Pliers have come a long way since their invention thousands of years ago; these days, you can find almost as many types of pliers as there are uses for them. In its simplest form, a pair of pliers has three components — handles, jaws and a pivot — and is used to grip, turn or even cut by multiplying the force its user applies. Pliers can be divided into two basic types: those with a slip joint, and those with a fixed joint.
The jaws on slip-joint pliers can open to multiple widths by moving or slipping the pivot into corresponding grooves. A small handheld set of slip-joint pliers are a staple in any toolset or household toolbox because they’re versatile and powerful. The beauty of the slip joint is its adjustability; one good set of slip-joint pliers is all the average homeowner or do-it-yourselfer might need for basic repairs and small jobs because the jaw can be sized to fit the task. A larger version of the slip-joint plier is commonly referred to as Channellock® pliers, the name under which they were originally patented.
Also known as gripping pliers, these pliers will clamp onto an item. Though they aren’t adjustable, fixed-joint pliers are just as essential as the slip-joint variety. Locking fixed-joint pliers have become known by their first brand name, Vise-Grip®. According to the Wessels Living History Farm in York, Neb., the Vise-Grip was the brainchild of Danish immigrant William Petersen, who patented an early design in 1921.
Petersen’s clever engineering allows the user to lock the pliers while gripped, letting the tool exert the pressure. A few decades later, redesigns incorporated a quick-release handle.
Other Types of Pliers
- Linemen’s pliers:
Insulated handles make these safer for electrical applications. They’re markedly heavier than standard pliers.
- Needle-nose pliers:
These slender pliers come to a fine point and are perfect for picking up and gripping very small objects.
- Diagonal pliers:
Also known as side cutters, these pliers are designed to snip wire — often steel, iron, brass or copper.
Tips for Using Pliers
- Never attempt to cut a live wire, even with linemen’s pliers. The insulation will protect you from some of the shock, but you’re still taking a serious risk.
- Be sure to match the pliers to the job. Don’t try to turn a stubborn nut with needle-nose pliers, for example; they’ll slip, you could be injured and they definitely won’t get the job done.
- Lubricate your pliers’ joint with just a drop of oil for smooth action and a long tool life.
- Keep your pliers away from excessive heat to protect the tool’s temper.