Pliers: A Complete Guide

I honestly don’t know what I’d do without pliers! They are an incredibly useful hand tool, perfect for a variety of jobs, from cutting or stripping wire to holding or tightening bolts. There is an extensive range of different types of pliers, and we’ll look at some of them and their uses here. 

What do Pliers look like?

What do Pliers look like

They are composed of two metal levers connected by a fulcrum close to the head end. This creates handles on one side of the fulcrum and the jaws on the other.

There is a vast range of different varieties of pliers, many having specific uses. The most common types work rather like a pair of scissors, only, where on scissors you would find a pair of blades, on the pliers, there is a blunt, flat, ridged area for gripping or a set of short angled blades for cutting.

What are Pliers used for?

Pliers are a straightforward hand tool that, in one form or another, have been around for thousands of years. They increase the natural strength of your grip, magnifying and directing it at the point where the jaws meet.

They have a multitude of different applications. On many occasions, you’ll find that a basic set of pliers can get you out of difficulty as they will do the job of a variety of other tools, making them a great addition to any tool kit.

However, there are occasions when a specialist pair is required. The primary use for most pliers is:

  1. Gripping
  2. Cutting

What Types of Pliers are There?

You may be a handyman, farmer, mechanic, or simply a hobbyist, but having the right pliers for the job can make a world of difference. Of the many types of tools in your toolbox, pliers have the broadest range of applications.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the most common varieties, their defining features, and their primary function.

1. Combination Pliers

These will be the most common variety found in a home toolbox. They are a great all-around pair of pliers for the simple jobs of gripping and bending, stripping, and cutting wire. 


  • Rough ridged jaws
  • Curved inner jaw
  • Beveled cutting blades

2. Lineman’s Pliers

The beveled cutting edges in the jaws of these pliers are used for cutting wires. The square snub nose can create a perfect right angle. They are predominantly used for cutting, bending, or straightening wires.


  • Flat gripping surface with slip-resistant ridges 
  • Beveled cutting blades
  • Insulated handles

3. Locking Pliers

When the locking pliers are set, they remain gripped without any need to maintain pressure on the handles. They are particularly useful when extra torque is required, such as turning seized nuts or when supplemental grip is desired. In the US, they are generally referred to as Vice-Grips and in the UK as Mole Grips.


  • Ridged Jaws which curve, providing a larger space between the jaws
  • A bolt in one of the handles allows for the jaws to be closer or further apart for gripping specific sizes
  • A release lever is in the other handle

4. Slip Joint Pliers

There are various versions of slip-joint pliers. The fulcrum moves along a small groove to increase the size of the jaws when they are fully open. However, they can sometimes slip when in use, which may result in skinned knuckles.


  • A slip joint instead of a fixed rivet at the fulcrum
  • Ridged and curved jaws for gripping pipes

5. Adjustable Pliers

Adjustable pliers can also be called tongue and groove pliers or channel locks. They are used for some of the bigger jobs where larger nuts need to be loosened or tightened. They can be especially useful when you can’t find the right-sized wrench. 

The lower jaw will slide and lock into the different slots to fit different nut or bolt sizes. Whilst a wrench may be preferred, the adjustable pliers can save the day, especially when dealing with awkward plumbing jobs.


  • Ridged jaws
  • Jaws angled at between 45 and 60 degrees to the handles
  • Fulcrum slides to increase the jaw size
  • The jaws remain parallel and the handles the same distance apart

6. Needle-nosed Pliers

Both tradespeople and jewelry makers use needle-nosed pliers. They can be used for holding and snipping thinner wires. 

Their long fine ‘nose’ allows manipulation in small or tight areas where other pliers can’t reach or where fingers won’t fit. 

They are predominantly used for making jewelry or for fiddly electrical jobs and fishing.


  • Lightly ridged jaws
  • Wirecutter blade
  • Long straight jaws that become thinner towards the end
  • Rounded on the outside

7. Bent Nose Pliers

These are similar to the needle-nose pliers; however, bent nose pliers have curved jaws that can be helpful in applications where access is difficult. 

They are generally used in jewelry making and some electrical jobs.


  • Lightly ridged jaws
  • Long jaws with a curve or bend from approximately halfway down 

In this video, you will see a variety of different pliers and their uses:

How Do You Use Pliers?

This is an easy tool to use:

  1. The primary function of a pair of pliers is to grip something firmly and tightly. 
  1. There is a right way and a wrong way to use them, just as with any other type of tool.
  1. Always select a suitable variety of pliers for the job you are doing. 
  1. If necessary, prepare any adjustable slip joint or locking pliers by moving them to the required size. 
  1. Grip the handles firmly, closing the jaws around whatever you are manipulating.
  1. Apply gentle, consistent pressure in the direction you want the object to bend, turn or move. 
  1. Do not twist the pliers, as this will put undue stress and pressure on the fulcrum in a way that it’s not designed to handle. 
  1. Ensure that your skin is not caught and pinched in the jaws or by the fulcrum.

Safety Precautions

  • Eye Protection – Protect your eyes. Even with a simple tool like this, small snippets of wire can fly up into your face potentially causing damage to your eyes. Wearing a pair of safety glasses takes away the danger.
  • Don’t Use Excess Force – Don’t force the job you are doing by applying too much pressure. If it’s not working with one type, try a pair that is better suited to the heavier duty task. You could break them if used incorrectly and run the risk of possibly hurting yourself.
  • Wire Cutting – When cutting wire, apply constant and even pressure. Don’t wriggle them from side to side, as you may damage the cutting edge or, at the very least, blunt them.
  • Switch Off the Power! – If working with electrical wiring, always ensure you switch it off at the main circuit board before you start! 
  • Heat – Extreme heat can damage your tool as often they will have plastic handles. Avoid exposing them to extremely high temperatures that could occur if you were to use them with something like a blow-torch.
  • Maintenance – A small drop of oil in the fulcrum will help prevent your tool from seizing up and keep them corrosion-free, ensuring they are always ready to use and providing a smooth action when opening and closing them.
  • Protect Surfaces – If working with polished metal surfaces, it’s important to protect them with a piece of cloth between the jaws of the pliers and the metal to avoid scratches and other damage.


Having several different types of pliers in your tool kit can often prove invaluable, as they can be used for a wide variety of tasks.

Despite being a very basic tool, they can help you accomplish many jobs and are used by many trades, including electricians, plumbers, jewelers, mechanics, and farmers.

For me, they have saved the day on many occasions, and I consider them to be a vital tool.

To discover articles on a broad range of other handy tools, as well as other fascinating topics, head on over to our website.

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