Pincers are often made of carbon steel. This is a metal alloy formed by mixing iron and carbon, along with a few trace elements such as copper and manganese. Even a tiny amount of carbon makes steel much stronger, although the more carbon added, the harder and more brittle the steel becomes. Carbon content typically ranges from 0.05% to 2%.
Chrome vanadium steel
Chrome vanadium steel is an alloy consisting of about 96.5% iron, with the rest made up mainly of chromium, a metallic element called vanadium, and carbon. The vanadium makes the mixture stronger, yet lighter, than other steel alloys, while the chromium gives it a shiny finish and makes it more resistant to rust and stains.
Some pincers may be made of stainless steel. This is an alloy made up of at least 10.5% chromium, which is a hard, shiny metal that resists tarnishing. The mixture of metals creates a durable alloy which doesn’t stain or rust when it gets wet, but it isn’t as tough as chrome vanadium steel or high carbon steel.
The tips of end cutting pincers are sometimes made of tungsten carbide, which is a chemical compound made by mixing tungsten (a grey metal powder) with carbon. The resulting material is extremely hard and durable, providing a good cutting edge which will stay sharp for a long time.
Good quality pincers are often drop forged. This involves compressing heated metal – usually carbon steel – into the shape of a mould using a hammer-like tool called a ram. The process strengthens the internal structure of the metal and makes a harder, more durable tool.
During the forging process, most heavy duty pincers are also oil-hardened. The steel or steel alloy is heated to an extremely high temperature, then cooled rapidly in oil. This hardens and strengthens the structure of the metal, but also makes it more brittle. To combat this, the steel is then tempered – reheated at a low temperature – to make it more supple so it won’t break under stress.
The cutting edges may also be given additional heat treatment to make them extra hard and durable.
Which is best?
If you’re going to be using the pincers a lot, it’s worth investing in a good quality pair made of high carbon steel or stainless steel that will perform well and last a long time. Price, the type of steel, manufacturing process and a long guarantee period should all be a reasonably reliable guide.
For occasional use, less expensive low carbon steel pincers will do just as well unless you’re going to be cutting very hard or thick wire.