I have encountered many types of pliers from when I was a journeyman to now in my own garage. Some of the pliers I have come across are for specific jobs while others are for general purpose uses. Some even have special features such as the self-locking function on the cobras. But surprisingly, of all the pliers I have used and own, none of them grip and lock onto an object better than locking pliers. What is even more amazing is that there are more than a dozen types of locking pliers. So, in this article, I share the 8 most common types of locking pliers and their uses. But first, what are locking pliers?
What are locking pliers?
Locking pliers or vise grips are a type of pliers with a mechanism to lock the jaws in place. The mechanism allows you to put extra pressure on the jaws to grip a workpiece more tightly. It also frees up your hands so that you can do other things.
Locking pliers are extremely useful for tasks that require extra continuous clamping force than your hands can generate. Examples of such tasks include gripping a stripped bolt to remove it or pinching automotive rubber hoses to restrict fluid flow, among other tasks. The pliers act like an extra pair of hands, especially when you do not have enough hands on a job.
Other names for locking pliers are vice grips or mole wrench.
Types of locking pliers
As I mentioned, there are more than a dozen types of locking pliers but these 8 are the ones you will often need in many of your projects.
1. Needle nose locking pliers
Needle nose locking pliers are simply regular long nose pliers with a locking mechanism. They are arguably the most versatile type of locking pliers. They have thousand-and-one uses across various trades and tasks. Tradesmen and DIYers use them to accomplish a variety of tasks in professional and personal projects.
Long nose locking pliers come in different sizes. The smallest I have encountered is the 4-inch. It is a very handy EDC tool for any handyman and there is no reason why you shouldn’t have it. You can carry it anywhere and use it to perform small tasks such as removing tiny rusty screws or gripping small objects in tight spaces.
Needle nose locking pliers also come in a variety of shapes and designs. You can find the 45 or 90 degrees bent nose locking pliers and the long nose locking pliers with long reach handles.
Common uses of long nose locking pliers
Some of the common uses of needle nose mole grips include:
- Removing stipped recessed screws
- Gripping jewelry items
- Compressing springs
- Grabbing small fasteners
- Extracting small screws that have broken off with a little nub left above the surface
- Gripping things in tight spots
2. Curved jaw locking pliers
The curved jaw locking pliers are another common type of locking pliers. They have curved serrated jaws for gripping round objects such as small pipes, nuts, and bolt heads. They are mechanics’ favorite locking pliers. They use them to grip and remove stripped bolts and nuts.
If you are not a mechanic, there are still so many things you can do with curved jaw lock pliers. They are like an extra pair of hands for gripping and locking on things. Some even have integrated cutters that you can use to cut small wires and other materials. These are a must-have for any handyman. They make a nice set with the needle-nose locking pliers.
3. Straight jaw locking pliers
Straight jaw locking pliers are for clamping, twisting, and tightening objects with flat surfaces including square and hex shapes. They are probably the most recognizable mole grips among tradesmen.
Together with the curved jaw locking pliers, these pliers are a perfect replacement for a spanner set. They come in different sizes which open to grip around a wide range of diameters.
Unfortunately, the jaws of straight and curved locking pliers are serrated and therefore can damage delicate surfaces. Sometimes the straight jaws do not remain parallel with each other, which can cause them to slip while turning fasteners. This makes locking pliers only suitable good for removing fasteners in emergency situations. They do not qualify as a permanent replacement for adjustable spanners or pliers wrenches.
4. Locking chain clamp pliers
Chain clamp locking pliers have a heavy-duty bike chain that locks onto the pliers to provide maximum gripping strength around objects. They are the perfect replacement for a strap wrench. You can use them to clamp around large pipes and one or a bunch of irregularly shaped objects.
The chain clamp locking pliers are useful for various trades but are a must-have for plumbers and mechanics. Plumbers can use them in plumbing and irrigation projects for gripping and turning large pipes. On the other hand, mechanics can use chain clamp locking pliers to remove hard-to-grip parts such as the crank pulley when changing the timing belt or a stuck oil filter. In fact, some people call them oil filter locking pliers because they grip oil filters better than oil filter pliers or strap wrench.
Generally, chain pliers grip without slipping or deforming objects and leave unnoticeable marks on the surface. They are also easy to clamp around an object or a bunch of objects.
5. C-clamp locking pliers
Although some people use regular locking pliers to clamp things down in their woodworking project, the best pliers for that job are the c-clamp locking pliers. These are simply c-clamps in the form of locking pliers. They are a woodworker’s best friends because they come in as an extra pair of hands.
C-clamp locking pliers have strong slender C-shaped jaws with rounded or flat ends for clamping down on workpieces. They clamp without leaving teeth marks like regular jaws. Some C-clamp vice grips have swivel-mounted pads instead of fixed flat ends.
6. Hose pinch off locking pliers
When working with rubber hoses, you do not need to remove them all the time to access hardware assemblies upstream or downstream. Sometimes all you need is a tool that can pinch off the hose to restrict fluid flow so that you can do your repairs with minimal fluid loss. One such tool is the hose pinch locking pliers.
Locking hose pinch pliers have long flat jaws for squeezing rubber hoses shut. Any mechanic worth his salt should have them for pinching off radiator hoses, coolant and heater hoses, fuel lines, and vacuum lines. Check out this article to learn more about hose pinch-off pliers.
7. Adel clamp locking pliers
If you work as an aircraft technician, then Adel clamps or aircraft clamps are not new to you. These are useful clamps for managing cables, wiring harnesses, hoses, and lines in the aircraft.
What makes Adel clamps so useful for managing aircraft cables and lines is the rubber cushioning or lining on them. It helps dampen vibration to make the aircraft compartment pleasantly quiet. It is also possible to clamp together two Adel clamps back to back to tidy things up. This can be useful when you want to line up fuel lines, hydraulic lines, and oxygen lines on one side.
However, as you probably know Adel clamps are not the easiest to install, especially without the right tool. And this is where the Adel clamp locking pliers come in.
These aircraft clamps locking pliers have strong U-shaped jaws for squeezing the ends of Adel clamps without covering the bolt holes. The locking mechanism keeps the ends pressed together so that you can install a bolt through one side and secure it with a nut on the other side.
Without pliers that can lock, it can be extremely difficult to secure the two ends of an aircraft clamp together with one hand. Luckily, the locking pliers for aircraft clamps squeeze and lock the ends in place so that you can install a screw and locking nut with both hands. This makes light the work of installing cushion clamps on aircraft or any other place.
8. Sheet metal locking pliers
If you are a sheet metal guy or work with sheet metal at some point, then you are probably familiar with the crimping, forming, and bending of sheet metal. You probably also know that you cannot do a decent job with sheet metal without proper tools. One such tool is the sheet metal locking pliers. It is the second most important tin knocking pliers after tin snips.
Sheet metal locking pliers have wide flat jaws that grip metal sheets without leaving damage on the surface. On the other hand, the locking mechanism provides adjustable grip pressure. This allows you to adjust the grip depending on the width and type of material. The locking mechanism also gives your hand and fingers a break.
Generally, sheet metal locking pliers are great for bending and holding metal panels. As an HVAC guy, you can use them to bend metal to the desired angle, especially when installing duct transition flanges. Welders can also use these locking sheet metal pliers to hold metal panels together when welding.
How locking pliers work
Although locking pliers come in different configurations, they all use the same locking mechanism. They utilize an over-center toggle action to lock the jaws.
When you close any type of locking pliers on an object, the clamping mechanism gets to the tightest clamping. The link bar between the plier handles keeps the jaws or grasping mechanism locked or tensioned. This ensures that you don’t need to keep applying continuous pressure on the handles.
Compared to regular pliers, vise grip pliers have one more advantage. Besides staying locked, they have compound lever action that multiplies the hand force on the handles to a high clamping force on the jaws. As a result, these pliers can clamp an object more strongly than any regular pliers.
Below is an illustration of the parts of typical locking pliers and their functions.
Parts of Locking pliers (Picture)
Mole grips have a pressure adjustment lever for adjusting the gap between the jaws and the clamping force. Typically, the pressure control lever has a knurled adjustment knob at the end of the upper fixed handle. On some pliers, the knob is hidden in between the handles but works the same way. It lets you adjust the vise grips to fit a workpiece by turning it clockwise or counter-clockwise to narrow or widen the gap between the jaws.
All locking pliers have a release lever for disengaging the jaws from a workpiece. Without it, the pliers would stay locked on a workpiece forever. The release trigger looks like a tongue between the handle levers. You simply press it against the lower handle to unlock the pliers. However, some release levers work by pulling them away from the movable handle. Such levers are slightly longer than the lower handle.
How to use locking pliers correctly
These are the simple steps for using any type of locking pliers.
1. Select the right type of locking pliers for the job
The first step to using locking pliers correctly is to select the right one for the job. If you want to clamp pieces of wood, use C-clamp locking pliers, and if you want to set metal bars for welding, use sheet metal locking pliers.
2. Adjust the opening of the jaws to the size of your workpiece
While closing the handles without locking them, turn the adjusting screw at the end of the top handle to adjust the fit of the vise grips on the workpiece. The gap between the jaws should be as wide as the workpiece or slightly smaller for a tighter fit. So, turn the screw clockwise to narrow the gap or counterclockwise to widen the gap.
Remember that the adjusting screw also serves as a pressure control knob for adjusting the clamping force on the jaws. So, as you narrow the gap between the jaws, you are increasing the pressure. Therefore, be careful not to make the fit so tight that the jaws will damage or destroy your workpiece.
3. Clamp the workpiece
After adjusting the jaws to the best fit, now clamp the pliers onto the workpiece. Open the jaws and squeeze the handles all the way until they click into place to lock. If the pliers cannot lock, try turning the pressure control knob anti-clockwise to loosen the fit.
4. Test the grip
Once the mole grips lock onto the workpiece, do a simple pull and wiggle test to find out if the grip is tight enough. If they do not grip tight enough, turn the adjustment screw clockwise to tighten the grip. Otherwise, your workpiece is fully secured and you can carry on with your work.
5. Release the locking pliers
To unlock the vice grips, simply press the release lever against the lower handle. However, some release levers operate the other way around. You pull them away from the lower handle rather than toward the handle. And here is how to tell the difference between the two mechanisms.
If the release lever on your mole grips is longer than the lower handle, you should pull it away from the lower handle to release the grip. Otherwise, press it against the handle.
Once you push or pull the release lever mechanism, the jaws should open and let go of the workpiece. Some locking pliers can snap off quite violently to release the energy. So, be careful!
Well, those are the 8 most common types of locking pliers that should be in your toolbox.
Frequently Asked Questions
All vise grip pliers are the same except for the jaw mechanism. The jaws come in different configurations including straight jaws, curved jaws, chain lock, blade-type jaws, etc.