Choosing and Using the Right Plier for the Job Choosing and Using the Right Plier for the Job

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Choosing and Using the Right Plier for the Job


Choosing and Using the Right Plier for the Job Choosing and Using the Right Plier for the Job

Pliers are used for various purposes, from cutting and tightening to loosening objects. The adaptability of pliers makes them one of the most common tools, but with so many different kinds, it can be hard to know which pliers to choose. Use our guide to determine how to pick the right plier depending on the job.  

Match the Right Type of Plier to the Job

Due to the many different types and uses, pliers can sometimes be misused as general-purpose tools. While a plier's versatility makes it an excellent tool for accomplishing many tasks, knowing how to use and maintain pliers properly is essential to staying safe on the job.

As a general rule, the type of pliers helps determine its proper use. Pliers can be categorized into three general types: locking, adjustable, and non-adjustable.

Main Types

Locking: also known as vice grips, Mole wrench or mole grips. These pliers are used to hold objects in place by seamless clamping. These pliers can hold anything from nuts to bolts to heavy-duty equipment. 

Tongue and Groove: adjustable pliers used to maintain a firm and safe grip while turning and holding nuts and bolts. These pliers are commonly used in various industries, from plumbing to electrical work. Non-sparking tongue-and-groove pliers can help reduce the risk of ignition when working in hazardous conditions.

Diagonal Cutting trim wire or zip ties, cut through thin screws, nails and more. Insulated diagonal-cutting pliers are designed with nonporous metals, and non-conductive grips rated to 1000V, and used when working in areas where combustible dust and flammable liquids, gas, or vapors are present to help protect against electrical shocks.

Precision-Cutting: fit into tighter spaces than larger pliers to provide fine control for electronics and other detailed work with small parts and delicate components. Also known as mini diagonal pliers, they cut through thin wire and small fasteners. ESD-Safe pliers are available in various cut profiles from standard, flush or semi-flush with handle grips that help dissipate electrostatic charges when cutting near sensitive electrical components.

Slip-Joint: featuring an adjustable pivot point to extend their jaw range, these pliers are used to firmly grip various materials like pipe, wire and more. Non-sparking slip-joint pliers help reduce the risk of ignition in hazardous locations.

Linesman’s: non-adjustable pliers used for gripping and contorting wires and cables in electrical and lineman industries. Non-sparking linesman’s pliers are also available.

Long Nose: also known as needle nose pliers, the long, thin length of these non-adjustable pliers is used for cutting, holding, pulling and repositioning items in tight spaces and can reach areas other pliers can’t. Non-sparking long-nose pliers can help reduce the risk of ignition when working in hazardous conditions.

Retaining-Ring: also known as circlip and Snap Ring pliers, their tips provide a firm grip for installing and removing snap rings and holding components. These adjustable pliers are used to place rings on machinery like actuators, gear assemblies and motor shafts.

When cutting materials with pliers, there are some objects that you should avoid unless you are using specialty pliers designed for a specific task. While you should never try to cut nuts, bolts, and hot or hardened wires with general use or light-duty pliers, some specialty pliers can help you efficiently and safely perform these tasks.

Specialty Pliers

Wire-Twisting: make tight, consistent twists in a wire that can resist unraveling. They are often used to make safety wire twists that help secure fasteners in aircraft and high-vibration machinery.

Hog-Ring: help make fencing and furniture installation easy. These pliers are designed to tighten metal rings around cords.

Fencing: for installing and repairing wire fences. These multipurpose pliers also have a hammer, staple claw and wire cutter.

Hole-Punching: used to punch holes through tough materials like leather, rubber and plastic. These pliers are typically used for crafts and hobbies and come in handy for various tasks.

Jaw Shape

Pliers feature several different jaw shapes, including:

  • Long Nose jaws allow users to reach into tight spaces and provide a precise hold to clamp materials, grip staples and other small fasteners.
  • Curved jaws fit around pipes and round stocks for a better grip than flat jaws and are often used to loosen frozen nuts and bolts.
  • V jaws fit onto three sides of hex-head fasteners to provide a firm grip to help prevent slipping, damage and injuries.
  • Flat jaws make complete contact with flat surfaces and grip flat, square and hex-shaped materials to help secure fastener heads.
  • Parrot jaws feature a curved top jaw that fits onto round fasteners, round stock and small-diameter pipes. The top jaw slightly overhangs the bottom jaw and applies uniform pressure by driving the bottom jaw toward the middle to apply pressure.

Handle Design

Along with different jaw styles, pliers feature different types of handles like curved, straight and lever or quick-release openings. Lever handles open when a release lever is pressed, while a quick release handle opens when a user pushes on the lower handle. Quick-release handles are easier to open with one hand and remove the risk of pinching your hand while trying to release a lever.

Safety Precautions: Dos and Don'ts When Using Pliers

Since safety guards aren’t built into hand tools like they are with many power tools, workers must be aware of safety precautions to help prevent injuries. Several OSHA standards for general industry, maritime and construction address specific hand and power tool hazards. Employees should know how to select the right tool for the job, use each tool correctly and identify when tools need repair. Using another tool that isn’t meant to do a task can increase the risk of accidents.

In addition to OSHA requirements, it’s essential to be aware of some common safety precautions when using pliers. Here are some important dos and don’ts to keep in mind:  

  1. Use the right size pliers for your hand and personal comfort. Using the wrong size can make it difficult to operate or cause you to drop the tool leading to injuries like pinched hands or fingers.
  2. Never use pliers as a hammer. The pliers can crack and break, or the edges may become damaged.
  3. Avoid exposing pliers to excessive heat. Heat can alter the material properties and damage the tool.
  4. Don’t use pliers to tighten nuts or bolts. A wrench is better and can perform the job without risking damaging the fastener.
  5. Always use insulated pliers when working near live wires or parts to help protect against arc flash and other hazards. Non-insulated handles can be confused with insulated ones. You can ensure your tools comply with National Fire Protection (NFPA), International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), ASTM and DIN standards by looking for a double triangle symbol or the VDE logo.
  6. Never use pliers for cutting hardened wire unless they are specifically manufactured for this purpose. Using the tips to bend a large wire can damage some types, like long-nose pliers.  
  7. Always cut at right angles when using pliers. Never bend the wire back or rock back and forth against the cutting edges. Ensure the cutting edges on pliers are sharp since dull or worn-down edges can require significantly more cutting force.
  8. Never extend the length of the plier handles to create more leverage. Instead, use a larger pair of pliers or a bolt cutter depending on the task.
  9. Remember to oil your pliers occasionally. Place a drop of oil at the joint to help ensure effortless operation and increase the life of your tool.
  10. Always wear safety glasses or goggles to help protect your eyes when cutting wire. 


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The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.