Pliers are must-have tools in every tool box, with a basic design and functionality that hasn’t changed since medieval times. Every standard tool set includes a pair of pliers, but sometimes understanding the difference between the various styles of pliers can be confusing and intimidating.
This article aims to provide you with the knowledge to understand the components of a plier, the different styles, the intended use, proper maintenance, and how to select your next set.
Pliers construction consists of 3 main components:
Jaws come in various patterns and designs that provide the tool's functionality, such as pulling, cutting, holding and stripping. The tip of the jaw (nose) can be flat (combination pliers), half round (long nose) and round (electronics pliers), and provide functionalities such as bending, gripping, and holding various objects.
The cutter is designed to cut nails, bolts, wire of different thicknesses and other materials.
Handles provide the means by which the operator can use the pliers. There are a variety of materials used to cover the handles, providing different levels of comfort. Some of the most common materials include moulded material, vinyl dipping, and insulated handles that protect the users against electrical shocks.
The pivot point holds the jaws and handle together. The closer the pivot point to the jaws the more leverage and cutting power the pliers have.
Styles of Pliers
Pliers can be grouped into 3 broad categories, based on their functionality:
Holding - pliers in this category are used to hold objects of various thickness and have no cutting function. Popular models include slip-joint, groove joint, and locking pliers (without wire cutters).
Cutting - this category includes styles such as end cutting and side-cutting, that can only be used to cut nails, bolts, wire, and other materials.
Multifunctional - the jaw configuration of these pliers allow users to perform both holding and cutting operations. Popular models include linesman, bent and long nose pliers.
Below is a more in-depth look at some popular styles:
Water pump (Groove - joint) pliers - although not considered a "precision" tool, groove-joint pliers are another must-have tool. This type of pliers allows users to hold objects of various sizes as a result of the 2 jaws being joined by a pivot joint that slides inside a slot.
The most common design feature is a set of curved serrated jaws. The slot might be grooved to allow jaws to be positioned a certain width apart, or have a smooth surface to allow the jaw to quickly adjust to the size of the objects being worked on.
Water pump pliers are used to bend wires and hold objects of various sizes.
Typical sizes are between 8" and 20" in length. A variation of the groove joint pliers features smooth jaws that prevent damaging or marring of the object being handled. These pliers are popular in the aerospace industry, or whenever handling soft materials, such as plastics.
Locking pliers are a distinctive category of pliers rather than a style, as the pliers lock onto the piece to be worked on for better stability.
The first step is to adjust the distance between the 2 jaws according to the size of the piece to be gripped; then clamping the handles together to secure the work piece.
We have written an extensive article on locking tools that can be accessed here.
End-cutting pliers - also known as nippers, are used to cut bolts, wires, nails, and rivets. Due to the almost flat head design, the user can get flush with the surface to cut the object, without digging into it.
The most popular sizes are 7" and 8". A rivet is either exposed or concealed connects the jaws. Some models feature longer handles for increased leverage and access.
Diagonal-cutting pliers - are designed to cut piano, medium and soft wire, nails up to 5 mm thick, and screws.
The jaws and head are not meant to hold objects. Since this design is very popular for electrical work, many manufacturers provide a version with insulated handles, to protect users against electrical shock.
Combination (linesman's) pliers - as the name suggests these are must-haves for those who do electrical work. Because of their multi-functionality, combination pliers are also one of the most popular pliers style in any professional or homeowner's toolbox.
The ridged nose can be used for pulling, grabbing, straightening, bending, and twisting wires together. pulling, bending, straightening, and twisting wires together.
A less-known feature is that the outside edges of the nose can be used to rim off the end of a piece of cut conduit.
The round cavity can be used to hold round objects, such as nuts and bolts. The double cutter near the joint is ideal for cutting wires and threaded bolts.
Long nose pliers - also known as needle-nose pliers, these are similar in functionality to linesman pliers, with the added bonus of allowing the user to reach into tight spots due to the long, tapered jaws.
Depending on the design, long nose pliers may feature various jaw configurations that allow users to perform various tasks.
Additionally, more specialized pliers include crimping pliers (ideal for crimping terminals and connectors for stranded cables with vinyl and rubber insulation), seamers (used in HVAC for bending and flattening sheet metal), fencing pliers, and as well as high leverage and spring loaded models which make opening and closing handles easier.
Intended Use of Pliers
- Cutting is a common use of pliers, however, pliers are multi-functional tools designed to accomplish a variety of tasks, depending on their design. For example: pulling wire and objects
- Gripping and holding wires and smaller objects
- Reaching into confined or awkward spaces
- Tripping wire insulation
- Splicing, tuning and bending
How to Choose Your Next Set of Pliers
When selecting your next set of pliers, first decide on the application you need them for. As seen above the degree of versatility differs among various styles, some models being designed to perform multiple functions, while others being designed for more specialised applications.
Once you decide on the style, do your research. Read as much as you can about different brands, read product reviews, watch videos, and ask other professionals what they like in their pliers.
It is important to also try different brands and see which one feels right to you. Pliers can vary in performance, weight, surface finish, handle comfort, and ease of handle opening. In the end it's a matter of personal preference in design and ergonomics.
The budget plays an important role in the choice of pliers. Pliers are one of the most commonly used tools, you will benefit from investing in a quality tool.
Although most brands back their pliers with a lifetime warranty, professionals will not appreciate pliers that don't cut well, dull prematurely or break, and have to be returned for warranty which leads to loss in productivity.
Safety Measures When Using Pliers
Below are some general safety rules that apply to pliers, regardless of style:
- Check pliers wire cutting capacities and capabilities before selecting a particular model for the job; failing to do so can result in premature wearing of the cutting jaws, and the inability to perform the task.
- Choose the appropriate pliers for the application. Take the time to educate yourself on the different pliers and their features, such as the types of wires a plier is able to cut, cutting capacity, etc. Failing to do so can result in premature wearing of the tool, inability to perform the job, jaw damage, and even personal injury.
- Pliers with insulated handles should always be used when working near live wires. Non-insulated handles can easily be confused with insulated ones. A plier with insulated handles features the double triangle symbol or the VDE logo.
- Use the appropriate size pliers for your hand and personal comfort. Using smaller pliers can result in pinched hands and fingers, while a size too big can lead to the tool being dropped or an inability to operate it efficiently.
- Always cut at right angles for a clean, effective cut. Avoid bending the wire back and forth; instead, use a bigger size or a model with a bigger cutting capacity.
- Wear safety glasses when you operate pliers as pieces of material fly unexpectedly.
- Do not expose pliers to excessive heat, as the tool's properties might change.
- Do not use pliers as a hammer or hammer on the pliers handles to cut thicker bolts or wires..
- Do not use pliers for tightening or breaking nuts loose; use a wrench instead to avoid damage to the nut.
- Clean and maintain your pliers regularly; cleaning the jaws and adding a drop of oil on the rivet will ensure years of dependable use.
- Always inspect the condition of the plier before using; always use tools that are in safe working order.
- If the plier is damaged, stop using it and invest in a new set of pliers.