Knipex cobra vs Channellock, which water pump pliers are the best

Although Knipex cobra seems to blow Channellock tongue and groove pliers out of the water, none of the pliers are perfect for every job. Read this article to learn more.

Now that you have an idea of how Knipex tools stack against Channellock, let’s take a deeper dive and compare Knipex cobra vs channellock water pump pliers.

Knipex cobras and channellocks are indisputably the most popular brands of water pump pliers. You will find either brand in tool bags of nearly every tradesman and homeowner. Some even have both brands.

But which are the best water pump pliers? Is it the German box joint cobra pliers from Knipex or the American iconic blue handles tongue and groove pliers from Channellock? Let’s find out but first, what are water pump pliers?

What are water pump pliers?

Water pump pliers are a type of adjustable pliers for grabbing and twisting workpieces of different shapes including round, hex, flat, and square. They were initially meant for loosening and tightening the packing nuts on water pumps. Hence the name.

Today, water pump pliers are an essential tool for grabbing almost any industrial workpiece including nuts and bolts fasteners, round pipes, square metal tubes, and flat metal bars. They are among the most versatile types of pliers and a common sight in any tradesman’s toolbag.

Types of water pump pliers

There are many types and brands of water pump pliers. Some common brands in the US market apart from Knipex and Channellock include Irwin Vise Grips, Klein, tool truck brands such as Harbor Freight and Snap-on, Craftsman, and many European brands such as Gedore, Wiha, and NWS from Germany.

Water pump pliers come in two different styles. Slip joint or tongue and groove. Knipex pump pliers are known for the slip joint/box joint design whereas Channellocks utilize the tongue and groove or channel locks adjustment mechanism. All the other brands use either of the adjustment styles, some with slight variation.

Knipex vs Channellock Water pump pliers

As you have noticed, Knipex pump pliers and Channellocks are like the mothers of all water pump pliers designs. All other brands copy from them. Channellocks are for tongue and groove slip-joint design while Knipex cobras are for box joint designs. And this answers the question of why the two brands dominate the market of water pump pliers.

The box joint is not unique to the cobras only. There is also an earlier design of Knipex pump pliers called the Alligators. They also use the box joint hinge design but don’t have a push-button adjustment. If you would like to learn more about how the knipex allligators compare with the cobras, please check out this article: Knipex alligator vs knipex cobra.

So, what exactly is the difference between Knipex cobras and channellocks? And which one is better? In the next part of this article, I will try to show the differences between these popular brands and the strengths of each type.

Knipex Cobra vs Channellock Tongue and Groove Pliers Comparison

Knipex CobrasChannellocks
Use box joint slip-joint designUse tongue and groove slip-joint design
Many adjustment positionsFew adjustment positions
Use push-button adjustment mechanismUse groove adjustment
Feature a self-locking mechanismNo self-locking feature.
Slim jawsWider jaws
Equipped with finger anti-pinching guardCan pinch fingers
Made in GermanyMade in the USA
Quick Knipex cobra vs channel locks comparison

Although the Knipex cobras and Channel locks pump pliers are designed to do the same job, they are more different than similar in their construction. And the comparison table above tells it all.

Adjustment mechanism

For example, while both types of pump pliers utilize a slip-joint design to permit adjustment of the jaws, the mechanisms are quite different. Channel locks use the regular slip joint style while the cobras use a box joint style. The box joint design provides high stability and the double guides eliminate any side play on the handles

Adjustment style

Another differentiating feature of the Knipex cobras vs Channellock is the adjustment style. The cobras use a push-button style while channellocks use the traditional open-and-slide style. So, when adjusting the cobras, you only press the push-button and adjust the jaws to widen or reduce the gap. You don’t have to open the jaws to slide the handles.

In contrast, you have to open the channellocks to slide the jaws from one groove lock to another. Because of the few adjustment positions, Channel locks do not provide fine adjustment. This means you might have trouble gripping some workpieces tightly.

Adjustment positions

Both brands of adjustable pliers offer multiple adjustment positions on the slip joint. However, the Knipex cobras have more positions than Channellocks. For instance, the 10″ cobras have 25 adjustment positions while a similar size Channellock has only 7 positions.

The many adjustment slots allow the Knipex cobras to adjust lot smoother with more precision than channel locks. As a result, the cobras close in on workpieces a lot more tightly.

Anti-pinch guard

One of the safety precautions when working with slip joint pliers, is to keep your fingers from getting crushed as you press the handles together. This is because most adjustable pliers create a pinching position between the handles when the jaws are open all the way. But Knipex Tools does things differently.

All djustable pliers from Knipex including water pump pliers feature an anti-pinch guard in their design. Even when you open the jaws all the way, the gap between the handles remains wide enough to keep your fingers safe.

Unfortunately, the channellocks do not have a pinch guard design. So, when you open the jaws to the widest gap you must be careful not to crush your fingers as you squeeze the handles. This is a big set back for channellocks as no one wants to keep nursing blood blisters from getting pinched.

Slim profile and small head

Knipex cobras generally have a slimmer profile and smaller head than Channellock tongue and groove pliers. This allows you to use them in a tight place. Furthermore, the push-button adjustment mechanism allows you to adjust the pliers even in very tight spaces. You do not have to draw the tool to adjust it.

But the bigger head of channellock adjustable pliers is good in some applications. Some electricians I talked to mentioned that they like to use it to ream conduits.

Self-locking jaws

Knipex cobras have a unique self-locking mechanism on the jaws. This mechanism allows you to apply pressure only on the top handle after the jaws bite into the workpiece. You do not need to squeeze the handles together anymore, which is good for your hands.

The locking mechanism allows you to generate as much torque on the pliers as possible. You can even stand on the top handle to put your whole body weight and the pliers won’t slip.

In contrast, you must squeeze together the handles of channellock pump pliers as you apply torque on a fastener. Otherwise, the pliers won’t grip the workpiece.

Overall Quality

Both Knipex and Channellock water pump pliers have decent quality but Knipex cobras are superior. Channellocks are forged from high carbon steel that is not as hard as the German chrome-vanadium steel of Knipex cobras.

Moreover, carbon steel is prone to rust. So, if you leave you Channellock pump pliers outside or in a moist place, be ready to deal with rust.

You might want to read this article to learn how to deal with rusty pliers and how to protect pliers against rust.

The difference in the hardness of the jaws between Knipex cobra vs channellock. When you subject both of them to the same amount of abuse, the jaw serrations on channellocks take more beating.

But there is a silver lining in every cloud. Electricians and plumbers who work with brass and other delicate materials prefer to use channellocks because their jaws won’t cause as much damage. They reserve the Knipex cobras for hard materials such as galvanized steel pipes and fasteners.


Price is always an important factor to consider when buying tools. And this is where the Channellock adjustable pliers win over Knipex cobras. The other day when I was comparing the Knipex pliers to the Channellock pliers I mentioned that price is one of the deal-makers for channellock. And this applies to Channellock’s adjustable pliers.

Channellock water pump pliers for the money. You can get two sets at the price of one pair of knipex cobra. So, if budget is something you worry about, then channel locks are the better option here.

Wrap up

Despite the outstanding features that almost make Knipex cobras the holy grail of water pump pliers, the ultimate choice between Channellocks vs knipex cobras boils down to personal preference. There is no clear winner.

Some people choose channellocks because they are made in the USA. Others choose them depending on their trade. For instance, many electricians prefer to use channellocks because the serrations on their jaws are a little more gentle on soft metal and plastic fittings. Channellocks also have a wider head that doubles up as a reamer for pipes.

On the other hand, mechanics prefer Knipex cobras because they grip better, open wider, and are easier to adjust even in tight spaces. They use them to replace pipe wrenches in most applications. Not to mention that the cobras are lighter than channellocks and are safer because they don’t pinch fingers.

That being said, since each brand has its own strengths, the better way to deal with this Knipex cobra vs channellock dilemma is to own both. Each will find applications where it performs better than the other. And again, because of the price factor, it might be economical to buy Knipex for your most-used water pump pliers sizes and channellocks for the rest.

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Julio a.k.a Pliersman is the owner and creator of the Pliersman Website. As a handy person, he possesses a variety of pliers (both general-purpose and specialty pliers) which he uses to complete various tasks. When Julio is not blogging, he spends his time in the garage fixing cars or building stuff.