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Knipex Pliers

Their Reputation Precedes Them

If you’ve been in the trades anytime during the last 20 years, you know about Knipex pliers.  Knipex pliers from Germany have pretty much everyone who’s used them singing their praises.  However, if you’re a pro, maybe you haven’t had an opportunity yet to try a pair out; if you’re a DIY’er, you may not have heard about them yet.  But even if you’ve never used a Knipex tool per se, you’ve probably used one of their designs, since the company is a serial innovator and their designs are widely copied.

Knipex (“Kuh-NIP-x”) is one of the popular plier brands in Germany.  They have a significant U.S. presence with their well-staffed Chicago-area U.S. headquarters.  They’ve been available in the States long enough now that whenever you ask about pliers, they are always in the top tier of recommendations.  They sent in five pairs for us to review here.

Knipex has a well-organized and easy-to-understand English language website – two in fact.  Knipex.com is the UK website, while knipex-tools.com is the U.S. website.  There are slight differences in the products available in each geography.  If you’re in the States you’ll want to order from the U.S. site.  (It’s a good thing that their websites are well-organized since Knipex makes a lot of different pliers.)

Knipex in General

Before I describe each tool individually below, I want to say a word about Knipex pliers in general.  The fit and finish is excellent.  It doesn’t demean the performance of any American-made manufacturer to point out that the fit and finish of Knipex pliers is generally higher.  All surfaces are generally polished or coated.  The handles fit in the hand comfortably and well.  Edges are crisp.  Actions are smooth and easy – no break-in is required.  Surfaces that meet do so precisely; parallel surfaces are exactly parallel.

The company says it designs its pliers to have “the lowest possible weight paired with maximum resilience”.  Indeed, Knipex pliers are often lighter than many competitors, but each pair that I’ve handled has not only felt well-balanced but had a comfortable heft to them. They are light but not flimsy feeling.  Their smooth action, good balance, and weight in the right places make for a very comfortable, nimble tool to use.

Finally, every Knipex tool that I’ve handled has turned in top-tier performance in use (and this opinion is echoed pretty much by everyone everywhere).  If you ask Knipex users what they most love about the brand, most will reply that it’s the sharp and long-lasting edges and/or teeth.  Indeed, the company takes some pride in describing its advanced metallurgy.  While I can’t tell you how long a tool will last, I can tell you what it’s like to work with the following example Knipex pliers.

Knipex 9 ½-inch Lineman’s Pliers

Model 09 01 240 is one of Knipex’s offerings of a traditional American lineman’s plier, featuring a standard 9-inch length and a New England-style head (which is the most common and most useful head design).  This is a high-leverage design with the pivot pin close to the jaws.

Specs:

 

I was glad to see that the cross-hatched jaws are 5/8-inch wide.  Most stateside residential and commercial wiring is 12/2 w/ground or 14/2 w/ground.  If I’m twisting four strands of 12-gauge wire I want to roughly align them in one hand and then immediately twist them with pliers in the other hand.  If the jaws are too narrow, you have to spend time fussily getting the conductors lined up “just right” before they all fit in the jaws.

The handles are indeed comfortable (this model has dipped grips) and they fit my pretty much dead-average American hand perfectly.  The handles fall free, opening to about ¾ or 7/8 of fully open.  This makes working with them all day long easy.  Also, because you don’t have to fight the pliers to move the handle(s), it’s very easy to finely control the handles’ position as you use the blades to slice conductor insulation for stripping.

All the above comments about the fit, finish, and balance of Knipex pliers apply.  This model cut cleanly through 12/2 w/ground and 14/2 w/ground with the same effort as other high-end lineman’s that I have.  There is a distinct “snap” at the finish of the cut which many users find appealing.

The cross-hatched jaw teeth appear to be angled towards the pivot meaning that they will bite into material that you are pulling on even more effectively.  And they do!  I found that I could pull against cooper conductors with all my strength and weight and these pliers would not let go – the limiting factor would be my grip strength.  Similarly, the jaws twisted multiple strands of 12 AWG wire easily, in part because the jaws adhered to the wire so well.

What users report liking about Knipex lineman’s is the light weight, the balance, the overall feel, and the long-lasting blades.  I can echo those sentiments.  These lineman’s both feel good in the hand and they do nothing to draw attention to themselves in use (attention gets drawn to shortcomings).

Knipex Cobra Water Pump Pliers

If you heard of Knipex, it’s most likely because of Knipex’s Cobra water pump pliers.  I’ve spent way too many hours on the professional trade forums over the last several months, and I’ve never read that anyone didn’t really like them.  Knipex makes several variations of water pump pliers, and several length and handle options within each variation.  However, it’s the Cobra line that has received the most attention and is arguably the most popular.

Specs:

Cobras are push-button adjustable offset-head pliers (unlike Knipex Alligator pump pliers, which are not push-button adjustable).  All options available on the U.S. site (at least) have toothed, V-shaped jaws.  These pliers are meant to grab onto things and hold them fast while you turn them.

What sets Cobras apart from other water pump pliers is the hardness, gripping effectiveness, and long life of the teeth.  I’ve yet to encounter or read any pro that doesn’t attest to the fact that they grip like Superman.

The other thing that sets them apart is their ergonomics (which is more important to the electrical trade that I grew up in than gripping power usually is).  I’ve worked with many brands of pump pliers over the decades and seldom had any serious complaints about their ergonomics.  But there’s something about these Cobra pliers that is generally more comfortable.  The shape of the handles is one factor here, the comparatively thin handles is another, and the coating used on the plastic-handled versions is also noticeably more comfortable.

The regular Cobra pliers also have thinner jaws than many pump pliers (and Knipex makes an even thinner version).  This helps reach into tight spaces, and more so aids line of sight in those spaces (I’m used to working inside electrical boxes and panels, on relatively small fittings, and so appreciate this feature). They are lightweight and very well-balanced – you never feel like you’re fighting either the weight or the balance to use them in a tricky spot.

I had a pair of 10-inch Cobras (model 87 01 250) here with a 2-inch working capacity jaw opening, and the company sent along the 7.25-inch model (model 87 01 180) with a 1/5-inch capacity.  I clamped a section of ¾-inch EMT conduit in my Reed vise so tightly that the pipe was starting to deform.  I was pleased, but not completely surprised, that the 10-inch Cobra pliers could spin that pipe in the vise’s jaws.  But I was a bit surprised that the 7.25-inch Cobras could also, albeit with me working harder at it.  That’s some serious bite coming from those pliers!  I also clamped the head of a 2-long 3/16-inch lag bolt in the vise and could twist the threaded section of the bolt with the smaller Cobras.  Again, some prodigious bite!  [Credit to YouTuber Hester781 who gave me this idea for a test, which he did with the front gripping teeth of the TwinGrip pliers (below)]

The only thing I didn’t completely like about the Cobras was that the 7.25-inch version’s handles felt almost too small in my average-size hands; if I were to replace them I’d probably go for the version with Knipex’s multi-component (“comfort”) handles.

Knipex TwinGrip Pliers

If the Knipex Cobras have gotten the lion’s share of attention over the years, Knipex’s TwinGrip pliers (model 82 91 200) have been in the limelight lately.  Knipex included these pliers with the others they sent, but I hadn’t requested them.  I had thought, from the photos, that I wouldn’t like these “funny-looking” pliers…but boy was I wrong!

Yes, they are unusual looking.  But I should have known from Knipex’s reputation (and German heritage) that they wouldn’t come up with an odd-looking tool just for the novelty of it.  Not only are the TwinGrip pliers more hand-conforming than they appear in photos, but once you hold them their function becomes apparent.

The TwinGrip pliers are so-called because they grip from the side, like all slip-joint pliers, but also from the front.  This latter function is Knipex’s answer to front-gripping extraction pliers.

Specs:

The 5-position push button adjustment takes the place of a slip joint in traditional 2-position slip-joint pliers and offers wider, and finer, adjustments.  The offset jaw teeth are optimized for gripping a wide spectrum of shapes.  The long handles provide high leverage to the jaws.

I tried out the TwinGrip pliers on a variety of rusty nuts and screw heads at an old warehouse.  These pliers aren’t a wrench but they grabbed and turned rusty nuts and bolt heads almost like one using their side teeth.  They likewise grabbed and turned rusty screw heads as well as any other end-grip extraction pliers that I’ve used.  The impression I got using them was that they weren’t so much a plier with certain features, but a tool with a range of functions that looks like a plier.

I’m not used to using straight-line pliers to turn fastener heads, or things in general.  I’ve always felt that proper wrenches and offset-head pliers like Knipex Cobras were the right tools for these jobs.  Even better traditional slip-joint pliers are not my go-to for such tasks.  However, old dogs can learn new tricks, especially with a new tool.  These are the first straight-line pliers that I’m comfortable using for turning high-torque pieces.

So yes, these are “funny-looking” pliers, but the form follows the function.  They easily sub in for traditional slip-joint pliers, and do a better job.  They do a fantastic job of end-gripping and turning stuck fasteners.  The teeth are incredibly sharp.  I can see why they have gotten unilaterally favorable reviews. The odd-looking pliers that I didn’t think I’d like have now become a staple in my tool bag.

One note on size.  The plastic-handled TwinGrips that I have are comfortable in my average-size hand, but I feel I’d be equally comfortable with the multi-component handles on this tool.  If you have larger-than-average hands, you might consider those.

Knipex Forged Wire Stripper

The Knipex Forged Wire Stripper (model 13 71 8) really should be called an electrical multi-plier.  It cuts wire and cable, strips wire, and has 7/16-inch jaws with lateral and cross-hatched teeth.  This Knipex plier looks similar to other manufacturers’ models and has similar functions, so I’ll just describe what’s noteworthy about it.

Specs:

This multi-plier is light and well-balanced, and the handles fit the hand very well.  It also feels like a serious tool as you hold it.  It is nimble and alive in the hand, and the blades and jaws wind up right where the tool’s feel leads you to expect them.

It cuts 12/2 w/ ground and 14/2 w/ground (the two most common gauges in the States) cleanly with a snap, and more easily than some other units.  I was easily able to cut through two layers of 14/2 w/ ground but wasn’t able to get through two layers of 12/2 w/ ground.  I need to add that I’m not anywhere near as strong as I used to be, and my hands are somewhat arthritic these days.  There are videos of this plier cutting through MC (although I didn’t have any right at hand).

The screw cutters cut cleanly and, as advertised, leave functional, non-crushed threads.  I found it slightly less effective at ripping romex sheaths (to expose the conductors), but equally effective in its ability to twist conductors.

I was skeptical of the “locating ridges” that are supposed to help you set the conductor in its stripping hole, but they do help a fair amount.  This brings me to the only criticism I have of this tool – not so much a criticism as a suggestion.  The Achilles heel in all strippers is the tiny little numeric gauge indicators.  For anyone, these are hard to see in low light, and for anyone over 40, they are hard to see period (without getting out and putting on glasses).  I wish someone – and who better than Knipex? – would make the numbers big and readable, and also color code the holes.

All in all, the Knipex Forged Wire Stripper is a best-on-class tool of the kind.  I was impressed.

Knipex Needle Nose Pliers

Knipex makes a lot of needle nose pliers which they refer to as “long nose” pliers, and they make several different kinds of them for different tasks.  Below I’ll briefly describe the pair they sent as an example, but first let me discuss needle nose pliers in general because even pros can get confused.

(Note: I will not delve into the distinction between needle nose and long nose pliers.  While there may be a technical distinction – at least in some quarters – I, like most people, use the terms interchangeably.  I haven’t been struck down by lightning yet.)

Because needle nose pliers have relatively thin jaws, if you exert more force on the jaws than they are designed to take, they are liable to damage.  Needle nose pliers are used in just about every trade and hobby, from watchmaking to engine repair.  Each application has a different optimal nose shape, jaw serrations, nose length, nose strength, and so on.  If you use pliers meant for repairing electronics to remove a rusty stuck part from an engine block, you’ll likely bend the jaws.  And people, including pros, do this all the time…and then complain that the pliers “are junk”.  You have to choose the right tool for the job!

To address the wide spectrum of needs, Knipex makes small and large needle nose pliers, in (as of now) eleven different categories.  They make pliers optimized for delicate tasks and tough jobs and everything in between, including specially designed mechanics’ long nose pliers.

The company sent us a pair of their 6.25-inch Long Nose Pliers with Half-Round Tips (model 30 21 160).  This particular pair has “heavy-duty jaws”, linear jaw serrations, and is made of chrome vanadium electric steel.  It currently sells for $22 on Amazon.com.

The finish on these pliers is brushed and the fit is excellent.  Run your fingers all over the tool and you’ll find no non-flush mating surfaces and no sharp edges.  There’s precision here, and something else that I don’t really know how to put into words – even at a mere quarter pound, there’s also a comfortable heft to them, a feeling of sturdiness.  The tips are precisely mated and will pick up a dime by its tiny raised edge.

Bottom Line on Knipex

The price of Knipex pliers will wiggle around with the exchange rate, but it can be a little higher than a competing, lower-quality tool.  But we’re only talking a few dollars here; for the price of a (good) cup-o-joe you can upgrade to Knipex in most cases.

I have only one suggestion for Knipex.  The product number of each plier is printed on the handles.  Here it is prone to obliteration from wear, abrasion, chemicals, etc.  I wish the product number was etched onto the tool itself.

From what I’ve seen, Knipex pliers live up to their reputation.  The breadth of the products offered will, with no exaggeration, meet any pliers’ needs.  Using them brings to mind one of the commandments of construction: using good tools is a joy.  I now understand why they have such a following, and why they are so many people’s favorites.

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