Odds are that you’ve probably got a few wrenches around your house already. Almost every basic maintenance or repair job, mechanical or other, requires a wrench of some kind. Heck, even something as simple as a saltshaker might need a small wrench to open it or tighten it.
Although they look like simple tools, some wrenches are very specialized. So before you go shopping for your wrench(es), consider the tasks you have before you. It also helps quite a bit to know a little about the different kinds of wrenches and what they are meant to do. That way, you’ll know which tool is the best for you.
Most of us have a set of basic wrenches in our home toolboxes. These basic wrenches can serve you well for most jobs. They also provide a good, working introduction to wrenches in general.
Fixed wrenches are just what they sound like, their mouth is forged to a specified width. In standard wrenches, also known as SAE, that width is measured in fractions of inches—1/4, 1/2, 9/16 and so on. These wrenches can either be open-ended so they can slip around a nut easily, or closed-ended so they have even better grip for tightening and loosening.
Metric fixed wrenches are the same thing as standard fixed wrenches except they’re measured in metric increments. Because a fixed wrench works best with a snug fit, it’s important to know the size of the nut you’re working with.
Probably the most common household wrench, the adjustable wrench allows you to fit a wrench head over most nuts without needing to know the specific size in advance. That makes them an economical, efficient alternative to multiple sets of fixed wrenches. Just make sure the nuts are within a wrench’s range and be aware that these tend to have looser connections.
One step more sophisticated than the other wrenches, the combination socket wrenches, and ratchet handles are used to quickly loosen and tighten nuts and bolts. These are sized just like fixed wrenches, with sockets specifically fitted for certain sizes.
Powered hand tools
Because wrenching action requires a lot of power, one of the most popular ways to get it is via a motor. There is a wide variety of power output on the market. When shopping around, consider the hardest jobs you’ll have to do.
You can accomplish most of the wrench work you’ll encounter with a basic cordless driver and a set of socket bits. So these are pretty good tools to have around the house. Just keep in mind that they have limitations. For instance, the tool body can get in the way if you’re working in a tight space.
The big advantage a corded wrench has over a cordless one is that you don’t have to worry about the battery running down and taking tool power with it. The drawback? They’re restricted by the length of the cord. As long as you have an outlet nearby, however, they’re a good choice.
Pneumatic tools, in general, are the most powerful general-purpose tools available, and that includes wrenches. If you already have an air compressor on hand for other pneumatic tools, they aren’t a bad investment. See our top 5 picks here.
Impact wrenches add power by striking against the side of the blade while turning. This results in bursts of extra power. Impact wrenches are great for loosening nuts frozen in place.
These specialized cordless tools offer extra strength in a slim body. Depending on what you need (in terms of strength and the ability to add extra jolts of turning power) there are a few different varieties of cordless ratchets to choose from.
There are times when the wrench you want isn’t connected to a motor. A lot of manual wrenches are packaged in sets, but the most specialized ones come as individuals.
Common wrenches are open-ended so that you can slip them around fittings. If you’ve got an open nut, the closed ends of a box wrench allow you to apply pressure along all of its flat edges. That makes them more powerful than their open-ended cousins.
Combination wrenches have one end that is open-ended and one end that is closed. This design allows you a good deal of versatility in one simple-handled tool. These often come in large sets with a wide range of sizes.
Striking hammer wrenches have a thick, flat handle that you strike to turn what is normally a box wrench side. This gives a manual wrench the action of an impact wrench. It’s great for loosening frozen nuts, especially if you don’t have the space to fit a power tool where you’re working.
Strap wrenches wrap, and tighten, around objects. They stay in place with high static friction so that you can use them to loosen objects that are usually circular in shape. An oil filter wrench is the most familiar version of this tool.
Some wrenches come big and burly. If you need to buy one of these heavy-duty wrenches, expect to do some hard work.
The monkey wrench is a big, angry tool for big, angry jobs. It has a thick head for fitting snugly around the biggest fittings. The handle is also excellent for banging on with a hammer to move frozen nuts.
The biggest difference separating a pipe wrench from a monkey wrench is the curved mouth with teeth. This allows the tool to fit around pipes so that you can turn them in place. This works with metal pipes and PVC pipes.
There are times that you need to turn something and a more common wrench just won’t fit. The marketplace is filled with a wide range of specialized wrenches. We’ve already considered a few of the more common or interesting varieties. If you need something specialized, you’ll want to make sure the one you buy fits your specific needs.
If you’re working on cars and other objects that have parts with specific tightnesses, a torque wrench is an invaluable tool. It’ll tell you when you’ve reached the proper range of tension. When you go out shopping for one, make sure you know the range in which you’ll be working.
Lug wrenches play a very important role for anyone who owns a car. Get a flat tire, and this is your best friend. The crossbar design enables easier turning so that you don’t have to apply as much strength to loosen most nuts.
There are a couple of different specialty wrenches when it comes to basic bicycle maintenance. If you’re into working on your own bicycle, try to find tools that do a lot of things so that you can keep them all in the same place. But a wrench is a must-have.
Hi there! My name is Adam and I write for HealthyHandyman. I have a great passion for writing about everything related to tools, home improvement, and DIY. In my spare time, I'm either fishing, playing the guitar, or spending quality time with my beloved wife. You'll also often find me in my workshop working on some new project!