My Iconic Symbol

9 inch Klein pliers

My iconic non-insulated Klein Pliers
Photo © Allan G. Smorra, All Rights Reserved

…For this week’s challenge, we want you to snap a photo of something that is iconic to you.
The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge: Iconic

I have had the pleasure of working on two of San Francisco’s iconic structures, The Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge. My Iconic Symbol, however, is neither one of these structures— it is my pair of 9 inch Klein Non-insulated High-leverage Side-cutting pliers.

I have used Klein pliers almost every day for 45 years; They are the standard tool for electricians everywhere.

“Hand me your Kleins”. “Get the Kleins out of my bag”.

When a wireman (electrician) says the word, Kleins, everyone within ear-shot knows exactly what he is talking about.

A Short History of Klein Tools

M athias Klein, a Blacksmith by trade, emigrated from Germany to Chicago and in 1857 set up shop in the downtown business district. The Communications Industry was just starting and, at best, was just a collection of bare wires strung on telegraph poles.

A telegraph lineman came into the shop one day with a pair of side-cutting pliers that had one side broken in two. He asked Mr. Klein if he could repair the tool. Mathias Klein forged a new half for the tool, riveted it to the old half and sent him on his way.

Photo credit: © Klein Tools

Photo credit: © Klein Tools

It wasn’t long before the lineman came back — the other original half of the tool had broken. Mr. Klein forged the second half of the pliers and the first complete set of Klein Pliers was born.

During the rest of the 19th Century, the demand for durable hand tools for professional tradesmen was fueled by the Telegraph, Telephone, Electric light and Railroad industries. Mathias Klein met the challenges and his forge shop grew into a full-sized business with a respected line of hand tools that were sold world-wide.

From this humble beginning Klein Tools has expanded and …today the Klein brand is the #1 preferred hand tool in the electrical industry, as well as one of the leading brands used in the maintenance, construction, and industrial trades. Loyalty to Klein Tools is strong due to Klein Tools’ commitment to professional tradesmen; professionals feel the difference every day. —Klein Tools History

W hen I started working in the Electrical Trade as an apprentice I had to learn not only how to work with pliers, but also how to break them in and then maintain them. Pliers fresh from the factory have a lot of fine residual metal particles and grinding compound lodged in the Joint rivet (the part that stabilizes the moveable half of the pliers) and between the two halves of the pliers themselves.

Opening and closing new pliers is a two-handed operation and requires the application of a lubricant to loosen up the grunge and expel it from between the two surfaces of the tool as the pliers are repeatedly opened and closed. Every electrician that I have worked with has his own method of breaking in his Kliens. Some methods are more retarded than others, but that is just a personal observation.

Photo credit: © Klein ToolsThe circle is the end of the Rivet joint and the place where metal filings and grinding compounds end up during the manufacturing stage.

Photo credit: © Klein Tools
The circle is the end of the Rivet joint and the place where metal filings and grinding compounds end up during the manufacturing process.

I have seen guys use Brake Fluid, 3-in-1 oil, motor oil, WD-40, CRC, Zep-45, Liquid Wrench, Marvel Mystery Oil, pure Silicone spray, and just about any other petrochemical compound that you can think of. My own break-in procedure is using WD-40 and lots of elbow grease — opening and closing the pliers with two hands, while stopping to lubricate and wipe up excess oil. This procedure has worked for me over the years as my inventory of Klein pliers  has increased (you can’t live with just one pair).

My typical break-in period starts with 8—10 minutes the first day and then 3—5 minutes per day for a week. By that point the daily use, combined with the daily break-in procedures, yields a comfortable pair of working pliers that will get even better over time. Think about how comfortable your Levis feel after repeated laundering and “breaking-in”. A pair of Kliens become a powerful extension of your hand, with a natural heft and feel that is uniquely identifiable to the owner.

I can tell when my Kleins are broken-in when I can hold them vertically by one handle, shake them back and forth and see/hear the two halves hit each other as the handles move open/closed.

It is a beautiful thing when a pair of Kleins are broken-in and ready for service. The company’s tagline, “Professionals feel the difference every day”, could not be more spot-on. I have, at times, used other brands of pliers. Proto, Crescent, Ideal and Craftsman brand pliers do not have the fit that I have come to expect. The curve and shape of their handles are not as comfortable in the palm of my hand. Day in and day out, comfort is what wireman expect of their tools. To put up with any less is not acceptable.

My Very Favorite Pliers

N ow that I have expressed my appreciation for Klein pliers I would like to tell you about my very favorite pair of pliers. When our Determined One (DO) got married and rented a house I did what many dads do, I went through my toolboxes at home and came up with a ‘starter’ set of tools that most home dwellers need.

Miniature side-cutting pliers

My favorite pliers
Photo © Allan G. Smorra, All Rights Reserved

The DO was, by then, a fully accredited Goldsmith and on his way to specializing in Platinum casting and fabrication. As his skill-set increased, so did his mother’s jewelry collection — all custom work by our son.

Among the tools I gave him was my very first pair of Kleins and, after being inspired by Mathias Klein, my son fabricated a pair of fully-functioning miniature pliers out of Sterling Silver for my birthday.

As much as I love my Kleins, I love this pair even more.

Thank you, Son.

Enjoy this message from Klein Tools

  25 comments for “My Iconic Symbol

  1. March 12, 2016 at 6:00 PM

    Hi Allan, I was loving the story of your Kleins-great description. But, then came your denouement describing your son’s precious handmade tribute really got me…. thanks for a great post. It seemed a bit familiar to me, and then I see that it’s an older post that you may have reposted? I really like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • March 13, 2016 at 5:43 AM

      Thanks for your kind words, Jane. Yes, it is an older post. I have been “Sticking” favorite posts from the past to my Frontpage from time to time in an effort to keep it fresh.

      Here’s the kicker on this one: It turned out to be posted exactly one year to the day of my official retirement date. In 2013 I actually thought that I would be working until December of 2014. It’s nice to have plans, but it is better to be adaptable.


    • March 15, 2016 at 12:52 PM

      “…really got to me…” Me, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. April 19, 2013 at 11:59 AM

    Every great tool needs a great story!


    • April 19, 2013 at 1:24 PM

      I agree.

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on my post.


  3. April 11, 2013 at 8:13 PM

    Wow, thanks Dad! It’s high praise to be in the same class as Mathias Klein. He, along with L.S. Starrett and John M. Browning have always inspired me to make use of the gift of opposable thumbs. Of course, all that would be moot without parents that encouraged me and taught me that failure was just another opportunity to learn!
    Oh….and the job’s not done till the clean up is!

    Liked by 1 person

    • April 11, 2013 at 9:44 PM

      You are wise beyond my years and very welcome. I love the pliers that you made for me.


      Liked by 1 person

  4. My Tropical Home
    April 11, 2013 at 9:52 AM

    Ah! So that’s what needs to be done to them (smack on the forehead).

    I think my Dad had one of those – it looks familiar – and I know I saw my BIL using my FIL’s and handling it with great care.

    Thanks for this! My Beloved loves his tools, too (normally he’s into heavy equipment :-)) but I know has another brand. I think I’ll get him a Klein as a surprise.

    And that’s a lovely sterling silver gift you have. A beautiful work of art and love.

    An informative post, thanks again for sharing.



    • April 11, 2013 at 10:37 AM

      Father’s Day is just around the corner (speaking for Fathers everywhere…).

      Thanks Mary and make sure that you have some WD-40 to go with the Kleins.



      • My Tropical Home
        April 11, 2013 at 10:45 AM

        Thank you very much for the reminder 😉

        I still have more than half a can of WD-40 – our favorite go-to for joints and electrical connection problems.


      • April 11, 2013 at 10:52 AM

        If it is stuck and won’t move— use WD-40.
        If it moves and won’t stay put— use Duct Tape.


      • My Tropical Home
        April 11, 2013 at 10:55 AM

        Duct Tape? For the Kleins? or connections in general? 😉


      • April 11, 2013 at 11:06 AM

        That was my attempt at humor using an observation about life in general. No Duct Tape on the Kleins or the connections.


      • My Tropical Home
        April 11, 2013 at 11:20 AM

        sorry I’m a little slow on the uptake 🙂


      • April 11, 2013 at 11:22 AM

        Don’t worry, sometimes I start in the middle and work in both directions at the same time.


  5. April 10, 2013 at 10:22 AM

    Forget dogs – tools are man’s best friend! Non-insulated? That strikes me as sort of funny considering you’re an electrician. Those silver pliers from your son are magical…


    • April 10, 2013 at 10:51 AM

      I did not make it very clear- I reserve my insulated pliers for use around energized wire and equipment. My everyday, banging around pliers are non-insulated, that way I don’t overlook damage to the grips and find out the hard way.

      Thanks for your comment. Isn’t it great to have opposable thumbs?

      Allan Sent from my iPhone


      • April 10, 2013 at 3:31 PM

        I figured as much re: the pliers! Thank goodness for opposable but some days they are opposing….


  6. April 10, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    Those Klein Lineman Pliers are quality … they last!
    I have two pair that I brought to Japan from America (with some other quality tools by Craftsman, etc )

    My Kliens also swing open / shut when I hold one handle.


  7. April 9, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    Safety wire pliers were once my favorite. I wanted a pair of my own. They’re expensive! I really enjoyed this post.


  8. April 9, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    I was just telling a friend the other day about having my pop yell for me to bring him “dykes and Kleins” I grew up knowing what they were and they were just as common to me as “straight and phillips”. She had never heard of Kleins. My father also gave me a well worn pair when I bought my first car. My brother came for a visit a few years back – he brought a bag of connections, testers, and tools to check out my old house – he left me a brand new pair. I’m glad to read about breaking them in because I was using them last night and they are tough to open – I’m getting out the WD-40 tonight. Great post!


    • April 9, 2013 at 1:17 PM

      Be patient during the break-in period. It will pay off for you.



  9. April 9, 2013 at 12:18 PM

    Good post! I learned something too. Bonus. Thanks.


    • April 9, 2013 at 12:25 PM

      You are very welcome. I am glad that it was educational and not too technical.


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