- Best Pliers Set
- Best Needle Nose Pliers
- Best Locking Pliers
- Best Water Pump Pliers
- Best Diagonal Pliers
- Best Electrical Crimping Pliers
There seems to be a specialized type of pliers for every job imaginable, but you can usually get away with a handful of the most basic types. From needle nose to channel lock, you'll find the best of the best on the lists below. Each of these tools will be made with high quality materials, function smoothly and have a long working life so you can be rest assured that you're getting the best pliers for the job.
Best Pliers Set:
Nobody needs just one set of pliers in their tool kit. There are so many different types of pliers, for so many different purposes, that you'll quickly find yourself with several, whether you want to, or not. With that being the case, doesn't it just make sense to start out buying a set?
Of course, you have to buy the right set to start out with. Some people take buying a set as an excuse for buying a cheap one. That's not going to do it. Cheap tools are just that... cheap tools; and you really can't expect them to either last or work all that well for you. You truly get what you're paying for with most brands of tools.
More than anything, pliers are made for grasping things. So, a good set of pliers will give you the ability to grasp a wide variety of things and hold them well. In order to do that, they need to be made of hardened steel, so they won't bend. Soft steels may bend if too much force is applied to them. They also need hardness for maintaining the sharpness of any cutter included in the pliers. Soft steel won't sharpen as well or hold an edge.
The other important part is the joint that the tool hinges on. Some types of pliers, like diagonal cutters and needle nose pliers will have a tight joint. In these cases, there shouldn't be any side-to-side play at all. Other pliers, like slip joints and channel locks will have loose joints, so that they can be adjusted. The quality of the joint is even more important in these cases, so that it doesn't fail or become sloppy over time. This is a function of the quality of the steel as well as the quality of the design.
At a minimum, a set of pliers should contain one set of slip joint pliers, one water pump pliers, one needle nose pliers and a pair of diagonal cutters. This isn't enough to take care of everything; but it is enough to take care of most things. You can always add to that set later.
By buying a set, you should be able to save some money over buying the tools individually. Even the best and most expensive brands out there give a discount on a set price, over buying the tools individually. That leaves you with money to use for something else.
I'm not a big fan of cases for tools like this, even though there are some with cases included in the list. Basically, the problem I see wit cases is that these aren't the types of tools to stay put in a case. You're probably going to end up putting them together in a drawer of a tool box, putting them in a pouch with other tools or they'll end up scattered all over. A case isn't going to change that since all it will do is give you one more thing to clutter up your workshop.
You can't beat Snap-On for quality tools, especially mechanics tools. Like all their products, the pliers in this set are guaranteed for life; nuff said. Read Full Review
Matco's tools are designed and manufactured to compete directly with Snap-On. They may not be cheap, but they are a little more affordable than their competition. You can be assured that anything you buy from them will be high quality. Read Full Review
If I had to buy a set of pliers, I'd probably pick this one from Channellock. They provide high quality tools, at a more reasonable price than Snap-On or Matco. This kit also gives you more to work with, having eight pliers in the set. Read Full Review
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SK tools are commonly used in many factories, where they need quality tools that won't give out. This set includes two different sized water pump pliers, which is nice as I find them to be extremely useful; more so than other types of pliers. Read Full Review
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Greenlee designed this set for the professional electrician. It comes with an over-the-shoulder tool pouch which is much more than just a pouch for the pliers. It's big enough for the professional electrician to carry all his basic load of hand tools on the job. Read Full Review
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Best Needle Nose Pliers:
There are times when a pair of standard slip-joint pliers just won't work. Either the space is too constricted, there's something in the way of reaching into the space where you want to grab the item or the item you want to grab is just too small. When any of those conditions occur, you're much better off using a pair of needle nose pliers.
The really nice thing about needle nose pliers is that they give you a way of grasping things that are too small to grasp with your fingers. Granted, a pair of tweezers will do that too, but tweezers don't really have any strength to them. With the needle nose you have enough force to do something with whatever you are grasping.
The hard part of designing and manufacturing a pair of needle nose pliers is to make a piece of metal that is pointed, yet strong. There are three basic elements that go into that. The first is the physical shape of the pliers. This is a tradeoff as the longer and narrower the point, the weaker the pliers. So, most manufacturers go with about the same configuration. Secondly, we have the type of steel that is used as the harder the steel is, the stiffer the point. Finally, we consider the joint on the pliers as a really good pair of needle nose pliers will have a very solid joint that can't wiggle while still offering smooth action.
While standard needle nose pliers all look pretty much the same, there are a wide variety of specialty needle nose pliers on the market as well. Some of these are designed for specific types of work, such as electronics or jewelry making. However, they can be useful anytime when you are working with small pieces and parts. I have a wide variety of small needle nose pliers which I've found useful for everything from gunsmithing, to jewelry making, to repairing tape recorders.
You can also find specialty needle nose that have extra narrow jaws, extra long jaws or bent jaws, each with their own manner of use. I find that 90 degree bent needle nose pliers are about the best tool going for removing the hose clamps that auto manufacturers put on at the factory.
As with any tool, quality is important. The fit and finish on needle nose pliers is of extra importance, as that affects the ability of the tool's jaws to meet properly. More than any other type of pliers, how neatly the jaws of needle nose close together is important.
Of all the "standard" needle nose pliers, I've chosen these as my favorites, more for the molded handle than anything else. I makes working with the tool much more comfortable and increases your grip. Read Full Review
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If you want the best, take a look at these pliers from Lindstrom. However, be ready to pay a hefty price for these precision ground tools. Read Full Review
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The extra-long and extra-narrow nose on these pliers make them ideal for working in tight places. I find them especially useful for working on electronics, where you don't often have room to get a finger in place to hold something. Read Full Review
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These extra-ling pliers are great when you drop a piece of hardware in a hard to access place. Not only do they have a great reach, but the bent tip means you aren't blocking your view with the tool. Read Full Review
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Best Locking Pliers:
Pliers, as we all know, are for grabbing things that we either can't or don't want to grab with our hands. Their manufacture and use goes back as far as blacksmithing, for the blacksmith was both the manufacturer of pliers and the master of their use.
When the industrial age broke out, pliers, as well as a host of other tools, moved from the blacksmith's forge into industrial foundries. This both reduced their cost and made them available to a wider range of people.
The first locking pliers were developed William Petersen, a resident of Nebraska in 1924. He gave them the name "Vice-Grips" and started the company by that name. Since then, the company has been acquired by Irwin Tools, who still manufacture locking pliers under that name. Today, vice-grips is still used by many as a name for this type of tool, regardless of who manufactured it.
The basic idea of locking pliers is to provide constant force to the object being held, relieving the person holding the tool of that burden. This makes it possible to have pressure on the object for much longer periods of time than a person can hold them. It is accomplished by integrating an adjustable over-center clamp into the design of the pliers.
Any over-center clamp works by spring tension. The clamp is closed to a point where movement has gone past the point where the clamp's handle is being closed. At that point, the spring tension that the object being held provides to the clamp merely causes it to get tighter, not looser. Unless the clamp handle is moved, that pressure can't force the clamp to open.
This is a great advantage in a tool designed to hold things, as muscle fatigue or metal fatigue won't affect it. As long as the handle is undisturbed, the clamp will literally hold forever.
Although the basic design of locking pliers hasn't changed over the years, a large number of specialty designs have been developed since then. This broadens their use, allowing them to be used in places where standard locking pliers just can't fit, as well as where the original design can't provide the necessary holding power. Some things just need to be held differently.
Locking pliers are used for a variety of purposes and in a variety of industries. Mechanics like them because they can provide more clamping force than the mechanic can provide with their hands. Welders use them for clamping pieces of metal together while welding. Sheet metal workers use specialized locking pliers for breaking (bending) metal where short bends are needed and just about everyone uses them to loosen nuts and bolts with rounded heads or to replace a missing handle.
In this list, we're going to concentrate on standard locking pliers. However, you should be aware that other designs of these tools exist. Specifically, you can find the standard locking pliers in smaller sizes, as well as needle-nose locking pliers. Both of these allow you to use the pliers in smaller spaces.
Snap-On has long been recognized as the top line for mechanics tools. This particular model comes from their Blue Point line, which while not quite as expensive, are still excellent tools. I picked it over some of their other models due to the padded handles. Read Full Review
Irwin takes the original model of Vice-Grip pliers two steps further by adding padded handles and a wire cutter. Not only are the handles padded, but they allow for a much easier release, when the time comes. Read Full Review
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When they say "the original", they mean the original. This shows you how well this tool was designed. The very same model that first came on the market, over half a century ago, is still one of the most popular models there is. Read Full Review
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A very unique pair of locking pliers, offering a longer reach than any others on the market. The needle nose jaws are 15 inches from the handle. When opening, the middle part of the handle stays closed, with only the jaws and hand grip opening. That way, it can fit better in tight places. Read Full Review
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Unlike the other pliers on this list, this pair has straight jaws, not curved ones. While that may not work as well for grabbing rounded bolt heads, it's much better for grabbing the flats of bolt heads, as well as for holding parts and materials together. Read Full Review
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Best Water Pump Pliers:
Water pump pliers, more correctly categorized as tongue-and-groove pliers, were originally introduced under the trade name "Channellock" in 1934. For many, this name has become synonymous with all tongue-and-groove pliers, regardless of who made them. Regardless of the name, the pliers perform the same basic function.
Designed to provide gripping power when standard, slip-joint pliers aren't big enough, water pump pliers have a series of channels on them, with a metal boss, the "tongue" that can travel in any one of them. This gives water pump pliers a much larger range and maximum jaw opening measurement. How large depends on the design of the particular pair of pliers.
The jaws of the pliers are typically set at about a 50 degree angle to the handles, which are long, providing considerable leverage. This makes them ideal for removing nuts and bolts, when the right size wrench is not available. Of course, doing so may not be the best for the bolt head, as the teeth on the jaws of the water pump pliers can round the bolt head's corners if it slips.
The larger opening capacity also makes water pump pliers useful for a wide range of gripping tasks, ranging from plumbing to automotive, with farm work somewhere in between. The extra leverage the longer handles provide make it possible to use these pliers for tasks that other pliers can't perform.
Some water pump pliers have parallel jaws, while others have rounded jaws. The rounded jaws are better for removing hardware, as they can grip as many as four of the points on a bolt head or nut. This style can also be useful for plumbing, providing a better grip on plumbing pipes or fittings. The straight, parallel jaws are better for general gripping of other items, such as when using the pliers to lift a hot piece of metal or to tighten barbed wire.
Some models of water pump pliers come with plastic or rubber-coated handles. These not only reduce operator fatigue, by providing a more comfortable grip; but the grip is also non-slip, for when you are working on oily or greasy equipment. This rubber coating is also dielectric, making it possible to use these tools on hot electrical wires, without getting shocked. Care must be taken to avoid touching any metal part of the tool.
A recent innovation to water pump pliers is the idea of them being auto-adjusting. This means that you just have to clamp onto something and the jaws of the pliers will adjust to the right spacing, as if you had moved the boss into the right groove...only, there are no grooves. It works by starting out with the jaws at maximum spread. As you grip the item, the adjuster closes, until the jaws are able to grip parallel. Water pump pliers with this feature are much faster and easier to use.
The most common size for water pump pliers is 10 inches in overall length. However, there are some that are both larger and smaller. Generally speaking, the longer the length of the tool, the larger the jaws will open; so a 16 inch pair of water pump pliers can be used to grab much larger items.
Knipex is the current leader in self-adjusting water pump pliers, offering a range of sizes to choose from. This 10 inch pair can grip pipes up to 1 1/4 inches in diameter or bolt heads up to 1 3/8 inches. Read Full Review
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Not only is Channellock the inventor of water pump pliers, they have a more extensive range of designs than anyone else. This pair is one of their 'nut busters' designed heavier and with a tighter grip for loosening stuck nuts and bolts. Read Full Review
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Knipex calles these a "pliers wrench" because they can be used in place of an adjustable crescent wrench. The adjustment mechanism is different, ratcheting instead of grooves. This allows the tool to match the size of a bolt head or nut more exactly. Read Full Review
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For those that want self-adjusting pliers, without a high price tag, Triplett offers this excellent pair. Once thought to be nothing more than a gimmick, these pliers are a great addition to anyone's toolbox. Read Full Review
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Best Diagonal Pliers:
Diagonal cutters are unique in the world of pliers, in that they aren't designed to hold things, but rather to cut them. While I suppose it would be possible to hold something with a pair of diagonal cutters, there would always be the risk of cutting it, especially if it was made of a soft material or you held on too tight. Nevertheless, for some reason, they are classified as pliers.
Diagonal cutters are often referred to by the more general term, "wire cutters," but this isn't really accurate. While they are wire cutters, there are also a variety of other types of wire cutters. So, by calling them wire cutters, we are ignoring the specific type. Better to use the more specific name and have everyone understand what we are talking about.
Basically, diagonal cutters come in two different sizes. There are the larger ones, which are usually seven to eight inches long. These are used for cutting electrical wiring, such as house wiring. There is also a group of wire cutters which are four to five inches long. These are designed primarily for working on electronic devices from computers to radios which use smaller gauge wires, so the larger cutters that offer more leverage are not necessary.
While some wire is easy to cut, there is plenty of wire out there which will challenge any pair of diagonal cutters you can find. When you run across those types, the quality of the cutter is of upmost importance. Failure to use a high quality cutter at that time could result in the cutter ending up ruined.
So, what makes a good diagonal cutter? Basically, there are two things. First of all, there is the quality of the steel. Diagonal cutters need to be made out of hard steel, with a tempered edge that will not become dented easily. The second need is for a well designed hinge, which will not become loose as it is being used. If the hinge becomes loose, the blades of the cutters get out of alignment, ruining their effectiveness.
Some diagonal cutters are designed to apply high leverage. This is accomplished by adjusting the distance between the hinge and the blades. The shorter the distance, the greater the leverage the user will have. A short distance between the hinge and blade, along with longer handles provides the maximum possible leverage.
The handles of most of these tools are coated with an elastomeric coating to make them more comfortable to use. At the same time, that coating provides insulation from electrical shock. Considering the use of these tools, that's nice to have.
The unique design of these diagonal cutters multiplies the force you are able to put on them, making them cut twice as well with half the effort. They are able to cut through ACSR, nails, screws and piano wire. Read Full Review
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The innovative design of these cutters handles, from Snap-On, make them the most ergonomic diagonal cutters on the market. When you've got to do a lot of cutting, you won't have to worry about your wrist getting tired, as it will be holding the cutters at a natural angle. Read Full Review
Klein designed these diagonal cutters to provide maximum leverage. That makes a 36 percent difference in the force required. They also have integral wire cutters for 12 and 14 AWG solid wires. Read Full Review
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A different cutter design, guarantees long life on these diagonal cutters. Rather than having two cutting blades, which have to meet perfectly, they have a cutter and anvil. This eliminates one of the biggest causes of diagonal cutter failure. Read Full Review
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Best Electrical Crimping Pliers:
We've all probably used those little crimp-on wire connectors sometime or another. How well we've used them depends on what we've used them with. I'm not talking about the materials we used them on, but the tools we've used on them. If you don't have the right tools, getting one of those connectors to actually stay connected to the wire is a challenge, one that you'll probably lose.
That's where electrical crimping pliers, more commonly known by the shortened "crimpers" come in. I guess it makes sense that crimp-on connectors would need crimpers to put them on, but it's amazing how many people (and I include myself in this) have tried at one time or another to crimp them with slip-joint pliers, needle nose pliers or diagonal wire cutters. I can guarantee you, none of those will do a very good job.
What makes electrical crimping pliers work so well is that their jaws are designed to concentrate the force on a very small area. That crushes the wall of the crimp-on connector without damaging the rest of it. The crushed part makes physical and electrical contact with the wire, ensuring that electricity can flow and the wire won't pull out of the connector.
Of course, to ensure that it's necessary that the crimpers push hard enough against the walls of the connector to crush them far enough to make solid contact. Simple crimpers depend on your ability to judge how much force you've applied, but the better ones don't.
The best crimpers are ratcheting ones. These have a ratcheting mechanism which prevents the jaws of the crimper from opening again until you reach the end of the ratchet. That's located at a point to ensure that the connector is properly crushed into the wire. So, every connection comes out fine regardless of the connector and wire used, assuming that the crimper is used correctly of course.
Some crimpers provide a positive stop, instead of the ratcheting mechanism. With these as long as you apply enough force to close the jaws fully, the connector will have been crushed to the correct point. However, they don't give you any indication that you've done so.
Typically, the crimpers used for these connectors have jaws with three different indentations. That's to match up with the three colors of crimp-on connectors made. Those colors are standardized across industry and indicate the size wire that the connector is designed to work with. You obviously can't use too small a connector with two large a wire, but many people try to use too large a connector with too small a wire; that doesn't work any better. In most cases, the wire will fall out of the connector, even after crimping it properly.
The better crimpers (the ratcheting and positive stop ones) are only crimpers and really can't be used for anything else. Budget crimpers often add other functions, such as wire strippers in with the crimping action. They might even have bolt cutters for small sized machine screws built in. However, these tools won't work the best for any of these functions. Yes, they work, but they aren't great.
There are also a variety of specialty crimpers on the market, designed for use specifically with certain types of connectors or pins for connectors. I'm not going to touch on those here, as they have to be selected for a particular application. Most of the time, they are bought directly from the connector manufacturer.
Ratcheting crimpers are always better, which is why I've chosen this pair from Titan as number one. Not only does it ensure that your connections are always secure, but it's adjustable as well, just in case you have any problems getting a good connection. Read Full Review
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S&G Tool Aid also provides an excellent ratcheting crimper, able to crimp connectors to wires from 10AWG - 22 AWG. The jaws are clearly color-coded to help you avoid mistakes. Read Full Review
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Among Knipex's extensive line of crimpers is this model, with positive contact to let you know when it has bottomed out. Lever action jaws provide superior gripping power, reducing operator fatigue. Read Full Review
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This combination tool from Irwin gives you the ability to cut, strip and crimp wires all in one tool. It even allows for cutting off of small diameter machine screws, leaving the thread perfect for use. Read Full Review
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SK Hand Tools packages their combination cutter/stripper/crimper with a spare set of strippers. So, not only do you have all the functions, but also a spring-loaded set of strippers, which are very convenient when you need to strip a bunch of wires. Read Full Review
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