Snap Ring Pliers Clearly Show the Need to Have the Right Tools

Why struggle with a less-than-ideal tool if a more appropriate tool will save you time and effort? That's why I recently bought a set of snap ring pliers.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

I’ve always advocated having the right tool for every job. Why struggle with a less-than-ideal tool if a more appropriate one will save you time and effort? This was never clearer to me than it was last week when I went to reinstall one of the front wheels on my lawn mower and found the need for snap ring pliers. In preparing the mower for another year of hard work, I had one of the tires repaired. It suffered from a small leak last year and repeatedly went flat over the course of the summer.

After diligently reading the mower’s manual for instructions on how to remove the wheel, I used a few different tools to remove the “snap ring” holding the wheel in place. A snap ring looks like a washer, except but it’s not a complete, 360-degree circle. Instead, there’s a small gap that lets the snap ring’s diameter be narrowed or widened so it can be slipped into place—in this case, into a special groove on the axle.

Removing the snap ring was more difficult than I expected (screwdrivers and pliers were called to action), but I removed it without too much trouble and had the tire repaired. When I reinstalled the wheel, though, I absolutely could not get the snap ring back into position. I couldn’t spread it wide enough to fit around the axle.

I quickly realized there must be a special tool for working with snap rings. After all, this snap ring had small holes on either side of the gap—I could envision a tool with two small prongs being inserted into those holes, giving the user a way to spread the snap ring wide enough to fit around the axle.

Fortunately, it took only a few moments of research to discover that, yes, “snap ring pliers” exist and are the perfect tool for working with snap rings. At first glance, they resemble ordinary pliers, except that in place of gripping teeth they have two short prongs that jut out from the front. The gap between the prongs is widened by squeezing the handles, and with the flip of a switch, this can be reversed so that squeezing the handles narrows the gap between the prongs, a useful feature considering that some snap rings are installed on the inside of items (and must be narrowed to be removed).

Following my own advice to have the right tool for every job (and knowing that I’ll doubtlessly need such a tool again), I purchased a quality set of snap ring pliers. Then I went back to my lawn mower wheel and effortlessly reattached the snap ring.

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That’s as good an example as I can think of to illustrate the need for having the right tool for every job. I could have struggled with trying to reattach the snap ring using other tools not designed for the job, and perhaps eventually I would have succeeded. But with the snap ring pliers, what appeared to be a difficult job was reduced to a simple task that took about 10 seconds.

Suffice to say, I highly recommend this tool.

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