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Pliers extend and increase the strength of your hand's grip. They're simple levers, with the joint as the fulcrum: By pressing on the handles, you magnify your holding power and direct it to the tiny point where the jaws meet.

Every toolbox contains a fistful of pliers, with various sizes, jaws, joints, and handles, each suited to a particular task. But for all their differences, pliers come in just three basic types: locking, adjustable, and nonadjustable.

Locking pliers tighten mechanically onto the workpiece, freeing you to pull, twist, or even let go without losing your grip. Adjustable pliers can be sized to a variety of openings, while the jaws remain parallel so they can grip bolts or pipes. (Avoid the familiar slip-joint pliers that have a figure-eight joint perpendicular to the handles — you'll likely skin your knuckles when the tool slips.) Nonadjustable pliers move around a fixed joint, sometimes aided by a spring to open the jaws.

No one pair of pliers can do everything; turn the page to see which you'll need around your house. In all cases, look for simple but substantial tools with a smooth-operating, tight joint, and choose ones that are sized to the job at hand. Expect to pay about $20 to $30 for a decent pair — you won't find hard, tough steel for bargain-basement prices.

Photo by Mark Viker

Locking Pliers

Grip the workpiece with these pliers, then adjust the jaws with a turn of the screw at the base of the handle. Squeeze the handles and the jaws lock tight in place, freeing you to concentrate on bending, pulling, or twisting without losing your grip.

1. Curved-jaw

Features: Serrated jaws shaped to wrap around round objects.

Best for: Freeing frozen nuts and bolts, pulling nails, removing broken screws, and other demolition tasks. Acts as a clamp in a pinch.

2. Long-nose

Features: Long, serrated jaws that close tight at the tips.

Best for: Getting an unbreakable grip on small things, such as staples, pins, and broken screws in hard-to-reach places. If you were marooned on a desert island, you could survive with just this tool and a pocket knife.

Photo by Mark Viker

Adjustable Pliers

Jaws get wider with manual adjustment yet stay parallel at any size opening once the handles are engaged.

1. Wrench-plier

Features: Button-adjusted cam-and-ratchet mechanism that keeps its smooth jaws parallel whether or not the handles are open.

Best for: Turning bolts without stripping them, installing finished-metal plumbing fixtures.

2. Pipe-gripping

Features: Lightly serrated curved jaws with four-point slip joint.

Best for: Screwing and unscrewing plastic pipe without scratching it.

3. Tongue-and-groove

Features: Large, serrated, groove-joint jaws and long handles for maximum leverage.

Best for: Tightening and loosening metal pipes and other plumbing connectors.

4. Self-adjusting

Features: Cam-and-ratchet mechanism grips the workpiece, then adjusts the jaws parallel as you squeeze the handles.

Best for: General repairs, plumbing; more reliable than all-purpose slip-joint pliers.

Photo by Mark Viker

Non-adjustable Pliers

1. Lineman's

Features: Flat, deeply toothed jaws with wire cutter.

Best for: Grabbing, pulling, bending, and twisting solid electrical and rebar wire and light sheet metal.

2. Curved needlenose

Features: Long, pointed,

S-shaped nose with lightly

toothed jaws.

Best for: Inserting and removing small screws or other parts behind pipes, around corners, or in otherwise-hard-to-reach places.

3. Needlenose

Features: Lightly toothed jaws with wire cutter and rounded back.

Best for: Delicately gripping small objects, e.g., fishing dropped screws, twisting stranded wires, or bending loops and eyes in solid wire.

4. Bent needlenose

Features: Small, pointed jaws with angled tips; spring return; and soft handles.

Best for: Holding and manipulating small wires, screws, and pulling cotter pins while keeping wrist comfortably parallel to the workpiece.

Don't Try This at Home

4 things you should never do with pliers

? Don't use them to turn a nut when a wrench would be

a better tool.

? Don't use them to tighten or loosen polished plumbing

fixtures or you'll scratch the surface. Protect the finish with

a rag between the jaws and the fixture.

? Don't twist them sideways or you may put too much stress on the joint and loosen or break it.

? No matter what you see on The Three Stooges, never, ever

use them to grab your brother's nose.

Where to Find It

Curved jaw:

Craftsman Professional 7-in. locking Model #00945710000

Sears, Roebuck and Co.

800-549-4505

www.craftsman.com

Long-nose:

Vise-Grip Model#9LN

Irwin Industrial Tools

www.irwin.com

Pipe-gripping:

Knipex Model# 8103230

Anglo American Enterprises

Somerdale, NJ

856-784-8600

www.knipex.com

Wrench-plier:

Knipex Model#86-03-250

Lineman's:

Model#D213-9NETH Klein 9 1/4-in. Lineman

Klein Tools

Chicago, IL

800-553-4676

www.kleintools.com

Curved needlenose:

Knipex mechanic's pliers Model#38-200

Needlenose:

Long-nose pliers Model#326

Channellock

Meadville, PA

814-724-8700

www.channellock.com

Bent needlenose:

Ace professional 4-in. smooth-jaw hobby pliers Model # 2004182

www.acehardware.com