Pliers – Which types exist, and how to use them

A picture showing many pliers that I use in my everyday auto reparations.

Introduction

TL;DR at the bottom. Also, ctrl+f to search for the wanted plier.

Pliers are simple, but extremely useful tools for any mechanic.  The idea of a plier is very simple, which is to give the mechanic a way to hold or bend an object. Pliers give a mechanical advantage above using your bare hands, by allowing more strength and precision to be applied.

Many types of pliers exists, and created to complete a certain task. Most pliers are created using the same basic idea, which is to intertwine two levers of a certain length to gain mechanical advantage. Found at the end are jaws that allow the pliers to gain greater grip on an item. Other types of jaws exist, and are covered further down the article.

Longer levers equals more torque, and thicker levers allows a better and stronger grip. Thin levers may hurt your hands.

Price 3$ and up, depending on quality and type.
Recommendation Combination- and water pump pliers are a must have.
Where to buy Almost any auto shop.

How to use pliers, and where to use them

Most pliers are very easy to use. Open the jaws, move plier to targeted item, and clamp down with wanted force. Described below are different plier types, and how to use them.

Lineman/Combination pliers – Half regular plier, half diagonal pliers.

Shown on the left are combination pliers with, and without insulated grips. The red one allows the mechanic for a stronger grip. The right photo shows the edges found within the jaw.
Shown on the left are combination pliers with, and without insulated grips. The red one allows the mechanic for a stronger grip. The right photo shows the edges found within the jaw that grips on the objects.

Easily one of the most used pliers in my toolbox. They can cut electrical wires, barbed wire, grip hard onto things, pulling literally anything, and bend things. This plier is a MUST for any mechanic, and I recommend getting one with thick plastic handles for the best possible grip.

Water pump/Tongue and groove pliers (My favorite!)

This shows off both my water pump pliers, and an example on how to use them. Seen on the right are photos of a rusted, and stripped brake bleeding screw. A regular wrench cannot unturn this, but a water pump plier can.
This shows off both my water pump pliers, and an example on how to use them. Seen on the right are photos of a rusted, and stripped brake bleeding screw. A regular wrench cannot unturn this, but a water pump plier can.

If I had to pick only one type of pliers to use for the rest of my life, it would be the water pump pliers (I’d still need the combination pliers though).  I have been saved so many times using these pliers as a last resort, when all others tools have failed me.

They work by allowing you to grip down hard on a given item, with an adjustable teethed jaw for maximum grip and precision. I use them when a wrench cannot achieve good enough grip. Typically stripped bolts or nuts, or simply items that need to be held down with alot of force.

Needle nosed pliers

The nose edged pliers with the shortest handle are easier to use in areas with confined space. The longer handles makes you reach more remote areas.
The nose edged pliers with the shortest handle are easier to use in areas with confined space. The longer handles makes you reach more remote areas.

Needle nosed pliers comes in extremely handy in tight areas where the regular lineman pliers cant reach, or fit. They are perfect for tight areas.

They are not a must have for all mechanics, but I highly recommend them as they are quite cheap (Mine cost around 5$!). Get one with a long handle for best reach.  One with a shorter handle also comes in handy, as you gain better precision using it.

 

 

Crimping pliers used on electrical wires

This photo shows how a crimping plier work by removing insulation from a wire.
This photo shows how a crimping plier work by removing insulation from a wire. At the bottom of the jaws is a clamping tool to use for lugs.

I remember the first time I saw such a tool, I thought “What the hell is that?”. Sometime later when I was removing the insulation from wires using a diagonal plier, I thought “There must be a simpler way to do this. I keep removing more cobber than insulation!“. It was then I understood the concept of crimping pliers.

Using a crimping plier is the easiest way to remove the insulation from a wire. The jaw is a combination of a clamp-down mechanism used for combining lugs with wires, and a variety of cutting sizes for different wire thicknesses.

You do not need this type of plier unless you are doing electrical work. The day you need this, is the day when you feel annoyed using your regular pliers to do the same job.

Locking Pliers (Vice grips)

My vice grips, however they are missing a grip piece in the right jaw.
My vice grips, however they are missing a grip piece in the right jaw.

The amount of Macgyver fixes you can do with these. Seriously though, they are very useful. They work by allowing you to adjust the size of the jaw, and then clamp it down on the item. The vice grips will now stay locked in place, until you release it. Often used when gluing, or welding an object to make sure things stay correctly in place.

Overall a very useful tool. As with the crimping pliers, you wont need these until you feel that you need them. The day you have the thought “Why wont these stay together?!”, is the day you need vice grips.

Circlip pliers

On the left are straight edged pliers. The middle shows circlip pliers with a bent jaw, providing better grip in some situations. Shown on the right is a picture of a circlip.
On the left are straight edged pliers. The middle shows circlip pliers with a bent jaw, providing better grip in some situations. Shown on the right is a picture of a circlip.

An extremely useful tool, but used only for a single purpose which is to remove circlips. This is not a tool needed by every mechanic, but unfortunately no other tool is suited to remove circlips. Circlips are metal rings used to lock certain objects in place.

When you need this tool, it is to late already.

Therefore, you should plan ahead. This tool is cheap to buy (3$ and up!), and the jaw of this tool comes in different sizes, for multiple types of circlip sizes. The typical first meet with a circlip is when changing CV joints. You might use a small screwdriver to remove the circlip, but this is not recommended as you often ruin the circlip or damage the surface area.

Pipe wrench/Monkey wrench

A picture showing three different sized pipe wrenches.
Three different sized pipe wrenches.

Yeah, I do know that this actually is regarded as a wrench, however I do use them mostly like I do with pliers. That is why they have been included into this chapter,  rather than the How to use a wrench chapter.

These work like the water pump pliers, but give more strenght as they are larger in size.

The blue wrench seen in the photo above is my very last resort when removing bolts, nuts, or just about any stuck object. Show caution, as these tend to cause alot of damage to most objects.

Diagonal pliers/side cutters

Sure, you have the ability to cut using your combination pliers. However, a diagonal plier can be used within areas that have confined space. You do not need these though, unless you feel that the combination pliers have become inadequate for your use.

Diagonal pliers with an insulated, which provides better safety when working with electronic. A better grip is also achieved by this.
Diagonal pliers with an insulated, which provides better safety when working with electronic. A better grip is also achieved by this.
Picture showing a pincer. A pincer is like a diagonal cutter, but proves easier to use when space is tight. An example of this is cutting heads off nails.
A pincer is like a diagonal cutter, but proves easier to use when space is tight. An example of this is cutting heads off nails.

 

 

How not to use pliers

Pliers are extremely useful tools, but may also very quickly do more damage than good if used wrong. Listed below are bulletpoints on what you should never do with pliers.

  • The gripping part within a jaw may possibly damage the object you are gripping. Use caution as not to damage anything.
  • When removing damaged bolts, always try with the correct tool first. Use wrenches only as a last resort. And when you do, grip hard.
  • The gripping edge of the jaw may become worn after some use, and produce a very bad grip. Cleaning it with a wire brush may help sometimes.
  • NEVER cut a wire that leads electricity if hot, and get pliers with an insulated grip for added safety.
  • Safety glasses are strongly recommended when cutting wire, as parts may come flying. Safety always comes first.

TL;DR

  • Pliers give you a mechanical advantage on an object than what can be mustered with your bare hands or fingers.
  • Longer handle = Stronger grip.
  • Combination pliers is the most useful.
  • Water pump pliers come second.
  • Use the correct tool if possible, before resorting to using a plier Eg. in the case of a stripped bolt.
  • Never cut a live wire.

    Comments?

    Leave a comment! Maybe you agree with what I have written about pliers, and maybe you believe I am totally wrong. I would love to hear your opinion!

Also, what is your favorite plier, and why?

Disclaimer

Everything written here is based off my experiences using pliers.

 

Author: Jehans Jr Storvik

A website with information on how to use tools, and do mechanic work in general with the main focus on cars. This blog is written by a 24 year old computer programmer and amateur mechanic. I have worked on cars since the age of 16, and I learned everything from scratch by myself working on 1990-2000 BMWs. I started with simple operations, and these days I can do engine swaps/rebuilds, suspension overhaul, and building amateur race cars with forced induction. I am a 24 year old computer programmer, and amateur mechanic from Norway. My interest for mechanics started as a child when I disassembled our familys lawnmower to study how it worked. I never got it working again. As I turned 15, I started working on two stroke dirtbikes, and I found the tuning part especially fun. However, a manual 94' BMW E36 325i acquired at the age of 18 turned this interest into a passion. I have since attempted to do all maintenance and mechanical operations myself, to gain further knowledge. These days I am able to do nearly all maintenance by myself, and other things such as: -Engine swaps -Tuning using forced induction, or cam swaps. -Suspension overhauls -Basic welding and cutting. -Basic wire and electric knowledge. -Basic ECU tuning

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