Tool Review: Crocodile Action Ear Forceps


This is a surgical instrument designed, originally, for operating inside the ear. Unlike regular tweezers or forceps, the action of the jaws is “disconnected” from the action of the handles by a long, sliding linkage that allows the jaws to be passed through a very narrow opening, and a long distance inside that opening, and still operated without impediment. The tool is described as having “crocodile” or “alligator” action, goes variously by “ear, “aural,” “polypus,” “otology,” and/or “otological” forceps, and is a member of a general class of similar instruments known as “Hartmann forceps.”

Obviously, they should not be inserted into the ear except by qualified medical personnel; hobbyists and craftspeople favor them for light grasping and other delicate manipulations through a narrow aperture, such as building ships in bottles. Truth be told, I am hard-put to imagine another routine use for them besides building stuff inside bottles. Here I am, for instance, using them to attach Lego elements to a model spaceship under construction inside an empty vodka bottle:

However, I can think of any number of random, non-routine, “one-off” jobs, in my own work, where these would’ve been just what the doctor ordered, if only I had a pair on-hand at the time: pulling wires through narrow runs and panel openings, starting bolts through holes in pipes from the inside, fishing dropped screws out of the bottoms of cases packed with electronics too sensitive to expose to magnets, etc., etc.

The good folks at MicroMark sent me two pair ear forceps—one in their large size of 12″ nominal length, and one medium-sized of 5.5″ nominal length. The larger tool can work up to 9″ inside a 0.195″ opening, and the medium-sized tool up to 4.5″ inside a 0.160″ opening. Both designs are tapered up near the handles, and I measure the real lengths from the bases of these tapers, to the tips of the jaws, as 11″ and 5.25″, respectively. MicroMark’s smallest forceps, which I did not review, are advertised with a 2.5″ reach and a working diameter of 7/32″.

Because they are intended for use in a surgical theater, they are extremely durable, well-made, and precise. They’re made from polished stainless steel and feel good in the hand. They are a pleasure to use, and are certain to be appreciated by anybody who enjoys close, precise work. The large size sells for $29.95, the medium for $19.95, and the small for $17.95. MicroMark also sells a “tight spot” scissor of the same design and dimensions as the medium-sized ear forceps, but with cutting blades, instead of jaws, at the tip.

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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