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- Photo: Stanley
Sometimes called electrician's pliers or engineer's pliers (the latter variety is often sold without insulated handles), these are very versatile steel tools. Linesman's pliers are descendants of nineteenth-century tools called bell pliers, because they were used by bell hangers for cutting and twisting the wires used to connect un-electrified household bells.
Like other pliers, they hinge at a pivot point, so working the handles together or apart causes the jaws to close or open. The jaws have shallow serrations for firm gripping, especially of flat objects like sheet metal, which explains their popularity among sheet-metal workers. An electrician relies upon the jaws for twisting together wires into a cone-shaped knot that is then protected by a plastic insulator called a wire nut. Immediately behind the jaws are a pair of side cutters, designed for cutting wire. Using them to cut nails will dull them quickly.
Though the pliers are sold in various sizes, with lengths from five to 10 inches, the eight-inch size serves most needs. Buy a pair with plastic grips, but keep in mind that the plastic alone is not sufficient to protect you from electric shock. Do not use these - or any other tools - on live wires. Always remove the fuse, turn off the breaker, unplug the cord before performing any electrical work.
These adjustable pliers are designed to be used as a hand-held vice or clamp that locks firmly onto a workpiece. Also called plier wrenches, lever-wrench pliers, and by the proprietary name Vicegrips, they have a double-lever action.
Their jaws are closed like those on other pliers by squeezing the handles together. However, the jaw opening is adjusted by turning a screw-drive in one handle and when the jaws contact the object to be gripped, the added pressures lock it in a vice-like grip. To release the tool's grip, a lever in the other handle is triggered. The compound lever action of the tool means that the jaws can apply tremendous force.
Locking pliers are manufactured in several different configurations and sizes. Most have serrated, straight jaws, and are found in lengths ranging from four to twelve inches. Models with curved jaws are also sold, as well as long-nose, flat-jaw, smooth-jaw, and C-clamp configurations. The multipurpose locking pliers can be used in place of pipe wrenches, adjustable wrenches, or even clamps.
As with other varieties of pliers, locking pliers should be used rarely, if at all, on nuts, bolt heads, pipes, or fittings that are to be reused. The serrated teeth on most locking pliers can permanently damage the parts onto which they are clamped.
Needle-Nose Pliers. These are essentially small-scale electrician's pliers, with long, tapered jaws. Smaller in scale than linesman's pliers, the needle-nose pliers are particularly well suited to working with wire in confined spaces like electrical boxes, though they are also useful for bending and holding metal fittings. Their jaws taper to a point, and at the nose have serrations on the gripping surface. At the throat of the tool near the pivot there is a side cutter.
Sometimes called radio pliers, this tool is also handy for working with small nuts, washers, or other pieces that need to be precisely placed, perhaps out of the reach of your fingers. Needle-nose pliers can be purchased that have their tips bent at angles of 45 or 90 degrees to the line of the handles.
In using needle-nose pliers, keep in mind that they are not for heavy-duty work. They are delicate tools, and their jaws can be sprung, bent, or broken, if abused. Use them for the kind of spot jobs for which they were intended, not for more demanding tasks.
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