How to Open Master Link with Regular Pliers: The Z-Fold Method

Master links are a quick-release chain link in bicycle chains. During the 2010s, they became a standard component that comes pre-installed in practically all 8 to 12 speed chains.

Master links are very easy to open with purpose-made master link pliers (~$10 a pair). But what if do not have these at hand and you really need to open the link?

This article shows you how to open a master link using a pair of regular pliers with gripping jaws. It takes one trick and a bit more care, but is quite easy in the end.

Let’s see how it’s done:

The Z-fold method: Fold the chain to a Z, grip the Master link across the non-slotted ends, squeeze, and the link will open.

Step 1: Fold chain to a “Z”

Start by lifting the chain off the chainring(s) to reduce chain tension. Then grab the chain at the master link and twist it to a fold. The master link becomes the diagonal of the letter Z.

Next, take your pliers and grip the master link across its corners. The pliers jaws should be touching the non-slotted ends of the link – see image.

Step 3: Squeeze

Once you have a firm grip, squeeze carefully. The link should slide open. You’re done!

(The chain may also pop of the jaws before opening. This happens easily if your pliers have too short jaws, poor serration or no concave “pipe grip”. Try again with a better grip or another pair of pliers if possible.)

Pliers for opening a Master link (left to right): Water Pump pliers, Combination pliers, Long-nose pliers and Lineman’s pliers. Master link pliers (top) are still the handiest.

Which Pliers?

You do not need too much leverage, but you need a secure grip. The challenge is to get over the link without having the jaws too angled out, which makes the link slip.

Best pliers are those with adjustable jaws or a concave pipe grip. Here is a list of my recommendations:

  1. Water pump pliers: The best – they grip the master link really secure. Plenty of jaw opening with parallel jaws, a concave heavily serrated pipe grip.
  2. Combination pliers (8″ or larger): Use the concave pipe grip
  3. Long-nose pliers (8″ or larger): Long nose allows the use of low angles; prefer heavily serrated jaws.
  4. Lineman’s pliers: The very largest Lineman’s may be able to grip the link with low-enough angle.

Regular pliers can do the job. But getting a pair of Master link pliers for your next chain swap is worth the $10…$15 you need to spend. There are actually two types of Master link pliers to consider:

Opening Master link pliers like my Topeak model are enough for most users. They open the link easier and faster than the Z-fold method. Closing the link happens automatically with chain tension.

Opening/Closing Master link pliers like the Park tool MLP-1.2 help you to work quicker and a must-have for pros. In addition to opening, these models also allow you to close the link under full control. They give you confidence that the link closed properly and plates actually stayed on the pins.

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