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The term "forceps" is used almost exclusively within the field of medicine, it refers to handheld, hinged instruments that are used for grasping and holding objects. Forceps operate in a way that is similar to that of non-medical instruments such as tweezers, tongs and pliers. There are two types of forceps — non-locking and locking — and both types have many variations that have been modified for specific uses. Bone forceps are one such specialized type of this instrument. They are used to seize or remove fragments of bone or to hold bone in place while it is cut or another procedure is performed.
Bone forceps are available in different designs, with each one made to deal with a specific task. They typically are made of high-grade carbon steel, like most other types of forceps, so that they can withstand repeated sterilization inside an autoclave. Bone forceps are hinged at some point — usually, but not always, in the middle — and one end will have either flat grasping surfaces or sharp cutting surfaces, depending upon their use. Bone cutting forceps have sharp cutting faces and powerful hinges often closer to the cutting end than the middle. This is to create the most leverage to cut through the bone with a minimum of difficulty.
Other bone forceps are hinged toward the middle, and the grasping end usually will be flat, although there are several variations. Bone forceps vary in size as well as shape, with instruments ranging from about 4.7-13 inches (12-33 cm) in length. The size is relevant only for how the instrument is to be used; longer versions are used to reach further inside the body. There are variations on the head design as well, with some bone forceps having an angled head allowing them to be used to reach difficult areas. Some of the smallest bone forceps have pointed ends, not unlike tweezers and are used for retrieving the smallest of bone fragments.
Modern forceps were invented in the 1500s, but similar instruments were used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The design of bone forceps makes them an especially powerful instrument. Many medical kits dating from the United States Civil War era have been found with this particular instrument missing. This is because they were found to be so useful for non-medical tasks that they were often stolen from medical kits.
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