Toolmanship: Your Complete Guide to Wrenches
by Brett McKay
Art of Manliness
been three years since the last post, but welcome back to our Toolmanship
series! The goal of this series is to teach the very basics of tool
use to those men who never got around to learning how to be handy
when they were growing up.
In this edition,
we turn our attention to wrenches (or spanners for our readers who
use British English). They’re an essential tool to have in
your toolbox and are used to tighten and loosen nuts, bolts, screws,
and pipes. Below we’ll take a look at the most common kinds
of wrenches and how to use them.
Wrench Use Guidelines
right wrench size for the job. To avoid damaging your fastener
or yourself, always select a wrench jaw size that corresponds to
the fastener you’re tightening or loosening. Also, make sure
your wrench’s jaw is in complete contact with the fastener
before applying pressure. These two things will go a long way in
preventing your wrench from slipping and you swearing about a bruised
using a wrench, it’s best to pull (see left image). If you
do need to push, use the heel of your hand. That way if the wrench
slips, you won’t bark a knuckle.
push. When using a wrench, you typically want to position yourself
so that you pull it instead of push it. This ensures you don’t
bark a knuckle whenever the wrench slips off the fastener. If you
do need to push a wrench, use the heel of your hand, that way if
the wrench slips, you won’t hurt yourself.
use a “cheater bar” to gain more leverage. You risk
damaging the tool or injuring yourself. If you need more leverage,
get a longer wrench.
add more leverage with pipe. You may have seen your dad put
a longer piece of pipe over his wrench to gain more leverage when
tightening a fastener. You should avoid using “cheater bars”
for several reasons. First, they can damage your wrench by bending
the handle or jacking up the head. Second, because of the added
torque you get with the extra leverage, you risk rounding your fastener
if you don’t have the right wrench head for the job. Finally,
there’s a chance the cheater bar will slip off the wrench’s
handle while you’re turning, causing harm to you or others.
If you need more leverage, use a longer wrench. If you have a particularly
stubborn fastener, apply some penetrating oil (like Liquid Wrench)
to the thread, wait a few minutes, and then try loosening.
hit a wrench with a hammer. Unless you have a special “strike
face” wrench that’s designed for being hit with an object,
don’t take a hammer to your wrench in order to get more power
to turn a stubborn fastener. You risk damaging your wrench.
use a damaged wrench. If the handle is bent or the jaws look
wider than they’re supposed to be, don’t use it.
wrenches. Good wrenches last longer; cheap wrenches slip more
easily. Personally, I’m a Craftsman fan. They’ve got a lifetime
warranty on all their hand tools. If a wrench ever bends or breaks,
you can take into a Sears or Ace and they’ll replace it for free,
no questions asked (some sales associates might give you guff).
I don’t have any affiliation with Craftsman whatsoever —
it’s just what I use.
Wrenches and How to Use Them
Wrench aka “Crescent Wrench”
be your first wrench you buy if you’re just starting your
tool collection — one big and one small. An adjustable wrench
has one fixed jaw and one adjustable jaw which allows you to use
it on a wide variety of fastener sizes. The jaws are typically smooth
and flat and designed for gripping square and hex nuts. The head
of a crescent wrench is usually angled at 22 1/2 degrees to the
handle so that the wrench can be flipped over to provide two different
gripping positions in tight spaces.
How to Use
a Crescent Wrench
While a crescent
wrench is designed so that you can apply pressure on both the fixed
and movable jaws, ideally the bulk of your work should be done so
that pressure is only applied on the stronger, fixed jaw.
Too much pressure on the weaker, adjustable jaw can cause the wrench
to break and you to bark a knuckle. When placing the wrench on your
nut, the adjustable jaw should be located on the side towards which
the rotation is to be performed. This puts the pressure on the fixed
jaw. Below is a nice little illustration showcasing this method:
you place your crescent on a bolt or nut, make sure the adjustable
jaw is snugly adjusted to the nut or bolt in order to prevent the
wrench from slipping and rounding the nut or bolt.
An open wrench
is a nonadjustable wrench that comes in a variety of sizes. You
usually buy them in sets (in both metric and standard
SAE sizes), though you can buy them individually if you want.
There are a few advantages that open wrenches offer over adjustable
wrenches. First, because both jaws are fixed, you don’t have
to worry about breaking an adjustable jaw. Second, they’re
really handy to have when you’re tightening and loosening
a bunch of nuts and bolts of the same size because you don’t
have to readjust anything whenever you put wrench to bolt. Makes
tightening and loosening much faster than with an adjustable wrench.
How to Use
an Open Wrench
right size open wrench for the nut or bolt you’re loosening
or tightening. Reposition the wrench on the fastener after each
A box wrench
has an enclosed opening that looks like a ring. The enclosed opening
minimizes the risk of damaging your fastener. This kind of wench
is typically used on heavy-duty jobs. Box wrenches usually have
a six-point or twelve-point recess and are best used on hex-head
fasteners. The twelve-point recess allows you to change the position
of the wrench on the nut with only a small handle movement. Some
box wrenches have an offset handle which allows for knuckle clearance
over obstructions on a flat surface. You’ll also find box
wrenches with a ratcheting mechanism which allows for more efficient
tightening and loosening.
How to Use
a Box Wrench
Not much to
it. Select the right size opening for the nut or bolt and start
tightening or loosening. Reposition the wrench on the fastener after
typically find open and box wrenches on the same tool in the form
of a combination wrench. One end will be the open-end wrench; the
other end is the box wrench. Both ends generally fit the same size
nut and bolt.
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