Shopping for the best pliers sounds easy. If you're an electrician, you probably already have your favorites. But if you're just getting started in the industry, or you need a solution beyond just a shiny app, we can help. We cover individual pliers as well as the best pliers sets to get you to work. Hopefully, whether you're just starting out in your career or just replacing some commonly used or misplaced tools, these tips will help.
Our recommendations are based on hours of hands-on testing and actual use. We also hired professional tradesmen to source these tools and provide us with additional ideas and feedback. In the end, we can't just recommend one tool for everyone. When it comes to pliers, too many options exist. Hope this article helps you find the right model for your needs or application.
best wire strippers
Klein Kurve Heavy Duty Wire Strippers
We've used a lot of wire strippers. The Klein Kurve Dual NM Wire Strippers rank high. We found them to be ergonomic, fast and versatile. However, when Klein introduced their heavy duty model – we did a double take. The Klein Kurve Heavy Duty Wire Stripper makes things even better. As soon as we started using them, they quickly became our vote for best wire stripper. Not only can they strip heavier wire gauges than previous models, but the knurled jaws also let us grab and twist wire with ease. It's like a pair of lineman pliers and a Klein Kurve stripper had a baby.
Also made in the USA, these pliers have all the great features of the first generation Kurves, but with a little more. If you haven't used these, check them out. Pliers cost around $35 and you won't look back.
We also really like these wire strippers:
- Southwire 8-16AWG Solid Forged Wire Strippers – $32
- Milwaukee Combo Wire Cutters – $27.50
Klein Apprentice Tool Set of 6
Believe it or not, there aren't many pliers sets on the market. In most cases, these tools can only be purchased one at a time. Still, some options exist, and the Klein 6-Piece Apprentice Tool Set is our best pliers set yet. It includes 9-inch high-leverage lineman's pliers, angled-tip diagonal pliers, 8-inch long needle-nose pliers, and a basic compact wire stripper. You even get a couple of screwdrivers with cushioned handles in the combo, just in case. While these tools may not be our favorites overall – the sum of the parts is very effective.
Pliers and cutters have induction hardened knives on their blades. We also love that every tool in this kit is made in the USA. This set of pliers sells for about $97, but should give any apprentice some good, long-lasting tools to work with.
- Klein 1000V Insulated Tool Kit, Set of 5 (94130) – $100
Best Lineman's Pliers
Crescent 9-1/2″ Z2 Dual Material Lineman's Pliers (Z20509CG)
What? ! Are we brave enough to recommend a pair of edge cutters that aren't made by Klein Tools? Of course, why not. We really like the smooth opening/closing action of the Crescent 9.5″ Z2 Lineman's Pliers Side Cutters. They have an integrated crimper and fish tape puller. We also like that these pliers can be easily opened and closed with one hand. Finally, the crosshatched heads make them super grippy.
Of course, while we do award this tool our Best Lineman's Pliers award, Klein and others make excellent products. In fact, we use several of them, and you can't really go wrong. Get these for $25.
Also, check out these excellent lineman's pliers:
- Irwin High Leverage Lineman's Pliers (1902415) – $36
- Klein Tools Lineman's Pliers (D213-8NE) – $33.49
- SATA Insulator Pliers (ST70333ST) – $17
Best Needle Nose Pliers (aka Long Nose Pliers)
Knipex Long (Needle) Needle Nose Pliers
The next suggestion comes from some experience. Often, manufacturers seem to overthink needle nose terminals. In our opinion, the best needle nose pliers don't need to have a lot of leverage. They don't need to be ultra-wide. The whole point of a good set of needle nose pliers comes down to access . So, you don't have to spend a fortune to get a good pair of shoes.
Knipex long (needle) needle nose pliers fit us well. At $36, they're expensive — but they should last you a lifetime.
best snap ring pliers
Sunex 4-Piece Snap Ring Pliers Set (3614V)
If you need snap ring pliers, we've found it's best to buy a set. We chose the Sunex 4-Piece Snap Ring Pliers Set (3614V) as our best snap ring pliers set because it covers all bases. You will get four 7" snap ring pliers including internal straight and curved nose pliers and external straight and curved nose pliers. Did we mention these products come with a lifetime warranty? We like that too.
These snap ring pliers have self-opening spring handles so you can easily use them with one hand. Set of 4 is under $45.
best insulating pliers
Klein Tools 5-Piece 1000V Insulated Tool Set (94130)
Okay, this recommendation gives the toughest choice in the article. We like the many options available for insulated tools. It is important to trust the brand, warranty and certifications. For these reasons, we do not recommend choosing cheap or knock-off brands for these tools. Still, you can spend a lot of money on insulated hand tools, so shopping around can help. Finally, the best insulated pliers belong to the Klein Tools 5-Pack Set.
This Klein 5-piece 1000V kit gives you the basics. For less than $100, you can get a side cutter (2139NEEINS), diagonal cutter (200028EINS), wire strippers (11054EINS), and two screwdrivers (6934INS and 6924INS). These tools are also made in the USA and meet or exceed ASTM F1505 and IEC 60900 standards for insulated tools.
As mentioned above, this top pick has a lot of great companies:
- WIHA Insulated Industrial Pliers/Cutter and Screwdriver Set (32985W) – $116
- SATA 3-Pack VDE Insulated Pliers Set (ST09261SJ) – $42
- Knipex 7-Piece 1000V Insulated Commercial Tool Set (989825US) – $182
best locking pliers
Milwaukee 10″ Torque Lock Curved Jaw Pliers
Milwaukee Tool makes the best locking pliers out there – without a doubt. We especially like their 10″ Torque Lock curved jaw pliers. They also make straight pliers, but we use the curved jaws most often to grip pipe. For $16, you can't beat the price either. Grab anything , then insert the screwdriver to actually grip the material. They also release instantly. Even the Irwin Vice Grips, which we also love, don't offer this level of convenience.
Speaking of vises…
- Irwin 2-Pack Quick Release 10CR Locking Pliers (11T) – $35
Best Hose Clamps
ARES 78005 Hose Clamp
You really need several different hose clamps to cover everything you might come across. However, the best hose clamp we've come across has to be the ARES 71100 Flexible Hose Clamp. When it comes to removing spring clips in odd or tight places, you can't beat them. We like the rubberized handle and the automatic locking mechanism, which keeps the clip open until you choose to release it back on the hose.
We also recommend that you have a pair of straight hose clamps too, but if you only have a pair, this tool will cover anything from 18-54mm hose. It sells for about $35 online.
best long nose pliers
Channellock 317 8" Long Nose Pliers
The best long nose pliers don't need to cost a fortune. These tools allow you to extend your reach into tough areas while still providing good grip. Unlike needle-nose pliers, which don't give you a lot of grip, a good set of long-nose pliers is similar to your lineman's pliers, but with a pointed point. We think the best long nose pliers are the Channellock 317 8 Inch Long Nose Pliers because of their narrow profile and reach. They're also made in the US and sell for about $25.
Channellock does not include a spring on these particular long nose pliers. If you want that functionality, look for our secondary recommendation from Klein Tools.
Another good option with spring:
- Klein 7" Long Nose Cutter with Spring (D203-7C) – $25
best slip joint pliers
Klein Slip Joint Pliers
The best slip joint pliers will always have a "kick out" at the bottom of the handle. It keeps your hands from slipping and it feels more ergonomic when using the tool. We prefer the dipped handles on these tools, and we look for sturdy scissors for cutting wire when needed. The Klein 8-Inch Slip Joint Pliers come in three sizes, and you can also get pliers with an integrated hose clamp feature. Buy a pair in sizes 6, 8 or 10 inches from $16 to $25.
We also really like these:
- SK Tools Model SKT-7208 8 Inch Combination Slip Joint Pliers – $22.31
Best "Channel Locker"
Owen notch pliers
We know, we know…the best channel locks are made by Channellock, right? Maybe. To us, the best channel locks are ones that slide open and close with ease. Manufacturers also refer to these as groove joint pliers. Over the years, there have been many groove joint pliers on the market. Few impress us quite like the Irwin Groovelock pliers. These are still our top recommendations for the best channel locks (in general), simply because they are easy to use.
Squeeze the center button and the head opens and closes easily. With Groovelock, you also get more adjustment points than standard groove joint pliers. Additionally, the tool allows true one-handed adjustments. genius. For $50, you can get a set of these tools in three common sizes.
We would be doing you a disservice if we didn't mention these:
- Knipex Cobra Pliers — $121
Wait a minute… how about the best actual channel lock?
Channellock 4pc Pro Select Pack
Well, well…our recommendations for Genuine Channellocks follow a desire for strong, reliable, USA-made Genuine Channellock pliers. Everyone should have a pair – period. They make a 4-piece professional set that gives you four common sizes to get you on the road. This set includes 4.5, 6.5, 12 and 16 inch Tongue and Groove Channellock Pliers. Get this kit for around $77.
Best Diagonal Pliers
Southwire 8" High Leverage Diagonal Pliers
Our crew uses diagonal pliers all the time. While the term "high leverage" is widely used, this tool makes it more than just a marketing term. In fact, these Southwire pliers are the best diagonal pliers we've ever used. They give you the strength of much larger pliers, have excellent durability, and feel very comfortable.
High leverage used to mean "longer handles". Manufacturers are now starting to move the pivot point (in this case, the heat rivet joint) closer to the cutting blade. The sharp tip provides precise precision and cutting. Once we used them to cut a braided guide wire that was too thick for the whole forceps. Using a sharp pointed knife, we snipped each thread until it passed through. It also cuts MC cable, Romex, and up to #6 wire more easily than my traditional 9" cutter. Get one of these (dip, comfort grip, or tilt) for about $18-35 and don't look back.
how we test
Our staff consists of professional electricians and plumbers as well as contractors, auto mechanics and handymen. Add to that a group of people who use, review, and test tools all day for their careers, and you have a lot of hands-on experience.
If it has a cutting edge, we'll cut through the appropriate material – Romex, copper wire, tape, steel cable, etc. If it stripped wires, we test the top and bottom gauges to see how accurately and consistently it's working.
For products with knurled teeth and clamping force, we can grip both flat materials and EMT tubes. The best pliers should grip securely and allow you to twist, pull, or otherwise manipulate the material as needed to get the job done.
Our goal is to determine if a pliers really is what it says it is, or if it's just a "clever" marketing gimmick.
Handle Material and Grip
Insulating pliers obviously have special requirements for the handle material. For other models, we vacillate between beautiful molded comfort handles and dipped handles. Molded handles are best for situations that require a firm grip and a lot of pressure. Dip handles are great for basic tools where you want a quick grip and access to tighter areas. Many of these tools are a little bit of both, and we've found that personal preference often dominates here.
No matter which you choose, the best pliers won't slip out of your hands with a little oil or grease. Dropping tools from heights can lead to a poor work experience and lost productivity. It's also dangerous!
U.S. Steel vs. Other Steel Sources
We try not to draw a line with U.S. Steel. However, we like to use American made tools and American steel when possible. The quality of steel is definitely different around the world, and each country uses its own name for the mix. We have found American Tool Steel to be very consistent and reliable in general, so it is our top choice.
For tools with cutting edges, we look for quality induction hardened tools. We generally put these types of tools to good use to see how well the blades hold up over time when cutting wire. A good pair of side mills should be able to cut smaller hardened steels, such as piano wire, without leaving nicks. If your pair says "not made for steel", the jaws can only really hold copper and aluminum wire.
Leverage and opening
We examine the leverage provided by the pliers. For side cutters (lineman's pliers) you can find two ~9" tools with very different maximum jaw openings. We also looked at how far the handle needs to be opened to get those jaws fully apart.
The best pliers offer maximum jaw opening and a lot of leverage without requiring you to have huge hands.
In general, the following are the features we look for on the pliers:
- steel used
- provide leverage
- Cut, peel, shear, pull, crimp options
- Maximum nose opening width
- Jaw knurling (if applicable)
- adjustable and/or locking
- Insulation (if applicable)
- unique features
Value is not just the price of the tool. We take into account all the benefits you get for the price you pay. This includes performance, functionality, ergonomics, warranty and of course the price of the tool.
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