If you’ve ever built or repaired anything in your life, the chances that you’ve never wielded a pair of pliers are extremely slim. This versatile tool holds nuts and bolts in place but can offer innumerable other services depending on your needs.
The different types of pliers include adjustable pliers, which are more versatile for DIYers and include slip-joint pliers and locking pliers. There are also diagonal pliers for wire-cutting, nail puller pliers for yanking nails out of wood, standard hobby pliers, and automotive pliers for vehicles.
Choosing the right pair of pliers for the job means knowing what a pair of pliers is intended for and what you’re hoping to accomplish.
Get the wrong kind, and you risk frustration at best and damage to your materials–even personal injury–at worse.
Below is an overview of some of the more common types of pliers, and nearly all of them have a carbon steel construction.
The most commonly used pliers are adjustable, allowing a homeowner, DIYer, or professional construction worker to wield one tool for multiple uses, freeing up space in the toolbox and on the tool belt.
There are many adjustable versions of pliers, but two main types:
Probably the most common household plier, slip joint pliers are widespread because they’re versatile.
While they don’t generally offer a cutter, the curved jaw allows for use on multiple items.
The key feature, though, is the so-called slip joint. The fulcrum, or pivot point, of these pliers is adjustable.
One side of the pliers has multiple slots for the pivot, allowing you to adjust the size of the tool. If the bolt is too big, slide the pivot into the next slot for a wider grip.
While these are often referred to as “channel locks,” Channellock is actually a brand of tongue-and-groove pliers.
Tongue-and-groove pliers are a variation on the slip-joint pliers.
Generally, they offer more slots for wider spans, and the jaws are angled to one side–usually at about 45 degrees, though there are models that provide more and less acute angles.
The workhorse of the plier world, locking pliers, open up realms of possibility.
Often called Vise-grips (a brand name), locking pliers use a screw to adjust for width and a locking mechanism to hold the jaws in place.
The results are an ability to apply more force to the object you’re working with, the freeing up of at least one hand to deal with other aspects of the job, and a versatility that rivals any pair of pliers on this list.
1. Lineman’s Pliers
Named for the workers who use them, lineman’s pliers are for cutting, crimping, twisting, and otherwise manipulating wire.
As they’re common in electrical work, they’re available in insulated models.
Lineman’s pliers feature a snub nose, flat surfaces on the two sides of the pliers to allow for better gripping and often offer a cutting tool near the fulcrum.
This is for the wire but can usually handle cutting through screws too.
2. Fencing Pliers
Fencing pliers are another type related to lineman’s pliers.
You might argue that fencing pliers are just lineman’s pliers with a few extra bells and whistles.
Fencing pliers are intended for wire fencings, like barbed wire, chicken wire, hog wire, and the like.
They feature different cutting apparatuses, often have a pincer-like construction like that of the nail puller pliers, and may even have a surface designed to tackle light hammering jobs.
Fencing pliers are versatile but maybe too much plier for the average homeowner to use around the garage workshop.
3. Combination Pliers
Very similar to lineman’s pliers, combination pliers offer a bit more versatility.
If you’re using your pliers for electrical or other wire jobs but also use them in other situations, the combination pliers may be better suited to your needs than would be the lineman’s.
The jaws feature multiple gripping areas and usually at least two different cutting areas to allow for cutting wire and cable, each of varying sizes.
4. Diagonal Pliers
More often called wire-cutters, diagonal pliers are for cutting.
They’re nearly useless for holding things in place, as the sharp edges of the jaw don’t offer enough surface area to grip a nut or bolt.
Diagonal pliers are designed for cutting wires, nails, screws, and all manner of smallish metal objects, diagonal pliers differ from scissors in that they essentially pinch apart what they’re cutting.
These are the pliers that offer a satisfying “snap” when the screw they’ve been applied to pops off.
Like most items on this list, when this is the tool you need, there isn’t much else that’ll work better.
5. Needle Nose Pliers
This tool offers long, thin jaws that taper down to a very small size.
Needle-nose pliers are for more delicate work and are mainly used in electronics work and for projects involving small pieces.
The length of the tool makes it possible to work in tight spaces and allows for applying force gently.
If you’re working on a hobby project like jewelry or model-making, you don’t want to be crushing the tiny pieces you’re trying to manipulate.
Like many pliers on this list, needle-nose pliers usually come equipped with a cutting edge just above the fulcrum of the tool.
However, needle-nose pliers aren’t for cutting metal or even heavy-gauge wire and are expressly forbidden from use with live electrical lines.
6. Bent Nose Pliers
A kind of fraternal twin of the needle-nose plier, bent-nose pliers are essentially the same tool but with, as you might imagine, a curve or bend at the end of the pliers’ jaw.
These are a bit more specialized than their straight-jawed sibling but can be very useful.
Bent-nose pliers are often sold paired with a needle-nose version, although both are available separately.
7. Nail Puller Pliers
These pliers, as the name says, are for pulling nails. They offer a pincer construction, designed to get as close to the surface the nail is in as possible before clamping down on the nail itself.
Sometimes called nipper pliers, these are specialized, but when nail pullers are what you need, there’s no substitute.
This is a brute-force tool that’ll leave a mark, making it inappropriate if you’re concerned about surface scratches or other damage.
Pliers aren’t all that interchangeable. When working with smaller pieces or with softer metals and wires, you’ll want pliers specifically designed to minimize damage and trauma to the materials involved. These sub-species provide task-specific options for plier choice.
8. Round-Nose Pliers
Perhaps the polar opposite of nail pullers, round-nose pliers are for delicate work.
Their jaws are round posts, allowing for their primary purpose of bending and shaping wire.
Primarily used in creating and repairing jewelry and electronics, round-nose pliers are usually used for small, delicate, and intricate projects.
Available variations include insulation and spring-loaded joints.
9. Bail-Making Pliers
Another jewelry-centric tool, bail-making pliers are summed up in the name.
A bail is a piece of metal or wire used in jewelry to attach things like pendants to a chain to hang at the desired angle.
Bail-making pliers feature untapered cylindrical jaws that allow you to bend the wire into a rounded form without creasing or crimping it.
Various sizes are available, and jewelers need several sizes on hand, as bails come in many diameters.
10. Chain Nose Pliers
Chain nose pliers are very similar to bail-making pliers in design, construction, and use.
The main difference is that while round-nose pliers are, well, round, chain nose pliers have a flat gripping surface.
This surface is smooth, not textured or serrated, allowing for use on the softer metals and wires that populate the jewelry world without damaging the materials.
Chain nose pliers are better for holding things, whereas round-nose are best for bending and shaping.
11. Flat Nose Pliers
For delicate work and very similar to chain nose pliers, flat nose pliers are not tapered like the chain nose variety.
Unlike chain nose pliers, flat nose pliers are available with a smooth or serrated surface on the jaw.
These are appropriate for jewelry but may end up causing damage you could avoid by using other pliers.
Flat nose pliers are more commonly used in model making and other hobby and craft applications.
12. Canvas Pliers
Artists stretching canvas over stretcher bars use canvas pliers to ensure a good grip on the material and an even application of pressure.
Most of these sport a spring return handle, but the main feature of canvas pliers is the business end of the jaw.
Two flat bars run perpendicular to the body of the pliers, giving them the look of a hammerhead shark.
This extra surface area in the gripping face provides better traction when pulling the canvas.
13. Eyelet Pliers
When working with eyelets–two-sided grommets mounted onto fabric or other soft material–eyelet pliers simplify the process and eliminate the need for multiple tools.
Eyelets feature male and female components.
The eyelet pliers are designed so that each prong of the jaws lines up accordingly so that they essentially also have a male and female end.
Without these pliers, eyelet installation involves hole-punching and hammering. This is a tool of simplification.
14. Running Pliers
Running pliers feature jaws that are wider than most other pliers and are rubber or plastic coated.
They’re specifically made for use with panes of glass, whether you’re moving, installing, cutting, scoring, or breaking glass.
This last application is the main use of running pliers.
Once a pane of glass has been scored, running pliers apply pressure perpendicular to the scoreline, snapping it off cleanly.
15. Grozing Pliers
Grozing pliers are sisters to running pliers and are often bundled with them for sale.
They also have rubber or plastic coverings on the jaws, but these jaws are asymmetrical.
The straight piece goes on top of the glass, the curved on the bottom.
Pressure applied along the score line creates a clean break in the glass.
Grozing pliers are mostly intended for breaking glass in straight lines, while running pliers can handle slightly curved scores.
Getting under the hood of your car or truck requires a set of skills and a good deal of specialized tools. While a screwdriver is a screwdriver (for the most part), there are nearly as many task-specific pliers as there are parts in an engine. Just a few of them are discussed below.
16. Hose Clamp Pliers
The tips of these pliers are round barrel-shaped connections that fit together when closed.
They offer the ability to hold different types of hose clamps (the most common being flat or ring clamps) and allow you to access the clamps at various angles.
A specialty item, hose clamp pliers are primarily used in automotive work, as are the similarly-named hose grip pliers, known for being applied to the actual hoses.
17. Snap-Ring Pliers
Retaining rings are generally set into a groove and hold things in place on a cylindrical object.
Since they’re usually metal, they offer little give, which is great in terms of keeping them in place.
But when one requires removal, the metal it’s made of makes this problematic. Enter the snap-ring pliers.
Like needle-nose pliers in appearance, they offer jaws that can reach down into the often tight space where these snap rings rest.
The tips of these pliers are specifically crafted to fit different kinds of snap rings.
Most models have a spring mechanism in their pivot point.
These are not to be confused with snap pliers, which are intended for applying snap fasteners to clothing and are very different in appearance.
18. Battery Pliers
The main purpose of this particular specialization is to grip the square terminals of automotive batteries.
As there are many different shapes and sizes of battery terminals, various configurations are available in battery pliers.
Some offer angled jaws, asymmetrical alignments, and the like to accommodate different situations, makes, and models.
Most battery pliers feature serrated jaws for an even better grip.
19. Brake Spring Pliers
These look more like the tongs a blacksmith might use than most other pliers. The jaws are longer and more curved than on most other pliers.
Brake spring pliers are used to repair and install brake shoes and systems in cars and trucks, specifically when it comes to brake return springs.
These must be installed, removed, and/or reinstalled with finesse to avoid warping or otherwise mangling them.
If you’re not working on brakes, you’ll likely never need these.
20. Hose Grip Pliers
Offering jaws that flare into a rounded tip to fit around a hose, these pliers are designed to grip, turn, or pull various kinds of hoses without damaging or crimping them.
Manufacturers make a plethora of sizes to accompany the wide variety of hoses found in automotive and other applications.
21. Push Pin Pliers
Angled jaws allow for easy gripping of the plastic push pins used most often in automotive trim applications.
Some brands of push pins require brand-specific pliers, so before you go pick up a pair of these, be aware of exactly what you’ll be working on.
These are specialized pliers that aren’t incredibly versatile outside of automotive work.
22. Oil Filter Pliers
Oil filter pliers are a specialty tool so specialized that it’s hard to think of any other use for it outside of removing oil filters from combustion engines.
The jaws of the oil filter pliers are long and curved, designed to fit snugly around the barrel of an oil filter.
They’re perhaps not worth the investment if you’re just changing your own oil every 5,000 miles (8,046.75 kilometers).
But if you’re working in an environment where oil changes are happening more often, this is a tool worth having.
23. Piston Ring Pliers
Piston rings are metal and fit around an engine’s piston, serving as a kind of gasket to minimize loss of gasses and pressure during combustion.
These rings are stiff and brittle, so care must be taken when installing or removing them to avoid damage.
Piston ring pliers come in various configurations to match the gamut of designs available in piston rings.
Some piston ring pliers squeeze opposing metal teeth to open the ring, some clamp down to pull the ring straight off the piston.
Depending on the make of the engine involved, you’ll likely only need one style of piston ring pliers unless you’re working in an automotive mechanic’s capacity.
24. Spark Plug Pliers
Like the oil filter pliers, hose grip pliers, and several others, spark plug pliers feature jaws that are shaped for a specific purpose–in this case, fitting around the body of a spark plug to allow for lateral pressure to be applied to unscrew the plug from the engine.
More often, mechanics use a spark plug socket attached to a ratcheting wrench, but these pliers offer the ability to approach the spark plug from angles other than directly above it.
25. Crimping Pliers
When you crimp a wire or other connection, you essentially crush or otherwise deform the two pieces being joined together so that they’re rendered inseparable.
Crimping pliers offer multiple slots in their jaws to accommodate different gauges of wire that need crimping.
Users who often crimp already have this tool.
People who don’t know what this tool is or how to use it have no need for it.
26. Sheet Metal Pliers
Similar in construction and appearance to canvas pliers, sheet metal pliers also have wide bars on the jaw ends.
Rather than being used for stretching, sheet metal pliers are most often applied to bend and shape sheet metal.
The physics of a pair of pliers allows for more force to be applied manually, meaning that sheet metal pliers can be used to good effect in place of a more expensive power tool.
27. Split Ring Pliers
You may not know it by name, but you know what a split ring is. If you’ve ever seen a key chain, you’ve seen a split ring, as it’s the metal ring that you pry loose a bit, then slide your key on and around until it’s hanging loose on the ring.
If you’ve ever fought with a particularly tight split ring, you can imagine how helpful split ring pliers can be.
One side of the jaws is a straight jaw, the other hooked, and then clamp it onto the ring and pry it apart.
Ever bend your fingernail back on one of these rings? Split ring pliers will eliminate that discomfort.
While split rings come in many sizes, most of them can be manipulated with a one-size-fits-most model of split ring pliers.
28. Soft Jaw Pliers
Generally very similar in appearance and function to tongue and groove pliers, the main attribute is the padding on the jaws, which prevents the metal of the pliers from marring the surface being adjusted.
They’re applicable primarily to visible, decorative plumbing fixtures, as chrome and other finished metals are often very susceptible to scratches.
29. Welding Pliers
Another specialized tool, most welding pliers offer many features for tackling multiple jobs with one tool.
Their thin jaws are used mainly for cleaning a MIG welding nozzle–from removing the MIG nozzle tip to cleaning it inside and out–and several cutting surfaces are available for pulling and cutting various sizes of wire.
The jaws usually have multiple types and arrangements of teeth to hold many different shapes of objects.
30. Wire Twisting Pliers
Lengths of twisted wire come in handy in crafts and construction for a variety of reasons.
The downside is that twisting even two pieces of wire together can be physically taxing and challenging, and the process is prone to uneven results.
Enter the wire twisting pliers, one of the more fun varieties of pliers.
These look very much like lineman’s pliers but with an added piece.
The jaws of the pliers clamp to the ends of the wires you’re going to twist into one piece, then the handles lock into place.
Between the handles is a spring-loaded cylinder with a pull at the bottom of it.
Pull on this, and the entire apparatus turns, thereby twisting the wires into one piece.
Here’s a pair in action:
31. Aquarium Pliers
Very similar in design, appearance, and use to the grabber claw of late-night TV commercials, aquarium pliers feature jaws at the end of a long tube.
These are for use in aquariums and are useful for a couple of reasons: reaching an arm into an aquarium can get messy. If the aquarium is deep enough, it’s impractical.
Second, some fish and plants can be sensitive skin oils.
Aquarium pliers can contribute to the overall health and safety of your aquatic friends.
32. Aglet Pliers
With male and female ends like eyelet pliers, these apply or replace aglets, which are the metal or plastic ends of shoelaces and drawstrings.
When an aglet is missing, things can get complicated. If simple replacement of the string or lace isn’t an option, aglet pliers are the way to go.
Like many pliers on this list, these are pretty specialized, but there aren’t many other options if it’s what you need.
33. Ear Clamp Pliers
An ear clamp is a round clamp with at least one place sporting a protrusion called an ear.
A tube or hose is fitted into place, and the clamp fits over the hose.
The ear clamp pliers, which look very similar to mail puller pliers, crimp the ear down, deforming it, and locking it into place.
If you have a project that requires pliers, the chances are good that a versatile version of the tool is already in your toolbox, and it’ll do the job.
The chances are equally good that someone out there has created a type of pliers specifically for the job you’re doing, whether it’s jewelry-making or working with electrical wire.
Specialization means a tool that is exactly right for the job.
However, if the job isn’t one you do regularly, a less task-specific tool will likely work just as well for you.
Cheers, tools owners!