Electronic engineers and hobbyists don’t use regular pliers on sensitive PCB boards and electronic circuits. They use esd electronic pliers.
Electronics pliers are important for cutting excess leads on circuit board components, trimming wires, and gripping components when soldering.
What are esd pliers?
Esd pliers are special types of pliers for electronics with handle grips that prevent electrostatic discharge. The esd handles dissipate electrostatic charge from the human body in a gradual and controlled manner thus protecting static-sensitive components.
The handles of ESD safe pliers are typically color-coded black and grey, plain black, or a combination of any other color with black. For instance, Knipex esd pliers are grey and black, Wiha esd pliers are orange and black, whereas Engineer esd pliers have plain black handles.
Without ESD protective handles, the static charge from the human body would travel through the tool to the electronic circuit and would cause damage to sensitive parts of a circuit board or its components.
Some of the electronic devices that are prone to esd damage include mobile phones, computers, and radio frequency devices.
What is static charge?
Static charge is the unbalanced accumulation of positive or negative charges in a non-conductive object. The excess charges accumulate on the surface of the object until they are discharged. The easiest way to generate static electricity on an object is to rub it against another non-conductive object. And to dissipate the static charge from an object, you can simply connect it to the ground through a conductive circuit.
Naturally, the human body builds up static charge from normal activities such as walking across the carpet in wool socks or wearing some type of clothing. The static electricity stays on the body until it is conducted away when the body comes into contact with another body or object.
Most of the time you won’t realize when the static charge is being released from the body because it is not that much. But when the build-up is too much, sometimes up to hundreds or thousands of volts, you may notice an instantaneous mild shock when you touch a metal surface or pet your furry friend.
If you are wearing dry polyester or wool shirt, you may hear a crackling sound when removing it. And if you are in a dark place, you may see some sparks. That is static electricity generated from the shirt rubbing with the body being discharged in the air.
Why is ESD a problem?
Although the static charge on the human body is harmful to humans it can have devastating effects on electronic circuitry. The high electrostatic voltage surge as a result of static discharge can damage vulnerable electronic components such as MOSFET transistors and ICs and small electrolytic capacitors. It can also blow up very delicate circuits on a printed circuit board (PCB).
How to prevent electrostatic discharge on electronics?
You can take many precautions to prevent electrostatic discharge when working on static-sensitive electronics. However, the three most effective lines of defense are putting on an antistatic wrist strap, installing an anti-static mat on the workstation, and using esd protective tools.
Anti-static wrist strap
Anti-static wristband provides a path to ground for the static electricity on your body. You strap it on the wrist and attach the crocodile clip to a grounded surface.
The second precaution is to set up a proper workstation with an anti-static table mat. When it is properly grounded, the table mat provides a safe work surface that can dissipate static charge to protect sensitive electronics. It is a nice pad for laptop and phone repair or any electronic assembly.
A good alternative to a static dissipative table mat is an anti-static floor mat. It is good when you dont want to clutter your workbench.
You place it under your workbench for stepping when working on electronics. An anti-static floormat discharges your body through your feet.
If you work in an electronics assembly plant where the risk of accidentally touching electronic components is higher, you may find anti-static shoes to be more suitable than an anti-static floormat. They keep your body discharged all the time. You don’t have to worry about where your feet are stepping before working on electronic equipment.
Esd protective hand tools
The third and very important precaution you can take to protect sensitive electronics from damage by static charge is to use esd hand tools. Among the most important hand tools for electronics you can replace with esd tools include tweezers, screwdrivers, and different types of pliers.
In this article, I focus mainly on esd safe pliers. As I mentioned, these are pliers with protective handles that prevent electrostatic dissipation onto electronic components.
Best ESD Pliers on the Market
ESD pliers are available as an individual pair or a set of important pliers for electronics. The following are some of the best esd pliers on the market.
Engineer ESD side cutters (NS-04)
- Size: 120mm long
- ESD safe contoured grips
- Has eyelets of attaching a lanyard
- Made in Japan
Engineer NS-04 are nicely made professional-grade flush cutters from Japan. These compact flush cutters are 120mm long from tip to tip. They cut flush and clean but most importantly, have esd handles to protect electronic circuits from electrostatic discharge.
Most of the time, professionals look for pliers that will do the job but these Engineer NS-04 not only do the job well but are also beautiful. And besides cutting leads on electronic circuits you can use them as sprue cutters to cut plastic and metal sprues.
You can also use these pliers to cut zip ties. They cut zip ties low and flush and remain sharp for a long time.
What I like most about these esd pliers from Japan is the metal stop on the jaws to limit how wide they open. It prevents the jaws from opening too wide and potentially getting damaged.
I also like the unique box design of the handles. They are not your regular round comfort grip handles. And although they are hard, they are comfortable.
Oh, and lastly, these pliers like others from Engineer brand, have an eyelet on the handles for attaching a lanyard or split ring. This is good if your like to hang your pliers during storage or attach them to your key chain or belt hoop.
Personally, I don’t find the eyelets so useful in electronics pliers because I prefer to put them in a workbench pliers organizer. But if you are planning to take these pliers outdoors, you may find a lanyard important to keep them from getting lost.
Knipex flush cutters with lead catcher (78 13 125)
- Length: 5 inch
- Removable lead catcher
- ESD cushion grip handles
- Made in Germany
Cutting pliers are the most used type of pliers in electronic projects. They are used to cut solder leads, separate ribbon cables, snip off bad PCB components, cut wires to size, and cut zip ties among other uses.
One of the biggest challenges, however, is having to keep track of the cut-off materials so that they don’t fall into your project and cause problems. For instance, fine wire ends are dangerous when they are just laying around on your electronic workpiece because they can short-circuit PCB components and cause catastrophic failure of your project.
This is where the Knipex flush cutters with lead catcher come in handy. These super Knips have a small tongue between the blades to hold leads and keep them from flying all over. The lead catcher prevents uncontrolled loss of cut wire ends and other materials. It makes it possible to cut small wires and keep track of them so that they won’t end up on the PCB and short things up.
The lead catcher holds any material that the blades can cut. To make sure that the scrap won’t fall just anywhere, you keep the jaws closed to hold the scrap. Then release the handles to release the scrap in a safe place.
Good thing is that the lead catcher is removable. You can remove it any time you feel like it is getting in your way. For instance, you hardly need it when you are not working on an electronic project.
In addition to the lead catcher, these flush cutters from Knipex have ESD handles. The handles help to safely discharge electrostatic energy from your body to protect static sensitive components.
Lastly, these german nippers cut all materials including plastics, soft wires, hard wires, and strings. The maximum diameter sizes for hard and soft wire are specified on the handles. 1.6mm for copper or 1.0mm hard wire.
But if you want them to last long enough, it is wise to use them for fine-cutting work only. Besides, they are not cheap!
Knipex ESD Pliers Set (00 20 17) – Best electronics pliers set
- 6 Pieces (3 gripping pliers and 3 cutting pliers)
- ESD comfort grip handles
- Sizes (115mm – 125mm)
- Max cutting range: 1.6mm soft and 0.6mm hard
- Made in Germany
As you probably know, cutting is not the only task you do with pliers when working on electronic projects. Sometimes you need to grab electronic components with pliers to pull them out or hold them when soldering.
Clearly, cutting pliers cannot do all these tasks. You need different types of pliers that can grab tiny objects even in very tight spaces. This is where the Knipex electronics pliers set comes in.
This Knipex electronics pliers kit has 6 pairs of esd safe pliers all nicely packed in a hard-wearing polyester zippered pouch. The pouch has elastic straps inside to hold in place each pair of pliers so that they won’t hit one another.
Types of pliers in the kit
The 6 esd pliers fall into two categories: cutting pliers and grabbing pliers.
The cutting pliers include oval head side cutters, end cutters, and tapered head side cutters. The oval head cutters are for cutting thicker copper wires up to 1.6mm whereas end cutters are for snipping components from circuit boards. The tapered diagonal cutters are for snipping components in tight spaces on the PCB where the end cutters cannot reach.
The other category of pliers in this set of Knipex precision pliers for electronics is grabbing pliers. These are mainly for holding electronic components and wires.
One of them is ordinary long nose pliers with half-round jaws. They are suitable for making loops in small wires. You can also use them to hold components and wires when soldering or to pull the off from the circuit board.
You will also get another pair of long nose pliers with bent jaws. The jaws are bent at 45 degrees. They are the best for grabbing components for soldering so that you won’t burn your fingers. These angled long nose pliers also get in micro spaces better. They are like a set of tiny fingers for getting in tighter spots where other pliers or your fingers won’t.
Both of these pliers have fine serrations on the jaws to ensure a tight grip on objects. The jaws are tapered and close almost completely for precision.
The last type of gripping pliers in this kit has flat smooth jaws. It is suitable for grabbing delicate objects without damaging, scratching, or marring the surface. These pliers look like miniature duçkbill pliers with soft jaws.
All these precision pliers in this electronics pliers kit are extremely light in the hand and have soft but solid recoil springs. They are made from chrome vanadium steel and the head is ground to a mirror smooth finish. So, you don’t have to deal with chrome plating peeling off and causing havoc on the circuits.
The handles are nicely curved for improved ergonomics and have multi-component material for a comfortable grip. But even better, they have esd material to protect circuits from electrostatic discharge. This is what makes these pliers the ideal set for electronics engineering and repairs.
These pliers are also not too big. Their sizes vary between 115mm and 125mm in length. These are the ideal sizes for working on electronic circuits.
Lastly, all 6 ESD precision electronic pliers in this Knipex set are available individually but it is best to purchase them as a set because you will need each of them for different tasks in your electronics projects. Moreover, it is cheaper to buy them as a set than one by one, especially when they are on sale.
Overall, these are some of the best esd pliers for electronics on the market. The Engineer NS-04 is good when you are looking for high-quality but not very expensive precision flush cutters.
Knipex super Knips bring an extra feature of catching leads. These are suitable for working on electronic circuit boards where stray wire ends may be problematic. Lastly, the Knipex precision electronics pliers set offers a great variety of esd pliers for working on electronic projects. It has everything you need to build or repair a circuit board.
Most importantly, these electronic pliers have esd handles. They protect sensitive electronic components and complement all other esd prevention measures you have put in place to prevent esd damage.