The Wilton Tool Group’s unwavering success was founded on its indestructible vise. Pat Whiteman describes this company’s formula for excellence and its dynamic new product line, designed to put a stronghold on the market well into the next century.
There is a Wilton vise embedded in a tree stump near the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu. Located on the walkway to the memorial, which is now a national park, it is painted army gray — a testament to this revolutionary product’s beginnings during World War II, its loyal following and its unmistakable durability.
But it’s a new day, and Wilton has plenty of new ideas on the drawing board. “Our company is going through a rebirth,” says Tim Shipley, product manager for the Palatine, Ill.-based manufacturer. “We’ve had vises and workholding products for over 60 years, but now we’re coming out with all sorts of new products. It’s a real time of innovation at Wilton.”
Founded in 1941, The Wilton Tool Group has been a pioneer in vise design. Its enclosed channel vise, which allows the operator to tighten by pulling in a straight line instead of an angle, offers unparalleled support. The channel vise has become a product synonymous with uncompromising quality. “We’ve been in factories and seen 40- and 50-year-old Wilton vises working just fine. They rarely get grimy or gunk up. They’re essentially designed to last forever,” says Lou Signorelli, vice president of sales and marketing.
The Wilton Tool Group is comprised of four of the tool industry’s best-known manufacturers: Wilton Tool Professional Products, Wilton Tool Consumer Products, Wilton Machinery and Anderson Products. Collectively, this family is the dominant manufacturer of clamping tools in the United States, as well as a leading supplier of machining equipment and finishing products.
The company got its start in the industrial market, where it remains solidly fixed today. Wilton sells to major industrial supply houses around the country. Through this distribution, the company caters to industrial contractors and consumers.
More than 400 employees power The Wilton Tool Group, which recently invested $2.5 million to automate its manufacturing facilities in Schiller Park, Ill., Wooster, Mass., and Garrettsville, Ohio. “The automation was a big step for us. It allows us to continue to make high-precision machining products and not have to drive the cost out of sight,” says Signorelli.
In With the New
Ask Shipley or Signorelli what’s new at Wilton and the enthusiasm in their voices is obvious. “Unbreakable handled sledgehammers!” Signorelli exclaims. “These are the only truly unbreakable-handle sledgehammers and they’re guaranteed for life. It is impossible to break this hammer, but if you do, we’ll replace it free of charge.” The hammer is made from spring steel and rubber, and molded under high heat; and Wilton guarantees “this is the last hammer you’ll ever need to buy.” It’s about twice the price of fiberglass-handled hammers, but the durability alone makes it worth the price.
With the popularity of this product, Wilton has now developed an entire line of unbreakable-handle hammers. “We’ve got numerous sledges, balpeen hammers and a variety of other striking tools that will go under the unbreakable line,” says Shipley. “It all goes back to our quest to build an indestructible product that will hold up to years of wear. That’s what we’re all about at Wilton.”
The company has also introduced the W6-Driver, an indispensable six-blade screwdriver. “There are two features that are different about this screwdriver,” explains Signorelli. “You don’t have to unscrew anything. You simply pop the blades in and out, and they never come out by themselves. Plus, you get a full-length blade that is a Wilton patented item. It seems everybody in the world uses this product.”
Shipley also cites the genuinely unique Saw Buddy. Made for both industrial and consumer use, this tool is like having another hand on the job sight. “The single biggest problem you have when you’re cutting a sheet of plywood or paneling is chipping and flapping on the other end while you’re cutting through the product,” he says. Another problem is kickback, which usually results in broken blades. The Saw Buddy solves both of these problems. With specially designed clamping support, it holds the product being cut in place so the piece doesn’t fall off once cut; and it eliminates flapping, chipping and kickback.
Also new in the vise line is a lightweight and durable vacuum-base vise. “For those who don’t have an area to bolt down a traditional vise, this is a very versatile product,” says Signorelli. “The vise also has a 360-degree head tilt so you can turn it any way you want it. It retails for under $50 and is great for anyone who works in a portable area — for instance, a maintenance man.“
With a well-known brand and a devotion to quality, Wilton relies on its stellar history to help build tomorrow’s tools today. “It’s a new day at Wilton,” Signorelli says. “We just staffed a new engineering department and they’re creating a launching pad for even bigger things to come. In fact, I recently presented one of their ideas to a long-time client and they loved it so much, they bought the entire production for the rest of the year. It was quite a reception. But that’s the kind of quality our customers have come to expect from Wilton. It’s about delivering quality tools on time, every time.”