Pliers of various types are used by practically every tool user, both amateur and professional. There are many types and sizes, each designed for specific uses, although their versatility makes some pliers adaptable for many jobs. Read this article and choose the right pliers for the job.

Basic safety rules which apply to the use of pliers.

1) Pliers should not be used for cutting hardened wire unless specifically manufactured for this purpose.

2) Never expose pliers to excessive heat. This may change the material properties and ruin the tool.

3) Always cut at right angles. Never rock from side to side or bend the wire back and forth against the cutting edges.

4) Don't bend stiff wire with light pliers. Using the tips to bend too large a wire can damage long-nose pliers. Use a sturdier tool.

5) Never use pliers as a hammer nor hammer on the handles. They may crack or break, or edges may be nicked by such abuse.

6) Never extend the length of handles to secure greater leverage. Use a larger pair of pliers.

7) Pliers should not be used on nuts or bolts. A wrench will do the job better and with less risk of damage to the fastener.

8) Oil pliers occasionally. A drop of oil at the joint will lengthen tool life and assure easy operation.

9) Safety glasses or goggles should be worn when cutting wire, etc. to protect eyes.

10) Never attempt to cut a “HOT” wire.

Warning: Comfort grips on handles are not intended to give any degree of protection against electric shock and shall not be used on or near live electric circuits.

What follows are tips for specific types of pliers.

Long-nose pliers

This type of pliers includes various nose configurations. They may be available with wire cutters or notches for stripping insulated wire. Small and miniature sizes are designed for electronic work. Handles may have plain or comfort grips. Certain designs are made in both straight and curved nose design. Typical sizes range from 4 to 12 inches in length. Most long-nose pliers are designed for electrical, telephone and electronic work involving smaller wire gauges. They will reach into awkward places and perform work difficult with any other tool. Their usefulness, however, is not limited to wire work.

Proper use and care:

1) Cut at a right angle to the wire.

2)Serrations on the gripping surface may be cleared of foreign materials by brushing with a file card or stiff wire brush.

Avoiding abuse/misuse:

1) Never expose these pliers to excessive heat.

2) Don't bend stiff wire with the tip of the pliers.

3) Never rock the pliers side to side when cutting.

4) Never pry with the nose of the pliers.

5) Never attempt to cut a “HOT” wire.

When to repair or replace:

Attempts to repair linemen's side-cutting, long-nose and ironworker's pliers are not recommended. Discard any pliers that are cracked, broken, sprung or have deformed cutting edges.

Diagonal cutting pliers

Diagonal cutters are made in several designs, ranging from the high-leverage, heavy-duty design down to the mini design for electronic work. There are designs for flush cutting, semi-flush cutting, and standard cutting. Some have wire-skinning holes; some have coil springs to open the jaws. Handles may have plain or comfort grips. Typical sizes range from 4 to 12 inches in length. Diagonal cutting pliers are designed for electrical, electronic, telephone, general and automotive work.

Proper use and care:

1) Flush cutting and semi-flush cutting pliers should be used only for cutting small soft wires used in electronic wiring applications.

2) It is recommended that the standard cutting-edge pliers be used for all general cutting requirements except hard wire.

3) Always cut at right angles.

4) Dull cutting edges may be touched up with a small, medium-grade honing stone.

Avoiding abuse/misuse:

1) Never expose pliers to excessive heat.

2) Don't rock pliers from side to side when cutting wire.

3) Never use pliers as a hammer, or drop on hard or paved surfaces.

 When to repair or replace:

Attempts to repair these pliers are not recommended. Discard any pliers that are cracked, broken, sprung, or have deformed cutting edges.

Slip joint pliers

These pliers are available in several designs; standard, thin nose, bent nose and heavy-duty. Their slip joint capability increases the capacity range. They are available with or without wire cutters in sizes from 4 to 10 inches in length. Handles are available with plain or comfort grips.

These versatile tools are designed for a wide range of service involving gripping, turning and bending.

Avoiding abuse/misuse:

1) Never expose these pliers to excessive heat.

2) Never use as a hammer.

When to repair or replace:

Attempts to repair these pliers are not recommended. Discard any pliers that are cracked, broken or sprung.

Multiple-position pliers

These wide-range-capacity pliers are made with tongue and groove or other multiple position joint adjustment designs. Jaw capacities up to 5 3/8 inches are available. Jaws may be smooth or serrated and curved or straight. Sizes range from 4 to 20 1/4 inches in length.

These pliers are widely used by plumbers, electricians, auto mechanics and professionals in the construction and industrial fields. They will grip a variety of shapes.

Avoiding abuse/misuse:

1) Never expose these pliers to excessive heat.

2) Never use as a hammer.

When to repair or replace:

Attempts to repair these pliers are not recommended. Discard any pliers that are cracked, broken or sprung.

Locking pliers

Locking pliers are available in a variety of sizes with straight or curved jaws. Compound leverage systems lock jaws and hold various shapes and sizes of work.

Locking pliers are combination tools which function as pliers, wrenches or clamps. They are not intended to replace open-end or box wrenches because of possible damage to fitting or fastener.

Avoiding abuse/misuse:

1) Do not hammer to tighten jaws or to cut wire or bolts.

2) Do not expose locking pliers to heat from welding torches or contact with welding electrodes. 3) When subjected to severe vibration such as encountered during riveting, locking pliers holding the work pieces should be wired or taped closed to prevent accidental opening.

4) Do not use pipe, other extensions or hammering to increase torque applied to these tools.

5) They should never be used as steps or ladders to support personnel.

When to repair or replace:

Avoid excessive wear on working parts by frequent lubrication. Attempts to repair these tools are not recommended. Discard any damaged tool.

About this article:

This article is an excerpt from the upcoming fourth edition of the Hand Tools Institute publication “Guide to Hand Tools: Selection, Safety Tips, Proper Use & Care”.