There are so many specialty pliers in the market that only a few people know about. One of them is the duckbills pliers or assembly pliers. These are a type of flat wide nose pliers that you will find mostly in assembly or in the aviation industry. They are also common in jewelry making for shaping wire. In this article, I share more about the duckbill pliers, their uses, and why you need them for your project.
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What are duckbill pliers?
Duckbill pliers or flat nose pliers are a type of pliers with thin, wide, flat jaws. The jaws can either be short or long and the gripping surface can be smooth or serrated.
Some duckbills have rounded outer sides of the jaws while others are flat. But despite the different shapes, the most important thing is that all duckbill pliers have flat rectangular gripping surfaces. That is why they are called flat nose pliers.
The design of the jaws of duckbill pliers is inspired by ducks’ bills or beaks, hence the name. They do not open as wide as ordinary pliers but they close tightly leaving a microscopic or no gap between them. This is one of the reasons they are very useful for gripping very thin metal sheets and wires.
Although the most common duckbill pliers have average size handles, some have long-reach handles for accessing deep places.
What are duckbill pliers used for?
The main purpose of duckbill pliers is to grip and twist wires and metal sheets but you can use them to complete many other tasks. Their flat wide jaws provide a larger surface area for gripping than needle nose pliers.
In fact, when you compare needlenose pliers with duckbills, you will notice they look somewhat similar but one has tapered jaws while the other has broad jaws all the way to the tip.
Jewelers use flat nose pliers to grip and twist wires for their wire craft. Auto technicians, on the other hand, use them in place of hose clamp pliers to grip and remove wire and spring hose clamps. Duckbills are also good for pulling fuses. They work very well as a fuse remover tool for gripping and pulling out the mini and regular fuses from a vehicle’s fuse box.
In the motorsport and aviation industries, the duckbills are the second choice after safety wire pliers for lock wiring. Mechanics in these two industries use the pliers to twist safety wire on fasteners and hardware that need to be secured. Aircraft mechanics also use them to pull and bend cotter pins.
Since I am not a motorsport or aircraft mechanic, I use my duckbills for other tasks such as selecting and removing wires in the wiring harnesses of cars. I find them very effective at gripping wire strands without damaging the insulation. I also the pliers to grip and pull safety wire for reinforcing exhaust wrap.
There are many other uses for the flat nose duck bill pliers. You can use them as fishing pliers to remove hooks from your catch or as substitutes for needlenose when you need strong and reliable gripping.
How to use duck bill pliers
Duck bill pliers are easy to use. They are just like any other regular pliers except that their jaws are flat and do not have integrated cutters. This restricts their use to only gripping objects.
The jaws of duckbill pliers are either smooth, serrated, or cross-hatched to suit various applications. For example, jewelers love smooth jaws because they do not leave marks on their jewelry. Aviation mechanics, on the other hand, prefer the jaws with cross-cut teeth because they grip better without causing significant damage on the stock. They only leave surface marks.
From experience, I have noticed that the cross-hatch teeth on the duckbills help to exert even pressure on the stock, resulting in an equal grip in any direction. Moreover, the cross pattern does not damage your wire like the ribbed teeth do when you squeeze the handles too tight.
To use the duck bill pliers, simply pull the handles apart to open the jaws. Place the stock between the jaws and squeeze the handles together to bite. Because the duckbill pliers do not have a locking mechanism, you must keep pressing the handles together to maintain a firm grip on the object.
If you are safety wiring, you would need two pairs of pliers so that you grip each strand individually and twist them against each other. Check this article on how to apply lock wire to your machines using duckbill pliers.
Which are the best duckbill pliers?
There are so many duckbill pliers in the market, which makes choosing the best one an uphill task. It is even harder to select when you don’t know a lot about a product. Thankfully, I have put together a buying guide that should help you with selecting the best pair of duck bill pliers for your project.
Duck bill pliers buying guide: Factors to consider
The following are the factors to look for when buying your pair of duckbills.
The type of jaws is a key buying factor for the duckbills. There are three types: smooth, serrated, cross-hatched jaws. If you are buying duckbill pliers for jewelry work, you should consider the smooth jaws. They do not leave marks and prints on your jewelery. On the other hand, if you are buying these flat-nose pliers for safety wiring, the jaws with cross-cut teeth grip the best. They also do not damage your wire or weaken it when you clamp it too tight.
How a hand tool feels in the hand matters a lot when selecting the best one. Most duckbill pliers are marketed as “comfortable in the hands” but are they really? How to tell if the claim is true is by checking to ensure that at least they have non-slip plastic dipped handles or cushion handles. That is the least you need to protect your hands from blisters. Of course, the most comfortable flatbills are those with comfort-grip handles. You might want to consider those if your job involves the intense use of duckbills.
The overall weight of the duckbills determines how heavy or light they are in your hands. Good duckbills should have a great balance and weight. They should be heavy enough to feel substantial and solid but not an ounce more than needed. If you intend to use the pliers for jewelry or art metal crafts, you should consider those that are lightweight to avoid fatiguing your wrist.
Length of the handles
Long handles on pliers do not only provided a great mechanical advantage but also allow you to get to hard-to-reach places. Consider the long handles if you are intending to use the pliers to access deep places such as to remove hose clamps in hidden areas. Otherwise, the medium-sized pliers are good enough.
This refers to the type of metal used to make the pliers. The best and strongest flat nose pliers are forged from steel alloy, preferably vanadium chrome steel or carbon steel. Other alloys are chromium steel and nickel-chromium steel.
How wide the jaws open limits the potential uses of your duckbills. The narrower the opening the less versatile are the pliers. If you are looking for duckbills for removing hose clamps, a wider jaw opening would be the best. Otherwise, if you want pliers for gripping wire, any flatbill would work.
The last thing to look at is the overall build quality of your pliers. When considering the build quality, you look at factors such as the alignment of the jaws, whether or not there is a play on the joint, and if there are dangerous edges. Some poorly-made duckbills have very sharp corners or have a significant play on the joint.
Unfortunately, it is hard to tell how a tool is made when you are buying online. Thankfully, we have review blogs like Pliersman and UCG forums that can help you know about the quality of a tool from other people’s experiences.
Best Duckbill Pliers
Channellock Duckbill Pliers 718 -Best Long-reach duck bill pliers
- 8 inches long
- Plastic-dipped handles
- Forged from high carbon steel alloy
- Made in USA
The Channellock 8-inch duck bill pliers are made in the U.S.A. They are forged from high carbon steel and are coated for ultimate rust prevention. The handles are comfortable in the hand and the tool feels very sturdy. Only the joint feels a little sticky but loosens up when you apply some lubricating oil. Also, the finish is quite course.
The pliers are designed for long-reach applications and pulling objects in very confined spaces. You can use them as hose clamp pliers to remove hose clamps on gas lines and radiator hoses.
The jaws have cross-cut teeth for excellent gripping capability. You can use them to pull wires without damaging them. These channellock duck bill pliers are also great for lock wiring if you are in the aircraft or motorsport industry.
Lastly, the nose of these duckbills 718 from Channellock measures 1 cm wide, which is not too wide to get in between fuses in a car fuse box. This enables you to use these pliers to remove car fuses when you don’t have a fuse puller.
JTS Duckbill pliers with smooth jaws – Best for Jewelry making
- 6-1/2 inches long
- Plastic-dipped handles
- Smooth jaws
- Forged from high quality steel alloy
The JTS smooth jaws duckbill pliers are a great craft tool for jewelers who makes wire jewelry. They are well made and feature a box joint construction for increased durability. The box joint also allows them to open wider than regular bills.
The handles have a non-slip PVC coating that provides a firm and comfortable grip. On the other hand, the mating surface of the smooth jaws widens progressively from the joint to the tip. This provides a large surface area for gripping.
Unfortunately, these jewelry duckbills are slightly heavier in the hands and can fatigue the wrist when used for a long time. But that does not mean they are useless. There are so many things you can do with them outside of jewelry making. For example, you can use these pliers for assembling loudspeaker crossovers or sealing the ends of nylon webbing.
ARES 70662 Flat Nose Duck Bill Pliers – Best for safety wiring
- 8 inches long
- Cushion grip handles
- Cross-hatched high-leverage jaws
- Forged from high quality alloy
The ARES 8 inch flat nose duck bill pliers are not made in the USA but they have all the qualities you need on safety wiring duckbill pliers. They have a low-profile design and are light in the hand. The handles have an ergonomic design that helps minimize fatigue. Moreover, the coating on the handles keeps the pliers from sliding out of your hands.
The ARES duckbills are made of alloy steel. This means that they are rock solid and strong enough to withstand heavy abuse in the garage. The jaws have a cross-hatch pattern for superior gripping. The distance from the tip of the jaws and the pivot is short enough to provide a great mechanical advantage.
Although you can use the pliers for other tasks such as metal artwork and bending cotter pins, they are most suitable for installing safety wires. The jaws grip firmly on safety wires and do not cause damage. The ARES 8 inch duckbill pliers are aircraft mechanics’ second favorite safety wire pliers after the aviation wire twisting pliers. The price/quality ratio is good too.
The only downside of the ARES duckbills is that the jaws do not open as wide as a normal set of pliers. This would make them unsuitable for applications that require the jaws to open very wide such as removing hose clamps.
Tsunoda Duckbill Pliers – Best bang for the buck
- Length: 8″
- Jaw width: 1/4″ at tip
- Horizontal teeth
- Made from hardened steel
- Made in Japan
Tsunoda duckbill pliers (DBP-200) are simply a hidden gem. These flat nose pliers from a little know Japanese brand are the real deal. They hit all the sweet spots in terms of price, quality, and ergonomics.
These medium sized Japanese duckbills are made from hardened steel. They can bite really hard without getting damaged. And if you have an eye for detail, you will be impressed by the fit and finish on them. These pliers are machined with great precision and ground to a smooth finish to remove burrs and rought spot. The handles are reasonably comfortable and the yellow coating makes them stand out in the toolbox for easy retrieval.
The ony thing your might not like about the Tsunoda duck bill pliers is the horizontal serrations on the jaws. Although they are machined good, deep and clean to provide a strong and secure grip, they can mar the surface of your workpiece. I reckon that a checkered gripping surface would have done them more justice. But for less than $20, these Tsunoda brand flat nose pliers are quite a steal!
These pliers are versatile. You can use them to do everything duckbill pliers are meant for. From holding, twisting, and pulling wires to removing cotter pins and bending tabs in small strips of sheet metal. Furthermore, you can use them either in professional work such as aircraft maintenance or personal projects such such as auto repair in your workshop. Most linemen find these Tsunoda bill pliers to be very useful for removing semiconductive (semi-con) layer on high and medium voltage cables.
Duckbills or flat nose pliers are essential for manipulating wires and thin metal sheets. They are good for electrical work, aircraft maintenance and parts assembly, and automotive repair among other applications. In jewelry making, duckbill pliers are useful for handling jewelry pieces. Overall, these pliers are a nice addition to the toolbox of a professional handyman or DIYer. They have a myriad of uses when they are in the hand.