Webster's Dictionary defines “pliers” as “that metal thingy with the handles that grabs stuff and you can twist with it.” Okay, maybe that's just how I define the word pliers. And maybe there's a better definition. So let's look a little more into what makes a plier ply, and what type is best for the specific task you're performing.
Pliers are…is…wait, is it always plural? Like “pants”? Anyway, the P-word refers to a generic tool that can be used for any job that requires gripping, twisting, turning, or cutting. Under that umbrella are many different types of pliers, each with unique physical characteristics that suit them to different tasks and professions.
If you're having a tough time deciding which type of pliers is right for your project, we're here to tell you all about the different categories of pliers, what sets them apart from one another, and the jobs that each kind works best for.
Designed to work much like a wrench does, pump pliers are what most people are likely to envision when they hear the P-word. They're what you'll find in just about every toolbox. With short, knurled jaws that can be adjusted at the rivet to either increase or decrease their span, pump pliers are made primarily for gripping and turning hard-to-budge nuts, bolts and pipe fittings.
When to use them: Pump pliers are ideal for tackling plumbing jobs, as well as miscellaneous household repairs that call for the installation or removal of stubborn bolts. They're like hands, but less sweaty and more grabby.
Long Nose Pliers
Just as their name implies, long nose pliers have a very long and lean profile that lets them squeeze easily into tight spaces to grip and manipulate wires. Perfect for making precise bends in wire, long nose pliers are one of those tools that are indispensable to electricians when it comes time to loop wires before connecting them to receptacles and other fixtures. Heard of lineman's and needle-nose pliers? They all belong to the same family.
When to use them: Any time that precision counts. Narrow jaw tips make this type of pliers the right choice for zeroing in on specific points along wires that need to be carefully shaped.
Built with sharp cutting edges and some serious shearing power, these pliers have one main job. Can you guess what it is? No seriously, take a second and think. Here’s a hint: they aren't called “cutting” for their biting wit. Intended to shear through materials like heavy-gauge electrical wire and even small metal hardware like nails and screws, cutting pliers find use with everyone from professional contractors to home DIY'ers. Unlike many wire cutters, cutting pliers are often tempered to reduce the jarring "snap" that you feel when a wire is cut, and have extra leverage that enables you to slice through thicker materials with less effort.
When to use them: Times when you need to cut through thick wires that won't yield to a standard household wire cutter. Or if you've gotten bored of your fingers…JUST KIDDING! Be careful when you use these.
Not Electronic Pliers, which sound like what they belong in a video game character's toolbox and also don't exist (at least as far as I know), but ElectronicS Pliers, which are designed to be used to cut delicate electronic components like circuit boards and very fine wires. These pliers, as well as the similarly focused flush cutters, have very small, narrow jaws that allow you to get in close for extremely precise trimming and tip cutting. While other types of pliers are typically between 6" and 10" in length, electronics pliers are only about 5" long, so they fit comfortably in your palm and give you maximum cutting control.
When to use them: Anytime you need to make very carefully controlled cuts on circuit boards. Also perfect for trimming the delicate wire used in jewelry-making.
While jaw size and shape usually have a lot to do with the classification of a pair of pliers, that's not the case with insulated pliers, which come in just about every style imaginable. The thing that sets insulated pliers apart is the dielectric coating that covers their handles and makes them far less electrically conductive than your average pair of pliers. Should insulated pliers accidentally make contact with live circuitry during use, their handle insulation has the ability to lessen or stop the flow of current into the user's body. In simpler terms, Insulated pliers will keep you from being zapped (and possibly killed) if you happen to touch them to a live electrical surface.
When to use them: Every single time you work in close proximity to live electrical circuits and energized components. Insulated pliers are a must-have for all electricians, or anyone in the habit of doing their own home electrical repairs and installations…unless you want the last thing you hear to be, “Are you SURE those are the right pliers you should be using?” Now, after reading this article, you've got no excuse.
That's probably more than you ever wanted to know about pliers. Read the next article to learn WAY too much about tape!