How can I undo a chain that is closed with a master link?

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Inspired by comment from https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/39284/19705

  • Wouldn't that other answer also require an explanation how to open a master link when outside? The length of brake cable you mentioned there might do just that? – gschenk Mar 29 '17 at 20:58
  • For field repairs, a master link is useless unless you can remove the outer plates of a link, meaning you need a chain tool. – mattnz Mar 29 '17 at 23:26
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    @mattnz a master link is handy for repairs, I carry one in my on-bike tool kit. – Criggie Mar 30 '17 at 4:19
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    I'll note that a trick I use when reattaching a chain is to use a piece of stiff wire shaped into an elongated C to grasp the chain several links from the end and hold in place, leaving the ends slack. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 30 '17 at 12:13

I use a tool made out of a steel wire clotheshanger to squeeze the two pins together and open the link.

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Also, that one hanger turned into three tools: the link opener, a tool to hold the ends of an open chain together, and one to hang the cleaned-and-drying chain from the tree over the driveway.

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    Great idea. I have a short length of brake or gear inner cable that I carry on-bike for the same purpose. Will try and add a photo. – Criggie Mar 29 '17 at 22:26
  • > short length of brake or gear inner cable .. That sounds nice and compact, I'll have to try that. Also, it's not something that would poke through the side of a container or bag. Also, unlike with my wire-hanger piece, you don't have to maintain a perpendicular orientation with the link to push the pins together. I guess I could add some kinks/Dremel some detents to trap the link if maintaining orientation became a problem. – compton Mar 30 '17 at 8:21
  • Note, I just learned if you have a SRAM Powerlink you still have to squeeze the two side plates together before you can slide the link apart, see bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/45973/28706 . It took me an hour of trying before I figured this out. I only added the master link late last year. I'm glad I learned this before I needed it on a ride. – compton Mar 30 '17 at 13:19
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    Great idea. If you put the link closer to the bend in the wire and squeeze from the outside you'd have extra leverage. – stib Mar 30 '17 at 23:38
  • Clever. I like this. – SurpriseDog Aug 31 '19 at 21:16

When disconnected, a chain master link looks like this:

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Opening this style requires pressure between the two pins, parallel to the length of the chain.

The proper tool is a special pair of pliers like this:

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And in use look like this: enter image description here

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    Great answer. The bottom photo though seems to show the link being set (attached). The detaching motion is to grip the pliers and squeeze as you would normal pliers. – RoboKaren Mar 29 '17 at 20:17
  • @RoboKaren good spotting - I was only looking for a photo of the tool in use, positioned in a chain. – Criggie Mar 29 '17 at 22:22

It is possible to open the link without the "special tool" that Criggie's answer uses.

The trick is to get the chain loose/slack so you can fold it back on itself such that the master link is at right angles to the two adjacent links. Then you use a regular pair of pliers, held at an odd angle (helps to contort your mouth as you do this), to apply pressure to the two plates in opposite directions.

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    You can also do it with your bare hands, if you try hard enough. – Philip Gibbons Mar 29 '17 at 20:36
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    @PhilipGibbons - Some of us don't have bear hands. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 29 '17 at 21:12
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    In addition to contorting your mouth I've found squinting with one eye helps as well for awkward tasks. – Erik Mar 29 '17 at 21:43
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    And sticking out your tongue at just the right angle – kabZX Mar 29 '17 at 21:46
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    Saying "nnnnnnng" is also helpful. – David Richerby Mar 30 '17 at 7:51

There are other sorts of master link too. If you have one like this then the outer plate needs to be driven or levered off. The pliers above won't help.

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This answer could do with more info, feel free to edit.

I used one like this years ago. Putting a large flat blade screwdriver in the opening shown and twisting would open the right end enough to slide the plate to the left and remove it. Then the rest of the link could be removed by sliding the pins out of the chain. To reinstall push the pins through the other two links then slide the plate on from the left. A small flat blade screwdriver supplied enough force on the left end to do the job.

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    Actually, a pair of standard pliers will often do the job. The trick is to put one jaw on the split end of the plate and the other jaw on the pin at that end. The jaws of the pliers need to be relatively sharp, and not rounded over, in order to catch the end of the plate, however. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 29 '17 at 23:57
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    The other approach is to use a broad-bladed screwdriver on the split end, to drive it towards the other end. But then you don't have anything to hold the link steady, so it's trickier. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 29 '17 at 23:59
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    @RossMillikan - If you put a screwdriver in the slot and twist you risk "springing" the plate such that it will no longer fasten reliably. – Daniel R Hicks Mar 30 '17 at 0:00
  • @DanielRHicks: That makes sense to me. I never had any trouble, but didn't think about it. – Ross Millikan Mar 30 '17 at 0:05

[Updated after comments]

On a well maintained, clean chain you might be able to do this by hand.

If your chain is dirty, crusty and dry, you might not be able to open it by hand. Instead of buying the link tool above, you can use a pair of pliers as shown below:

Nose pliers for quick link

Full sequence here.Note that nose pliers / needle nose pliers are not necessary; any pliers will do where the jaw tip is narrow enough to sit on the pins of the chain.

Also note that some quick links are not meant to be re-used indefinitely.

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  • I find this fails to generate sufficient leverage because you have to use the tips of the needlenose. @DanielRHicks ' answer above about a Z shaped pattern works better, expecially if you've been using it for a while. – Criggie Mar 29 '17 at 22:25
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    Looks like it even works on a grotty, badly maintained chain! – David Richerby Mar 30 '17 at 7:52

KMC quick links can be removed by hand without any tools

This was mentioned at: https://bicycles.stackexchange.com/a/45960/34651 but I would like to make it a bit clearer.

First if the chain is very dirty/rusty, make sure to clean it up around the quicklink with a drivetrain cleaner such as Muc-Off Drivetrain Cleaner if you have access to it.


  • hold the quick link tightly in a Z shape between your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand (right in picture)
  • hold the chain with your other hand (left in picture)
  • pull hard on both sides of the chain with both hands while holding the Z in place with the dominant hand

Your hand position and direction of applied forces will be like this:

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Here is a video showing what I just described:

The importance of cleaning the chain cannot be overstated. Before I knew this tip, I was trying to open the same chain with my hands for second time once it had become dirty, and it wouldn't open for the life of me. So I used the chaintool as a one off, went home and bought the proper tool on Amazon for 10 bucks. Then the following day, I decided to clean the chain, and then I tried to open it again with my hands just for fun, and it opened up extremely easily!

Tested with: a KMC Z-51 / Z-8S - 6/7/8 speed chain: https://www.amazon.co.uk/KMC-Z-51-Z-8S-Speed-Silver/dp/B01I1GL49U

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  • This Cyclingtips link asserts that most quick links designed for 9s or fewer speeds are removable by hand. It also asserts that Wipperman Connex links for 10 and 11s can be removed by hand. I've personally used a 10s Connex and I can confirm. cyclingtips.com/2019/01/… – Weiwen Ng Mar 25 at 14:35

If you have a SRAM Powerlink as your master link, apparently you need to squeeze the two plates (if you stood over the bike, one on left side, one on right) toward each other for release, at which point it's easy to slide the two halves of the master link toward each other along the line of the chain and the link drops apart or can be coaxed open. It helps to remove chain tension from the master link first.

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I used light pressure from needlenose pliers on the two sides, plus my wire tool from my other answer, to keep my hands clean, but apparently this is easy to do with fingers only.

This person has a video explaining:

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The master link on the left needs no tool to open.

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Instead you hold the chain either side of the joiner, put both thumbs on the side plate, and bend the chain towards you.

This angles both pins and allows the clipon plate to clip off.

Down side is that you're putting sideways bending forces on links which may be bad for the chain.

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If you have master link pliers, the link is trivially easy to remove. These are cheap and a worthwhile investment for any cyclist who does any kind of maintenance.

Without pliers its possible but some tricks can make it infinitely easier.

The key to making it easy is pinching the plates of the chain together. If you get this right, it will just fall apart. If you get a chance, try it on a brand new link and see how easy it is. These links can be damaged using brute force, and its entirely possible to hurt yourself using the wrong tools and high forces, so best to learn to do it right and not need force.

First clean the link to remove any dirt and grit from between the inner and outer plates so they can move closer together. If there is any dirt between the inner and outer plates, link removal becomes very hard. Next pinch the plates together. If you are lucky, the plates will slide apart easily. If not, wiggle them around while pinching them. You may need to use a pair of pointy nosed pliers as shown by @kabZX, especially with a dirty chain, but the trick is in the pinching the plates together.

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