Pliers Guide: Different Types of Pliers & Their Uses

Pliers offer tremendous versatility, but some are used for highly specialized tasks. Because they are so valuable, it is best to keep several types in your toolbox to help you navigate specialized repair jobs more efficiently.

It would be impossible to say that everybody has a pair of pliers at home, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that everybody should. Even if it’s only a simple set of slip joint pliers tucked away in the junk drawer, it’s an indispensable hand tool that can make a huge difference when attempting DIY home repairs. However, there are so many different types of pliers.

Now, some of us have a few different sets for different kinds of jobs, and people with specialized hobbies or professions have pliers that very few people realize exist. Most of us already know about some of them. Some might make you think, “Well, I never…” and one or two might peak your interest into thinking, “You know, I could really use a set of those.”

There are different types of pliers and some can duplicate tasks while others are specialized

  • Pliers can tackle a variety of jobs including installing and shaping wire, tightening and loosening nuts and bolts, removing nails and a host of other functions.
  • Not all pliers are designed for electrical work. Make sure the handles are insulated to protect from electrical shock if you use them on or around wires.
  • Protect polished pipes by wrapping a cloth around them prior to gripping with a pair of pliers.
  • Avoid using light pliers for heavy-duty jobs.
  • Use wrenches and other tools for turning nuts when possible.

This guide highlights the different types of Pliers, along with the uses of each.

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Anatomy of the Pliers

Combination pliers are so-called because they enable the user to do a ‘combination’ of jobs, as their jaws can both cut and grip. Some combination pliers have other additions, especially if they’re designed for use in particular industries or for specific tasks.

  • Handles: The handles of combination pliers will usually have a plastic coating, for added comfort and grip. The size and length of the handles will depend on the size of the pliers, as well their intended uses. For example, high leverage pliers have longer handled than most standard pliers. Pliers designed for use by electricians and linemen have insulated handles, often tested and approved by VDE, an internationally accredited institution in the field of testing and certification of electrical engineering devices.   
  • Jaws: The jaws of combination pliers open and close along with the handles. They have flat edges for general gripping, which are often serrated for extra grip, although sometimes they are smooth. They usually have squared tips.    
  • Cutters: The cutters built into the jaws of combination pliers are usually designed to cut cables and wire, rather than sheet material. Their position, near the pivot point, gives them maximum leverage. 
  • Pipe grip: The pipe grip is a rounded, serrated, cut-out in the jaws. It is primarily used for gripping rounded stock, like pipes and cables. The shape should reduce the chance of crushing the stock, the way the flat edges could. Most combination pliers have a pipe grip, but not all of them.      
  • Pivot point: The pivot point is a kind of hinge that allows the handles and tips to open and close so the jaws can grip or cut, and then be opened again.

Types Of Pliers

1. Crimping Pliers

These are also called crimping tools. These pliers’ fulcrum is at their far end and they’re used much like nutcrackers. You feed a wire into the jaw’s jack, then a connector.

When you squeeze their handles, it will break through plastic coatings and cause the sections to crimp or deform in a way that they’ll stick together, allowing data to go through.

They’re used mostly in telecommunications and networking. The terminal crimpers are used in automotive while R145s are used commonly in computers.

2. Diagonal Pliers

These are also called flush-cut pliers, diagonal cutting pliers, wire cutters, and others.

These pliers’ jaws are angled made to cut through a wire that is thick. They are very strong and also can be used for cutting nails. Therefore, they’re used in electrical work and carpentry.

3. Hose Clamp Pliers

These are also called hose, radiator hose, and spring clamp pliers. This type of plier is made for compressing spring and hose clamps to make connections tighter. Because of this, they come in many designs.

The models that are best known have peg-shaped teeth on each of the jaws, and these are used for pinching the clamp. Some of the models also may be used right on a hose.

4. Needle Nose Pliers

These are essentially small-scale electrician’s pliers, with long, tapered jaws. Smaller in scale than linesman’s pliers, the needle-nose pliers are particularly well suited to working with wire in confined spaces like electrical boxes, though they are also useful for bending and holding metal fittings.

Their jaws taper to a point, and at the nose have serrations on the gripping surface. At the throat of the tool near the pivot, there is a side cutter.

Sometimes called radio pliers, this tool is also handy for working with small nuts, washers, or other pieces that need to be precisely placed, perhaps out of the reach of your fingers. Needle-nose pliers can be purchased that have their tips bent at angles of 45 or 90 degrees to the line of the handles.

In using needle-nose pliers, keep in mind that they are not for heavy-duty work. They are delicate tools, and their jaws can be sprung, bent, or broken, if abused. Use them for the kind of spot jobs for which they were intended, not for more demanding tasks.

Types Of Pliers

5. Slip Joint Pliers

These are also called water pump pliers. They are related closely to adjustable wrenches and have a fulcrum that can be adjusted to alter the jaws’ width.

The slip-joint pliers were the tool that I first learned to call pliers. Only later did I discover that there were more kinds of pliers than there were kids in my neighborhood.

A pair of slip-joint pliers isn’t exactly a high-precision tool, but even as a boy I discovered that pliers could help perform a great many everyday tasks around the house, whether it was fixing my bicycle, the kitchen stool, or a bit of wiring.

They are handy for holding or bending flat or round stock, can crimp sheet metal, loop a wire, cut soft wire nails, remove cotter pins, and, if necessary, loosen or tighten a nut.

The key to the versatility of this tool is the slip joint that gives the pliers their name. Like most pliers, they are operated by opening and closing the handles, which produces an opening and closing action of the jaws. But slip-joint pliers have the added advantage of an adjustable pivot point, which allows the two parts of the jaws to be shifted with respect to one another.

So, a pair of slip-joint pliers can be used to grip securely objects ranging in thickness from a single sheet of paper to a half-inch or more, depending upon the size of the pliers. Most slip joint pliers have two or three options for positioning the pivot point.

6. Snap Ring Pliers

These are also called retaining ring pliers, lock ring pliers, circlip pliers, and C-clip pliers.

This type of plier has round, short jaws to help with closing a snap ring these types of rings are loops with open ends that fit into round objects such as dowels.

Once it’s closed, it’s possible for the ring to freely rotate, but it can’t slide sideways. They’re commonly used for gears on vehicles such as mountain bikes.

7. Tongue & Groove Pliers

Also called channel locks, these pliers are adjustable with toothed grooves along with their upper handle. This allows their lower jaw to get locked into a variety of positions. The jaws are angled, which makes them useful for turning bolts and nuts.

8. Bail Making Pliers

The jaws of this tool consist of two dowels, one larger than the other. Used primarily in jewelry making, wire is wrapped around the jaws to form clasps, ear wires, and a number of other shaped loop components.

9. Battery Pliers

Used primarily in the automotive industry for maintaining the bolts on car batteries and jumper cables, these pliers have short, angled jaws. The lower jaw is slightly smaller, and both jaws are thick to make them more durable.

10. Bent Nose Pliers

This is another type of needle nose. Their jaws are angled at their midpoint, usually at 45 or 90-degree angles. This will allow them to grip onto surfaces without them getting into the way when you need multiple pliers. This is also handy when the angle’s too hard to reach with the typical needle-nose pliers.

They are very useful in electrical work, jewelry making, and other types of work for shaping wire.

11. Brake Spring Pliers

These are other tools used in automotive, and they are actually multiple tools specifically designed for handling drum brakes springs. One of the jaw tips is rounded to remove the springs, and the other’s curved so that they can be put back in. Sometimes, one handle also features a ratchet for removing shoe hold-down pins.

12. Canvas Pliers

An invaluable tool for artists, these wide-jawed pliers allow one person to do what normally takes two. The jaws are usually padded to avoid damaging the canvas surface while it’s being stretched onto the frame.

13. Chain Nose Pliers

These pliers have triangular stubby jaws and they’re one of the tools used in jewelry making and wire shaping. The design of the jaw allows for shaping, bending, and crimping wire.

When you’re making beaded jewelry, their tips are helpful in opening or closing jump rings and bead tips.

14. Combination Pliers

Combination pliers are multi-purpose tools with three sections in their jaws. From their tip, there’s a serrated surface for gripping. Behind that, there’s a round serrated section that makes gripping thick round items like tubes much easier.

Lastly, the section that’s closest to the pliers’ fulcrum is the cutting surface. A lot of people think of them as lineman pliers, but they don’t have that rounded center area in their jaws.

15. Eyelet Pliers

These pliers are important for clothing industries such as tailoring and cobbling. Eyelets allow drawstrings and laces to get added to clothing. Eyelets have elongated hubs and rings that have to be crimped.

The majority of modern eyelet pliers come with interchangeable dies so that they can do both crimping and hole punching, even though some just have a wheel in their upper jaw that contains the die tips or only have a surface for crimping.

16. Fencing Pliers

This curious-looking multi-tool resembles a hammer with two handles when looked at from above. Notches in the fulcrum allow you to cut wires of different gauges, while the side of the left jaw has a hammer surface for driving in staples.

The claw of the right jaw can be used for removing staples, and the jaws themselves contain a gripping surface and a rounded grip hole.

17. Flat Nose Pliers

These are also called duckbill pliers. Their jaws are flat and tapered and they’re used for twisting and gripping metal, along with twisting wires and leads. It’s a tool often used in mechanical and electrical work.

They can make right angles and sharp bends using wire, and they’re also good for straightening. They come with long or short noses.

18. Grommet Pliers

These are similar to the eyelet pliers, both in function and form, and they’re used for creating holes in materials such as tarp, along with affixing grommets.

Grommets are much more heavy-duty when compared with eyelets, which makes these pliers perfect for those crafts that involve sturdy materials.

19. Hose Grip Pliers

Also called grabber pliers, these are specialty pliers designed to get little hoses easily out of or into tight spaces. They have grabbers jaws and they’re shaped so that they prevent the hose from getting damaged, and they are used for things such as fuel lines, heater hoses, and vacuum lines.

Just grip the hose and twist it off or on. They work great for spark plugs, clamps, and a lot of other little items.

Types Of Pliers

20. Linesman Pliers

Sometimes called electrician’s pliers or engineer’s pliers (the latter variety is often sold without insulated handles), these are very versatile steel tools. Linesman’s pliers are descendants of nineteenth-century tools called bell pliers because they were used by bell hangers for cutting and twisting the wires used to connect un-electrified household bells.

Like other pliers, they hinge at a pivot point, so working the handles together or apart causes the jaws to close or open. The jaws have shallow serrations for firm gripping, especially of flat objects like sheet metal, which explains their popularity among sheet-metal workers.

An electrician relies upon the jaws for twisting together wires into a cone-shaped knot that is then protected by a plastic insulator called a wire nut. Immediately behind the jaws are a pair of side cutters, designed for cutting wire. Using them to cut nails will dull them quickly.

21. Locking Pliers

These adjustable pliers are designed to be used as a hand-held vise or clamp that locks firmly onto a workpiece. Also called plier wrenches, lever-wrench pliers, and by the proprietary name Vise-grips, they have a double-lever action.

Their jaws are closed like those on other pliers by squeezing the handles together. However, the jaw opening is adjusted by turning a screw-drive in one handle and when the jaws contact the object to be gripped, the added pressures lock it in a vise-like grip. To release the tool’s grip, a lever in the other handle is triggered. The compound lever action of the tool means that the jaws can apply tremendous force.

Locking pliers are manufactured in several different configurations and sizes. Most have serrated, straight jaws, and are found in lengths ranging from four to twelve inches. Models with curved jaws are also sold, as well as long-nose, flat-jaw, smooth-jaw, and C-clamp configurations. The multipurpose locking pliers can be used in place of pipe wrenches, adjustable wrenches, or even clamps.

As with other varieties of pliers, locking pliers should be used rarely, if at all, on nuts, bolt heads, pipes, or fittings that are to be reused. The serrated teeth on most locking pliers can permanently damage the parts onto which they are clamped.

22. Nail Puller Pliers

These look a lot like tongs, and they have tips that are tapered. This allows the pliers to dig beneath a nail’s head to pull it out. Some of the varieties also have claws on their right jaw’s back to give you more power.

23. Oil Filter Pliers

These odd-looking pliers have a C-shaped pair of toothed jaws, with one being much longer than the other. They’re used in the automotive industry to remove oil filter casings.

24. Piston Ring Pliers

There are two major forms of these kinds of pliers, and both are used for removing and replacing piston rings inside engines. The first type has curved tips on its jaws that the person can use for spreading piston rings to remove it easily.

The other type has jaws that are a lot larger with a few braces for supporting the ring and reducing the warping risk.

25. Push Pin Pliers

These pliers have jaw tips that are wedge-shaped. This allows them to get beneath plastic anchors’ pin caps. When the pliers are squeezed, it pops a push pin out, which allows the anchors to be safely removed.

They are used in automotive work, along with other types of industries where these anchors are used.

26. Round Nose Pliers

These are also called rosary and jewelry pliers. They shouldn’t be confused with bail-making pliers, and they have rounded jaws that are slightly tapered. The jaws come together to form a jaw design that is triangular in shape.

Not to be confused with the similar bail-making pliers, the rounded jaws on these pliers are slightly tapered and come together to form a triangular jaw design.

They’re used for creating jewelry loops, particularly rosaries. Some of them have handles that are insulated to use with electrical work.

27. Running Pliers

These are used for creating crafts with stained windows and they make clean breaks along a scored line in glass. Their jaws are wide tipped and they adjustable to match the glass thickness. Most of them have center lines to ensure the right alignment when you’re running it along with your score.

28. Sheet Metal Pliers

The wide, rectangular jaws of these pliers are used for bending sheet metal and forming seams. They are commonly found in metal shops and other industries where sheet metal is used. These are sometimes a version of locking pliers specifically designed for metalwork.

29. Split Ring Pliers

These are also called fishing pliers. They look a lot like stubby chain nose or needle-nose pliers, and their lower jaw has a hooked tip. This acts like a wedge and splits the coiled rings apart. Fishermen often use split rings when creating fishing tackles. They’re also used when making keyrings.

30. Soft Jaw Pliers

Used for plumbing and scuba diving equipment, soft jaw pliers can include variations of many common types of pliers. The difference is that these pliers have padded jaws to prevent scratches on chrome and other soft metals or exposed surfaces.

31. Spark Plug Pliers

These pliers have narrow jaws and they are tipped either with cylindrical holders or insulated tongs. These pliers grip the spark plugs by plug wires or the boot, helping when making automotive repairs.

The narrow jaws of these pliers are tipped with either insulated tongs or a cylindrical holder. As the name suggests, the tips grip spark plugs by the boot or plug wires, aiding in automotive repairs.

32. Welding Pliers

The jaws of welding pliers are similar to those of combination pliers, with the same tip as the jaws of needle-nose pliers.

This tool performs a number of functions, including spatter removal, gripping wire, cutting, and even hammering. As the name implies, these pliers are used heavily in welding-based trades.

33. Wire Twisting Pliers

These pliers are quite unusual, and they have short jaws. They also have an edge for cutting at the fulcrum. In between their handles, there’s a threaded knob and cylindrical mechanism for locking.

When you lock a wire piece into their jaws and pull the knob back, the whole tool will spin, and the wire will twist with it. They are often used in the jewelry-making industry and often used also by electricians.

As you can see, there are a lot of different types of pliers that are used in the world. Although you may never have to use one of them yourself, who knows? But now you know the wonderful world of pliers.