PLIER TYPES AND DEFINITIONS
© Lincoln’s Tool Chest
If you ever look up the word “pliers” you will find the term encompasses a wide range of individual tools. Actually, most people think of pliers as tools that grab, however, the term comes from the pivoting action of the handle to cause compression, and that covers a wide range of things! Have you ever found yourself wondering exactly what types of pliers are out there and what they are used for?
Needle Nose: Perhaps the most recognized type of pliers, most households have a least one pair laying around. The term is derived from the long slender nose, allowing you to grip small items with precision. Available with long noses, stubby noses, bent noses, offset noses and in long or short lengths, needle nose pliers come in quite a variety of choices. Many come with wire cutters in the center as well. They even make pistol grip versions for use in especially cramped areas. Needle nose pliers work best for grabbing with just the tip of the pliers. You will find that the jaws slip off very easy if you try to grab something from the side of the jaws. This is an easy way to pinch your fingers!
Slip-Joint Pliers: Again, this is a popular pair of pliers that most people are pretty familiar with. The slip-joint plier has curved jaws in the center that transition to flat jaws at the end. The get their name from the handle joint that allows the pliers to “slip” the jaws up and down in size to accommodate smaller or larger fasteners. With these pliers, you have (2) sizes, large or small. Because the jaws on these are round and full of teeth, they are great for chewing up nice surfaces, including nuts and bolt heads. I rarely reach for these; however they do come in handy sometimes. For instance, if you have a rounded fastener, the teeth on these may be able to grab enough material to engage and turn the threads. One other use that works well with these pliers is twisting heavy gauge wire together.
Tongue & Groove Pliers: Tongue & groove pliers are similar to slip-joint pliers, but have a wider range of opening sizes with different jaws. Their jaws are set an angle and sit together flat when closed. Sometimes called Channel-Locks due to the popular brand name, the jaws on these pliers can be set to about (5) different opening widths, from completely closed to wide open. Because of the handle and jaw design, tongue & groove pliers are much more suited for grabbing from the side and do not give much leverage when grabbing straight on. These pliers work much better for turning fasteners, as the flat jaws engage much more material than slip-joint pliers. Though not as bad, they will still mar a nice finish with their teeth. If you are used to using these on pipes and do not want teeth marks left behind, give a strap wrench a try. Tongue & groove pliers really shine when you have something odd sized that no other tool in your collection will fit.
Locking Pliers: Adjustable like the tongue & groove pliers listed above, most locking pliers have an turnable knob on one handle, and a release lever on the opposite handle. To adjust the jaw opening sizes, just turn the knob clockwise or counter-clockwise. This will incrementally adjust the jaw size to match the size of the object you are grabbing. Once adjusted, close the pliers on the item and they will lock closed. Locking pliers allow you to free your hands while keeping the tool in place. This can come in really handy for tasks like welding where you need to hold (2) or more things in place. They also come in a endless variety of shapes and sizes to accommodate almost any situation. There is even a version that will pinch hoses and seal them from leaking without damaging them when needed. To release the tool, simply pull the release lever on the handle and the jaws will spring open. These can be really nice in certain situations where you need to apply a lot of force on an object being turned since the pliers hold the clamping force on their own, allowing you to relax. Like the slip-joint and tongue & groove pliers, these can also mar surfaces with their teeth.
Linesman’s Pliers/Side-cutting Pliers: Originally developed for construction linesman. Today, these pliers are used today by construction workers in almost every trade. These pliers have a stubby nose and with wide flat jaws for grabbing and pulling. Sometimes referenced as side-cutters, linesman’s pliers also have a large cutting edge on one side. This cutting area even comes hardened on some models. With a large rivet keeping these pliers together, a well built pair can take A LOT of abuse. These pliers are used most often for twisting wire together, cutting wire, cutting screws, cutting ceiling grid, pulling tasks such as fishtapes or rope, reaming pipe with the outside of the jaws, pulling nails, crimping and even hammering in a pinch. Linesman’s pliers are not the best choice for tightening/loosening objects. Instead, the stubby nose and wide flat jaws incorporate fine teeth, giving the ability to pull things like wire with maximum force and minimal risk of slipping off.
Diagonal Pliers: Also known as diagonal cutters. These pliers have a cutting jaws set at an angle. With no teeth or flat areas, this tool’s sole function is cutting; from wire, to rope and even nails and screws with models that have hardened edges. Coming in different sizes and lengths, some of these pliers are even designed for flush cutting items such as zip-ties.
Nipper/Pinscher Pliers: Similar to the diagonal pliers, these pliers again while sometimes used for gripping/twisting, are mainly used for cutting. These cutting pliers have curved jaws which meet at the end of the tool. These are helpful for tasks such as pulling nails out of wood, cutting nails or screws or tying/cutting wire for rebar during concrete work.
Nail Pulling Pliers: These pliers are designed with one task in mind. Nail pulling. They have long handles and flat jaws with teeth large enough to capture the head of a nail. On the opposite side that the jaws are on these pliers have a large round area. This rounded metal allows you to apply tremendous leverage while pulling with the jaws, making nail removal a snap. If you have many nails to remove, these are well worth the money! Just make sure you put something between the surface the nail is in and the tool if you want the surface to remain undamaged.
Snap-Ring (Retaining Ring) Pliers: If you have ever come across either internal or external snap rings, you may have tried to remove these with a make shift tool. While possible, it can be quite frustrating. Designed with pins that insert into the holes on the rings, these tools make installation and removal a simple process. These are available in both internal/external or universal varieties that can do either type. Beware of the cheaper variety, as the pins tend to be soft on some of these and can bend when compressing the rings.
Electrical Wire Stripping Pliers: Not just made for electricians, these pliers are made to strip and cut electrical wire. While there are some universal designs that incorporate a single blade, most of these pliers are designed with slots for each wire gauge, including romex wire. Simply insert the wire into the proper slot and the blades will cut through just the insulation allowing you to strip off the desired length with no damage to the wire. Most of these come with wire cutting jaws as well, allowing you to trim the wire if necessary. Some varieties combine wire strippers, cutters, crimpers and screw cutters all in one tool.
Wire Crimping Pliers: The friendly cousin of the wire stripping pliers, wire crimping pliers are designed for exactly what the name implies, crimping wire terminals. Some of these pliers simply have (2) slots, (1) for insulated terminals and (1) for non-insulated terminals, while others are quite more specific, often using a ratcheting mechanism to assure the required crimping force has been achieved. Many crimp-on terminals are designed to be installed with a specific model of crimp tool. Wire crimping revolves around what’s known as a cold weld. This is the process in which the metals are compressed to the point where they are in full contact with no air gaps present. In order to minimize the potential for failure at the point of your crimp, make sure you are selecting the right crimp tool for your particular job.