5 Types of Pliers and How to Choose

Find the right pliers for DIY plumbing, electrical, and carpentry projects

A group of different types of pliers

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Pliers are a well-known tool designed to grip, tighten, loosen, and cut. DIYers and professional trades people use a variety of different pliers for various tasks, like bending thick metal wire, tightening flanges on the plumbing system, or cutting electrical wires. This tool consists of three main components: jaws, handles, and a pivot point.

The jaws of the pliers come in a number of different patterns and designs, according to the specific type of pliers and their intended purpose. Some jaws are great for gripping smooth metal surfaces, like water-pump pliers, while others are better for cutting or stripping, like needle-nose or lineman's pliers. The handles and pivot point are similar to scissors, though the construction is significantly more heavy-duty, giving these tools the durability they need for a busy job site. Discover more about these five types of pliers and how to choose with this informative guide.

  • 01 of 05

    Needle-Nose Pliers

    Needle nose pliers

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    Best For: Working with wires and fittings in narrow spaces.

    Needle-nose pliers are also known as radio pliers. They feature long, tapering jaws that have a needle-like appearance, which is where this type of pliers gets its name. Use needle-nose pliers in tight spaces, like inside an electrical box or up in the ceiling. The narrow jaws can grip, bend, and even cut through soft metal, though these pliers are not intended for heavy-duty use.

    You can even find some needle-nose pliers that have special jaws bent near the tip at an angle of 45 or 90 degrees. This feature allows the pliers to grip metal fittings or fasteners that are located in almost impossible to reach spaces, deep inside an electrical box or even in the engine of a vehicle.

  • 02 of 05

    Locking Pliers

    Locking pliers

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    Best For: Firmly gripping and locking onto a target material.

    The main difference between locking pliers and other types of pliers is in the name. These pliers, also known as vice grips, have a double-lever action that allows the jaws to lock when the handles are squeezed together. The grip can be tightened or loosened by turning a screw-drive that is located in one handle of the pliers.

    Release the grip with the lever found on the opposite handle to where the screw-drive is located. Locking pliers typically have serrated jaws that may be straight or curved for gripping rounded items. They can be found in a range of sizes and styles. Just keep in mind that the metal serrated teeth combined with the force applied by the jaws can damage fittings, so take care to avoid applying too much pressure when you use these pliers.

  • 03 of 05

    Lineman's Pliers

    Lineman's pliers

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    Best For: Bending or cutting wires and sheet metal.

    Lineman's pliers generally have short jaws with shallow serrations to firmly grip wires, fittings, and flat objects, like sheet metal. Electricians commonly use these pliers to install wire nuts. They twist the wires together to create a connection between the two separate lengths, then cover the wires with a plastic insulator known as a wire nut.

    Behind the shallow serrations for gripping, lineman's pliers often have a small cutting surface as the base of the jaws used for cutting wire and soft metals. The handles are often coated in rubber or plastic, though this extra padding is not sufficient to protect you from powerful electric currents. Never use pliers on a live electrical system. Always make sure to turn off the breaker, remove the fuse, unplug the cord, or take out the battery to help prevent electrical injuries.

  • 04 of 05

    Water-Pump Pliers

    Water pump pliers

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    Best For: Tightening, loosening, and gripping plumbing fixtures.

    The technical term for these pliers is water-pump pliers, though they are also commonly called by several various names including, Channel-Lock pliers, channel-locks, groove-joint pliers, or simply pumps, to name a few. Plumbers get the most use out of water-pump pliers because these tools are specifically made for gripping pipes and plumbing fittings.

    The jaws have a curved shaped and serrated metal teeth to help grip slippery metal pipes. Like slip-joint pliers, water-pump pliers can be adjusted to grip objects of various sizes. The pivot point on the pliers also shifts into a series of grooves that allow the jaws to be positioned at different openings, while keeping the jaws parallel to one another.

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  • 05 of 05

    Slip-Joint Pliers

    Slip joint pliers

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    Best For: Versatile gripping, bending, tightening, loosening, and cutting.

    One of the most commonly used types of pliers around the home are known as slip-joint pliers. They feature a shifting pivot point that allows the jaws to open wider in order to grip larger objects. You can use slip-joint pliers for a wide variety of jobs, like loosening or tightening fittings, cutting soft nails, removing small metal pins or staples, or twisting wires.

    The jaws of these pliers are flat and serrated near the tip, but begin to curve towards the back of the jaw, nearer to the pivot point. This flat section is ideal for holding nails, pulling staples, or twisting wires, but the curved portion of the jaws is necessary for gripping rounded objects, like pipes or nuts. Most slip-joint pliers also have a short cutting surface at the back of the jaws used to slice through wires, nails, and other soft metals.

Choosing Pliers

Selecting the right pliers for the job isn't difficult because the various types are designed for specific purposes. If you are working on the plumbing system, then you will typically rely on water-pump pliers to grip the pipes and fittings, but if you are dealing with the electrical system, then lineman's pliers or needle-nose pliers are the best option.

Locking pliers provide a firm, stable grip that is especially helpful when you need to release the pliers to use your hand for another task, but you don't want to release the grip on the material. If you aren't sure what you need them for, but feel it's a good idea to have a set of pliers around the home, then opt for versatile slip-joint pliers.