Basic Tools: Channellocks

If you need to grip something round or an odd shaped object chances are you’ll reach for some Channellocks.  Now technically, Channellock is a brand and not an actual tool type.  They’re actually called many things such as tongue-and-grove, adjustable, slip-joint, or water pump pliers.  They are a general tool that can be used for gripping pipe, knurled nuts, stuck lids, or most anything that needs to be turned.  The basic idea behind their design is that the jaws can be adjusted to fit the objects over a range of sizes.  Squeezing the handles tightens the jaws to grip the object.  Most have teeth to bite into the object to get more grip than friction alone would generate.  This can also be a downside because the teeth can mar your object.   The teeth may leave indentions or if they slip, tear up the surface.  I don’t recommend using adjustable pliers on hex fasteners.   If they slip they can round the fastener off causing you trouble.

As you might expect, they come in numerous shapes and sizes.  Here’s a picture of some that I have.  Sizes can range from four inches in length up to several feet.  There are also multiple jaw designs that are supposed to be better at certain applications.  From left to right we have: small Witco, standard Ridgid, standard Channellock, smooth jawed Channellock, Nutbuster Channellock, Grip Lock Channellock, and Cobra Knipex brand pliers

All the adjustable plies’ jaw sizes can be adjusted.  The two most common designs are the shown below on the left and right.  Both of these designs requires the handles be opened and the right handles slid to the desired location.  The design in a middle has a button that allows the right handle to be moved without having to open the handles all the way.

The pliers have a direction of use.  This is determined by the teeth direction.  If you use them incorrectly they will not grab.  If you look at the picture below, the teeth on the jaw to the right have the teeth facing towards the camera.  The faces on the left jaw are facing away from the camera.  Just as with a saw, the face must lead the rest of the saw tooth to function correctly.  So, you would need to rotate the pliers clockwise to grip the object.  All adjustable pliers I’ve seen, with teeth, have them in the same direction.  If you look at the first picture all of the pliers are oriented to be rotated clockwise in use.  Remember, I said not to use them on hex nuts!  Its for demonstration only.

Here’s a view of the teeth on the Knipex pliers.  There are multiple sizes for gripping different sized objects.   They’re all going in the same direction though!

Here’s the jaw on Channellock’s Nutbuster pliers.  It seems that they are designed for gripping hex nuts and round objects tightly.  It appears that the top teeth on this one are meant to pierce the object to grip it.   The V shaped top jaw also allows an additional contact patch compared with standard adjustable pliers.  It seems they work well since there is a Channellock video where a guy grips a steel rod with these pliers and then stands on the handles to show that they grip tightly.

Some pliers have no teeth at all.  These smooth jaw Channellocks are recommended for plated objects.  I really can’t think of anything I’d use these on where a wrench wouldn’t be better, but maybe I haven’t run into that object yet.  Maybe there is a plated nonagon nut out there I need to find.

An important part of getting the most out of adjustable pliers is getting them adjusted right in the first place.  If the jaws are too wide then the jaws may not contact the the object you are gripping tightly.  Another possibility is that they’ll grip the object but when you squeeze the handles together they will flex and contact each other limiting how much you can squeeze.  So, don’t open the jaws too wide. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the jaws can be adjusted too small.  In this case the object may not fit in the jaws deep enough or the handles will be so wide that it is uncomfortable to squeeze.

Now we have the pliers adjusted correctly.  They fit comfortably in the hand and have a good grip on the object.

On regular flat jawed pliers you want to have a three point grip.  Notice that the pipe is contacting not only the top and bottom jaws but also the back surface.  This not only positions the object well but will keep the it from expanding when squeezed.

On pliers with V shaped jaws, you want to locate the object in the center of the Vs.  This provides four contact patches for a better grip on the object.

I’ll admit to not having a ton of experience using adjustable pliers because the objects I grip most often have tools which do the job better.  My dad, on the other hand, used them all the time as a plumber.  They work great on flange nuts, steel pipe, PVC couplings, and a host of other things.  So, depending on what you do they may or may not be a tool used frequently.  I like the Channellock brand tools.  They’re priced fairly, very durable, come in a large assortment of shapes and sizes, and made in the USA!

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