The first thing I think of when I see a set of pliers is dentist. Weird, no? And the crazy thing is I’ve never had to have teeth pulled.
This expansive pliers buying guide isn’t about dental pliers (do they even call them that?). No, this is all about pliers for the handyman, contractor, DIY’er and just because it’s a good idea to have a set of pliers in the house.
A set of pliers should be in every toolbox, no matter how rudimentary. For the real DIY’s chances are you’ll have many different types of pliers in the home and/or shop.
Table of Contents
- I. Plier Basics
- II. Plier Buying Guide
- III. The Components of a Pair of Pliers
- IV. Plier Safety
- IV. Cost and Budget
- V. Where to Buy Pliers Online
Here is our ultimate guide to selecting and using the right set of pliers for your needs.
I. Plier Basics
Pliers are a common tool used in all types of construction, plumbing and general repair. No toolkit is complete without at least one pair of pliers – and more are generally better. Pliers are used to grip, hold, bend and even cut a variety of objects.
Pliers also help with the use of other tools, too. They’re often used to securely grip an object so it can be hammered, burned, sliced or otherwise manipulated. In this respect, pliers are similar to wrenches.
A. The Three Types of Pliers
All pliers are basically simple levers. Using the joint as a fulcrum, the jaws are able to exert a solid hold.
Pliers have seemingly limitless sizes, shapes and specialties. But despite all the options, there are basically just three types of pliers:
Wrench-pliers are used in plumbing fixtures. They can turn bolts without stripping.
b. Pipe-gripping pliers
Pipe gripping pliers have lightly serrated curved jaws. They won’t scratch plastic pipes.
Tongue and groove pliers have large jaws and long handles. Used to tighten metal plumbing pipes.
Self-adjusting pliers use a cam-and-ratchet to adjust the jaws when you squeeze the handles.
These pliers offer a lot of precision and control. They’re typically used in electronics, fishing and basically anywhere else where small screws or objects need to be manipulated. Non-adjustable pliers are ideal for use in cramped, crowded and hard-to-reach areas.
a. Lineman’s Pliers
Lineman’s pliers are popular among electricians. These pliers can grab, bend and twist electrical wire, rebar wire and most sheet metal.
b. Needle Nose
Needle nose pliers have a long, pointed end. They’re the most common type of non-adjustable pliers. Great for accessing most hard-to-reach spots around the house. Needle nose pliers are also widely used for fishing and even tailoring.
Locking pliers can be locked into place with a mechanical grip. Acts as a second pair of hands.
B. History of Pliers
Pliers were most likely a European invention. Early pliers were designed for metal work. The pliers were simply a way to hold the metal near heat which was too hot for human hands.
People soon realized that the plier design had many applications beyond blacksmithing. As technology has grown, pliers have remained consistently useful – and remarkably unchanged. Today’s pliers are used in plumbing, electronics, fishing, jewelry making, home repair and much more.
C. What are Pliers Made From?
Pliers are mainly made from steel alloys. Chromium, vanadium and other alloys are often added to prevent corrosion.
Not all pliers are the same size. When selecting a pair of pliers, consider the length and width of the handle. Make sure your hands can comfortably grip the handle, and that it’s not too big or small. If you can’t maintain a solid grip on the pliers, accidental injury can easily occur.
While you want to pliers to be strong and tough, the grip is another story. Metal handles will be hard to grip and uncomfortable. Instead, you want handles fitted with ergonomic grips.
The grip should be slightly spongy to the touch. If you’ll be working around electrical components, you’ll want insulated grips to protect against shock.
Surface coatings can be added to the jaws to protect against accidental damage and scratching. Typical coatings are aluminum, plastic and other softer materials. This is often done when working with jewelry, fine electronics and musical instrument repair.
Worried about leaving behind marks or scratches but don’t have coated pliers? Try creating a muzzle from an old leather glove. Cut two fingers off the glove. Slip these fingers over each of the jaws.
If the fit is tight enough, the pliers will have no problem maintaining a strong grip. But the leather prevents the serrated edges of the pliers from digging and scratching into metal, wood or plastic.
II. Plier Buying Guide
The basic construction of a pair of pliers is pretty simple. But selecting the right type of pliers can be a bit more complicated than many people first realize. Different types of pliers possess different abilities.
The first step to selecting the right pair of pliers is a solid understanding of what task you need them for. When you know the specifics of the job, you’ll be able to select pliers with the features you need.
Let’s take a look at these commonly used types of pliers and what jobs they work best for:
A. Slip Joint Pliers
Source: Tecra Tools
Slip joint pliers are probably the most common types of pliers around. When most people think of “pliers” this is probably what they picture.
They’re not built for precision. But pliers also don’t get much more versatile. These pliers can help with just about any common task from fixing a bike, rebuilding a car engine or helping complete a wide variety of DIY projects around the house.
Slip joint pliers can bend sheet metal, pull out nails, loosen or tighten nuts, cut wires and much more.
All pliers work in basically the same way: the handles operate the opening and closing of the jaws. But slip joint pliers have an added feature. These pliers have an adjustable pivot point called, naturally enough, the slip joint.
The slip joint allows both parts of the jaws to be shifted in relation to each other. Pivot points can be positioned in either two or three different ways (depending on the type of plier).
These adjustable pivot points allow for a wide gripping range. Slip joint pliers can grip everything from a single piece of paper to over a half-inch of material, including material which is too hot or cold for direct skin contact.
The mouth is also unique. The jaws of these pliers are flat and serrated up front. But in the back, the jaws curve near the pivot.
The curved area is called a burner grip. Long ago, the burner grip was used to remove the jets from gas lamps. Today, the burner grip is mainly used to grip pipes, rods and other rounded objects.
Like many other pliers, slip joint pliers often have a built-in wire cutter. This will usually be located near the neck of the pliers.
If you’re going to buy just one pair of pliers to keep in your toolbox or kitchen drawer, slip joint pliers will probably be the most useful and versatile.
B. Pump Pliers
Source: Klein Tools
These are another common type of pliers, often found in most general toolkits. Pump pliers use a rivet to increase and decrease the span of the nose. With short, knurled jaws, pump pliers have a very secure grip on even slick and irregularly-shaped objects.
Pump pliers are often used to turn nuts, bolts and other stubborn fasteners. Plumbers also relay on pump pliers for a variety of tasks including working with pipe fittings and faucets. This is a general use type of plier which is great for bathroom remodels and other plumbing-heavy projects.
C. Cutting Pliers
Not all pliers are designed for gripping and holding. Cutting pliers have sharp edges for shearing. They’re able to cut through nails, screws, sheet metal and heavy-gauge electrical wire.
Newer models are a bit more user-friendly than cutting pliers made just five years ago. The irritating “snap” effect when cutting through material has been dramatically reduced. Plus, newer designs create more leverage to help cut thick metals and more.
D. Long Nose Pliers
Also called needle nose pliers, these pliers are characterized by their long, thin pinchers. Perfect for tight spaces. Long nose pliers allow for precise grip, especially on small objects.
Needle nose pliers are a common tool in electrical work. Electricians use them to bend wires, make fuse box connections and more. Aside from electrical work, long nose pliers are also popular with seamstresses. The long pliers are effective at threading needles.
E. Pliers for Electrical Work
Pump, cutting and long nose pliers are all widely used for both general construction and plumbing. But electrical work is another area which uses a lot of specialized pliers. Here are the most common types of electrical pliers:
1. Electronic Pliers
Another important tool in any electrician’s toolkit, electronic pliers allow for nimble, delicate repairs around sensitive wires. These pliers have small, narrow jaws for precision cuts and bends. They’re mainly used to manipulate circuit board components and other areas with thin wires.
2. Insulated Pliers
Finally, electricians will usually have a variety of insulated pliers. A dielectric coating on the handle helps prevent or reduce shocks. Insulated pliers are pretty much mandatory for any work around electrical circuits or other potentially dangerous live components. They’re also the safest way to change fuses.
3. Who Needs Electrical Pliers?
You don’t have to be a professional electrician to benefit from a solid set of electrical pliers. Even simple lighting renovations benefit from pliers which can easily reach electrical wires.
F. Pliers for Jewelry
Pliers play an important role in jewelry design and creation. Jewelry pliers need to have a firm grip but also a high degree of control. Plus, jewelry pliers need to be able to bend metal. Essential pliers used by jewelers include:
1. Round Nose Pliers
Round nose pliers are used to shape and bend metal. For example, they’re used to create the latches on a broach or the hoops on an earring.
Ergonomics are important because the jeweler will likely use the pliers frequently day after day. Wide and padded handles can increase comfort. A spring-loaded handle reduces the amount of force required to squeeze the handle.
2. Flat Nose Pliers
These are used to hold and straighten wire. They’re also able hold small, round objects like gems and stones. Flat nose pliers are unlikely to scratch, which makes they great for jewelry work.
3. Crimping Pliers
Crimping pliers are used in both jewelry and electrical wiring. Jewelers use them to finish up jewelry. Metal is crimped together to hold stones, beads and other items.
G. Pliers for Fishing
Without the right fishing pliers, you might find yourself up a creek without a paddle. Fishing pliers are used for preparing the rod and line. Plus, they can help repair any tangles or equipment problems which occur while fishing.
Material is an important consideration. Fishing pliers will get wet and possibly even submerged. Look for anodized pliers. They’re usually made of aluminum or stainless steel. Anodized pliers are extremely corrosion resistant.
Fishing pliers should also have a cutter. Usually any type of wire cutter will also be able to cut fishing line. In many situations a cutter is quicker and easier to handle than a pocket knife.
Pliers are also used to remove hooks from caught fish. The type of fish you plan to catch will determine the plier nose length. Generally, saltwater fishing requires a longer nose because the fish are usually pretty large.
III. The Components of a Pair of Pliers
Pliers are rather elegant in their simplicity. Just four relatively simple components are needed to make a pair of pliers. This means you can often easily repair a damaged pair of pliers by simply replacing a component.
Here’s an interesting video show exactly how pliers are made:
The four parts of a standard pair of pliers are:
The grip for your hands directly influences the gripping power of the pliers. The handles focus the inertia for all plier functions. Hold, twist, cut and press objects with confidence and security.
Old-school plier handles were typically made of metal, making the whole tool the same from end to end. However, most modern pliers now have some type of padding on the handle.
Plus, newer handles are often curved to help prevent motion-related injuries. Seemingly small ergonomic touches can help dramatically improve your comfort level, especially if you use the pliers for long periods of time.
The tip of the pliers is called the nose. Closing the handles closes the nose while opening the handle opens it. The nose is the most visually distinct and specialized part of the pliers. You use the nose to determine what the pliers are best used for.
Standard, general use pliers will have block-shaped noses. Electricians will typically use a variety of needle nose pliers, which work well for reaching into small areas. On the other end of the plier spectrum, wide-mouth pliers are often used by plumbers. The large nose provides the grip to adjust large pipes.
Many people are surprised to learn how often pliers are used for cutting wires. The cutter is usually put inside the handle or in the nose. You slip a wire into the cutter.
Usually, the best type of cutter for general home improvement is the one inside the jaws, instead of in the handle. This requires less pressure to use.
Cutter pliers have several different designs. The blades can be sharp, flat or serrated. Sharp blades are generally more effective at stripping wire while serrated blades tend to work best on wires with thick coating.
The cutter is handy when you need to strip and splice wires. Especially useful when setting up a home stereo or home theater system.
IV. Plier Safety
Pliers are pretty indestructible. So when using a pair of pliers, you don’t really have to worry about damaging the tool itself. They can even handle extreme temperatures and wet conditions.
Most plier safety involves protecting both the person using the pliers and the materials the pliers are being used on.
Here are seven safety tips when using pliers:
1. Always put a rag between the jaws of the pliers and the surface of any polished plumbing. Otherwise, the surface of the plumbing will be scratched when you turn the pliers.
2. Never use pliers when a wrench would be a better tool. This is mainly an issue when turning nuts.
3. Never twist material so hard that you’re turning the pliers sideways. This puts excessive stress on the joint. If your pliers are ever going to break, a sideways twist is the most likely cause.
4. When gripping a pipe or nut, move the pliers so the top jaw is always following the lower jaw. This prevents damage and slippage.
5. When removing nails, always wear proper eye protection. Actually, wear protective eye gear whenever you’re working with tools.
6. Hex-shaped nuts and bolts are usually best tackled with an adjustable wrench.
7. Finally, don’t goof around. Pliers can seem pretty harmless but accidental injury can easily occur.
Remember, pliers are designed to exert a strong amount of force with a minimal amount of effort on your part. Even a small squeeze on, for instance, a nose can result in serious damage.
While this tip is partly a joke, you might be surprised how many people are accidentally injured because they underestimate how solid and heavy a pair of pliers can be.
IV. Cost and Budget
Pliers usually aren’t particularly expensive. You can find a solid pair of practically any type of pliers for around $10 to $30.
Of course, high-end pliers are also available. You can find pliers which cost $80 or more. Typically, high-end pliers have very specialized uses.
For instance, a pair of heavy-duty fencing pliers can run $85. But unless you need to clip through lots of chain link fencing, you probably don’t need this type of plier.
If you’ll be using the pliers for general household repairs and do-it-yourself projects, then there’s typically no need to spend more than $30 on a pair of pliers.
In many cases, you can also find plier sets. These sets can include three or four different types of pliers such as needle nose, cutting and pump. Many of these sets run as low as $25 or $30.
While plier sets can be a great deal, make sure you’ll actually use all of the pliers in a set. For example, if you perform a lot of electrical work, pump and cutting pliers might not be very useful. Look beyond simply the number of pliers and the price of the set.
V. Where to Buy Pliers Online
By now you should feel pretty comfortable shopping for pliers. While your local hardware store might have some good options, you’ll find the biggest selection online. Here are some online retailers we recommend: