what gives us the leverage not the thickness of the fork. If the fork is too thick we will not be able to set the tool deep enough to even apply the leverage.

                                                                                                                                                                                PICTURE 3( Pro Bar adze on the Left )

(PICTURE 3)  The last picture shows you the adze end of the tool. The adze end could be the most useful part of the tool, especially if you are using one-man techniques. The Pro Bar adze is longer than the imitation bars and has a gradual curve to it. The curve gives us a high point on the adze that creates more leverage then its flat competitors. The length of the adze also gives you an added reach when you begin to pass it by the jamb of outward swinging doors.

The other part of the adze end of the tool is the pike. The pike is difficult to see in this picture but the differences are obvious if you have a chance to look at them in your own firehouse. The pike of the Pro Bar has a gradual curve to it, and is also much thinner then the imitation bars. The thickness of the other pikes is a disadvantage because of the resistance they cause when you need to drive them into material. The Pro Bars thin pike makes easy work of driving it through a metal door. This becomes very important if you are attempting to defeat carriage bolt heads with your irons. The less resistance the better and that is what the Pro Bar provides.

Nothing in this is new, like many things in the fire service, it is tried and true knowledge that has been passed down to us. It is important that this information is passed along so you can develop your own opinions, with that said this is an easy and obvious opinion to form for anyone that has been using Pro Bar Halligans.

Check out these old pictures from the original Halligan ads.

EDIT:   Right after posting this I was talking to Andrew Brassard from Brotherhood instructors. He also just wrote an informative article on this topic. We must have been thinking the same thing for a holiday article, both of these echo each other. Please take a look at his to reinforce what was said in this article. They also have a great picture of a three piece bar that has failed.Here is the link……Thanks Andrew for the heads up.

Next Up:  Modifications and Alternate uses of the Halligan

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