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.
Snap-On 4 Piece Plier/Cutter Set
Matco SPU4TB 4 Piece Universal Plier Set
Channellock TOOLROLL-3 5-Piece Plier Set
SK Hand Tool 17835 5 Piece Pliers Set
Greenlee 0159-29 Dipped Handle Pliers Set, 5-Piece
Snap-On, Blue Point BSGLP10, 10" Curved Jaw Locking Pliers
Irwin 05T Vise-Grip 10WR 10" Fast Release Curved Jaw Locking Pliers
IRWIN Tools VISE-GRIP 4" Locking Pliers, Original
Triplett TT-200 LongLockers Locking Pliars
Craftsman 10" Locking Pliers
KNIPEX 85 01 250 US Auto Adjusting Water Pump Pliers
Channellock 414 2" Jaw Capacity 13.5" Double Tongue and Groove Plier
KNIPEX 86 03 300 SBA Pliers Wrench
Triplett TT-221 ClikGrip Chrome Vanadium Steel Self Adjusting Plier
Channellock Tongue and Groove Pliers
IRWIN Tools VISE-GRIP Max-Leverage Pliers - 1902413
Snap-On Pistol Grip Diagonal Cutters 6 5/16"
Klein D248-8 8" Standard High-Leverage Diagonal Cutting Angled Head Pliers
Channellock E338CB E Series 8" Diagonal Cutting Pliers
Hakko CHP-170 Micro Soft Wire Cutter
Vise-Grip 2078218 8" Long Nose Plier and Comfort Grip
Lindstrom RX Series Ergonomic Pliers - RX7890
IRWIN Tools VISE-GRIP Pliers, Needle Nose with Spring - 2078955
Tekton Bent Long Nose Pliers - 34404
Xuron Tweezer Nose Pliers
Titan 11477 Ratcheting Wire Terminal Crimper
S&G Tool Aid 18900 Professional Ratcheting Terminal Crimper
KNIPEX 97 52 36 3-Position Contact Crimping Pliers
IRWIN Tools VISE-GRIP 8" Multi Tool - 2078309
SK Hand Tools 8" Crimping/Stripping Pliers - 7698
Snap-On 4 Piece Plier/Cutter Set
Snap-On has long enjoyed the reputation of being the top brand of mechanic's tools around. They are known for this both from the quality of their tools, as well as the lifetime warranty on them. You break a Snap-On tool, and they give you a new one, no questions asked. This set of pliers holds true to that reputation, giving high quality and years of service. The set includes 47CF combination slip joint pliers, 91ACP channel locks, 96CF needle nose and 87F diagonal cutters. While they do have better tools for each of these categories, they don't have them in a set like this one. The tools come packed in a storage tray, so that you can keep them neatly in your toolbox drawer.
Matco SPU4TB 4 Piece Universal Plier Set
Like Snap-On, Matco tools is a brand that markets directly to the mechanic. In many ways, they follow the Snap-On business model, with dealers visiting mechanics shops in well-laden step-vans, brining the tools right to the mechanics. This set is very much like the Snap-On one, containing slip joint pliers, channel locks, needle nose pliers and a set of diagonal cutters. The steel is comparable to that in Snap-On's tools and the price is just a bit better. I like their slip joint pliers, which have a narrower nose than most brands. This makes it possible to use them in places where slip joints normally won't fit and needle nose aren't strong enough. There are those who say that these tools are just as good, while offering a savings on price.
I had to include at least one set that was over the top and I'm glad that it's from Channellock. I'm a big fan of their tools, which provide a lot of value for the money. Not to say that this kit is cheap, but you get double the number of tools in it for about the same price as the Snap-On kit; and they're good quality tools as well. This kit contains three different size pair of channel locks, as well as slip joint pliers, lineman's pliers, diagonal cutting pliers, end cutting pliers, needle nose pliers and an adjustable wrench. While I can't pretend that the wrench is a pair of pliers, it's nice they threw it in. All the tools are made of high quality C1080 steel, hardened and dip coated to make the handles more comfortable. They are packed in a convenient tool roll, for those who want it. Personally, I'd probably lose that.
SK puts together a nice set of pliers at a much more reasonable cost. This five piece set includes all the basics (slip-joints, needle nose, diagonal cutters and water pump pliers), plus one extra set of water pump pliers. The second one is smaller, at 7". Considering the usefulness of these pliers, that's a nice addition to have. Elastomeric dipped handles make them comfortable to work with and a chrome finish ensures that the tools won't rust. This set comes packed in a pouch, which like ChannelLock's roll, I would lose quickly.
Greenlee is a largely unknown tool manufacturer who makes tools specifically for tradesmen. Their tools are comparable quality to those of SK or Craftsman. This kit has one pair of pliers which is different, in that it isn't the standard set of slip-joints. Instead, they've included lineman's pliers, which combine pliers without curved jaws with side cutters. It also comes with an over-the-shoulder tool pouch, which really makes the kit stand out. This isn't just a pouch for the tools in the kit, but a pouch that an electrician can use for carrying all their "ready to hand" tools on the job site. That adds some nice value to the set.
Snap-On, Blue Point BSGLP10, 10" Curved Jaw Locking Pliers
It would be almost impossible to have a list of best mechanics tools of any sort, without including Snap-On. While locking pliers aren't limited to mechanics, they are used enough by this group of tradesmen, so that Snap-On manufactures a full line-up of them. I've picked this model from their Blue Point series, because it has soft grips, something that their regular Snap-On lineup doesn't have. The padded handles make them easier on the hand, while reducing the chance of slipping and dropping the tool when your hands are oily. They are made of high grade, heat-treated alloys, chrome plated for long life and durability. These pliers offer a jaw capacity of 1.875 inches, with a curved jaw design. With a fine threaded adjustment screw, there's little these pliers won't get a grip on.
As I said in the list introduction, Irwin owns the original Vice-Grip company. So, this tool is designed and built to the same level of craftsmanship as those originals were. However, this model adds a padded grip for easier handling as well as a wire cutter. An improved, one-handed, triggerless release is twice as easy to open as traditional locking pliers. Jaws are curved to apply force to four points on any rounded nut or bolt you choose to use it on. The adjusting screw offers a hex socket key for easier adjustment and greater pressure, allowing you to draw materials together and provide a controlled release. This tool also comes backed by Irwin's lifetime guarantee.
We couldn't let this list go by without including the original Vice-Grip locking pliers, which are still in manufacture. The 10 inch model, which is my pick, is also backed up by 7, 5, and 4 inch models, for those times when you need something smaller. The jaws of this pair of pliers are curved which provide maximum grip in four points, allowing you to remove the worst rounded bolts and nuts. Adjustment screw accepts a hex key for tightening and for easy releases. Teeth are hardened for the best grip. A wire cutter is included, allowing you to cut even hardened steel wire. This tool is backed by Irwin's lifetime guarantee.
This pair of locking pliers is a bit unique. To start with, it's a long-nose model; but the stretch doesn't stop there, as it has an extended handle as well. This allows you to grab nuts, bolts and other parts farther than you can with any other pair of locking jaw pliers. Only the handle and jaws open, leaving the middle part of the tool closed, so that it will fit in tight places. Jaws are needle nose and curved, allowing them to grab four points on a bolt head or nut. Once the tool is introduced into the area, the hand grip can be opened, in order to open the jaws. Handles have cushioned grips for more comfortable use and the overall tool is 15" long. The tool comes with a five year warranty.
Sears offers an excellent pair of locking jaw pliers in their Craftsman line. These are straight jaw, rather than the round jaw we've seen on the others. That works best when grabbing the flats on a nut or bolt, or when using the pliers to grasp parts and clamp pieces together. It has padded handles for more comfortable work with lower fatigue. The handles also offer a "FastRelease" which is twice as easy to open as the conventional release, even when opening the tool with one hand. Adjustment screw hold in position when opening, allowing for repetitive work without readjusting the screw. As is customary with Craftsman tools, these pliers are guaranteed forever.
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. The tool is 10 inches in overall length and comes with narrow, tapered jaws, which are shaped to provide positive contact with bolt heads and hex nuts. The self-adjustment mechanism makes the tool self-locking on pipes and nuts; it will not come loose if you have to let go of the tool. A locking lever holds the handles closed in order to take up minimal space in your toolbox. Plastic handles make the tool more comfortable in your hand and provide protection from electrical shock.
We have to include Channellock's tools on this list; not only because they invented the water pump pliers, but because they have the largest lineup of different models. Their water pump pliers are also some of the smoothest and easiest to use, with the boss and groove system perfectly matched for easy adjustment. This particular model is the 13.5 inch version of their "Nutbuster" design. This design adds extra strength to the upper jaw and modifies the lower jaw to be more like a pipe wrench. That makes this tool not only excellent for gripping stubborn nuts, but also pipes that need to be broken loose. The tool itself is made of high-carbon steel for extra strength, chrome plated for long life. The teeth are heat treated and the joint is held together by a PermaLock fastener, rather than a nut and bolt. So, you never have to worry about it coming apart. This pair of pliers has a jaw capacity of two inches.
This unique pair of water pump pliers from Knipex is advertised to be both pliers and an adjustable wrench. The jaw spacing mechanism is different on it, allowing it to provide true parallel jaw action for when it is used as a wrench. Rather than a boss and groove design, they have gone with a ratcheting design, which offers a much finer adjustment for a much wider number of jaw openings. The tool has a 2 3/8 inch jaw capacity for nuts and is 12 inches in overall length. Jaws are smooth, rather than having teeth, so that they won't damage chrome plated or other finish hardware. The handles are coated for electrical resistance.
The ClikGrip by Triplett is another auto-adjusting pair of water pump pliers. Compared to the Knipex, these are selling for an incredible discount, yet they still perform the same basic function. We're looking at the 10 inches size here, but they also offer this tool in a 7 inches version for those that need to work in tight places. Adjustment of the grip size is accomplished one-handed, with the same hand that is applying gripping and turning force. The jaws of the pliers remain parallel and are curved to allow gripping bolt heads at four points. They are made of chrome vanadium steel, with a black oxide coating to resist rusting. Handles are cushioned for better grip and less operator fatigue.
Every once in a while you need a tool that's just a little bit bigger; that's where this one comes in. This tool is 20.5 inches in overall length and has a maximum jaw opening of 5.5 inches. That's broken down into 12 separate grooves so that handle distance stays reasonable. Got a trailer hitch that you need to remove or a large axle nut? This massive set of channel locks can handle it. Made with V jaws, this one grips bolt heads and hex nuts solidly for ease of tightening and removal with hardened teeth on the jaws for long life. Nobody beats Channellock for these pliers; they have the smoothest non-automatic mechanism made, adjusting easily for whatever size you need. Jaws are held together by Channellock's unique PermaLock system, rather than a nut and bolt that can come loose. The handles are rubber coated, making them easier on your hands, as well as being electrically insulated.
Irwin, the owners of the Vice-Grip brand, have redesigned the standard diagonal cutters, providing more leverage with the same size tool. Their secret is the power slot, which allows the pivot point of the tool to change, providing the exact amount of force needed for the cut. The induction hardened cutting edge will cut ACSR, nails, screws and even tempered piano wire. All metal parts of the tool are coated for rust resistance while the grips provide three zones for maximum comfort and control. They've even included a lanyard system to go with their hand tools, preventing tool loss when high up on a scaffold or ladder. This tool's quality is backed by Irwin's lifetime guarantee.
Snap-On Pistol Grip Diagonal Cutters 6 5/16"
Snap-On has provided us with innovation in a different way, creating a pistol-grip diagonal cutter. It might look like those handles are bent the wrong way, but it's intentional. If you put the handles vertical, the cutting head is at an angle, much like the barrel of a pistol, compared to its grip. That makes these the most ergonomic diagonal cutters on the market. If you've got to do a lot of cutting, these will be much easier on the hand and wrist. Being Snap-On, you can be assured of the quality of these tools as they use the best steel and chrome plating to prevent rust. The blade is hardened and sharpened for maximum cutting efficiency and of course, this tool is backed by Snap-On's famous lifetime guarantee.
Like the other manufacturers we've looked at, Klein has several models of diagonal cutters to choose from. This pair offer an excellent combination of features. The short jaws and long handles make these a high-leverage pair, reducing the amount of force you have to apply. This makes a 36 percent difference in the actual work you are doing. Induction hardened and beveled cutting edges permit close cutting of the wire without damage to the blades. It also includes notches ground into the blade for stripping 12 and 14 AWG solid wires, saving you from having to switch tools to strip off insulation. The handles are also plastic-coated for comfort.
Channellock has taken a unique approach to the problem of blade misalignment, one of the biggest destroyers of diagonal cutters. Rather than having two cutting blades, theirs comes with a blade and anvil design, ensuring that the blade will always be in perfect alignment. This design improves the life of the tool by eliminating the main reason for premature wear and tear. The blades edge and anvil are laser heat-treated to ensure pinpoint accuracy and hardness. The tool is made of high carbon C1080 steel, specially coated to prevent rusting. Lastly, Channellock's "Code Blue" handles are designed for durability and user comfort.
This is a smaller diagonal cutter, for use on electronic components. I've used a pair almost identical to this one for years. It provides flush cutting, something that most diagonal cutters can't do and accomplished by beveling only one side of the blade with the other ground smooth. Therefore, the cutters can literally cut flush up against any surface, such as a printed circuit board. These are limited, in that they are only designed to cut copper wire up to 16 gauge; they are not strong enough for harder wires or larger size. Think of it as a precision tool, rather than a heavy-duty one. The molded handles are comfortable in the hand and provide great control of the tool.
There are a lot of needle nose pliers that are essentially similar to these, from a host of manufacturers. I like the Vice-Grip pliers because of the quality of their fit and finish. The smooth finish help ensure good gripping action from the jaws. When using them as wire cutters, you can be assured of a good grip on the wire and good leverage for cutting. While pretty much all needle nose pliers have elastomeric handles, Vice Grip has gone a step farther, providing a molded handle. Overall tool length is 8 inches, while the jaw length is 2 5/16 inches, a good length for grabbing things.
These are probably the best made needle nose pliers I've ever seen. The only thing that kept them out of the number one spot was the price. However, if you are needing needle nose pliers for jewelry work or other fine work, these are an incredible tool. The jaws are precision ground, with a smooth inner face to prevent marring. Handles are ergonomically molded for comfort and sprung for automatic opening when you release pressure. While not big enough for some things, at only 6 1/2 inches, they are great for fine work.
This selection is another small pair of needle nose pliers; in this case, only 5 1/2 inches long. What makes these so special is the way the jaws are ground. They are extremely thin, making this tool ideal for the very tight spots one finds when repairing modern electronics, watches or making jewelry. As a result, the jaws are ground smooth so as not to not mar the workpiece. The same sort of molded grip is provided for these pliers as is found on the pick in our number one slot. These plier handles are also sprung, so that they'll open when you release pressure.
I personally consider a pair of long-nose needle nose pliers an essential part of my toolkit, but few manufacturers provide them. Tekton, the makers of this specific pair that is bent at 45 degrees, also makes a pair that is bent at 90 degrees, as well as one that is completely straight. The nice thing about these pliers is that you can reach into places with them, that you can't reach with other, shorter needle nose pliers. Nothing fancy about these pliers, except the fact that they can do things that others just can't do.
I had to include these pliers, because they provide the smallest nose of any needle nose pliers I've seen. The name "tweezer nose" is well earned. The very fine jaws on these pliers make them ideal for jewelry work, especially opening small split rings and fittings, as well as placing small stones. The unique design of the blades being wide but thin, helps to keep them strong so that you maintain good gripping action . You can even bend over the prongs on settings without worrying about your pliers bending. These pliers also have smooth jaws which prevent marring of your workpieces.
I've picked this ratcheting crimper from Titan as my favorite crimper. The jaws are clearly marked for the three common sizes of crimp-on connector and even more importantly, those jaws are ratcheting. While factory preset, the adjustment on the jaws is adjustable; this means that you can keep your crimpers working properly, even if something happens to mess up their adjustment. These will work with wires ranging from 22AWG all the way up to 10AWG. The molded grips are comfortable, adding to the pressure you can apply without hurting your hands.
This crimper from S&G Tool Aid is very similar to the one from Titan as is also a ratcheting crimper. However, it does not have a ratchet adjustment, but only the factory preset but that should be enough for most people's needs. The crimpers work for wires from 10AWG down to 22AWG, with three clearly color coded dies on the jaws. Just for clarification, this set of crimpers does not have replaceable jaws like many of S&G Tool Aid's crimpers do. So, you cannot change it over for use with other types of connectors. Between the ratcheting action and molded handles, all your crimps will come out perfect every time.
This set of crimpers from Knipex isn't a ratcheting model like the other selections we've looked at. Instead, it's positive contact which lets you know you've crimped the connector fare enough by bottoming out. There's also an integral lock which has been calibrated in the factory. The lever action jaws provide superior leverage, allowing you to get plenty of force behind your crimp, thanks to the oil-hardened jaws. The plier jaws also have three color-coded indentations in them, allowing this crimper to work with 22AWG up to 10 AWG wires and connectors.
Irwin, the owners of the Vise-Grip brand, offer a combination tool for those who don't want a ratcheting crimper. This one has the crimpers on the handle side of the joint, allowing you to provide lots of force. The jaws themselves are ground to provide wire cutters and strippers for 10-22 AWG wires. A built in bolt-cutter allows you to cut off small machine screws, of the sizes likely to be found in electronic equipment. While designed to crimp all three common sizes of crimp-on connectors, this one also adds the ability to crimp spark plug wires for cars.
Another option for a combination crimper/stripper comes from SK Hand Tools. This model 7698 incorporates crimping jaws for standard crimp-on wire connectors, with wire strippers as well. It also has crimping jaws for 8 gauge spark plug wires. An integral wire cutter and small-sized bolt cutter is also provided, as well as needle-nose plier points. It also comes with a separate stripper which also strips wire sizes 10AWG to 22 AWG. The difference on the second stripper is that the handles are spring loaded, so that they will open automatically to accept the next wire. If you are concerned about space and need everything together, this tool offers it.
Before embarking on the current stage of my life, I spent 15 years as a Manufacturing Engineer in both the medical equipment field (medical electronics) and automotive engineering (city transit buses). After that, I owned a small construction company, mostly doing residential remodeling and commercial tenant finishes. I am no longer in either of these fields, but still get my hands plenty dirty as a consummate do-it-yourselfer; working on everything from remodeling my own home to rebuilding my car’s engines. My hobby (when I can find the time) is woodworking; making everything from toilet paper holders, to shelves, to music stands for my own home. My wife long ago gave up the idea that a two car garage is for parking two cars; it is my workshop.
While I cannot claim to having worked professionally with all types of tools, I have worked professionally with some. This comes from my previous careers, where I had to specify, buy and at times live with those decisions. Additionally, I would have to say that my engineering background has given me a thorough understanding of the construction of such tools. So, while I may not have used a particular type of tool personally, I have the knowledge to cut through all the advertising hype and statistics; in order to get at the truth of how well a tool will operate and last.
In my current career as a writer, I've written over 90 books. This includes my own titles and those I've written on contract. I've also written a complete website on how to build your own home.