Types of Pliers and Their Uses
Just about every household tool set on the market includes a pair of pliers. Like many hand tools, the design and function of the different types of pliers hasn’t changed much over the millennium. Way, way, way back in the day, pliers were made of wood. In fact, ancient Greek art depicts the god Hephaestus using pliers in his forge. Apparently even a god can get a boo-boo by grabbing a hunk of superheated metal!
As the centuries rolled by, specialized styles and shapes evolved to meet the unique demands of a task. Think of the old west blacksmith who had to shoe horses all day long and how much the right pair of pliers helped him avoid a swift kick in the behind.
Over the past few decades, advances in metallurgy and ergonomics have led to refinements, but it’s likely our ancestors would instantly recognize and understand the function of a pair of modern pliers. Seems you can’t improve a whole lot on a classic.
So if you find yourself confused about the right style of pliers to use for a project, get a grip on yourself and read this summary of the most common and useful pliers.
Types of Pliers
Slip Joint Pliers
By far the most common type of pliers and probably the most versatile too. You can use them to pull nails out of walls and boards, grip, yank andturn stubborn objects and even use them as a makeshift wrench for very small nuts and bolts. Though we don’t recommend it, pretty much everyone has use slip joint pliers as a makeshift hammer. “Slip joint” refers to a simple jaw positioning scheme, which allows you to adjust the jaws for a narrow or wider grip by opening the handles wide and slipping the jaw pivot post into a new position. Hard to explain, easy to figure out and pretty darn handy sometimes. There are a few different sizes available, with the 6 inch length by far the most common and suitable for just about everyone.
As with pretty much all types of pliers, the cheapest slip joint pliers have bare metal handles and loosey-goosey pivot joints. Not great but adequate for occasional household use. More expensive models offer heat-treated carbon, nickel or chrome vanadium steel, more comfortable and ergonomic handle designs and tighter joint tolerances.
Groove Joint Pliers
Groove Joint Pliers, A.K.A Tongue and Groove Pliers, have jaws that can be adjusted for a wide range of openings. Each “groove” represents a slightly wider span between jaws, from touching two or more inches apart. This feature, along with serrated jaw teeth, makes it handy for grabbing, holding and turning lots of different sizes and shapes, from round to hex any pretty much anything in between. These are popular pliers for plumbers and contractors and can come in pretty handy around the house too.
Here’s a tip: if you want to loosen or tighten a showerhead, faucet or something else with a nice finish that you’d like to avoid scratching, first wrap the showerhead etc. with a rag, and then grip the rag with your groove joint pliers and turn. If you can’t get enough leverage to loosen it this way, then it’s time to employ a pipe wrench or strap wrench. Groove joint pliers come in sizes ranging from 8 inches to 18 inches or longer. The most versatile size that provides enough leverage for most household jobs would be 12 or 14 inch sizes.
Long Nose Pliers
Long nose or “needle nose” pliers are suitable for holding smaller objects, these pliers are widely used for electrical, electronic, jewelry and hobby tasks. The long narrow jaws with serrated teeth can fit into confined spaces and hold very small objects. When used for jewelry making, the jaws are often smooth as not to harm the softer metals needed for jewelry making.
Long nose pliers are available in lots of handle lengths, from a mini size 4 or 5 inch handle suitable for jewelry to long handle models with 11 or 12 inch handles that fishermen and women swear by for extracting hooks. They’re great for hobby crafting with a dremel tool too.
Probably the second most useful household pliers, diagonal pliers don’t grip, they cut. Which makes them indispensable for any kind of electrical project as they are great for cutting and stripping wires. They’re also perfect for snipping cable ties and bicycle brake and shifter cables. They’ll even cut thin sheet metal in a pinch. Sizes range from 4 inches to 8 inches, with a 6 or 7 inch size being about right for household tasks
Last but not least are the handy locking pliers. Locking pliers are designed to clamp firmly onto objects, with a built-in spring loaded locking device that holds the pliers jaws together until you unlock them. This makes them ideal for gripping and turning stubborn pipes and they can be pressed into service as a clamp as well. Clamping force can be adjusted via a thumbscrew which adds to the versatility of these pliers. Sizes range from 4 inches to 12 inches and curved or straight jaw styles are available as well. A 10 inch size would be a good choice for most tasks.