Duckbill pliers: All you need to know about them

There are so many specialty pliers in the market that only a few people know about them. 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.

What are duckbill pliers?

As I mentioned, duckbill pliers are a type of pliers with thin, flat jaws that are either short or long and smooth or serrated. The outside of the jaws could either be flat or rounded but that is not very important. What is important to note is that the jaws of duckbills have flat rectangular gripping surfaces.

Their jaws leave a microscopic gap when they close, meaning that you can use the pliers to grip very thin sheets or wires. The design of the jaws of these specialty pliers is inspired by ducks’ bills or beaks, hence the name.

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?

You can use duck bill pliers to accomplish many tasks but their main purpose is to grip and twist wire. The flat wide jaws provide a larger surface area for gripping than needle nose pliers.

Jewelers use the pliers to grip and twist wires for their wire craft. Mechanics, on the other hand, use the duck bills to remove hose clamps in deep places.

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 use the pliers 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 a strong and reliable gripping.

How to use duck bill pliers

The duck bill pliers are easy use. They are just like any other regular pliers except that their jaws are flat and they 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, love the jaws with cross-cut teeth because they grip better and won’t damage the stock.

From experience, I 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.

Jaw type

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.

Handle comfort

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.

Overall weight

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.

Material

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.

Jaw opening

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.

Overall build

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 718 Duckbill pliers -Best Long-reach duck bill pliers

channelock 8 inch duckbill pliers
(source: Amazon)

Key Features

  • 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.

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. The channellock duck bill pliers are also great for lock wiring. They can be very useful too for pulling fuses from a car when you do not have a fuse puller.

JTS Duckbill pliers with smooth jaws – Best for Jewelry making

JTS jewelry-making duck bill pliers
(source: Amazon)

Key Features

  • 6-1/2 inches long
  • Plastic-dipped handles
  • Smooth jaws
  • Box-joint
  • 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

ARES flat nose duck bill pliers
(source:Amazon)

Key Features

  • 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. Therefore the pliers might not be the best for applications that require the jaws to open wide such as when removing hose clamps.