If there's one seemingly catch-all phrase in the world of hand tools, "pliers" might fit the bill. When you need to clamp, position, twist, cut, tighten or loosen all kinds of things, pliers can cover quite a wide range of applications. Their general design consists of two handles, a pivot and a head. As a result, many different types of pliers are tailor-made for specific applications. While the variations of pliers are nearly endless, today we'll take a look at a few types of pliers and the jobs they perform to help train any current or future apprentice.
Table of contents
- Types of pliers
- Slip joint pliers
- Water pump pliers (tongue and groove pliers)
- lineman's pliers
- Needle nose pliers
- other types of pliers
- Fencing pliers
- Ironworker pliers (steel pliers)
- final thoughts
Slip joint pliers
You guessed it, the tool gets its name from its slip joint. Instead of pivoting from a fixed rivet, these types of pliers have an adjustable pivot point that allows the two halves of the pliers to move, thereby increasing the reach of the jaws. Slip joint pliers can grip materials of varying thicknesses.
The jaws of slip joints usually consist of two parts. In the mouth, the lower jaw has a flat serrated texture that helps grip flat surfaces. Behind them, the jaws are usually curved to grip round surfaces such as pipes and rods.
These are some of the more "general purpose" types of pliers that are very common in tool sets. They are suitable for a variety of clamping applications, but depending on the characteristics of your particular pliers, they may find some use in bending and clamping, crimping metal, winding wire, and cutting wire and soft nails.
In a pinch, you can use them to loosen and tighten nuts. Ultimately, slip joint pliers are really handy tools to have on the go.
Water pump pliers (tongue and groove pliers)
Water pump pliers (also known as tongue and groove pliers) work on the same principle as slip joints. In fact, you might think of them as a subset of that category rather than an entirely separate category. Also known as multi-clamps or Channellocks (proprietary brand name), these types of pliers are primarily used in plumbing applications.
These types of pliers also have an adjustable pivot, although tongue and groove pliers are much more adjustable than slip joint pliers.
Typically, water pump pliers have seven different positions, but depending on size, there may be more or fewer positions. The lower jaw is parallel in all positions, but can be opened wider. The head is usually angled and the handle is longer to allow access to the pipe in tighter spaces.
Like slip joint pliers, the jaws of these pliers usually have a serrated flat front end and a serrated curve for gripping pipe.
Locking pliers are great for gripping things, especially when you're hands-free. They have a double lever action that allows them to act as a hand held vise – hence the name most people use for them, Vise-Grips (proprietary name for Irwin Tools).
These types of pliers close the jaws the way you'd expect from any pliers set, but have the added bonus of being able to lock with more pressure. Once the lever on the handle is triggered, the locking pliers release. You usually adjust the jaw width by flipping a screw driver on the end of the handle.
Locking pliers are used in a variety of applications such as pipe wrenches, adjustable wrenches and clamps that you might normally use. They can be used for reusable fasteners, but you need to be very careful with such applications; there is a good chance that you will apply too much force in the clamping action and damage the fastener you are going to use the locking pliers with and accessories.
Lineman's Pliers – Also known as electrician's pliers, side cutters, or "Kleins" hinged at a set pivot point. The jaws have a flat front with shallow serrations for gripping flat objects. This also allows electricians to twist the wires together.
Just behind the front of the jaws, these types of pliers include side cutters for cutting hard wire like Romex. Most are not insulated, although they often have impregnated handles. Even with insulated pairs, pliers should not be used to make live connections.
Pliers or diagonal pliers are a staple item in your power tool kit. They have relatively short jaw sets that are angled from the handle. The cutting knife extends to the tip, allowing you to precisely snip wires in crowded junction boxes, even small nails and screws. Some have longer handles for extra leverage.
No electrician worth his paycheck gets caught dead without a good set of wire strippers. In their most basic form, these include wire cutting blades and crimping tips. Some also include thread bolt cutters for 6-32 and 8-32 screws.
Wire strippers work by giving you a round or oval cutting edge to cut through just the insulation and leave bare wire as you pull the insulation off. Each hole is marked with the wire size it corresponds to.
Starting with the basics, wire strippers and crimpers are the most common multi-tools used by electricians. Some companies take a basic flat steel design and go with a stronger design in the form of needle nose pliers. You'll see other features come into play, such as spiral shears, moving the crimper between the handles instead of the jaw tips, blunt tips for grabbing, twisting, and pulling wires, and wire benders. They're popular because they often do everything as a single tool.
Needle nose pliers
Needle-nose pliers have long, tapering jaws. These types of pliers are good for more delicate tasks or jobs that need to be done in a smaller space. Bend wires, secure accessories, place fasteners, and even cut, needle-nose pliers do a lot of work that heavy-duty pliers may not be able to do.
Needle nose pliers also use a fixed pivot point. The jaws usually have a knurled surface and side edges. If you need to get into awkward spaces, you can also find models with tips bent to 45° and 90°. In addition to having a place in most professional tool bags, you'll find almost every fisherman carrying at least one.
other types of pliers
When you look at the different types of pliers, fencing pliers look like the redheaded stepson of the group. It's like someone gave a hammer two thin handles and jammed a pivot point for no reason. In fact, the design is so intentional, it's another multitool.
The shape of the hammer is actually for hammering staples into wooden fences. Moving to the top, you can grab the staple at the top with pliers to remove it in case it's easier to do the job than the staple on the other side.
Below the pliers, the funky groove allows you to grab and twist various wire gauges to connect fence wire. Usually, the inside of the handle just below the jaws has knurling that also allows you to grab and twist the wire. Built into the side are wire cutters.
Ironworker pliers (steel pliers)
Ironworker pliers (also known as rebar pliers) look a bit like linemen pliers, but with an oddly constructed grip. These types of pliers have a comfortable grip that cushions your hands while repeatedly twisting and cutting soft annealed rebar ties.
Professionals use these pliers anytime they need to make repeated hard wire cuts. The handles on ironworker's pliers usually extend beyond the handle of the pliers. This provides an air pocket, making the pliers more comfortable to use over time.
Before you buy any pair of pliers, be sure to try them out and check that it fits your hands. As with many other small hand tools, sometimes buying these in sets is a good way to start, and you can customize from there. By choosing the right pliers for the job, you will have a more enjoyable experience.