Forceps are a handheld, hinged instrument used for grasping and holding objects. Forceps are used when fingers are too large to grasp small objects or when many objects need to be held at one time while the hands are used to perform a task. The term forceps is used almost exclusively within the medical field. Outside medicine, people usually refer to forceps as tweezers, tongs, pliers, clips or clamps.
The singular and plural form of forceps is always forceps, never 'forcep.' Nor is it referred to as a "pair of" as one refers to a pair of scissors. Etymologically, the word derives from the Latin 'Forca,' meaning a snare or trap.
Mechanically, forceps employ the principle of the lever to grasp and apply pressure.
Surgical forceps are commonly made of high-grade carbon steel. Lower quality steel is used in forceps made for other uses. High carbon steel ensure that the instruments can withstand repeated sterilization in high-temperature autoclaves. Some forceps, intended to be used once and then discarded, are made of plastic.
There are two basic types of forceps: non-locking (often called 'thumb forceps' or 'Pick-ups') and locking, though these two types come in dozens of specialized forms for various uses. Non-locking forceps also come in two basic forms, hinged at one end, away from the grasping end (colloquially such forceps are called tweezers, though a medical professional would not likely refer to them a such) and hinged in the middle, rather like scissors (though, unlike scissors, forceps meet on flat, grasping surfaces rather than in interposing blades). Locking forceps are almost always hinged in the middle, though some forms place the hinge very close to the grasping end. Locking forceps use various means to lock the grasping surfaces in a closed position to facilitate manipulation or to independently clamp, grasp or hold an object.
Thumb forceps can have smooth tips, cross-hatched tips or serrated tips (often called 'mouse's teeth'). Common arrangements of teeth are 1x2 (two teeth on one side meshing with a single tooth on the other), 7x7 and 9x9. Serrated forceps are used on tissue; counter-intuitively, teeth will damage tissue less than a smooth surface (you can grasp with less overall pressure). Smooth or cross-hatched forceps are used to move dressings, remove sutures and similar tasks.
The most common locking mechanism is a series of interlocking teeth located near the finger loops. As the forceps are closed, the teeth engage and keep the instrument's grasping surfaces from separating. A simple shift of the fingers is all that is needed to dis-engage the teeth and allow the grasping ends to move apart. Forceps are also used for surgery.
Kelly forceps (also known as Mosquito or Rochester forceps) are a type of hemostat usually made of stainless steel. They resemble a pair of scissors with the blade replaced by a blunted grip. They also feature a locking mechanism to allow them to act as clamps. Kelly hemostats are distinguished from the crile variety, in part, by their cross-hatched grip pattern, as opposed to a simple system of grooves. Kelly forceps may be floor grade (regular use) and as such not used for surgery. It may also be sterilized and used in operations, in both human and veterinary medicine. They may be either curved or straight. In surgery, they may be used for holding off blood vessels or [tissues], as general purpose clamps, or for assorted other purposes. The name comes from its original manufacturer. The "Mosquito" variant of the tool is more delicate and have smaller, finer tips. A similar tool is the Carmalt, which is heavier and longer.