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Irwin 5WR Vise-Grip Review

Full-function locking pliers with a knife blade and bit driver included; as compared to other multi-tools, these are some of the best pliers available
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Price:  $25 List | $19.99 at Amazon
Pros:  Full function locking pliers, good bit driver, can (and should be) be modified
Cons:  Strange initial configuration, limited other tools
Manufacturer:   Irwin
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 12, 2020
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36
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#19 of 19
  • Functions - 40% 2
  • Construction Quality - 25% 8
  • Ergonomics - 20% 3
  • Portability - 15% 1

Our Verdict

At it's simplest, a multi-tool could be one tool with others attached to it. That's what's going on with the Irwin 5WR Vise-Grip. They took their venerable "Vise Grips" and added a knife blade and 1/4" bit driver. The bit driver is fairly standard, as compared to other multi-tools. The knife blade, though, is attached in such a way as to be almost completely useless. Our team did a little modification and adjustment and were able to make our test version much, much more useful.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Irwin made the original Vise Grip. Like Kleenex, "vise grip" has become synonymous with locking pliers. It says right on our test pair: "The Original." Locking pliers are incredibly useful. In most cases, locking pliers are better than non-locking pliers. The mechanism is a little more complicated, so combining other features into locking pliers is harder. Irwin's entry, the 5WR Vise-Grip is a pair of their standard six-inch pliers with a blade bolted to one arm and a bit driver hinging from within the end of that same arm. There are no other features. The locking pliers suffer little to none for the inclusion of the other tools, but the other tools aren't nearly as useful as stand-alone versions. As made, the blade of the 5WR is only marginally useful.

Performance Comparison


In use  the pliers of the 5WR Vise-Grip are little different than non-locking pliers common on most multi-tools.
In use, the pliers of the 5WR Vise-Grip are little different than non-locking pliers common on most multi-tools.

Functions


This is about as minimalist as a product can get and still be called a "multi-tool." There are pliers, a blade, and a bit driver. Irwin includes one double-ended driver bit, but you can accessorize with any of a nearly infinite supply of standardized 1/4" aftermarket bits. Any multi-tool will make compromises, when you compare its individual functions to their respective stand-alone versions. Some make more compromises than others. The pliers of the 5WR are essentially the same as those on a standalone set. The bit driver is full-size and effective but suffers a little in ergonomics. See below. The blade is good, but also suffers, ergonomically.

The bit driver can be folded away such that it completely disappears. In the original blade configuration  it doesn't really need to disappear though  now that we think about it.
The bit driver can be folded away such that it completely disappears. In the original blade configuration, it doesn't really need to disappear though, now that we think about it.

Ergonomics


There is a total mixed bag, in terms of ergonomics, to report on with the 5WR Vise-Grip. First, as mentioned above, the pliers are essentially the same as a standalone tool. As compared to Irwin's standard 6 inch Vise Grips (with no multi-tool functions) the 5WR has one handle that is a little bulkier. The actual use of the pliers doesn't suffer for this. This is a pretty big win. Full-functioned locking pliers are worthy on their own in most tool kits. We could stop there and say that any added functionality is worthwhile. But we won't stop there.

The bit driver is totally "good enough." As multi-tool bit drivers go, it is relatively uninterrupted by other protrusions, will reach many screws without an extension, and is attached to a handle that gives you good enough leverage without sharp edges. A bit driver that is centered in the multi-tool handle is even better, but it is more difficult to engineer.

The blade of the Irwin 5WR is thoroughly perplexing. It is simple, opens with one hand, and securely locks in place. That's not confusing. What is confusing is the way it opens. The blade, as manufactured and designed, opens in such a way that the plier jaws interfere with many types of use you might encounter. We used and tested the 5WR this way and found it marginally useful. It is better than not having a blade but not as good as it could be.

This photo captures the Irwin blade as originally configured. Why it was done this way is mystifying.
This photo captures the Irwin blade as originally configured. Why it was done this way is mystifying.

Because we won't settle for mediocre, we did a little further investigation and tinkering. With a couple of allen wrenches, a Dremel tool, and about 15 minutes, we were able to reconfigure the blade of the 5WR to work much, much better. We thought long and hard about the reasoning behind the original design and any issues with our modification and came up with nothing. Our modification only improves this tool. Why wasn't it made this way to begin with?

This is the modified configuration of the Irwin blade. It is much better  with no noticeable cost to the original design.
This is the modified configuration of the Irwin blade. It is much better, with no noticeable cost to the original design.

Portability


Functions and ergonomics are usually at odds with portability. The full-function, large pliers of the Irwin 5WR are heavier and bulkier than most. This isn't the multi-tool you carry, day-to-day, in your pocket. It weighs nearly 10 ounces, and is 150% the length, when stowed, of our Editors' Choice product.

There is nothing inherently portable about the Irwin Vise Grips. This is just a normal shop tool with some more features added on. Carry it around like the shop tool it is.
There is nothing inherently portable about the Irwin Vise Grips. This is just a normal shop tool with some more features added on. Carry it around like the shop tool it is.

Construction Quality


The Irwin 5WR is built like a proper shop tool. It is built like a shop tool because it is a shop tool, with a knife blade added. This is a good thing. Our testing of the 5WR is measured in months, but our familiarity with Vise-Grips includes products in use for decades. We are very confident that Irwin made the 5WR Vise Grips to the same rigorous standards. None of the parts are "miniaturized" and none are compromised for lighter weight. Irwin isn't forthcoming about the blade steel they use, but it seems good enough so far. The pliers will work as intended for decades.

The bit driver of the Irwin is sturdy and effective. It sits on the tool in a place and a way that it is largely useful. There is no option for a 90 degree deployment of the bit driver. Some will miss this.
The bit driver of the Irwin is sturdy and effective. It sits on the tool in a place and a way that it is largely useful. There is no option for a 90 degree deployment of the bit driver. Some will miss this.

Value


As compared to other multi-tools of this stature and sturdiness, the Irwin 5WR is a great value. As compared to standard Irwin Vise Grips, the 5WR is a little more expensive. For the additional dollars, you get a blade and bit driver. Buy those things separately for your toolbox and you'll spend more than you do on the 5WR. Our main value wish is that Irwin had done a little bit more research and development on the 5WR. Why it wasn't originally configured as we've modified it is a mystery.

Conclusion


The Irwin 5WR Vise-Grip is a good idea, but strangely executed. The good news is that if you want one and are pretty handy, you can modify it with very little hassle.


Jediah Porter