This article is going to cover what makes a quality pliers and I will use slip-joint pliers as the example. But it doesn’t matter if it is a slip joint, pump, tongue & groove, arc joint, needle nose, or long nose pliers. Good quality pliers all have the same characteristics.
Bright & shiny is not always the best.
Many cheap pliers look great. They are usually bright silver in color. If you look closely at the cheap pliers underneath the shiny coating the metal is rough.
There are no smooth surfaces anywhere on the pliers. A quality pliers usually have machined surfaces on at least two sides. While some quality pliers are plated (usually a bright silver color) many of them are not. Some of the best pliers are not plated at all. The parts are usually a dark gray and if you look at them after a few years they will turn to a deep brown. Most quality pliers will rust if left outside. The rust doesn’t harm them. Just scrub them with a scotch-brite pad and rub on a light oil. Even if they get really rusty you can sand them with sand paper to remove the rust.
So how do you tell a quality pliers from a cheap pair.
1. The teeth on the jaws are sharp.
For example, Let’s say you want to take the end off a curtain rod. You decide to use a slip-joint pliers to hold the round part of the rod while you unscrew the end. With a cheap pliers it will slip and ruin the finish on the rod. With a quality pliers it will grip the rod and not slip. Yes it will make some score marks, but they will be small and you won’t see them when the rod is put back up.
The easy way to understand this is to go to your favorite hardware or big box store and look at the cheapest slip-joint pliers and the most expensive ones. On the most expensive pair the teeth or grooves on the jaws will be sharp to the touch. The teeth are not sharp enough to cut you but they will be noticeably sharper than the cheap pair. You want the teeth sharp so they will grip the item you are using them on. The good pair will grip well and let you hold the item without gouging or scraping it. Yes, pliers will leave a mark on the item they are grabbing, but a good pair will grip well and not slip easily and mar the surface. DON’T USE A PLIERS ON ANYTHING YOU DON’T WANT SCRATCHED.
A good pair usually has ground sides. They don’t look as “pretty” but the grinding actually make the edges of the tool better. Click on the quality pliers picture to see an example of the grind marks.
2. The hinge joint is close tolerance.
On a solid joint pliers like a needlenose grab a handle in each hand and try to wiggle the joint. A quality pliers will have no “wiggle” in the joint. If you have an older set and the pliers get stiff and hard to open and close, spray the joint with a penetrating oil like “LiquidWrench” or “PB Blaster”. Leave it set for a few hours and it will loosen up. If the joint gets “loose” replace the pliers.
On slip joint pliers you can “slip” the joint which increases the capacity range of the pliers. The joint of a quality slip-joint pliers will also be tight like a solid joint pliers. The joint should “slip” easily when you move it intentionally, but not be “sloppy.” A sloppy joint will slip when you are least expecting it and pinch your hand.
On a quality pliers, the handles have a knurled grip or a cushion grip. The knurling should be rough, but not sharp. In other words, the handles should fit your hand. If they are not comfortable, you won’t want to use them. Cushion grips are molded to the handle. Don’t buy a pliers where the cushion grips are slipped on. They will slip off when you try to use the pliers.
If you do automotive work where you get everything greasy, stay away from the cushion grip handles. Many cushion grips get slippery with oil and grease on them. You can actually grip a good bare metal handle like the Crescent 6 pliers better and they are easy to clean. If you get them really dirty they clean easily with a little diesel fuel (parts cleaner) and Dove dish detergent.
Slip-Joint pliers come in three basic sizes. 6 inch, 8 inch and 10 inch. While the 6 inch is the most common you may find the 8 inch is the best pliers for you. Even for small hands the 8 inch size gives you good leverage to do most of the tasks and it is small enough to fit in your kitchen drawer or toolbox. Contractors and farmers like the 10 inch for rebar work and fence repairs.
Most pliers have an arch in the handle. This arch gives you the most torque for almost any task. Stay away from the straight handle slip-joint pliers. I tend to pinch my hand (it hurts) more often with this type.
A few good choices for you.
I have selected a few pliers that from my experience are good tools and will last you many years. Some are fairly expensive but some are suprisingly affordable. Here is the list. Click on the item name to view it. You can purchase from these companies and be assured to get exactly what you ordered.
Note: I don’t like the Craftsman Laminated Pliers. They do not have sharp teeth. (the laminated tools have rivets on the jaws) I am also not a fan of KR Branded tools.
Channellock 5-Piece Plier Set
Channellock Pro’s Choice II Tool Set
Lastly, Don’t go for hype. There are many new pliers introduced each year with fancy names and advertised as the “best” pliers. If it is advertised as the best invention since the wheel … it probably isn’t.