Best Pliers Sets

Updated September 2020
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best pliers sets

Last Updated September 2020

For electricians and jewelers, pliers are an essential tool, but they also have multiple everyday applications around the house. A good set of pliers comes in handy all the time, especially for minor household jobs and repairs.

Sets include several different types or sizes of pliers. The right type of pliers depends on the job. You may need lineman’s pliers, slip-joint pliers, diagonal pliers, needle-nose pliers, tongue-and-groove pliers, locking pliers, or end-cutting pliers. You’ll often need more than one pair of pliers, too, which is why they’re often sold in sets of three or more. Some sets include a mix of types of pliers, while other sets include varying sizes of one type of pliers.

Choosing the right pliers set for your needs can be confusing. Our buying guide walks you through the different sets on the market so you can make the best decision. For our top five pliers sets, see the matrix above.

Using two sets of needle-nose pliers is the best way to bend, twist, and tie small wires without hurting your fingers.

Key considerations

The type of pliers you need is dictated by the type of work you’ll be doing. If you need some pliers for around the house, a basic set will do. If you’re a jeweler or a hobbyist doing detail work, you’ll need to get a pliers set that is heavy on needle-nose pliers. If you’re working with electricity and live wires, you’ll need a set that has extra insulation on the handles and includes at least one pair of lineman’s pliers.

Lineman’s pliers

Also known as Klein pliers or combination pliers, lineman’s pliers are used by telephone and electrical linemen, electrical contractors, and other electricians. They are mainly used for bending, cutting, gripping, and twisting wires and cables. They have a snub nose, or sometimes a flat nose, with a wide serrated surface. The gripping surface may be slightly concave for gripping pipes and bolts. Just back from the gripping surface is a beveled cutting edge for cutting wires or stripping them.

Lineman’s pliers are marked by the thick insulation on the handles. Because they are intended to be used around live electrical wires, they have a raised rim of insulating material to keep the user’s hand from sliding down and coming into contact with the bare metal on the business end of the pliers.

Slip-joint pliers

Slip-joint pliers have a pivot point that can be moved to increase or decrease the range of the jaws. Other than the adjustable pivot, slip-joint pliers are identical to lineman’s pliers.

Some slip-joint pliers have the same insulation and safety ridge as lineman’s pliers. However, as the popularity of slip-joint pliers has increased, manufacturers have reduced the amount of insulation on the handles, often only opting for a non-slip surface to enable the user to keep a firm grip.

Diagonal pliers

These pliers are also known as diagonal cutters, side-cutting pliers, wire cutters, and dikes. The plane of the cutting edges intersect with the central pivot joint at a diagonal angle. They’re intended to be used for cutting wire and occasionally for cutting very thin metal. Unlike other pliers, they’re not meant to be used for grabbing, turning, or twisting.

Diagonal pliers are generally used for cutting aluminum, brass, copper, iron, and steel wire. Higher-quality diagonal pliers can cut piano wire up to two millimeters in diameter.

Needle-nose pliers

These pliers are also known as long-nose, pinch-nose, pointy-nose, and snipe-nose pliers. They are both cutting pliers and holding pliers. They are instantly recognizable due to their long thin nose that tapers to a point. Needle-nose pliers are widely used by jewelers, artisans, electricians, and network engineers for delicate work in small areas.

They have cutting edges near the pivot joint, used for cutting small wires. A variation on needle-nose pliers are bent needle-nose pliers. These are handy for reaching into small spaces that are too angled for ordinary needle-nose pliers to reach.

Tongue-and-groove pliers

Tongue-and-groove pliers are also known as adjustable pliers, arc-joint pliers, pipe spanners, tap spanners, and water pump pliers. They are a type of slip-joint pliers but with multiple settings instead of the two normally associated with slip-joint pliers.

Tongue-and-groove pliers have serrated jaws. The lower jaw can be moved up and down on a tracking section on the upper jaw. A short tongue on the lower jaw slides into the grooves on the upper jaw. This gives these pliers the ability to be adjusted to many different sizes without the distance between the handles becoming too great to comfortably grasp. Tongue-and-groove pliers usually have long handles for increased leverage.

Locking pliers

Locking pliers are also known as Vise-Grips or Mole wrenches. They are visually distinctive from other types of pliers. They rarely have rubberized or plastic insulated grips. The serrated jaws are generally concave instead of flat like other types of pliers.

At the end of the upper handle is an adjustment screw to increase or decrease the spacing of the jaws depending on what you’re trying to grasp. On the lower handle, there is a lever for locking and unlocking the jaws of the pliers. The lever action of locking pliers is stronger than other types of pliers, allowing them to apply more torque.

End-cutting pliers

End-cutting pliers are also known as end cutters, end nippers, and pinching pliers. The jaws of these pliers are curved, with two powerful cutting edges instead of flat gripping surfaces. They are especially useful for cutting wires or small metal protrusions.

End-cutting pliers are mainly a finishing tool for getting rid of exposed wire tips. Their handles are two to three inches longer than the handles of other types of pliers. They are normally insulated for working around live wires.

EXPERT TIP

Slip-joint pliers allow you to grip large objects, but the handles can spread so wide they hurt your hands. If that happens, switch to locking pliers.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Single-type pliers sets

Manufacturers often create pliers sets of a single type of pliers in different sizes. There are many times when a small pair of pliers is better than a large one of the same type. There are also times where the reverse is true. Having a set of different sizes can be a real blessing, even if you rarely use one of the sizes.

Mixed pliers sets

Other pliers sets include different types of pliers. A pliers set may include tongue-and-groove pliers, lineman’s pliers, slip-joint pliers, needle-nose pliers, and diagonal pliers so that you’re prepared for any type of job that might arise.

With a mixed set, you can use the tongue-and-groove pliers or lineman’s pliers to tighten or loosen bolts. You can use the slip-joint pliers to pull a bolt or metal piece out of the way while you reach down with the needle-nose pliers to fish out a lost nut or dropped piece. Needle-nose pliers and cutters make a great pair when you’re cutting wires or crimping small pieces of thin sheet metal. You’ll also protect your fingers from getting sliced by the sheet metal.

Mixed tool sets

Manufacturers sometimes include a wrench or another tool with a set of pliers, usually a mixed-type set. These pliers sets present an advantage for homeowners who only do occasional small repairs around the house. You get a wide range of tools that will cover almost any small repair with a mixed tool set.

If you’re going to be doing anything more extensive, though, we recommend getting a pliers set in addition to a set of the other tools you need. That way you wind up with higher-quality tools that are suitable for any work you need to do, from the smallest to the largest projects.

Materials

Pliers are made principally from steel and rubber. Steel is used for the head, jaws, cutting edges, pivot, and handles, and rubber or plastic is used for insulating the handles. Some high-quality pliers are made from chrome vanadium electric steel, which gives them extra strength and durability.

The insulating material on the handles is normally applied by dipping the handles in a vat of hot liquid material and letting them dry. Pliers with double-dipped handles have two layers of insulating material for maximum insulation when working with live wires.

Diagonal pliers that have only a single layer of insulation shouldn’t be used to cut live wires.

Pliers set prices

Inexpensive: The low price range for pliers sets is $5 to $11. These are mainly small sets intended for use by jewelers.

Mid-range: The medium price range is $12 to $50 for pliers sets. These are the rough-and-ready tools of the trade for mechanics, electricians, and workers of all types. Most of these pliers have double-dipped handles and hardened cutting edges.

Expensive: From $50 to $100 and up, you’ll find high-end pliers sets. These are premium pliers sets that usually come with carrying belts and pouches.

EXPERT TIP

Locking pliers apply force in a controlled fashion since the jaws will not close beyond a certain point.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Lineman’s pliers and nippers have to meet the ISO standard to be considered safe for electrical line work.
  • Lineman’s pliers won’t slip the way slip-joint pliers can during use because the pivot joint doesn’t move. This makes lineman’s pliers safer around live wires.
  • Due to the extra torque from their long handles, tongue-and-groove pliers are usually used more as wrenches than pliers.
Mini wire cutters, known as flush cutters, are extra-small diagonal pliers used mainly by jewelers.

FAQ

Q. What is induction hardening, and what does it have to do with pliers?
A.
Induction hardening is a method of hardening metal. The metal is induction heated, then quenched. This manufacturing method is often used on the cutting edges of pliers to ensure they keep a sharp edge.
 

Q. What is the difference between insulated and non-slip handle coatings?
A.
Pliers with insulated handle coatings will protect you from electrical shocks. A non-slip coating just means you can get a secure grip on the handles without the pliers slipping out of your hand.
 

Q. Why are tongue-and-groove pliers also called water pump pliers?
A.
Tongue-and-groove pliers were originally designed for working on water pump pipes. They were used in tight areas where large pipe wrenches wouldn’t fit, hence their alternate name.

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