The Only Wrench Guide You’ll Ever Need
So you’ve decided to take on some DIY projects around the house. Congrats! The only problem is, you’re not sure which wrenches to buy and how the heck to actually use them. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This is the only wrench guide you’ll ever need. We’ll walk you through how to choose the best adjustable wrenches, sockets, and combination wrenches for your needs. You’ll be tightening and loosening bolts in no time. Once you have the right tools in hand, we’ll show you some pro tips for getting the most out of your wrenches. Before you know it, you’ll be wrenching with confidence and ready to tackle anything from minor repairs to major construction projects. Let’s get started!
Types of Wrenches
A wrench is a tool used to turn nuts, bolts, and other fasteners. The most common types are adjustable, socket, and combination wrenches.
Adjustable wrenches, like Crescent wrenches, have jaws that can be adjusted to different sizes. They come in handy when you need to grip fasteners of varying dimensions. However, they can strip or round off the corners of some fasteners.
Socket wrenches have interchangeable sockets that fit securely over the head of a fastener. They typically provide the most secure grip. The two main types are:
- Ratchet wrenches: Allow you to turn a fastener without removing and re-gripping the tool. They are very efficient when working in tight spaces.
- Breaker bars: Essentially a long non-ratcheting handle used to initially loosen very tight fasteners. They provide maximum leverage.
Socket wrench sets will have a range of metric and SAE socket sizes so you have the right one for any job.
Combination wrenches, like box end or open end wrenches, have one end that encloses the fastener head (box end) and one end that grips the sides (open end). The box end provides more contact and is less likely to strip the fastener. The open end allows for work in confined areas. For the casual DIYer, a good set of combination wrenches in both metric and SAE sizes will handle most needs.
Adjustable Wrenches: How They Work and Top Models
Adjustable wrenches are versatile tools that can grip a wide range of bolt and nut sizes. They work by allowing you to adjust the size of the wrench’s jaws to match the fastener you need to turn. Here’s how to choose and use an adjustable wrench:
Types of Adjustable Wrenches
There are two main types: the crescent wrench and the pipe wrench. Crescent wrenches, like the Stanley 84-105 6 Inch MaxSteel Adjustable Wrench, have a curved jaw and are good for general purpose use. Pipe wrenches, like the Ridgid 31025 Straight Pipe Wrench, have a stronger, serrated jaw specifically designed for turning pipes.
How to Adjust and Use
To adjust, simply turn the knurled thumb wheel or screw at the base of the handle to open or close the jaws. Make sure the jaws are evenly and fully engaged with the fastener before turning. For the best grip, use a wrench that is appropriately sized for the bolt or nut. Don’t overtighten, especially on soft metals like aluminum, or you can damage the fastener.
Adjustable wrenches require little maintenance but should be wiped down after use to remove dirt and grime. Occasionally apply a small amount of lubricating oil to the adjustment screw and pivot points. For stubborn stuck-on messes, you can soak the jaws in a solvent like lacquer thinner.
With the right technique and care, an adjustable wrench can turn, tighten and loosen most any bolt. Choose a high-quality, well-designed wrench from a reputable brand, keep the jaws clean and lubricated, and you’ll have a versatile tool that should last for many years of dependable service.
Socket Wrenches: Sizes, Drive Types and Recommendations
Socket wrenches, also known as ratchet wrenches, are extremely useful tools to have in any toolbox. They come in a range of drive sizes and types to suit different needs.
The most common drive sizes for socket wrenches are 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, and 1/2 inch. The size refers to the square drive that attaches to the ratchet or extension handle. A smaller drive like 1/4 inch is good for tighter spaces and lower torque needs, while a larger drive such as 1/2 inch can handle higher torque for bigger jobs. Many DIYers and professionals own socket sets with multiple drive sizes to have the right tool for any task.
The two most popular drive types are six-point and twelve-point. Six-point, also known as hex drive, has a tighter grip on fasteners and is less likely to round off bolt heads. However, twelve-point, or double hex drive, can fit into tighter spaces. For the most versatility, look for socket sets that include both six-point and twelve-point sockets in the most common sizes and styles.
- For a well-rounded socket set that will handle most DIY needs, a 3/8-inch drive set with metric and SAE sockets ranging from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch is ideal. Look for brands like Craftsman, Stanley, DeWalt or Husky that offer lifetime warranties. If you need to frequently work in small spaces, also consider adding a 1/4-inch drive set.
- Professional mechanics will want a more expansive set, like the Craftsman 230-Piece Mechanics Tool Set which includes 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 inch drive sockets, wrenches, ratchets and universal joints. For high torque needs, invest in impact-rated socket sets designed to withstand the forces of impact wrenches.
Combination Wrenches: Open-End vs Box-End and Best Sets
Combination wrenches give you the versatility of both open-end and box-end wrenches in one tool. They’re a handy addition to any toolbox.
Open-End vs Box-End
Open-end wrenches have an open C-shape design that grips two sides of a fastener. They’re ideal for tight spaces since they require little swing room. However, they can slip and round off fastener corners. Box-end wrenches surround the fastener on four sides for a tighter grip but need more clearance to work.
Combination wrenches give you both options in one wrench. Use the open end in confined areas and the box end when maximum grip is needed. Look for wrenches with a 15-degree offset head—the open end will be offset at a 15-degree angle from the handle for knuckle clearance and easier turning.
Best Combination Wrench Sets
- For basic needs, a good starter set is the Stanley 92-839 Ratcheting Combination Wrench Set. It includes 11 combination wrenches from 1/4 to 1 inch in a handy storage tray. The ratcheting box end allows you to turn fasteners without removing and repositioning the wrench.
- For serious DIYers and pros, the GearWrench 80550 57 Piece Combination Wrench Set is a top choice. It includes both standard and metric sizes from 5/16 to 1 inch and 8 to 19mm, plus a handy fold-up case. The GearWrench design provides up to 20% more turning power than standard wrenches.
- The DeWalt DWMT73804 Drive Metric Combination Wrench Set includes 8 combination wrenches from 8 to 19mm, forged from durable chrome vanadium steel. The thin head profile allows use in tight spaces. A canvas pouch is included for storage. DeWalt is a reputable, professional-grade brand.
- For extra versatility, the Channellock 8WCB WideAzz Combination Wrench Set includes 8 combination wrenches with extra wide openings to fit a wide range of fastener sizes, from 5/16 to 1 inch. The wide design is also useful when a fastener is slightly rounded. A Code Blue grip provides comfort and slip-resistance.
With the right set of combination wrenches and some basic know-how, you’ll be ready to tackle most fastening and repair tasks around the home or job site. Keep them well-organized in your toolbox and they’ll serve you well for years to come.
Other Specialty Wrenches: Pipe, Torque and More
While adjustable and socket wrenches will handle most of your basic needs, specialized wrenches are designed for particular jobs. These include pipe wrenches, torque wrenches, and more.
Pipe wrenches are designed specifically for gripping and turning pipe. They have adjustable jaws and a distinctive shape. The most common are still the Ridge Tool Company’s pipe wrenches, often called “monkey wrenches.” Pipe wrenches come in a range of sizes for different pipe diameters. For most DIY plumbing jobs, a 10-inch and 14-inch wrench will do the trick.
Torque wrenches allow you to apply a specific amount of torque (rotational force) to a nut or bolt. This is important when tightening critical components like cylinder heads, wheels, and suspension parts on vehicles. Torque wrenches come in two styles: beam and click. Beam wrenches use a calibrated bar to measure torque. Click wrenches make an audible click when the desired torque is reached. Digital torque wrenches also exist and provide a digital torque readout.
Allen Wrenches and Torx Drivers
Allen wrenches, also called hex keys, are used to drive bolts and screws with an internal hexagonal socket. Torx drivers have a star-shaped tip to drive Torx bolts and screws with a corresponding star-shaped socket. Allen and Torx fasteners are commonly used in bicycles, furniture, electronics, and automobiles. Having a set of both Allen wrenches and Torx drivers in a variety of sizes is useful for any toolbox.
Impact Drivers and Wrenches
Impact drivers and wrenches provide high torque for loosening overtightened or rusted nuts and bolts. They use percussive blows to loosen fasteners. Impact drivers are designed for screws, while impact wrenches are designed for nuts and bolts. Pneumatic impact wrenches use compressed air, while electric impact wrenches and cordless impact drivers run on battery power. Impact tools can prevent damage to the fastener or workpiece that can be caused by excessive strain.
Whether plumbing pipe, assembling furniture, repairing a bike, tuning up a car, or another project, the right specialized wrench or driver will make the job safer, easier and more precise. Keeping a set of the most common types on hand in your workshop or toolbox will have you well equipped for most any task.
How to Properly Use a Wrench: Tips and Techniques
To properly use a wrench, there are a few tips and techniques to keep in mind. Following these best practices will make your wrenching experience safer, easier and more effective.
Choose the right wrench for the job
Select a wrench that grips the bolt or nut snugly but not too tight. For most tasks, an adjustable wrench, socket wrench or combination wrench should do the trick. Make sure the wrench jaws or socket fit flush against the sides of the fastener. If it’s too loose, you risk rounding the corners or slipping. Too tight and you won’t be able to fit it over the fastener.
Position the wrench correctly
Place the wrench so that force will be applied straight onto the fastener. If the wrench is at an angle, it may slip or strip the fastener. For stubborn fasteners, you may need to use a wrench on both sides. Apply firm and steady pressure in a clockwise direction to tighten or counter-clockwise to loosen.
Pull or push
When turning a wrench, place one hand on the wrench handle and one hand on the wrench head or socket. Push to turn clockwise, pull to turn counter-clockwise. Push with your palm, don’t just use your fingers. Place your hands as far apart as comfortably possible for the best leverage.
Apply proper force
Do not over-tighten or force the wrench, especially if working with soft metals like aluminum. Only apply enough force to securely fasten the nut or bolt. If it’s stuck, apply a rust penetrant and let it sit before trying again. As a last resort, you may need to use a mallet to gently tap one end of the wrench to help loosen the fastener. But be very careful not to strip the fastener.
Once you’ve reached the desired tightness, double check the fastener with the wrench to make sure it’s secure. It’s also a good idea to check the tightness of the fastener again after a few hours or days to account for any shifting. Following these simple wrenching tips will have you bolting and unbolting with confidence in no time.
Caring for Your Wrenches: Maintenance and Storage
To keep your wrenches in working order for years to come, proper maintenance and storage is key.
After each use, wipe down your wrenches with a clean, dry cloth to remove any dirt or debris. For stuck-on grime, you can use a degreaser or solvent and scrub with an old toothbrush. Rinse with water and dry completely to prevent rusting.
For adjustable wrenches or ratcheting wrenches with moving parts, lubricate the joint or ratcheting mechanism with a light machine oil once a month or so. This will keep the parts moving freely and prevent corrosion. Wipe away any excess oil with a rag after lubricating.
Regularly inspect your wrenches for any signs of wear or damage. Look for loose or bent jaws, cracked handles or heads, and worn or chipped teeth on ratcheting or socket wrenches. Damaged or worn out wrenches won’t grip properly and can strip or round off bolt heads, so replace them when needed.
Store your wrenches in a dry, secure area away from extreme heat or cold. A pegboard, tool chest, or cabinet with padded drawers are all good options. Arrange wrenches so the jaws or sockets face the same direction for easy selection. Keep wrench sets together and label the storage area to make finding the right size simple.
Following these care and maintenance tips will help ensure your adjustable, socket, and combination wrenches provide years of faithful service. Keeping them properly cleaned, lubricated, and stored when not in use is worth the small amount of time and effort required. Your wrenches—and your knuckles—will thank you!
The Best Brands for Quality Wrenches
When it comes to wrenches, you’ll want tools from brands known for high quality and durability. Some of the best wrench brands are:
Craftsman is a classic American brand that produces high-quality, long-lasting tools at affordable prices. Their wrenches are built to withstand frequent use and abuse. From adjustable wrenches to socket sets, Craftsman is a brand you can trust.
Stanley is another reputable brand that has been making hand tools for professionals and DIYers for over 170 years. Their wrenches are well-made, reasonably priced, and backed by a lifetime warranty. Stanley’s MaxSteel adjustable wrenches and socket sets are ideal for most users.
GearWrench specializes in high-performance mechanics tools, including ratcheting wrenches, sockets, and combination wrench sets. Their patented ratcheting mechanism provides maximum efficiency so you can do more work with less effort. Although a bit pricier, GearWrench tools are worth the investment for serious DIYers and professionals.
Tekton may not be as well-known as some other brands but they make high-quality, affordable tools, including an array of wrenches and wrench sets. Tekton wrenches are built to exacting standards, with forged and hardened steel construction, and come with a lifetime warranty. For budget-friendly wrenches that will get the job done, Tekton is a great choice.
Neiko is another decent, budget-friendly brand for wrenches and tools. They produce a wide range of adjustable, socket, and combination wrenches with hardened chrome vanadium steel construction and polished chrome finish. Neiko wrenches are very affordable, though may not have the same longevity as some other premium brands. Still, for occasional home use, Neiko wrenches work great and won’t break the bank.
In the end, you can’t go wrong with any of these highly-rated brands for wrench sets and tools. Choose based on your needs, budget, and how often you plan to use the wrenches. With the right brand, you’ll have a set of adjustable, socket, or combination wrenches that will last for years to come.