Plumbers use a range of pliers in their plumbing projects. Some of the pliers have limited use while others are indispensable.
In this article, I share the 6 most important sets of plumbing pliers that you must keep in your plumbing tool kit for daily use. They are useful for both residential and commercial plumbing projects and can be used by professional plumbers and DIYers alike.
6 Essential Pliers for Plumbing
1. Water pump pliers
Water pump pliers are indispensable in plumbing. You will use them more than anything else when it comes to twisting and turning things.
The main advantage of water pump pliers over ordinary pliers is that they have adjustable jaws that can open to different widths to grip pipes and materials of different sizes.
The ideal size of water pump pliers for general plumbing is 10″ or 12″. They open wide enough to grip most plumbing pipes and are a decent size for carrying around in the tool bag. The handles are also long enough to provide excellent leverage for tightening pipes.
Small water pump pliers are also nice for EDC. The ideal size is 6″ or 5″. These are good for carrying around everywhere you go.
Furthermore, the best water pump pliers have V-jaws because they grab round stock and tubing better. They are the perfect tool for turning steel pipes because the teeth bite hard and the jaws get tighter as you torque down the tool.
Some of the uses of water pump pliers in plumbing include gripping and turning supply line pipes, tightening or loosening hex fasteners and bolts, and gripping flat pieces. Pump pliers are also useful for tightening and loosening plumbing fittings on sinks and faucets at home or on the job site.
Some water pump pliers have soft jaws for working on delicate surfaces. You can use them to twist and turn chrome pipes and fittings that easily get scratched or marred by regular jaws.
Which water pump pliers are the best
There are many brands of water pump pliers but the top two brands are Channellock and Knipex. Channellock offers tongue and groove pliers while Knipex’s winning type of water pump pliers is knipex cobra.
Channel lock groove pliers and knipex cobra are both high quality tools but the latter is superior. These German-made water pump pliers are the top choice for most plumbers.
So, what makes Knipex cobra better than Channellock tongue & groove pliers?
I have done an in-depth comparison of Knipex cobras vs Channellock water pump pliers but in a nutshell, knipex is of visibly superior quality and is more versatile but a little bit more expensive.
For the same size Channellock, you get a Knipex cobra with a significantly larger mouth opening, slimmer jaws, and better grip and leverage. The Knipex cobra is also notably lighter than Channellocks and the jaw adjustment mechanism is as smooth as silk.
Lastly, Knipex cobras have a self-gripping feature that enables them lock onto the workpiece. You can stand on the top handle and the pliers will not slip. Unfortunately, you pay more for the cobras than the equivalent Channellock.
2. Needle nose pliers
Sometimes you will want to get your pliers in tight spaces and nothing does a better job than a nice set needle nose pliers They have long narrow jaws that taper to a point to enhance access in hard-to-reach places. You can use them to grip small objects in narrow spaces.
Sometimes you can also use needle nose pliers to unclog drains. Personally, I use bent nose pliers to remove hairs from shower and bathtub drains.
You can find some of the best needle nose pliers in this article.
3. Pliers wrench
A pliers wrench is a good alternative to an adjustable wrench. It works great for any plumbing work or anything that requires a wrench.
When you get a good pair like the Knipex pliers wrench, you will not use your adjustable wrench again. Pliers wrenches are the perfect replacement for smooth jaw wrenches.
Pliers wrenches have smooth jaw surfaces. They are perfect for working on plated plumbing fixtures. They don’t scratch the plating or damage delicate brass fittings with teeth like the water pump pliers.
A good pliers wrench has parallel jaws that provide a parallel, non-slip grip on plumbing fixtures. It is the perfect tool for working with difficult Sloan flushometers. It won’t round off fittings or leave marks on the finish. But to be safe, you can place a cloth between the jaws and the workpiece.
The best size of pliers wrench for commercial and home plumbing is 10″ or 12 inches. Again, Knipex pliers wrench is one of the best options on the market. It is neck to neck with Gedore pliers spanner.
To find out how Gedore and Knipex pliers wrenches stack up against each other, check this article: Knipex vs Gedore Pliers Wrenches
There are also some relatively inexpensive but good alternatives such as Lenox pliers wrench and Irwin Vise Grip pliers wrench that would be good for a homeowner or DIYer that doesn’t want to spend a fortune.
4. Combination pliers
Combination pliers are not linesman pliers but they are similar. The difference is that linesman pliers have straight gripping jaws whilst combo pliers have a curved gripping section known as a pipe grip.
The pipe grip is for gripping small pipes and round fasteners. On the other hand, the flat grip section is for gripping flat workpieces.
Like linemans, combination pliers also have inline cutters but are not as sharp. However, they can do the job of cutting wires when you don’t have side cutters or a pair of linesman.
Knipex 03 02 180 is my favorite combination pliers.
5. Slip joint pliers
Slip joint pliers are the most basic gripping pliers with adjustable jaws. They offer a firmer and wider grip than combination pliers but not better or as wide as water pump pliers.
Unlike water pump pliers, slip joint pliers typically have two adjustment positions and straight jaws. They are handy for gripping small round workpieces. You need them when doing basic plumbing repairs in the house. They belong to the basic home toolbox.
That being said, some slip joint pliers have more jaw adjustment positions and extra functions. For example, the knipex twin grips have 5 adjustment positions and a front vertical grip like that of Engineers screw extractor pliers for removing rounded nuts and bolts. The jaws have a V-shape like the cobras. They provide a good grip on flat, round, and angled stock.
The Knipex twin grips fit better in the professional plumbing toolbox than the basic home toolbox.
6. Side cutters
Side cutters or diagonal cutters are must-have in any trade. They are the most basic pliers for cutting. You can use them to cut brass toilet bolts and flexible water line tubing for your plumbing projects.
In summary, there are several types and sizes of plumbing pliers you can add to your plumber’s tool kit. A good beginner set must include water pump pliers, pliers wrench, needle nose pliers, combination pliers, slip joint pliers, and side cutters.
As you advance in your plumbing career, you will add more pliers to the collection. But at least now you know where to start.