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Pliers, tongs and wrenches buying guide

Guide written by:
Didier, Technical manager, Cardiff

Didier, Technical manager, Cardiff

8 guides
Looking for tongs or pliers but want to know more before you make a decision? Let us help you find exactly the right ones! It might be crimping pliers, rivet pliers, multi-use pliers, bolt cutters or the finest tweezers. No problem, we'll have you cleared up in no time!

Important features

  • Type
  • Size
  • Use
  • Material
  • Ease of use

Which pliers do I need for tightening?

You need to tighten something, but what? Is it flat, round? Is it an electrical component? Perhaps it needs tightening thoroughly so it doesn't move or to nip another component? Or, maybe it just holds something in place. It all comes down to the shape of the plier jaws:

  • All-purpose pliers: a multi-purpose tool whose jaws have three functions - pinching flat components (at the end); holding round items (at their widest aperture); and cutting (right up close to the pivot);
  • Stillson (or pipe) wrench: a versatile wrench for varying component widths. Its rounded jaws and end plate allow it to tighten round and flat components;
  • Nose pliers: with several variants, these pliers allow moderate tightening in difficult-to-reach positions. Available with flat, round, half-round, extra long, bent, curved and tapered jaws;
  • Vice grip: locks and tightens components. Useful if you want to keep your hands free and when working at a workbench.

Which pliers do I need for cutting?

The important factors here are the shape and the steel type of the pliers' cutting edges. These must be considered carefully to get the right quality of cut.

  • Cutting pliers: for cutting, plain and simple. Choose your cutting edges according to the material to be cut. Electricians' cutting pliers work best on copper wires. Make sure you choose the right jaws - diagonal, side-on, end-on, etc. - for your intended use;
  • Wire strippers: the tool used by electricians to cut wire insulation and remove it. Manual, semi-automatic and automatic versions lend themselves to different cutting tasks;
  • Bolt cutters: used to cut thick sections of reinforced steel wire, padlocks, concrete reinforcement bars, etc., by means of its leverage;

  • Fencing pliers: a versatile tool for fencing. Useful for gripping, hooking, pinching, cutting and twisting.

What do I need to pull out a stubborn nail?

Those who work with wood will be well familiar with this problem! Pincers are special in the length of their handles and their compact jaws which can be rounded to assist in winding wire etc. They're used by first pinching hard to mark the nail, then placing the jaws against the surface the nail is embedded in - these are tapered, producing a lever effect to help extract the nail. Available type of pincer are:

  • Russian pincers: a traditional tool - either coated or uncoated, for a more or less precise cut. The longer the handles, the greater the leverage. Designed to extract nails and spikes, cut reinforced steel wire (e.g. piano wire) and twist;
  • Carpenter’s pincers: like Russian pincers but with larger jaws. These allow extraction of tougher nails, screws and rawl plugs;
  • Blacksmith’s tongs: designed to hold a component to be forged. Flat by default, they can be had in a variety of shapes according to your requirements.

A different tool for every job, right?

Exactly! You didn't realise there was even a difference between pliers and pincers, right? Check your exact requirements, then choose from:

  • Multi-tool pincers: a type of Swiss Army or utility knife with an added pincer function;
  • Collar pincers: for tightening and cutting plastic collars (single-use, like cable ties);
  • Crimping tool: e.g. for connecting a terminal to an electrical wire (the terminal will generally be coloured);
  • Rivet pliers: for crimping shanked rivets - like on your car registration plate;
  • Circlip pliers: for widening and tightening steel circlips in position (used in mechanics, circlips resemble washers and serve to hold a component onto a shaft);
  • Precision pliers or tweezers: very fine pincers for precise work, just like you might use on your eyebrows;

  • Punching tool: widespread in leatherwork, these make holes of different diameters in soft materials;
  • Eyelet pliers: for inserting eyelets, for example on a tarpaulin;
  • Bending pliers: a plumber's tool used for bending copper pipes;
  • Uncoiling pliers: used in automotive and veneering tasks, these allow the separation of two layers of material;
  • Rawl plug pliers: for embedding rawl plugs in plasterboard.

Of course, this isn't an exhaustive list. By all means, cast the net wider if you don't see what you're after.

I know what type of pliers I need, but what else should I consider before buying?

Once you're clear on what you need, you can look at extra features to improve your experience:

  • Size: consider how much effort you'll need to put in to tighten or cut, and the strength of your hands. Longer handles will save you effort as they increase the tool's leverage. At the same time, small jaws are more efficient. For example, the same manufacturer might provide pliers ranging from 18kg to 52kg to cut a 3mm steel wire. So you've got to choose your pliers according to the general format of task as well as the level of precision you require;
  • Material: the material used for the pliers' jaws is important for the quality of cut. Hardness (measured in the unit HRC) is a quality factor in your choice of tools. The greater this value, the harder the metal is - but be careful, as very hard metals can be brittle. Metal quality is just as important for tightening tools. Recommended alloys: chromium, vanadium and molybdenum;

  • Ease of use: how much you prioritise handle comfort and smooth functioning will depend on how often you plan to use your tool. If you're a regular user, you might even want one guaranteed for everyday use. Ergonomic handles and protective features are handy for prolonged use.
  • Guarantees: certain brands offer lifetime guarantees, so you know they'll sort you out if your tools give up. Even if this comes at a premium, you might want to think about it!

One final tip before you make your choice

Bear in mind that the closer to the pivot, the greater the force the pliers can exert; and the longer the handles, the greater the leverage. In general, a pair of diagonal cutters, all-purpose pliers and long-nosed pliers are recommended. If you work with wood, Russian pincers are absolutely essential. Before you make a decision you'll regret, consider the quality! Pliers and pincers are essential tools and important allies for anyone interested in DIY!

Learn More

Additional pliers, tongs and wrench information can be found below:

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Guide written by:

Didier, Technical manager, Cardiff 8 guides écrits

Didier, Technical manager, Cardiff

I've spent 10 years working in maintenance services, first as a Technician and then as a Head Technician, and eight years perfecting my subcontracting methods and management. Today, I get to be both a project manager and a technical jack of all trades.

DIY: I love it. I like having the right tools. Precise work on wood and metal is my passion - if it doesn't exist, just hand me the tool and I'll make it myself! In my daughter's bedroom, for example, I made an integrated unit which fits both her bed and desk for homework. And apparently word has gotten around: even the neighbours knock on my door when they need some DIY advice and support.

With my experience in home renovation and my knowledge of the various building trades, I'm always happy to help you pick the right tool or equipment.

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