My last tool review, infrequent as they are, was also on a Knipex product (Cobra pliers) and was posted at the end of last year.
Cobra pliers are fantastic for gripping all sorts of objects, except for those items where we do not wish to mar the surface, like nut and bolt heads, flats on spindles and other shafts, etc..
For loosening nuts and bolts, there are a variety of situations and a variety of tools which can do the job, for better or worse. If one has complete access to the fastener head, then a socket and ratchet/breaker bar are undoubtedly the best choice.
If the space just isn’t there to place the ratchet and socket, or the threaded portion of the bolt is so long you can’t use a socket, then the next tool of choice would be the ring end of a spanner.
Sometimes though, a ring end spanner cannot be placed as there is inadequate space above the nut to slip it into position, and one can only slip a tool in laterally, so one has to use the open end of the spanner.
This works fine, however if the fastener is in really tight, and/or has any previous damage, then the open end spanner can lead to unfortunate outcomes. When heavily loaded, the strain on the metal of the wrench end is enough to cause it to stretch open, weakening the purchase on the fastener, leading to rounding the nut corners.
There is of course the option of using an adjustable wrench, like any one of these I have in my set:
Adjustables are a slightly worse choice then the open end spanner, being a relatively thick tool and less able to get into tight spaces, and, as they are even more prone to undergoing slight jaw openings (especially as a result of being placed under load and then taken off load in a cycle), they can prove to be less useful than they might promise otherwise. However they offer the benefit of versatility which makes them a common choice in many people’s tool boxes.
An adjustable wrench is a go-to choice when you don’t have the capacity to take along a full socket set or wrench set, and for those times you come across fasteners with odd dimensions which do not correspond to your wrenches and sockets (like Whitworth for instance, or encountering Japanese JIS metric head standards when your tools are set up around DIN standards (for example, for an 8mm bolt, the bolt head is 13mm in DIN, and 12mm in JIS), for such occasions an adjustable wrench is certainly handy to have.
Adjustable wrenches are likely among the first tools many folks would buy, and are a common tool to be found in the barebones toolboxes of folks that rarely, if ever, use tools, but have a few kicking around for household use.
One lesser-known aspect to adjustable wrenches is that they are directional: the rotation of the tool is meant to be applied so that loads go into the fixed jaw of the tool, not the adjustable jaw, as this Japanese Nepros wrench makes clear with an etching on the tool handle:
But, as noted, for fasteners which are very tight, rusted in place, etc., the adjustable wrench tends to produce nut rounding, given that there is some play in the system and so, for those with options, is not typically the first tool one reaches for when faced with a recalcitrant fastener, and indeed, are hardly suited for the role of ‘last resort’ either.
The Knipex pliers wrench is an improvement upon an adjustable wrench, as it incorporates the function of pliers, i.e., the ability to apply squeezing force to the fastener head, it does not therefore suffer from the same weakness as the adjustable wrench.
I obtained my first pliers wrench last, the ‘XL’ or 400mm version with standard grip, for Christmas last year. Then, not too long afterward, through my connection with KC Tool, obtained a set of two, based on an arrangement whereby I would test them out for an extended period and then write a review on this blog.
Full disclosure: if you buy a Knipex plier wrench through one of the links provided on this page, any other German hand tool via the KC Tool banner on the right of the page, I will receive a modest percentage of the sale. Any proceeds in my direction will be plowed back into other purchases of KC Tools. It’s a closed loop.
It’s been 8 months now or thereabouts since I have had the plier wrenches on hand, and I have had ample opportunities to use the various sizes of pliers wrench for a myriad of tasks. These tools have earned a permanent place in my tool set, and my adjustable wrenches are now in the discard pile.
I have found the pliers wrench useful in a variety of situations, from plumbing work like removing/installing water meters, crimping small areas of sheet metal, and for daily use a wrench on my milling machine to place and remove hold-downs and other fixtures. I have not done any tile work with them (they would be great for snapping off small portions of tile), so I have something to look forward to in that regard.
Here, I’m using the 250mm size plier-wrench to install a threaded stud in to the Wadkin table saw sliding table support beam:
Like an adjustable wrench, the plier wrench has a direction of operation, and it is the same, putting the laid into the upper fixed jaw. with the pliers-wrench, this is also the direction to load the wrench so that the self-locking aspect comes into play. Once set, as you can see in the above picture, the wrench handle no longer need to be squeezed and can be operated, if you choose, with only a pulling grip.
To loosen, such as when I take the locknuts off of the installed stud, the wrench is flipped over, and again, once set, a clench-hold on the handles is not required:
I like the way the wrench operates, and, as the video shows above, one can repeatedly tighten or loosen a nut without having to slide the wrench off of the fastener.
Also, the plier function is great for all sorts of things, like delicately gripping small wooden parts to remove them from fixtures:
I’ve also used the wrench jaws on occasion to apply a little judicious ki-goroshi or grain pre-compressing, to some joinery, like lap joints.
The only aspect which takes a bit of practice to learn is that of setting the wrench opening, however this is really the same issue as with any slip-jaw sliding adjustable plier. you want to set the jaw opening so that the handles come together with about an inch (2.5cm) opening so that the self-locking function can work properly.
Overall, these tools are well made, beautiful to look at, built to last and offer advantages over conventional adjustable wrenches. Like the Knipex cobra wrench, the only wearing parts really are those associated to the push-button mechanism, and a repair kit is available for that. If you are one of those folks who has few tools, or needs to keep the number of tools in a go-to-site tool bag to a minimum, the plier-wrench is a great choice given its versatility. One plier wrench and one cobra wrench covers a lot of ground as it were.
For instance, my friend Matt, doing some maintenance work on the gate at the MFA in Boston, found the small plier wrench the tool which made it possible to open the garden water spigot, which otherwise requires a square female key:
The Knipex plier-wrench is a super versatile tool, and I highly recommend it. It’s just a matter of picking the right size for your application(s). I would imagine the most ‘all-around’ size is likely to be the 250mm model or the 180mm model. Having three sizes in the tool box is sufficient for my needs, though I am tempted to add the smallest size, the 125mm model, as I think that will also prove useful at times. For those that would like a softer grip, there are cushion grip versions of all the models as far as I know, and for those that anticipate working on electrical devices with these wrenches, there are also models with 1000v. rated insulating grips. Grips are even available with a choice between tethered and untethered versions. There’s even a version of the plier wrench in the 250mm size with a 15˚ bend in the handles to facilitate working on a fastener which is flat onto a surface. I think I will also be adding one of those to the set in the near-future as well.
Competitors to this product are out there, and I have not explored those alternatives. I imagine if the tool is German made, you will get a quality item that lasts for years, so I can mention a few alternates in the ‘all-around’ size that might be worth a look at:
You can save some money with the Wiha product, however note that it is manufactured in Vietnam, not Germany.