Pliers and wrenches for the kitchen drawer

No matter how basic your DIY aspirations, life is better with at least a few good implements.

No matter how basic your DIY aspirations, life is better with at least a few good implements.

Got a kitchen drawer to stock with tools?

Here are my picks for pliers and wrenches that you’ll use again and again.

Locking pliers (generically called ‘vise grips’ after the brand that made them famous) are the king of home improvement pliers. They combine the ability to grip a range of shapes, with the power to click shut while maintaining jaw pressure all by itself. Start with a pair of standard, flat-jaw vise grips, then add other jaw stiles if needed.

Needlenose pliers are named for long, thing jaws that let you sneak into small spaces and hold gently items that are too small for fingers. The most useful size includes jaws that are three- to four-inches long, with wire cutter edges built in near the swivel point. You can add larger or smaller versions as needed.

If you’ve never owned a pair of channel lock pliers, you’re in for a treat. The big attraction is their ability to grip a huge range of different sized objects, from nothing up to three or four inches wide, depending on the design.

Until recently, channel locks have remained the same for years, but now there’s one innovation in particular that’s worth looking for. The best models include a spring-loaded centre swivel that positively locks the jaws into one of half a dozen different size ranges.

Unlike older-style channel locks that can slip into larger positions accidentally during use, these new ones always grip tight. When you want to select a larger range of jaw movement, just push the pivot button inward, open or close the jaws to the new range, then release the button to lock the tool.

Adjustable wrenches are made for light-duty jobs involving nuts and bolts on simple machines and plumbing parts. They do an excellent job as long as you respect the limitations of the tool.

A thumb wheel opens or closes the jaws, allowing you to grip small, medium and large size nuts and bolts, depending on the size of the adjustable wrench you’ve got. Just remember two things: only use adjustables that are in good condition with crisp, flat jaws; and never use them where a lot of force is required. What adjustables offer in versatility, they take back in strength.

If you’ve got more than a little work to do with nuts and bolts, a set of socket wrenches will prove useful.

Sizes vary, but all sets include a wrench handle, an assortment of detachable sockets to fit different nuts and bolts, and a couple of extensions. These snap in place between the wrench handle and the sockets, extending the reach of the tool into deeper places.

All socket wrench handles are made to apply twisting force to either loosen or tighten nuts and bolts, depending on the position of a button or lever at the top of the handle.

If you’re just starting off, buy a 3/8-inch socket set. This measurement refers to the size of the square drive recess in the base of each socket. If you regularly deal with small nuts and bolts, consider adding a 1/4-inch drive set.

All socket sets are sized to fit either Imperial (measured in fractions of an inch) or metric fasteners (described in millimeters).

Imperial will probably be the most useful to you, unless you’ve got some imported metric stuff to maintain. You can always add metric sockets to your collection as you need them. Either way, both types fit onto the same 1/4- or 3/8-inch socket handles and extensions.

There are many more pliers and wrenches in the world, but these will give you a good start.

Buy name brand tools with a lifetime warranty and you’ll always be able to count on them.

Steve Maxwell is Canada’s award-winning home improvement expert, and technical editor of Canadian Home Workshop magazine. Sign up for his free homeowner newsletter at

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Collin Orthner, manager at McBain Camera in downtown Red Deer, stands behind the store’s counter on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
A few Red Deer businesses happy with Black Friday results

While this year’s Black Friday wasn’t as successful as it was in… Continue reading

Le Chateau Inc. is the latest Canadian firm to start producing personal protective equipment for health care workers, in a July 3, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers yet to be released, says Alberta Federation of Labour

Information recently released by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests more than… Continue reading

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Man killed in two-vehicle collision near Penhold, says Blackfalds RCMP

A 46-year-old man is dead following a two-vehicle collision on Highway 42… Continue reading

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam speaks during a news conference on the COVID-19 pandemic in Ottawa, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Canada's top doctor says the country is still on a troubling track for new COVID-19 infections as case counts continue mounting in much of the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
COVID-19 cases in Canada remain on troubling course, Tam says, amid rising numbers

Canada’s top doctor says the country is still on a troubling track… Continue reading

Hay’s Daze: Giraffe knows filling wishes can sometimes be a tall order

Last weekend, I had a lovely breakfast. “So what?” you may say.… Continue reading

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa, Thursday, Nov. 26, 2020. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says tonight's public video gaming session with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is about reaching young people where they hang. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
NDP leader stoked over ‘epic crossover’ in video gaming sesh with AOC

Singh and AOC discussed importance of universal pharmacare, political civility, a living wage

A south view of the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf breaking apart is seen from Ward Hunt Island, Nunavut, in an Aug. 20, 2011, handout photo. The remote area in the northern reach of the Nunavut Territory, has seen ice cover shrink from over 4 metres thick in the 1950s to complete loss, according to scientists, during recent years of record warming. Scientists are urging the federal government to permanently protect a vast stretch of Canada's remotest High Arctic called the Last Ice Area. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-CEN/Laval University, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
Scientists urge permanent protection of Last Ice Area in Canada’s High Arctic

Tuvaijuittuq has the thickest and oldest ice in the Arctic

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s $55 million Lotto Max jackpot

No winning ticket was sold for the $55 million jackpot in Friday… Continue reading

Most Read