The history of many tools dates back so early in human history that no one person or group can be credited with their invention. The tool that we now call a plier was once called a pincer, and probably dates back to the Bronze Age, where it was likely used to hold hot objects during the forging process.
How Can You Maintain Your Pliers in Tip-Top Form? Pliers are relatively sturdy tools but there are still several important elements of their care and feeding to pay attention to if you want to keep them working their best. Essential maintenance that you should perform on your workpiece can be filed under a few simple headings: correct use, cleaning, oiling, sharpening, and storage.
Pliers’ basic design has changed very little since it was developed in the mists of human history. A pair of pliers is essentially a lever, with a fulcrum positioned close to one end, creating a small jaw and, on the other end of the tool, long handles. Like other levers, pliers magnify the force of a human hand and allow for precision targeting
Many of today’s pliers are made out of sturdy alloys that are designed to stand the test of time. Using your pliers correctly and maintaining them by keeping them clean, oiled, and in safe storage is essential for retaining their maximum effectiveness.
Types of Pliers
Knowing what type of plier you have will be critical to using them correctly. There are a number of different types of pliers, each used to perform different tasks.
Most pliers have some combination of essential parts, including a pair of handles, a pivot point or fulcrum, cutters (close to the fulcrum), and a ridged gripping portion called the nose.
The entire head of the plier, from the fulcrum to the tip of the nose, is called the jaw.
Some of the most common types of pliers include:
- Side-cutting or lineman’s pliers, which have a rounded head and are generally used for electrical work, especially to strip insulation and cut wire.
- Diagonal cutting pliers are similar to lineman’s pliers. Diagonal pliers have a more circular head than lineman’s pliers but may also be used to cut wires, remove fasteners and strip insulation.
- End-cutting pliers have jaws that meet to form a circle. They are used to cut wires, nails, and rivets close to work.
- Long-nose pliers, also known as needle-nose pliers, are a type of multi-purpose plier that most people have in their toolboxes. It has a long, pointed head which can be used to hold and bend wires and manipulate small or delicate objects.
- Flat-nose pliers are also common to many home workshops and tool drawers. Like long-nose pliers, flat-nose pliers have long slender jaws that narrow to a point. They’re often used to turn and grip small objects.
- Tongue-and-groove or utility pliers, another common type of plier with which most people are familiar. These pliers have adjustable jaws that can accommodate various types of bolts or other square or hexagonal objects. This tool tightens bolts by applying torque (twisting force) through the long handles.
- Slip-joint pliers have a smaller head and are generally less bulky than utility pliers but do some of the same work of tightening nuts and bolts.
What are Pliers For?
Most people have at least one pair of pliers in their home, but the average amateur handy person might have only a vague idea of what they can use their pliers for.
Needle-nose and tongue-in-groove pliers are common objects in most homes, and they can serve a variety of purposes, from grasping small objects to bending and straightening stuck or broken items.
Someone fixing a bicycle wheel might use slip-joint pliers to bend a spoke back into place. Or, you might use flat-nose pliers to remove a slipped screw or extract small objects from machinery.
In general, pliers are used to move, shape, tighten, or cut many types of metal, utilizing the elementary but foundational machinery of the lever and fulcrum to magnify human strength and ability.
Pliers should not be used in place of wrenches, but some, like adjustable utility pliers, are capable of doing similar work.
Large-headed, re-sizable tongue-and-groove and slip-joint pliers can be adjusted to fit a variety of bolts and screws and work similarly to wrenches, utilizing torque to tighten or loosen nuts and bolts.
Types of pliers less commonly found in homes include lineman’s pliers, which electricians use to strip and cut wires, chain-nose pliers, used for manipulating small objects, often beads of jewelry, battery pliers, which mechanics use in car repair, and diagonal pliers, which are useful in carpentry and are sometimes used to cut nails.
In general, pliers are used for grasping and bending objects, as well as for cutting some types of materials, namely wires and nails. Common pliers, like needle-nose and tongue-in-groove pliers can be used to solve a variety of household issues, from tightening screws to handling tiny objects.
Many craftspeople use a variety of specialized pliers which should be handled with care, especially if you aren’t familiar with their use. Welders even continue to use pliers to manipulate extremely hot metals.
A variety of craftspeople, from carpenters and electricians to fishermen and jewelers use pliers every day to work to grasp and shape metal and other objects. Amateur users should feel confident using pliers to fix problems and complete projects in their own homes and workshops.
However, to maintain your pliers’ effectiveness and ensure your safety, be sure to use them correctly and with the proper safety equipment, such as gloves and glasses.
Tips for Using Pliers Correctly
Despite the many types of pliers, there are a few basic use and safety tips that apply to all. Many types of incorrect use of pliers will result in damage to the blades, which can be permanent if it involves gouging or nicking of the blade surface.
Using pliers incorrectly can also cause injury, especially if you use the wrong size. Always make sure that the pliers you’re using have a grip span wide enough to accommodate your hands without pinching your palms or fingers.
Here are some tips for using pliers correctly:
- When cutting wires or other objects, such as nails and rivets, always cut at right angles. Rocking the pliers or bending wire back and forth can damage the pliers’ sharpness and cutting ability.
- Don’t use pliers that have worn-down or dull blades. These will require much more force to cut, which can injure your hands and damage the pliers further.
- Pull on the handles of the pliers, don’t push them down. Pushing can damage the blade and can result in injury if the pliers slip.
- Be sure to use pliers appropriate to the task. Using light pliers for heavy materials will damage the blade and can result in injury.
- Don’t use pliers as a hammer – most pliers will fracture or break if used this way. Similarly, don’t hit the jaws with a hammer to increase their force, or attempt to extend the handles with other materials. Simply use larger pliers.
- Avoid exposing pliers (and most other tools) to excessive heat that can damage the handle grip and integrity of the metal.
Remember that new tools often require “breaking in.” When you buy new pliers, they’ll likely be somewhat stiff and awkward to manipulate. This isn’t a flaw, but a sign of their newness.
You’ll need to oil them and manipulate them to ensure that they work to your satisfaction. Everyone has a slightly different style – some people prefer more “give” in their tools than others. You’ll learn what you like by using them over time and making small adjustments after every use.
Tips for Cleaning Pliers
Regularly cleaning and checking your pliers is one of the most important and effective things you can do to keep them in their best condition. Cleaning and checking over your pliers after every use can go a long way towards making sure they have a long, useful life.
Here are some helpful cleaning tips that you can use for your pliers:
- Though your pliers’ fulcrum should remain consistently oiled, it’s important to keep the body of the pliers clean and grease-free. You can accomplish this by simply wiping them down after every use with a clean cloth.
- Pliers’ grips are essential for comfort as well as safety, but they can often accumulate grime or develop cracks even if you’re wiping the piece down after every use.
You can combat sticky residue and damage by using baby wipes or Pledge surface cleaners, which are mild and unlikely to interact with the rubber, plastic, and adhesive combinations found in most grips.
Rust is the bane of every tool’s existence! The best thing to do is to avoid rust altogether by regularly oiling your pliers and storing them properly. But if you do encounter rust, you can follow along with the tips explained below.
A simple, if slow method for removing rust is to soak your pliers in a vinegar/salt solution. Add 500g of table salt to vinegar, enough to submerge your pliers completely. Let the tool soak for 24 hours. After 24 hours, you should see the rust has flaked and formed a paste on your pliers. Remove them with a sponge and brush and work the tool until it opens and closes easily. Oil and store in a clean dry place.
Several rust-removal products can be found at your local hardware store. Some recommended products are Evapo-Rust and WD-40 Specialist Rust Remover.
Both are liquid rust removal solutions that claim to remove rust with soaking and minimal scrubbing. These products are generally well-reviewed, though there are countless others on the market.
They work faster than a vinegar solution but are more expensive and less environmentally friendly.
A somewhat complex process for removing rust is electrolysis. You should only use this method if you have multiple tools you need to clean or if your pieces are expensive, irreplaceable, or antique.
First, wash the tool with soap and water to rid it of oil or wax that will inhibit electricity. Remove the grip.
Next, gather your other tools. You’ll need a plastic bucket, an anode (a “sacrificial” steel object that can be positively charged, such as a metal coffee can), gloves, baking soda, sponge, bristle brush, wire leads, and a car battery charger.
Connect one wire lead to the tool and one to the anode, making sure you have a secure connection. This may require you to sand away a small portion of rust from the tool you want to clean. The anode will be destroyed by the electrolysis process, so it should be something disposable.
Make the electrolyte solution with water and baking soda (one gallon to one tablespoon), enough to submerge the tool. Suspend the tool in the water from a piece of nonconductive material, like pvc or wood.
Put the anode in the water along with the tool. If using a coffee can, the can should surround the tool without touching it.
Connect the leads with the battery. With the battery unplugged, connect the anode to the positive and the tool with the negative. If you do this backwards, the tool will become the sacrificial metal, so be careful!
Set the charger to two amps and plug it in. You should see bubbles within a few minutes. Let the charge run for 15-20 hours. When you return, you’ll see a sludge on top of the solution. This is the rust that has been removed from the tool. Congratulations! Remove the tool from the solution.
All that’s left now is to clean the solution off your tool. Use gloves to protect your hands and wipe the tool with the sponge, using the bristle brush to reach into crevices. Wipe clean with a towel and use some wax to prevent rust accumulation in the future. You did it!
Tips for Oiling Pliers
You should use oil on your pliers regularly to prevent rust buildup and avoid the lengthy, sometimes expensive, and often tiresome process of cleaning or replacing badly damaged tools.
There are many items on the market for oiling tools, but you can use a few inexpensive, standard household products – WD-40 and 3-in-1 – for everyday use.
An excellent way to ensure your pliers remain well-oiled and clean on a regular basis is to keep a bucket of sand mixed with oil on hand.
Mix a bag of sand with a few tablespoons of oil – WD-40, 3-in-1, or even linseed oil – and stab your pliers in the mixture to clean and oil the piece simultaneously.
For a more precise method of oiling your pliers, use WD-40 in the fulcrum area to address a particular sticking or lubrication issue. WD-40 can also be used to clean gunk or grime that has built up in crevices.
However, multi-purpose WD-40 contains some solvent properties and may not be suitable for long-term use, which is why baby wipes or Pledge wipes are recommended for removing debris and cleaning plier grips.
Use a specialist formula for long-term use or use 3-in-1, which is also intended as a lubricant. A general rule of thumb is that WD-40’s specialist formula should be used for cleaning, while 3-in-1 or another penetrating oil should be used for treatment.
Clean your pliers after every use and oil them regularly but not every time, to prevent a buildup of oil. Here are some tips for oiling your pliers:
- For a deep clean and oiling, use a small amount of lubricating product and work it into the joint.
- You can use fine, dry sand to cover the piece further work the joint.
- Open and close the pliers repeatedly.
- Soak the joint in lubricating oil to flush remaining grit.
- Wipe the pliers clean and dry with a soft cloth, maintaining only a very light film of oil on the body of the tool. You may also use wax to protect the tool against rust.
Tips for Sharpening Pliers
You will only need to sharpen pliers intended for cutting: Diagonal, lineman, and sometimes end-cutting pliers. Flat-nose, long-nose (needle-nose), utility pliers, and slip-joint pliers are not generally used for cutting and therefore don’t generally need to be sharpened.
To sharpen pliers, you’ll need one tool, a hand file. When choosing a file, find one with a fine grain, often called “smooth” or “dead smooth” files.
The blades of diagonal and lineman pliers are small and relatively fine. Using a coarser file will grind off too much material from the blade, while smooth files allow you to work with precision.
Smooth files are inexpensive and can be found at most hardware stores for $10 to $20. Electrical sharpeners are also available, but they can be risky, especially for people new to sharpening, as it’s much easier to over-file the pliers’ blades with an electric sharpener.
When you have your file, there are a few steps you should follow to ensure you are able to sharpen your pliers effectively.
How To Sharpen Pliers:
- Clean the blades of the pliers with soap and water. If applicable, remove rust.
- Secure your pliers in a vice with the jaws pointing upwards. Make sure there is plenty of light so you can see clearly. You can attempt to hold the pliers while you file, but this is not advisable as metal filings can fall on your hands and become embedded.
- Choose one side of the blade and rub gently but firmly along the angle of the blade. The point is to smooth the blade and sharpen it by removing metal burrs that may have accumulated on the blades. Sharpen both blades in this manner.
- Test the pliers on wire. If they aren’t sharp enough, repeat step three.
- When you’re finished, clean the pliers again in soapy water to remove any remaining metal filings. Then, oil, dry, and store the pliers.
Most pliers do not need to be sharpened very frequently. However, if you use your pliers frequently, it’s likely worth it to learn how to sharpen them rather than opt to buy new ones every time the blades dull.
Unfortunately, many inexpensive, everyday pliers that you might buy at a hardware store are “induction hardened” at the factory where they are produced, which makes their blades as hard as the file you might use to sharpen them.
In this case, files skate off the blades instead of sharpening them. If you use pliers to cut wire frequently, you may need to consider some more expensive or older tools that you will be able to sharpen repeatedly over time.
Tips for Storing Pliers (and Other Tools)
Storing your pliers properly is half the battle when it comes to keeping them clean, rust-free, and in working order. It’s very important to make sure that you store your tools in a cool, dry location.
Many people use their garages or basements as home workshops, but those spaces can suffer from humidity or dampness if they aren’t insulated and temperature regulated.
To combat this issue, consider keeping your tools in a toolbox, purchasing silica gel packs and rust inhibitors, or investing in a dehumidifier. There are a few classic ways of organizing tools that can help keep your workbench neat and your tools in working order.
Toolboxes: Toolboxes are tried and true methods of organizing tools. They can be organized by size, depth, and total volume, and some have wheels for ease of movement.
Toolboxes are generally larger and bulkier today than the classic metal boxes in dad’s or grandpa’s garages, but they serve many of the same functions, with compartments for organization and security.
A moderately sized toolbox can be found at virtually any hardware store and will likely run around $40-$50. Consider storing all your hand tools, including pliers, in one box or, alternatively, sorting by specialty: wrenches and utility pliers together, for instance.
Types Of Storage:
- Plier rack: A plier rack is a type of storage unit constructed specifically with pliers. When hung on a wall, pliers rest upright in the rack, which has a wide bottom to accommodate pliers’ handles and a thinner top, against which pliers’ jaws lean. They can also be placed in a drawer, where the pliers would rest in a horizontal row.
Racks of this type are not really a specialty item but may require some searching out at the hardware store. For a simple DIY, take a 2×4 beam and cut two diagonal angles along one side. Stand the beam on its rectangular side and perch the pliers, jaws-up, on top of the opposite triangular side to create a makeshift rack.
- Peg board: Pegboards are a common sight in many home workshops, for good reason. They’re easy to organize and allow ease of access. Simply purchase a pegboard and hang it on a wall near your workbench. Insert nails in the pegs on which you can hang racks or individual tools.
The pegboard method does have the disadvantage of being somewhat unstable if you hang pliers individually on nails. If this is a problem, simply purchase or make a rack and hang or store all your pliers together.
Why Is It Important To Maintain Your Tools?
On a basic level, it’s important to maintain your tools because they might be called on at a moment’s notice. It’s certainly incredibly frustrating to need something and find it unavailable.
Keeping tools in good condition is critical for safety reasons as well. Blunt or damaged pliers can cause strain injuries to a user’s hands and might result in injury if they slip because of damage or rust.
Rust itself can be dangerous as a habitat of the bacteria that causes tetanus. Failing to properly look after tools can also be a drain on the wallet as ruined tools must be repeatedly replaced.
Finally, dirty, damaged, and unorganized tools and workspaces present a hinderance to people looking to pick up new hobbies or revisit old ones; whereas, clean, well-maintained tools and workshops can represent the impetus for someone looking to embark on a new project.
Pliers are critical tools in an ordinary handy person’s arsenal, especially for those who are seeking self-sufficiency and general competence in addressing everyday problems or projects.
- Organized tools are easier to find
- Safety precaution (bacteria, injury)
As we have seen, pliers are some of the most useful pieces a homeowner or amateur craftsperson can keep in their toolbox.
They’re exceptionally versatile tools that many people keep in a drawer with other objects that must be in working order when needed.
Becoming competent in the use of pliers, one of the most basic and fundamental tools, can lead people to take on other projects which might reconnect them with the principles of self-sufficiency or allow them an outlet for their creative impulses.
Pliers are a humble and ancient tool that often prove to be unexpectedly important and empowering instruments.