How to Use Locking Pliers

First off, what the heck are locking pliers? These ingenious devices are the jacks of all trades, masters of quite a few, and something you should rush right out and buy.

Of the many types of pliers you can get, from the trusty old slip-joints in the kitchen drawer to the linesman’s pliers that do just about everything, you can’t go wrong in finding a nice pair of locking pliers.

The beauty of locking pliers is that they lock onto whatever you want to grab. And, it locks on there. Here’s how to use them.

The best tool to loosen a bolt is a box end wrench, but sometimes you don't have the right size, or it can't reach. Enter the adjustable wrench.

Let’s say you want to remove a nut from a bolt, but it’s on there so tight that you can’t get it to budge. You need to hold onto the head of the bolt so you can apply so muscle to it, but you don’t have the right wrench.

Slip joint pliers are really handy, but don't lock in place. Be3cause of that, you must readjust them every time you move them.
Slip Joint Pliers

You could use regular old slip-joint pliers to hold the bolt, but you have to exert a lot of energy just to keep the pliers holding on, and, well, they slip.

With our locking pliers, you have two surfaces with which to grab the bolt.

The serrated jaws of these locking pliers grab and hold onto at least two of the sides of this hex nut.

The curved inside has deep serrations that will grip at least four of the six hexagonal corners of the bolt.

The flat jaws of the locking pliers firmly hold onto two of the nut's surfaces.

The flat, serrated jaws of the pliers will grip two of the faces, and will not let go.

The various parts of locking pliers include the jaws, the release lever, and the tension knob.

To use the flat jaws, place them over the bolt’s head and squeeze the pliers shut. If they are too loose, turn the little knob at the end of the handle clockwise three turns to tighten the grip, and try it again.

If they are so tight you can’t squeeze the pliers shut, turn the knob counterclockwise three turns and try it again. If now it’s too loose, turn it clockwise once and try it.

Going back and forth between too tight and too loose, you’ll find the setting that lets you squeeze the pliers shut, but just barely. That’s the setting you want. It’s hard to squeeze them shut, but you’ll feel them lock into place.

Once it’s locked on like that, the bolt cannot turn in the jaws – the two seem almost fused together.

To release the pliers, squeeze the trigger handle – it might take some effort -but the pliers will spring open again.

Use the serrated jaws on the locking pliers to firmly grip a cylindrical objects without crushing it.

Imagine that you’re trying to thread a valve onto a piece of pipe, but the pipe keeps slipping. This time, use the crenellated inner surface of the jaw, and tighten it only until the pipe is held firmly. In this case, you don’t want the grip to be super tight as you might crush the pipe, but you want it to be firm enough that the pipe doesn’t slip. A gentle, but firm grip is all you need.

If a bolt is stuck, and you don’t have the right wrench, latch on with these handy pliers and tap them with a hammer. Tap, don’t smash. And, if you’re going to use a hammer, put on safety goggles in case something breaks.

Does that cotter pin keep slipping out of your standard pliers? Use the flat jaw to clamp on the side of the pin’s hoop, latch on firmly, and you’re in complete control.

And that’s the basic operation of locking pliers.

CAVEAT: And this is a big caveat: even the flat jaws on these pliers have a serrated edge. The pliers put a tremendous amount of force on those edges, driving them into the thing you’re trying to turn. While that makes them super efficient, it also all but guarantees that they will damage the finish on the item you’re gripping. Fragile items, like the stuck-on cap of a paint jar, will probably not survive the effort.

CAVEAT: Mind your fingers! You can get a finger pinched by the trigger handle, and it really hurts. So, be careful where you put your hands when you’re operating the pliers.

Please note: do not do this procedure if you are not certain that you can complete it safely, or if it doesn’t seem accurate. Skippity Whistles provides this information as advice, and cannot accept any liability for your usage of it.


©2022 All rights reserved


Published by John D Reinhart

Author, technical writer, videographer, actor, and naval historian John D Reinhart is a very busy guy. You can find his novels as

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: