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Monkey Wrench vs Pipe Wrench – Which is Best for Your Needs?

monkey wrench vs pipe wrench
Image credit: Creative Commons CC0, Pxhere

Monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches are big and imposing and not used all that often. So, it’s pretty understandable that figuring out the difference between them can be a trying experience for some people. It’s much easier to sort of lump them all into the category of large, heavy wrenches well suited to knocking out a sentry while trying to sneak into a fortress.

Both kinds of wrenches are constructed along really similar lines. They are both big and pretty heavy. Both of them have large heads and thick handles. In fact, it’s kind of hard to tell them apart until you take a closer look at the space in the head where it holds fast onto whatever it is that you’re trying to close the wrench onto.

Pipe wrenches have teeth for gripping action

The first and primary difference is the shape of the wrench’s jaw. The jaw is probably just what you think it is. When you spin the adjuster, the jaw is the part that opens or closes depending on the direction. This is the part of the wrench that comes into direct contact with whatever you’re trying to use the wrench to either remove or adjust.

Pipe wrenches have jaws that are either angled or circular. The reason is pretty obvious. Pipes are circular in shape, so for proper gripping require jaws that aren’t flat.

Flat jaws allow monkey wrenches to bit nuts

The jaws on a monkey wrench are flat. Monkey wrenches are most often associated with tightening or loosening nuts, which have flat edges.

monkey wrench jaw
Image credit: Creative Commons CC0, Pxhere

If you look along the upper and lower jaws of a pipe wrench, you’ll see that it has teeth. Almost every pipe wrench has teeth of some kind and that is because they need not just the shape of the jaw to properly grip the pipe but teeth as well. Monkey wrenches don’t often have teeth, because they are designed to turn flat surfaces, and they get all the grip they need from tightening flush to those.


Indeed, real monkey wrenches have kind of fallen from favor over the last century as newer, easier-to-adjust and easier-to-use wrenches came onto the market. Chief among these was the adjustable head wrench, with its well-known curved head designed to get into tight space. It’s technically from the monkey wrench family tree, but in reality, calling it a monkey wrench is the same thing as calling a person a monkey.

The primary time you’ll want to keep these differences in mind is if you do plumbing work. Monkey wrenches are, by the standards of a modern workshop, kind of obsolete. But pipe wrenches still have an important place in a plumbing toolbox. If you have to do that work, you’ll want to make sure that you have proper pipe wrenches with angled jaws and teeth to grip pipes as you turn them.

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