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If you are a mechanic, jeweler, or computer electronic technician, chances are that you will require the use of snap ring pliers, with some degree of regularity. Obviously, differing factors will determine the size, style, and number of snap ring pliers that an individual must own. Vocations which most frequently require snap ring pliers include:

  • Small Engine/Equipment Technicians
  • Automobile/Truck Technicians
  • Appliance Technicians
  • Electronic Technicians

Snap Ring Plier Sizes

Snap ring pliers are categorized by size. The size of the tip, which is either integrated into the construction of the snap ring plier or removable to accommodate a number of sizes, determines the size category in which the snap ring plier is placed. For instance, an assortment of snap ring pliers with integrated tips will typically include multiple pliers with tip sizes which range from .030 to .050-inches in diameter, and are recommended for use on snap rings which range in size from half-inch through one-and-a-half-inches in diameter. This set is only an example. Light-duty sets are also available, which contain smaller sizes, as are heavy-duty sets, which contain larger sizes.

Snap Ring Plier Tip Design

In addition to the different tip sizes and plier configurations, the tip designs also vary. Again snap ring plier sets which feature an integrated tip design, will contain multiple pliers; some will have a straight tip, some a bent tip of forty-five degrees, some a tip of ninety- degrees, and possibly some extended tips. Pliers with integrated tips and a fixed design will contain an internal plier and an external plier for every tip variation. Pliers with integrated tips and a convertible design will contain only one plier for each tip variation. Snap ring plier sets which feature removable tips will typically contain two sets of pliers, external and internal, or one set of convertible pliers and an assortment of tips in varying design; bent (in several varying degrees), extended, and straight. Yet another tip design features an interchangeable set of tips with the pivot built into the tips. This type of snap ring plier set contains one set of plier handles and several different tip/pivot variations which can be interchanged to fit the application.

Snap Ring Pliers – Convertible or Fixed?

Snap ring plier size and design aren’t the only considerations; snap rings are manufactured in two basic configurations, internal or external. External snap rings are installed in a locking groove around the outside diameter of a shaft, or rounded housing. This type of snap ring is released by spreading the edges of the ring out, so that it may be released from the groove. The internal snap ring is installed into its particularly sized locking groove which is fabricated into a rounded opening, bore, or housing. It is released from its locking groove by squeezing the opposing ends together, allowing it to be removed from the locking groove.

Since external snap rings must be spread apart and internal snap rings must be squeezed together, a solution must be reached in order to accomplish both tasks effectively. This can be done by employing two separate sets of snap ring pliers, called fixed snap ring pliers, or one set of snap ring pliers what can be converted to either type of tool, called a convertible snap ring plier. In order to service both external and internal snap ring applications, a tech must have access to the appropriate tools. Internally and externally locking snap rings can be serviced one of two ways:

Convertible Snap Ring Pliers

This type of snap ring plier can be used to service both internally and externally locking snap rings. There are several variations on the convertible design. Snap ring pliers which are designed to service both internal and external snap rings are referred to as convertible snap ring pliers. This type of plier normally features a thumbscrew as the pivot, which may be removed, allowing the pliers to be converted from an internal snap ring type to an external snap ring type, or vice-versa. Design variations include:

  • Snap ring pliers with convertible handles
  • Snap ring pliers with convertible handles, and interchangeable tips
  • Snap ring pliers with removable tip assemblies, which allow the size and function (internal/external) to be converted with a single action. This type of plier is designed with one set of handles and multiple interchangeable tip/pivot assembly variations.
  • Snap ring pliers which are converted using a trigger, or latch for conversion.

Fixed Snap Ring Pliers

This type of snap ring plier will feature either an integrated tip design or removable tips and will service either an internal snap ring, or an external snap ring but not both. This type of snap ring plier is normally sold in kits, with several diverse angle and size configurations. Fixed snap ring plier sets will contain a fixed internal snap ring plier and a fixed external snap ring plier for each of the tip variations.

Techs with ample time to spend converting the snap ring pliers back and forth will find the convertible type plier more economical, although not always as durable as the fixed type with integrated tips. Technicians who work with snap rings daily may find the fixed type plier more convenient, faster, and more durable. Personally, I have both types and I find them each useful for certain applications. I favor convertible pliers for smaller applications and fixed pliers for larger repairs.