Pliers, What Is a Pliers?

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Published: 07th November 2012
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One of the handiest tools in any home toolbox is pliers. Actually there are many types of pliers for a variety of jobs.

What Is a Pliers?

Pliers are a hand tool used to hold objects firmly, for cutting, bending, or physical compression. The objects can then be turned, bent, or otherwise manipulated.  Generally, pliers consist of a pair of metal first-class levers joined at a fulcrum positioned closer to one end of the levers, creating short jaws on one side of the fulcrum, and longer handles on the other side. Pliers have parallel handles, a pivot where the handles join, and parallel jaws that grasp the object. Special-use pliers may have additional components and purposes, such as cutting pliers. This arrangement creates a mechanical advantage, allowing the force of the hand's grip to be amplified and focused on an object with precision. Types of pliers include engineer's pliers for gripping metal, flat-nosed pliers for grasping smaller objects, electrician pliers for gripping electrical wires, and round-nosed pliers for bending wire into loops. The most common are slip joint pliers  and plumber's pliers, both with slip-joint adjustments to change the width of the jaw grip. In addition, locking pliers, sometimes known by the Vice-Grip brand name, are popular for firmly holding objects.

History of Pliers

As pliers  in the general sense are an ancient and simple invention, no single point in history, or inventor, can be credited. Early metal working processes from several millennia BCE would have required plier-like devices to handle hot materials in the process of casting. Development from wooden to bronze pliers would have probably happened sometime prior to 3000 BCE. Among the oldest illustrations of pliers are those showing the Greek god Hephaestus in his forge. Today, pliers intended principally to be used for safely handling hot objects are usually called tongs. The number of different designs of pliers grew with the invention of the different objects which they were used to handle: horseshoes, fasteners, wire, pipes, electrical and electronic components.


The basic design of pliers has changed little since their origins, with the pair of handles, the pivot (often formed by a rivet), and the head section with the gripping jaws or cutting edges forming the three elements. In distinction to a pair of scissors or shears, the plier's jaws always meet each other at one pivot angle.

The materials used to make pliers consist mainly of steel alloys with additives such as vanadium or chromium, to improve strength and prevent corrosion. Often pliers have insulated grips to ensure better handling and prevent electrical conductivity. In some lines of fine work (such as jewelry or musical instrument repair), some specialized pliers feature a layer of comparatively soft metal (such as brass) over the two plates of the head of the pliers to reduce pressure placed on some fine tools or materials. Making entire pliers out of softer metals would be impractical, reducing the force required to bend or break them.

How to Safely Use a Plier

To safely use pliers, first determine which type of pliers is required for the job. Then, make adjustments needed to the slip joint, if any. Locking pliers may require adjustment before use. Close the jaw around the object by pressing the handles closer together. Rotate the tool as needed to bend or turn the object. For safety, make sure that fingers and skin are not pinched by the handles, pivot, or jaw.

How to Maintain Pliers

Quality pliers are maintenance-free and can last a decade or more if not abused. Locking and other special-purpose pliers may require additional maintenance to adjusters, springs, or the release lever.

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