Pliers Versus Wrenches

The average toolbox typically contains several pairs of pliers and one or more wrench sets, a combination that is sufficient to tackle most any task that involves holding, bending, cutting, turning, etc. Here's how these two indispensable tools stack up to each other.


Pliers consist of a pair of pivoted jaws that are used for holding, bending, cutting, or turning objects. They also allow one to manipulate objects that are too small or too unwieldy to be manipulated with fingers.

Although pliers can be used to tighten and loosen nuts, this is a task better suited to the wrench. Pliers tend to damage the surfaces of fasteners and are usually more difficult to use than a properly-sized wrench.


Wrenches are used to turn objects, most commonly nuts and bolts. Unlike pliers, wrenches generally do not have pivoting jaws (an exception is the sink wrench). Wrenches are almost always a better tool than pliers for loosening and tightening nuts and bolts because they provide greater torque than pliers and are less likely to round or damage fasteners.

Pliers Types

There are many different types of pliers. Some of the most commonly used ones are slip-joint pliers, diagonal pliers, channel (tongue-and-groove) pliers, and needle-nose pliers.

Slip joint pliers have a pivot point that can be moved to one of two positions to increase or decrease the distance between the jaws. This is the classic pliers tool. Channel pliers also have adjustable jaws but with a sliding, rather than a pivoting, mechanism.

Diagonal pliers, typically referred to as "wire cutters" are primarily used for cutting wire. They also work well for removing staples and small nails in wood.

Needle-nose pliers have long, tapered jaws that are ideal for working in tight spaces such as electrical boxes. They excel at detailed tasks such as gripping and bending wire, and retrieving dropped parts in small enclosures.

Wrench Types

There are many different types of wrenches with the most common being the open-end wrench and box-end wrench. Specialized wrenches include the Allen wrench, cone wrench, lug wrench, pipe wrench, socket wrench, spark plug wrench, and torque wrench.


One of the biggest advantages of pliers is adjustability. This is especially beneficial in emergency situations if one doesn't have the proper-sized wrench.

Adjustable wrenches such as the "adjustable wrench" and pipe wrench provide the adjustability of pliers but are often easier to use than pliers because it is not necessary to squeeze the handles together to keep the tool in place.


A quality wrench set generally costs considerably more than a pair of pliers, especially if the wrenches have ratcheting capabilities or other special features.