Long nose and needle nose pliers are two important types of gripping pliers for work that requires long reach. These pliers are both available in two nose configurations: the normal straight one and an angled version, also called ‘bent’ or ‘curved’. If you have ever bought a pair of these pliers, you might have wondered why the two versions exist, and which one should you really get.
Over the years, I have found myself many times asking this question. Through thought and use experience, I think I have come up with a decent answer. The answer can be summarized as follows: Straight long nose and needle nose pliers offer the best reach for objects deep in equipment or where lateral space is very restricted, and are also better suited for bending wire. Bent/angled nose pliers, on the other hand, are more ergonomic when working on small devices on the table top and better in getting a grip under or behind obstacles.
In this article, I present my comparison of the straight and angled (bent) versions of long/needle nose pliers in more detail. I hope the comparison helps you decide whether bent or straight pliers are better for your work!
Probably the biggest practical difference between straight and angled nose configurations is in ergonomics.
This comes down to the fact that working with our hands is most comfortable when we hold them either vertical (as when grabbing a hammer), horizontal (grabbing a hand rail), or somewhere in between. By contrast, our hands are not very comfortable when rotated inwards from horizontal (thumb down).
Detailed tabletop work
In detailed work on a tabletop work, you are usually accessing an enclosure, a device or a piece of equipment either straight from above, or at an angle from the horizontal.
With straight nose pliers, this requires you to rotate your hand inwards, in some cases by up to 90 degrees. While possible, such a rotation limits your dexterity and puts an added strain on your hand.
Angled nose pliers were made to solve this problem: the nose itself does all or most of the downwards bending, so your hand does not have to. With angled nose pliers, you take the most of the grips typical in tabletop work while holding your hand comfortably close to horizontal.
The better ergonomics of angled nose pliers in detailed tabletop work is a significant advantage, since this is the most common and convenient working position for assembly and maintenance of small devices and equipment.
Work on fixed equipment
The ergonomic situation is different in rougher work with wall-, ceiling- or floor-mounted enclosures or large equipment. In such work, our optimal working distance is usually a bit longer, and we can extend our hand further out and point the pliers forward.
In this position, our hand is able to go comfortably through a wider range of rotation angles than in the flexed tabletop work position. This greater natural dexterity means that we also have a wider range of comfortable pliers grips and access directions available.
Thanks to our ergonomic flexibility in this position, both the straight and bent nose pliers versions offer a sufficient set of convenient grips, so that working ergonomics becomes less of an issue.
One of the main benefits of long and needle nose pliers over other types is high reach. Thanks to the long and slender jaws, these pliers allow you to grab objects that are deep inside a device or a machine or have very little space around them.
The straight and angled versions of these pliers have slightly different reach properties.
For maximal reach, your choice is straight jaws: they allow you to get as deep as you possibly can, without taking any extra lateral space to get there. The angled versions lose some reach due to the bent tip, and, often more critically, they also extend to the side, and may not fit to the tightest of spaces.
On the other hand, the angled versions may be better in cases where you need to get around something to grip what you want. The bend at the tip allows you to, for example,
- bypass the body of an electronic component to pull its leg
- get around the head of a screw to pull at the shank
- grip and pull a electric connector without interfering with the wire
To get the same grips with straight nosed versions requires tilting of the whole pliers, which takes a lot of space and also makes the pulling less convenient.
Further, the angled noses actually allow you an additional pulling technique: by inverting the pliers and leaning the bent part of the nose against a stable surface, you can use the pliers to pry objects away from the surface, with the bend acting as a pivot point.
3 Wire work
In general, long nose and needle nose pliers are excellent for working with wire: the roots have the leverage and grip needed for heavy-gauge wire, and the tips the finesse for small detailing. They can be used to bend both tight and large loops, and both for short, low-angle bends as well as for continuous spirals.
The straight-jawed versions of these pliers have wider applicability in wire work than the angles ones. The straight jaws allow for a long clear uninterrupted working area, making transitioning from the root to the tip easy. Further, they allow you to use the entire nose length for coiling long spirals, for example.
The bent jaws, on the other hand, may offer better ergonomics when you are using the tips only. However, they do not allow you to simultaneously use the entire jaw length as easily as the straight ones.
Straight and bent versions of long and needle nose pliers may have some difference in availability.
Gauging the relative sales volumes of the different nose versions by the average number of reviews they have received in Amazon and at other online retailers, the straight nosed versions seem clearly more popular, perhaps so even by a few times.
Thanks to the popularity, the straight versions are probably stocked at more retailers and in greater numbers than the angled versions. Depending on where you shop and whether you are in a hurry, you may have to take availability into consideration.
The bent and straight nose versions of long and needle nose pliers are quite similarly priced. In a quick comparison exercise at the online retailers, I found the bent versions more expensive, but only slightly, with an averaged price difference of only around 10%.
The price difference may be down to the straight versions being simpler, and thus easier to manufacture, or just being sold in higher numbers. In any case, the small difference is unlikely to become a major factor in consideration.
Let us sum up the comparison and consider what the straight and the angled versions of long nose and needle nose pliers are best suited for:
When angled/bent noses are better:
Due to their ergonomic advantage in table top work, angled long nose and needle nose pliers are usually the best choice for work on electronics and on small devices. They are also the best choice for jobs that involve going around corners and getting under components.
When straight noses are better:
Long and needle nose pliers with the normal, straight nose configuration are the best for getting very deep in restricted space and for working with wire. They are also more widely available and slightly cheaper on average.
When it’s a tie/ambiguous:
Both straight and angled nose versions of long nose and needle nose pliers are ergonomic in work on wall- and ceiling-mounted devices – it is difficult to tell which type is better for such use.
When should you get both?
If you often work both on small devices on a table top and with larger fixed equipment, you should probably get both straight and angled long/needle nose pliers.
Personally, I think both pliers versions are very versatile general-purpose pliers and rather affordable. Because of this, buying both versions actually makes sense for all professionals and most hobbyists working in electronics or mechanics.