Tools of the Trade: Knipex

A few years ago – I’m shocked to find it was 2013 – I wrote a post on Wera Screwdrivers, sharing my high regard for their many products after many years of experience. I have been wanting to write a follow-up post on the same theme, this time in regards to Knipex, a German maker of fine quality pliers and wrenches, since then. However I have held off, wanting to have more time with their products before making any sort of review – and now is the time, ready or not.

Carpenters and woodworkers are not generally going to make daily use of a sliding jaw plier, but they are an essential tool in the kit, especially for field work where you never know what sort of situations you might have to deal with. And for those whose work with hands extends beyond wood to other media, and other contexts, sliding jaw pliers, in multiple sizes, pretty much are mandatory in the tool box. I work on my car sometimes, do irrigation work for my community, repair small engine on mowers and chippers occasionally, and keep my bicycle in tune – Knipex tools play a role in all those activities.

Before I got into Knipex tools, I’ll mention that I owned Channellock pliers of various configurations – this is an American brand familiar to most readers here I would think. Channellock are okay, will get the job done and all that, however, like a lot of American manufacturers that have been around for many years, their products do not seem especially innovative. They seem decent quality and of sturdy construction, but well-designed they are not, in my opinion. They’ve been making the same stuff for years, and maybe the company, and many of their customers, would agree with the sentiment “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

That’s never been my mantra, as I’m much more interested in continuous improvement and innovation where possible. And if there is a maker who exemplifies that approach, it is Knipex. I’d rather support companies that push the boundaries and strive to improve their products year after year, than those that rest on their laurels and just crank out the same old thing.

Knipex was founded in 1882, a few years before Channellock, incidentally, and the initial product focus was on blacksmithing tools like tongs. The company was a forge in other words. It’s a family-run business, currently managed by the fourth generation of the Putsch family. They make about 100 types of pliers with a total of 900 variants in terms of length, shape and finish.

I bought my first pair of Knipex pliers, a 250mm (10″) pair of Knipex cobra pliers to be exact, after becoming thoroughly irritated with my Channellocks. Allow me to explain….

Picture the following scenario: you’re laying on your side in a tight crawlspace trying to get the Channellock slip-jaw pliers onto a plumbing fitting. You only have room for one hand on the tool, and as you try to maneuver into the tight space, your fingers slip off the tool’s lower handle. By design, the handle swings wide open, and in order to get your fingers back on it you have to squirm back out, get your other hand on the tool and place it back on the operating hand – and, in most cases, you have to reset the jaw opening as well. If this happens more than a time or two while you are in a physically awkward position, extreme annoyance can definitely creep in, I have found.

Or this scenario: you’re in a clear open space and trying to loosen a seized fitting which doesn’t offer a long grip surface. You adjust the Channellocks to the correct opening size and slip it over the fitting. You bear down to break it loose and it won’t budge, so you bear down a bit harder yet and suddenly the tool slips. The handles, by design, can come completely together, thus pinching a portion of your palm violently. This hurts in a special kind of way and does not tend to engender warm feelings towards the tool. Hands up: who likes a blood blister?

On top of this, there’s the design: the Channellock slip-jaw pliers carry what might be called excess weight – specifically, the jaw tips are on the fat side and can’t be maneuvering into tighter spaces. Further, the mechanism for locking the jaws offers a limited range of positions and it seems as often as not that you have the tool on a fitting such that the handles are too wide apart to quite get a good grip, or too close together, in which case the handles are hard to grip properly as well.

The other aspect to the Channellock design which strikes me as a drawback is that to firmly grip an object, you have to squeeze the handles together, and then to tighten or loosen the object, you have to pull or push simultaneously as you grip. So the tool is asking you to do two physical actions at the same time, which I think is inefficient. It’s nicer if you can split those tasks from one another.

After a while, I got fed up with Channellocks. I used to have 3 or 4 different pliers from that company, but I have sold or given them all away over the past while. I’ve moved on to something a lot better, I think.

One day a few years back, while I was in an electrical supply store, I noticed some Knipex ‘Cobra’ pliers on the display shelf. After examining them a while I made the purchase. They felt good to the hand right away and seemed very nicely made. They do cost more than Channellocks. You get what you pay for though.

Here’s what I am talking about:

 

Larger version of these type of sliding jaw pliers are commonly called ‘water pump’ pliers, though they are useful for many more things than just water pumps.

In the hand, these pliers initially conveyed high quality and savvy design, and that was well before I became aware of some of the less obvious design advantages they offer. They ooze German quality. The grip was comfortable, slightly yielding and grippy, and was not kinda slippery, like the plastic handle dip used on the Channellocks, which I’ve also found cuts and punctures relatively easily.

Unlike the bare metal of the Channelocks, the Knipex steel is coated to be non-rusting – the term they use is a ‘grey atramentized’ finish, the word related to atramentous, meaning ‘inky black’. There are many more positional adjustments available for setting the tool to the item you need to grip. The nose of the plier is considerably narrower than Channellock, and thereby it is easier to get the tool into tight spaces.

Cobra pliers come in 7 different sizes, from 125mm (5″) to 560mm (22″), which covers just about anything you might entertain working with sliding-jaw pliers.

The design of the Knipex plier hinge is such that if you let go of the lower handle is only drops a couple inches away, and thus you are able to reestablish a purchase with your fingers without recourse to getting your other hand involved. And if the fitting you were working on broke or the tool slipped, the handles cannot come fully together, thus there is no pinching hazard.

The prospect of the tool slipping on a fastener is however somewhat remote with this tool, by design. The jaws have a self-locking aspect, due to the opposed jaw teeth, and once the tool is properly set on the part, there is no need to squeeze tight with your grip while trying to push/pull. The following video from the company shows this feature better than I can explain it:

As if these tools weren’t convenient enough to use, they even have a newer version of the Cobra, which I haven’t tried, which combines the proven, reliable locking of the hinge bolt with an additional push function. This makes it easier to work in very confined and inaccessible areas. The adjustment directly on the workpiece is possible by simply sliding the pliers handle, as this video shows:

I’d like to try this version out, though I am close to having, for my needs, a full set of these pliers now. So it wouldn’t be out of any ‘need’ basis, more on a ‘want’ basis, if you know what I mean.

Besides having a wide variety of sizes, both a grey finish and a chromed finish, there are also options for the grip itself. You can get an 1000v-insulated version for working on electrical stuff, or a more cushioned handle called ‘Multigrip’:

 

There is a further option in terms of the Multigrip handle, and that is a type which allows for easy tethering. The Multigrip handle makes a lot of sense for those tools which require repeated hand clenches to operate.

They also make a pair of Cobra pliers with an extra slim nose, ‘ES’ type, for getting into even tighter spaces. I have a pair of these in my toolbox now too, and find them useful.

Here’s a few links to a few different Knipex Cobra plier models in various sizes and configurations, any one of which would be a good choice for all-around use:

Knipex 10″ Cobra Pliers Multigrip

Knipex 10″ Cobra Extra Slim Pliers

Knipex 7″ Cobra Pliers Plastic Grip

Knipex 12″ Cobra Water Quickset Pump Pliers

Knipex 16″ XL Plier Wrench

You might notice that I am linking to KC Tools instead of another retailer, like Amazon for instance. In fact, KC tools also sells on Amazon, but I would rather any directly referred sales originating here earn them extra instead directly of Amazon taking their cut. Amazon would appear to make enough money as it is, and I already link to Amazon books through the ‘Worth a Read’ section at the bottom of the blog, so I feel like I’ve supported them already.

I’ve been buying from KC Tool for a few years now – not just Knipex tools, but Wera, Gedore, Wiha, and others that they carry, gradually acquiring a decent set of mechanic hand tools, and have been super happy with the service I have received there. I like that the store specializes in quality German tool brands and nothing else.

Here’s a sampling of my Knipex set:

 

 

Three sizes of Cobra pliers (a 4th one lives in my toolbox at home), the middle of which is the Extra Slim jaw model.

In this drawer you can see linesman pliers, high leverage cutters, duckbill pliers, needle-nose pliers of various configurations, cable shears, wire cutters, and carpenter’s pincers:

All of these hand tools are used on a regular basis, some more often than others of course. I’ve been acquiring them over years, often around Christmas time they seem to find their way onto my wish list and family members have been kindly obliging.

And here is my assortment of Knipex snap ring pliers, which are extremely helpful if you find yourself doing much in the way of work on the shafts and bearings of stationary woodworking machines:

The blue-handled tool is a Klein wire stripper. It works fine, though I’ll admit I’m tempted to replace it with a Knipex equivalent. I think I may have an addiction issue here folks, but I do use these tools, not just collect them.

I am so happy with the products I have purchased at KC Tool that I decided to approach them in the past week or so to see if they would be interested in a connection via this blog. You’ll note their banner now placed at the top right of the page –  – clicking on that takes you to their main page where you can get an idea of the range of things they sell. Everything they carry is very nice – hard to go wrong with any purchase.

Here’s the deal: if you click through from this blog and purchase tools from KC, they kick me back a little portion of that. I have arranged to have any funds which accrue this way to simply be applied against future purchases of mine at KC. I like tools and my list of ‘tools to obtain’ seems to stretch out indefinitely. So, any sales benefit me and it benefits them. And believe me, it will benefit you to own at least a few Knipex or other German-made tools. KC Tool has suggested also that they would be willing to send me products for testing and review, which would be cool. Bring it on!

I hardly ever do tool reviews or promote any particular brand, though there are definitely brands I have come to like very much, so if I can find a way to turn others onto these tools, and it benefits me as well by allowing for the acquisition of more tools, I can’t see the harm in it. If this proves worthwhile, I would love to remove the Google Adsense stuff from my blog. No one’s complained about it, but it isn’t the most relevant to readers here for the most part.

I’d look to partner up with a few other companies supplying or making quality tools, however a few of the ones I’ve approached in the past seemed very uninterested in the idea, even if I wanted nothing in return for the promotion, believe it or not — and then virtually all of the ones that have approached me are just not relevant to this blog so I decline. It was so nice to find KC Tool as enthusiastic about this as I was.

I’m planning to add a ‘Tool of the Month’ widget to the right of the page in the near future, and intend to do a review of Gedore, another brand carried by KC Tools, of which I now have a small collection, including some metric ratcheting wrenches, a couple of large wrenches, and a hook spanner. Again, awesome stuff, but I want many more hours of experience yet before I’ll feel ready to review them.

All for this time. Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way, and please do pay a visit to KC Tools and take a look at what they have on offer.

6 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade: Knipex

  1. While I like sliding jaw pliers, they're kind of a second-resort tool for me. I would use them only on fasteners that are too worn for a ring-wrench or open-ended wrench.

    For stuff that is either really stuck, rusted or rounded over, I prefer a big swedish model pipe wrench. I have yet to find a piece of hardware that doesn't yield to one of those. 🙂

  2. Hi Chriss

    Thanks for a good review.
    Knipex makes great pliers indeed.
    They also do a full line of electrically insulated tools for electricians.
    Basically all our pliers on board are Knipex, and they see a lot of hard work.

    It is funny that while most brands have all the tools you need, there are still some of them that do better in different categories.

    I personally think that:
    Bahco makes the best pipe wrenches and adjustable wrenches (heck they even invented those)
    Knipes makes the best pliers.
    Spanners is a bit more difficult, as there are several nice brands out there, but I think that Stahlwille might be the best one there is in terms of overall design and quality.
    Wera makes the best screwdrivers, though I really also like the old Bahco series 6000 out of nostalgia(the green plastic handled series).
    Hultafors is the only company that can make a decent folding ruler those days.

    Rats, I should never have clicked on that link.. Now I can't sleep.

    Brgds
    Jonas

  3. I've got one of those Swedish pattern pipe wrenches – another Knipex – and it's great, and the tool for really stuck fittings (if you have the handle length for decent leverage) however in tighter confines, I will reach for my Cobra pliers. They're a lot lighter to lug around too. I install and take out water meters for our community garden on a seasonal basis, and these meters are in valve boxes which do not offer the room for the pipe wrench.

    And for sure, if the fastener is brass and you don't want to mar the fitting, then neither the Cobra nor the pipe wrench is a good tool. Knipex makes a nice sliding jaw adjustable wrench that is pretty much next on my wish list, and that is perfect for that task, after the correct open end spanner.

  4. Dennis,

    thanks for venturing a comment. Your recommendation of Knipex, after 30 years of use, defintely carries weight.

    Funny that you mention the Knipex Pliers Wrench – i was talking with a friend yesterday and we were both mentioning that the design of that tool is really innovative and that it would be nice to try them out.

    ~C

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