Whether you are installing a floating piston pin, assembling gears, or doing any type of assembly that uses snap ring fasteners, you need a tool that can easily install and remove the snap rings.
What is a snap ring?
A snap ring is a type of retaining ring fastener that holds an assembly part inside a circular bore housing or on a round shaft. Snap rings are used mostly in gear assemblies to hold gears and bearings in place without restricting their radial movement. Other common names for snap rings are circlips or C clips.
Check out this article to learn more about snap rings and how to use them in your assembly projects.
There are many ways to install snap rings. You can do it without a tool or use a flat screwdriver but you risk injuring yourself or damaging the fastener. The safest and most effective way to install snap rings is with snap ring pliers.
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What are snap ring pliers?
Snap ring pliers are specialized types of pliers with strong blunt needle tips for expanding or compressing circlips. They can be straight or bent. Unfortunately, the pliers only work with snap rings that have gripping holes or hooks on the open ends. So, if you are installing any other type of circlips, you may have to use a different set of pliers.
The snap ring pliers are available in various shapes and sizes to cater to the different application needs of circlips. That is why you see them sold either as an individual tool or as a set. Some even come as a single tool with a set of interchangeable heads or tips.
In this article, I bring you the 3 best snap ring pliers sets on the market. The purpose is to make it easier for you to select the best set of pliers for installing snap rings in your machine assembly projects.
What do you consider when choosing snap ring pliers?
There are many things to consider when shopping for snap ring pliers. The most important ones are:
Versatility or convertibility.
This is the ability of snap ring pliers to switch from internal ring pliers to external ring pliers. and vice versa. A good pair of circlip pliers should be easy to change between the two modes. This adds to the versatility of the tool. Alternatively, a snap ring plier set should come with both external and internal ring pliers.
When choosing a snap ring pliers set, you should pay attention to the shaft or bore size specifications. This is what tells you the snap ring sizes a ring plier is designed for. For internal snap rings, you measure the internal diameter of the bore and for external snap rings, you measure the diameter of the shaft. Circlip sizes of your application should be within the range of what a tool provides. Another thing to pay attention to is the size of the tips. If the tips cannot fit into the grip holes of the circlips, the pliers will not be useful. If the pins are too small, the snap ring will slip off.
Ease of operation.
Snap ring pliers are designed for use with one hand. In that regard, they should be easy to operate. Some of the things to pay close attention to are how smoothly the pliers open and close, the type of handles, and the ease of changing operation mode. Well-made pliers should be easy to operate even in awkward positions.
Strength of the tips of the pliers
Retaining rings create a great deal of pressure on the tips of circlip pliers. Therefore, the tips of the set of pliers you choose must be forged from strong metal. Otherwise, they will bend or break on you in the middle of the job.
Well-manufactured pliers set must have a decent warranty cover. It shows that the manufacturer believes the tool can deliver what it promises. For me, any tool I buy must have a warranty cover.
The last thing to consider when buying a snap ring plier set is the price. Here, I will not tell you to choose a cheap or expensive tool kit. Rather, I will tell you to get the pliers set that gives you the most value for money. But if you are a weekend warrior, getting an indestructible snap ring pliers set like the Knipex 8-piece would be overkill.
Best Snap Ring Pliers Set Reviews
Knipex 00 20 04 SB 8-Piece Circlip Pliers Precision Set – Best for the Money
- Consists of 8 pairs of snap ring pliers
- Internal snap ring range: 12mm – 60mm
- External snap ring range: 12mm – 60mm
- Tips are made from spring steel
- Includes straight and angled tips.
- Made in Germany
Knipex 00 20 04 SB 8-piece snap ring pliers set is the best for both DIY and professional use. The set contains 8 pairs of pliers, half of them for external circlips and the others for internal circlips.
For each type, you get 2 straight and 2 90 degree circlip pliers of different lengths. The tips are crimped and have a diameter of either 1.3mm or 1.8mm. Find out more about the features of the pliers in the parts table below.
Internal ring pliers
|Part number||Length||Type of jaw||Bore diameter|
|48 11 J1||140mm||Straight||12 – 25mm|
|48 11 J2||180mm||Straight||19 – 60mm|
|48 21 J11||130mm||90 degree||12 – 25mm|
|48 21 J21||165mm||90 degree||19 – 60mm|
External ring pliers
|Part number||Length||Type of jaw||Shaft diameter|
|49 11 A1||140mm||Straight||12 – 25mm|
|49 11 A2||180mm||Straight||19 – 60mm|
|49 21 A11||130mm||90 degree||12 – 25mm|
|49 21 A21||165mm||90 degree||19 – 60mm|
You can also get the same set without the 165mm pliers set at KCTool: No. #1 German Tools Distributor in the US.
Each pair of pliers in any of the Knipex circlip pliers set is forged from solid chrome vanadium steel that is hardened with 0.8% carbon to withstand pressure and abuse. The tips are cut from spring steel to provide very high yield strength. This keeps them from bending or breaking due to the tension from the retaining rings.
Moreover, the tips are canted outward on the external ring pliers and inward on the internal ring pliers to prevent circlips from slipping off.
The handles of each pair of pliers have a non-slip coating to prevent the tool from sliding out of your hand. The part number and the size range of each pair are indicated on the handles. This makes it easy to select the right size of the pliers every time.
The 2 major downsides of the Knipex 00 20 04 SB 8-piece C-clip pliers set, however, are:
- The lack of 45-degree pliers, and
- Lack of spring-loading mechanism on the jaws of internal circlip pliers.
Other than that, this German precision snap ring pliers set from Knipex Tools features the pliers you need for installing and removing a wide variety of internal and external c-clips. The pliers have a quality and heavy-duty feel, making them perfect for everyday professional use. You can use them for applications such as transmission and wheel bearing assembly on cars and trucks whose shaft or bore is between 12mm and 60mm.
Channellock 929 Retaining ring pliers – Best for Homeowner use
- Includes 5 pairs of color coded tips
- Internal diameter range: 1-13/16″ – 4″
- External diameter range: 1-1/2″ – 4″
- Made of Alloy Steel
- Made in the USA
The Channellock 929 is a single pair of 10-inch snap ring pliers with 5 pairs of interchangeable tips. The pliers have a unique minimalist design to fit in many of your DIY assembly projects. Above all, they are made to a high standard in the U.S.A.
You can use Channellock 929 snap ring pliers to install or remove both internal and external retaining clips.
The size range for use on external snap rings is 11/2″ to 4″ and 1-13/16 to 4″ internal rings. The diameter of the tips includes sizes 0.09″, 0.108″, 0.120″ at either 16 degrees or 90 degrees.
When it comes to switching between external and internal mode, these Channellock retaining ring pliers are a cut above the rest. You just push the lever on the hinge sideways to change from external to internal snap ring pliers.
These pliers are comfortable in your hand and the handles have an anti-slip plastic coat to prevent slipping. The jaws have a spring-loaded mechanism to reduce hand fatigue and enhance single-hand operation.
The major shortcoming of these Channellock retaining ring pliers is the strength of the tips. They are not strong enough for heavy duty applications. Moreover, you need an Allen wrench to change those tips.
That being said, Channellock 929 retaining ring pliers are the perfect choice for light and medium-duty assembly tasks in the home garage. You can use them when assembling small electric motors, ac compressor clutches, motorcycles, and small cars. And if you happen to break the tips, you can purchase a replacement set separately.
Gearwrench 68-079G 3-piece Convertible Retaining Ring Pliers Set
- Includes 3 pliers
- Handles are spring-loaded
- Internal and external diameter ranges: 1/8″ – 4″
- Replaceable tips
- Made in USA
The Gearwrench circlip pliers set is a lot more like the Channellock except that you get two additional pliers and a set of interchangeable tips.
The kit is made in the USA and comes in a nice blow-molded case for easy storage.
Gearwrench snap ring pliers are made from alloy steel for increased durability. The handles are plastic dipped and have a spring mechanism to facilitate the quick operation of the tool. The overall design of the pliers helps to take away fatigue from your hands.
You can use the pliers to operate both internal and external snap rings. All you need to do is simply slide the lever on the hinge to the side. This toggles the pliers between the external and internal modes of operation. The design is very intuitive.
The Gearwrench circlip pliers set comes with a bunch of replaceable tips. The tips have different sizes ranging from 0.024″ to 0.120″ in diameter. The pins are bent either 15 degrees or 90 degrees. So, you don’t have to worry about one pin not fitting the lug holes of your ring fastener because you can try the other sizes.
Unfortunately, the changeable tips are the downside of the Gearwrench convertible retaining ring pliers set. They are not strong enough to withstand the pressure of heavy duty retaining clips in machines. In other words, the Gearwrench 68-079G set is not the best snap ring set for heavy duty machine assembly but you can use it for general-purpose applications such as assembling and dismantling small power tools and farm machines.
Overall, Knipex Tools makes one of the most heavy-duty snap ring pliers set, which you can use when building transmission systems, transfer cases, and other heavy-duty assemblies. It is the best circlip pliers set for professional mechanics. Channellock, on the other hand, makes the most versatile set with interchangeable tips. But is not as heavy-duty and may only be suitable for light and medium-duty assemblies. The Gearwrench 3-piece set is in between. It is a nice set for shade tree mechanics and DIYers who need to remove snap rings occasionally.
Lastly, note that these snap ring pliers are for circlips with holes or grooves. If you encounter a snap ring without holes you will need specific snap ring pliers for circlips without holes. You are likely to come across a circlip without grip holes on axle shafts or when building the transfer case of most trucks, especially Jeeps.