Channellock adjustable pliers

Channellock adjustable pliers DEFAULT

The most useful all-around gripping tool to have in the home toolbox is a pair of adjustable pliers. Because of their large jaw capacity—more than 2 inches for a pair of 10-inch pliers—adjustable pliers (a.k.a. water pump pliers or Channellocks, a trademarked name) are excellent for a wide range of uses like tightening the under-sink plumbing, installing a new toilet, or adjusting your garage doors.

After putting in 20 hours of research, considering at least 50 different adjustable pliers, and testing nine, we found that the best pair for the home toolbox is Irwin’s GV10 10-inch GrooveLock Pliers with the V-jaw. This pair has a jaw capacity of more than 2 inches, an easy push-button jaw-size adjustment, and very comfortable handles. It’s also one of the more affordable options.

The Irwin GV10 10-inch GrooveLock Pliers have a quick adjustment that makes setting the jaw width easier, especially if you’re working in an awkward spot, such as the cramped space behind your washing machine. In addition, the jaws are designed so that they self-lock onto a nut or bolt, letting you focus more on turning than on gripping. Offering all of this for a reasonable $13 currently, this pair is also unlikely to break your tool budget.

If you’re someone who wants total finesse and ease out of your tools (and you’re willing to pay for it), we highly recommend the 10-inch Knipex Cobras with the comfort grips. By every marker (other than price), the Cobras excel against the competition. These pliers have a far more precise adjustment mechanism than any of the other tested tools, the handles are more comfortable, and the small, sleek head can fit into the tightest of spots. The self-locking mechanism was by far the best that we looked at. A tool of this nature doesn’t come cheap, but the price tag, usually closing in on $45, began to make sense once we got into our hands-on testing.

Why you should trust me

For this guide, we spoke with Marc Lyman, editor of, a website devoted to covering tools and the home improvement industry.

As for me, I’ve been reviewing hand tools since 2007, relying on extensive knowledge gained from a decade-long career in construction. During that time, I worked as a carpenter, foreman, and finally a job supervisor for a high-end builder in the Boston area. I also spent three years completely gutting and rebuilding my own 100-year-old farmhouse. Much of the work I’ve done myself (which would hopefully explain the three-year timeline). Since then, I moved to a circa 1773 home that requires a high level of hand’s-on upkeep.

Why adjustable pliers?

Adjustable pliers shouldn’t be the first tool that you buy (that honor goes to the screwdriver), but once you get past the point of the most simple around the house projects—like hanging pictures and assembling knock-down furniture—this all purpose grabbing and twisting tool can really come in handy.

What makes adjustable pliers so unique is that the jaw opening can be adjusted, but the two jaws remain parallel. WIth this feature, they can grab anything from a nut or bolt, to a pipe or the end of a garden hose. Because of this capability, they’re an almost essential tool for plumbing work; installing faucets, tightening an under sink connection, or putting in a toilet are way harder to do without a pair of adjustable pliers.

I’ve also found adjustable pliers to be a fantastic “fill-in-the-cracks” tool. I’ve worked in such cramped spaces that I’ve had to hold nails with my pliers as I pounded them in. They’re also an all purpose grabbing and twisting tool, like when I need to give a slight tweak to an out of whack mower blade or when I just have to pick something up that I know is hot. And even though they tend to live in a toolbox, on one occasion, I’ve even fetched them to crank open an incredibly stuck jar of honey.

For the most part, the jaws of these pliers have serrated teeth, so great care should be taken when using them on any kind of delicate material, like the chrome finish on a faucet. But, even then there is a workaround. One trick I’ve seen plumbers do is wrap the faucet in a rag to buffer the teeth of the pliers, this maintains the gripping strength, but prohibits the teeth from marring the surface.

How we picked

The most important things to look for in a pair of adjustable pliers are a push-button adjustment, padded ergonomic handles, a 10-inch length, and a V-jaw design.

Push-button adjustment - This is a fairly recent innovation and it makes adjusting the jaw size fast and simple, especially when compared to the older tongue and groove mechanism. The ease of the system is centered around a button located at the connection point of the two handles. To adjust jaw size, simply press the button and slide the handle up or down, increasing or decreasing the jaw opening. Once at the appropriate size, the button is released and the handles lock in. What’s nice is that this action can be done with the jaws around a nut or bolt, so the correct size can be zeroed in quickly. The older style of adjustment requires that the handles be opened to their maximum width, so if you’re looking for a specific size (and you usually are), it can take a few tries before you find the right one because you’re making your size selection with the jaws fully opened.

The push-button design also allows for more precision in the jaw sizing. A 10-inch pair of traditional tongue and groove pliers might only have seven size settings, but the push button adjustment allows for at least twice that and, depending on the manufacturer, sometimes much more (the Knipex Cobra has 25 settings). This added precision means a more snug fit on a wider size of nuts and bolts. In practical terms, a better fit translates into a gripping force that is more evenly spread over the nut, resulting in a better grab and an easier turn.

Ergonomic handles - Always look for pliers with some kind of padding on the handles. The whole point of adjustable pliers is to grip, hold, twist, and turn and those motions can really work a palm over. Many companies still manufacture the older-style grips, which are nothing more than metal handles dipped in plastic or metal surrounded by a thin layer of plastic. If you need to take the blade off your mower or remove a radiator so you can paint behind it, you’re going to be exerting a lot of hand strength on the pliers and there’s no point in using the dipped style that is sure to leave a giant, sore, red line running through your palm.

10-inch length - The 10-inch length splits the difference between too big and bulky and too small and ineffective. 10-inch pliers have a grip area of about 5 inches, making them comfortable in most hands with gloves or without. On average, they have a jaw capacity of about 2 inches which means they can handle all of the plumbing connections under the kitchen sink as well as any standard 4-inch waste line clean-outs or large pipes.1

12-inch pliers can be tough to get into tight spaces (there’s also quite a bit of handle to deal with) and 8-inch models have limited jaw capacity (about 1½ inch), less leverage, and much smaller handles. We tested out the Milwaukee 8-Inch Quick-Adjust Reaming Pliers and found them inadequate for many around the house jobs).

V-jaw - Adjustable pliers generally come in three designs; v-jaw, straight jaw, or smooth jaw. The most versatile are the V-jaws which, if looked at from the side of the tool, have a V-cut out on both the top and bottom jaw. Because of these notches, V-jaws are capable of securely grabbing flat, hex, or round shapes.

The three jaw styles on the Irwin GrooveLocks. Left to right: smooth, straight, and v-jaw. The v-jaw design is the only one that can easily hold flat, hex, or round objects

Straight flat jaws run totally parallel to one another and are tailored to flat and hex materials but will struggle if you ever need to hold a pipe or anything else that’s round. Smooth jaws, the third style, run parallel but have no teeth for gripping. These are meant for delicate surfaces that might dent under the pressure of the teeth, like a PVC fitting or a finished material like chrome.

How we tested

To test the tools, I used each one to disconnect and reconnect a radiator as well as a number of the fittings around my water heater. Each tool also took a turn loosening and tightening the 4-inch PVC clean-out on the waste line heading out to the septic (required by code and essential to the homeowner if something gets clogged in the pipe). The square PVC fitting was a good indicator of jaw width (the fitting is about 2 inches).

For more controlled tests, I took them all out to the workshop and used them with a wide variety of nuts and bolts. I also strained the hinge point by clamping the tip of the upper jaw in a vice and twisting, pulling, and pushing on the other handle. I tested the strength of the teeth by clamping each pair of pliers down on the head of a galvanized joist hanger nail.

The Knipex Cobras working on the 4-inch PVC clean-out

The connection points all proved to be sturdy and the teeth all fell within the same range of durability, so it really all came down to ease of adjustment, general usability, and overall ergonomics.

Our pick: Irwin GV10 10-inch GrooveLock Pliers

Of the pliers tested, the 10-inch Irwin GrooveLocks provided the best balance of functionality and price thanks to their easy push-button adjustment, very comfortable handles, 15 jaw adjustment sizes, and a handy self-locking feature that holds the bottom handle in place so you can focus on turning instead of gripping. There is also a nice ratcheting feature that lets you adjust the size without using the button. Even if cost were no object, we would still choose them over all of the others—with the exception of our upgrade, the Knipex Cobras, which typically go for around $45.

What set the Irwin apart most was its ease of adjustability. Its push-button locking mechanism is large and easily clicks into the adjustment grooves, making it much easier to use than the similarly priced pliers, which didn’t always completely lock into place. Because of the way the locking notches are designed, the lower jaw can be adjusted upwards (to narrow the clamping width) without having to press the button. The majority of the other pliers needed the button to be pressed regardless of whether the adjustment is being opened or closed.

What this means in practical terms is that the adjustment can be made quickly and, if need be, at arm’s length. Once the upper jaw is hooked around a nut, the lower jaw can just slide up to where it’s snug and the tightening/loosening can begin. If you’re in a crawl space, under your deck, or reaching into the nether region behind your water heater, this feature will come in handy.

The handles are definitely another high point. They’re nice and wide and have a very slight texture to them that adds a considerable amount of “stickiness.” The upper handle swells a little at the top edge, creating a nice spot for a thumb to rest.

The self-locking handle feature is also very useful. Once the jaws are securely around an object, they grip in such a way that the lower handle no longer needs to be held. This means you can put your energy into turning and not worry about gripping, almost like locking pliers (a.k.a. Vise-Grips). Lyman has an image here where he displays how strong this lock is (the image shows the Knipex Cobras). It’s a cool feature and one that we ended up relying on while removing the rusty fittings of the radiator.

This feature works well for the most part, but we often had to fiddle with the jaws in order to get them to lock in. We found that it worked best on hex shapes like nuts and bolts and was less successful on round objects like pipes. Still, the GrooveLocks were better than most at this.

Irwin offers a full lifetime warranty for the GrooveLocks that covers “defects in material and workmanship for the life of the tool under normal wear and tear, except for damage caused by misuse or alteration.” So presumably, if something goes wrong, you should be able to return them for a new pair.

Irwin GrooveLocks (top) and the Knipex Cobras

Flaws but not dealbreakers

The one area where the GrooveLocks fell short compared to the rest is the width of the nose. Measuring ½ inch, the GrooveLock is almost twice as wide as the majority of the the tested pliers. This hinders the line of sight on small little nuts and bolts and makes it trickier to use in tight spots. I’ve had a pair of GrooveLocks for about four years and it never struck me as an issue until I used the other pliers with smaller noses. It doesn’t alter the functionality of the tool at all, and it’s likely that you won’t even notice it unless you have experience with other thinner-nosed pliers.

Upgrade pick: Knipex 8702250 10-Inch Cobra Pliers - Comfort Grip

If you’re someone who enjoys using finely-tuned, German-engineered tools, or are very sensitive to tool ergonomics, we recommend the Knipex 8702250 10-inch Cobra Pliers (with the comfort grips). At roughly $43 they’re not cheap, but they surpassed the others in basically every category. What sets them apart is an extremely smooth adjustment as well as the consistency of the self-locking feature. The tool also has a whopping 25 positions and the smart curves of the handles make for an extremely comfortable grip. The Cobras are considerably more expensive than the GrooveLocks, but if you’re a regular tool user, you’ll appreciate what they offer.

Knipex Cobras (left) and Irwin GrooveLocks. Notice how much thinner the Cobra jaws are. You can also see the subtle (but significant) differences in the shapes of the grips. The GrooveLocks were comfortable, but the Cobras took it to another level

The self-locking feature on the Cobras is outstanding. The jaws very easily grab, lock, and hold nuts, bolts, or round objects. The Cobras always held, even in places where the competition slipped. I even locked the jaws onto a pipe that runs along my basement ceiling and lifted my 185 pounds up off the ground holding nothing but the top handle of the pliers. If you want to see the Cobras locking feature, Lyman has a video of the tool in action (the relevant part begins around the 1:00 mark).

The Cobras also had the smallest head of all the tested pliers, making them easy to work with in tight spaces and allowing for great sight lines no matter what position you’re in.

We also have to note that Knipex sells the Cobras with both ergonomic handles (which we recommend) and old-school dipped handles. The non-ergonomic Cobras are priced at about $10 less (around $33) and in all other aspects are identical. We feel that the added comfort of the padded handles justifies the added expense. Plus, once you’re up above the $30 mark, we think it makes sense to bite the bullet and go for the full experience.

Long-term test notes

For the past seven years, I’ve used the Irwin Groovelocks and the Knipex Cobras quite a bit while wrapping up a renovation and moving to a new home. The Irwins are still holding up with absolutely no problems, and their solid usability combined with their inexpensive cost still makes them an easy choice for our main recommendation.

But the more I work with the Knipex, the more impressed I am. Using the tools side by side in a consistent manner over a long period of time, it has become very clear to me that the Knipex are in an entirely different realm. With the handles so nicely formed to the natural curves of the hand, they’re far less tiring to use for extended periods of time. And if it wasn’t for the perfect locking feature, I would have never been able to disconnect an old rusted radiator. I locked the pliers on the connection and stepped on the handles, bouncing my entire body weight to get the connection to move. While anyone looking for a set of pliers for the junk drawer would likely balk at the $40 price tag, if you really want a high-quality tool, you’ll be happy you spent the additional money.

Irwin GrooveLocks (left) and the Knipex Cobras. Note the sheer number of adjustment grooves on the Cobras.

The competition

In 2021, Channellock (finally) released their version of the push button adjustable pliers. The 430X SpeedGrip Tongue and Groove Pliers have the high quality feel that we expect from Channellock, but the tool is only available in a flat jaw version, which isn’t as versatile as the V-jaw. We prefer our picks, but anyone who is brand loyal to Channellock will likely appreciate what this tool offers.

The Milwaukee Quick Adjust Reaming Pliers have comfortable handles, a nice push-button action, and 22 size settings. Because they focus on industrial users, Milwaukee has equipped this tool with an interesting pro-only pipe reaming feature at the end of the handles. This is potentially a huge bonus for a pro electrician or plumber, but it’s not going to mean a whole lot to the average homeowner.

The Milwaukees were also the only pliers that did not have anti-pinch handles. When the jaw is in the widest position, the top and bottom handles are basically touching one another, so if you’re using them and something slips, your palm can easily be pinched and you could be looking at a massive blood blister.

The Klein Quick Adjust Klaw Pump Pliers which are made in Germany and share many characteristics with the Cobras, including the overall design of the head and handles. There are some differences, though: The locking mechanism has the same ratcheting action as the Irwin and the jaw design is slightly different. Klein specializes in electrician’s tools, so it’s not surprising that the jaw has a small notch for gripping a wire. This is a very nice tool, but the dipped handles and meager 11 jaw positions took it out of contention.

The CH Hanson Auto-Grip LockJaw Self-Adjusting Groove Pliers have an interesting adjustment. The lower jaw is spring-loaded to the closed position, so to make an adjustment, you need to pull it down, and when the jaws are around something, release the lower handle so it slides up and into place. It’s a two-handed operation and the jaws only have a parallel opening of about 1½ inches (compared to most of the others at well more than 2 inches). It’s also only available with a flat jaw.

There were a number of other tools that we looked at but decided not to test. The Wiha Adjustable Plier is a pricey one but only has eight jaw settings and if you’re already closing in on the $40 mark, it makes sense to go with the Knipex Cobras.

Slip-joint pliers

Even having worked in construction for ten years, written about tools for seven, and recently gutted and rebuilt my own house, I can’t remember the last time I even picked up a pair of slip-joint pliers.

Slip-joint pliers are what most people think of when they hear the word “pliers”. For something so universal, they actually offer very little when compared to much more versatile adjustable pliers. Even having worked in construction for ten years, written about tools for seven, and recently gutted and rebuilt my own house, I can’t remember the last time I even picked up a pair of slip-joint pliers. When I asked Lyman to comment on them, he said, “I never use slip joint pliers, seriously. Never.” He also has fully converted to adjustable pliers.

Due to the slip-joint mechanism, those pliers have only two jaw widths, neither of which is very large. A 10-inch pair of adjustables can open up to easily two inches and, depending on what you’re grabbing, more than three. This means they can handle small little nuts and bolts as well as larger items like a garden hose fitting or a big radiator coupling.


  1. Doug Mahoney, Best basic tool kit (for the home), Wirecutter

  2. Marc Lyman, Editor of, Interview

  3. Carl Duguay, The GrooveLock 'press-n-slide' feature makes for super quick jaw adjustment, Canadian Woodworking

  4. Thomas Gaige, Irwin Groovelock Pliers Review, ProToolReviews

  5. Dan Maxey, Irwin Groovelock Pliers - Review, Tools in Action

  6. Marc Lyman, Knipex Cobra vs. Irwin Groovelock Pliers - Channellock Killers?, HomeFixated

About your guide

Doug Mahoney

Doug Mahoney is a senior staff writer at Wirecutter covering home improvement. He spent 10 years in high-end construction as a carpenter, foreman, and supervisor. He lives in a very demanding 250-year-old farmhouse and spent four years gutting and rebuilding his previous home. He also raises sheep and has a dairy cow that he milks every morning.


Tongue-and-groove pliers

Tongue-and-groove-pliers in extreme positions, size 10 inches

Tongue-and-groove pliers are a type of slip-joint pliers. They are also known as:

  • water pump pliers,
  • adjustable pliers,
  • slippy pliers,
  • groove-joint pliers,
  • arc-joint pliers,
  • Multi-Grips,
  • tap or pipe spanners,
  • gland pliers,
  • Channellocks (i.e., Channellock brand pliers).


They have serrated jaws generally set 45 to 60 degrees from the handles. The lower jaw can be moved to a number of positions by sliding along a tracking section under the upper jaw. An advantage of this design is that the pliers can adjust to a number of sizes without the distance in the handle growing wider. These pliers often have long handles—commonly 9.5 to 12 inches long—for increased leverage.[1][2][3] The weight of the tool can also vary, depending on the material used.


Tongue-and-groove pliers are commonly used for turning and holding nuts and bolts, gripping irregularly shaped objects, and clamping materials. It is also possible to rotate objects while keeping them in one position.[4]


This design of pliers was invented and popularized by the Champion–DeArment Tool Company in 1934 under the brand name Channellock (after which the company was later renamed)[5] but are also now produced by a number of other manufacturers.


  • 440Tongue+and+GroovePliers.JPG
  • Klieste nastavitelne sika.jpg
  • Multiple pliers.jpg
  • Vandpumpetang.jpg
  • Wasserpumpenzangenschluessel-kl.jpg


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The Original
Tongue & Groove

Goes most anywhere. Does most anything. It’s the Special Forces of pliers.

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Big and beefy, it’s the standard against which all other electrical pliers are measured.

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Built to make quick work of wire and nails.

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Long Nose

Perfect for those projects that require an extra measure of precision.

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Long Reach

A long yet slender profile gets into places other pliers can’t.

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Slip Joint

This all-purpose plier belongs in every toolbox, glove box and tackle box.

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