All you need to know about wrenches

If you want to be a DIY homeowner or you just want to do a simple repair on your home appliances, assemble a piece of furniture or repair your car, you will need quality tools. But it is hard to buy quality tools if you don’t know what type of tools you need for specific job and what tools are most commonly used in home repairs. One of the most essential tool for every job is the wrench. A wrench, also called a spanner in the UK, is a tool that grips and turns hardware with flat surfaces, such as nuts or bolts. A collection of wrenches is a standard part of any toolbox, and they’re among the most useful tools for home improvement projects and auto repair.

different types of wrenches

Good quality wrenches are made from steel alloy to prevent excessive torque from stripping or damaging the bolt. Due to their extensive usage, wrenches are designed in different types, each used for a different purpose. Depending upon the size of the fastener, you must pick a wrench that fits the fastener or else a bigger wrench can damage the outside of the nut. In this post we will explain the most common types of wrenches and we will try to explain the possible uses for every type of wrench.

Open end wrench

Solid, non-adjustable wrenches with opening, mostly, on both sides are called open end wrenches. Usually they come in sets of from 6 to 10 wrenches with sizes ranging from 5/16 to 1 inch. Wrenches with small openings are usually shorter than wrenches with large openings. This proportions the lever advantage of the wrench to the bolt or stud and helps prevent wrench breakage or damage to the bolt or stud. The ends are generally oriented at an angle of around 15 degrees to the longitudinal axis of the handle. This allows a greater range of movement in enclosed spaces by flipping the wrench over. This wrench is used mostly when there is much room to work with them.

open end wrenches

Box end wrench

Box wrenches are safer than open end wrenches since there is less likely they will slip off the work. They completely surround nut or bolt head. The most frequently used box wrench has 12 points or notches arranged in a circle in the head and can be used with a minimum swing angle of 30 degrees. Six and eight point wrenches are used for heavy, 12 for medium and 16 for light duty only. It is more suitable for turning nuts which are hard to get at with an open end wrench. Another advantage is that the wrench will operate between obstructions where the space for handle swing is limited. A very short swing of the handle will turn the nut far enough to allow the wrench to be lifted and the next set of points fitted to the corners of the nut.

box end wrenches

Combination wrench

After a tight nut is broken loose it can be unscrewed much more quickly with an open end wrench than with a box wrench. This is where the combination box- open end wrench comes in handy. You can use the box end for breaking nuts loose or for snuggling them down and the open end for faster turning. The box end portion of the wrench can be designed with an offset in the handle, mostly it is a 15 degree offset.

combination wrenches

Socket wrench

The socket wrench is one of the most versatile wrenches in the toolbox. Basically, it consist of a handle and a socket type wrench which can be attached to the handle. A complete socket wrench consist of several types of handles along with bar extensions, adapters and variety of sockets. A socket has a square opening cut in one end to fit a square drive lug on a detachable handle. In the other end of the socket is a 6-point or 12-point opening very much like the opening in the box wrenches. The 12-point socket needs to be swung only half as far as the 6-point socket before it has to be lifted and fitted on the nut for a new grip (that doesn’t apply for the rachet handle). It can therefore be used in closer quarters where there is less room to move the handle. Sockets are classified for size according to two factors. One is the size of the square opening which fits on the square drive lug of the handle. This size is known as the drive size. The other is the size of the opening in the opposite end, which fits the nut or bolt. The standard toolbox can be outfitted with sockets having 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 inch square drive lugs.

There are four main types of handles used on socket wrenches. Each type has special advantages and the experienced worker chooses the one best suited for the job at hand. The square driving lug on the socket wrench handle has a spring-loaded ball that fits into a recess in the socket receptacle. This mated ball-recess feature keeps the socket engaged with the drive lug during normal usage. A slight pull on the socket, however, disassembles the connection.

The rachet handle has a reversing lever which operates a pawl or dog inside the head tool. Pulling the handle in one direction causes the pawl to engage in the rachet teeth and turn the socket. Moving the handle in the opposite direction causes the pawl to slide over the teeth, permitting the handle to back up without moving the socket. This allows rapid turning of the nut or bolt after each partial turn of the handle. With the reversing lever in one position, the handle can be used for tightening. In the other position, it can be used for loosening.

socket wrench set

The hinged handle is also very convenient for loosing tight nuts. To loosen tight nuts swing the handle at right angles to the socket. This gives the greatest possible leverage. After loosening the nut to the point where it turns easily , move the handle into the vertical position and then turn the handle with fingers.
The speed handle is worked like woodworkers brace. After the nuts are first loosened with the sliding bar handle or the rachet handle, the speed handle can be used to remove nuts more quickly. In many cases the speed handle is not strong enough to be used for breaking loose or tightening the nut. The speed socket wrench should be used carefully to avoid damage to the nut threads.
The sliding T-handle is used in situations where you need to move the head on one side depending on the space. The head can be positioned anywhere along the sliding bar.

Socket wrench accessories

There are many accessories for socket wrenches on the market but we will explain only those which are needed to complete your socket wrench set. The extension bars of different lengths are made to extend the distance from the socket to the handle. A universal joint allows the nut to be turned with the wrench handle at an angle. Other valuable addition to your socket wrench set is the universal socket adapter. The use of universal joints, bar extensions and universal sockets in combination with appropriate handles makes it possible to form a variety of tools that will reach otherwise inaccessible nuts and bolts. At the end is an adapter which allows you to use handle having one size of drive and a socket having a different size drive. For example, a 3/8 by 1/4 inch adapter makes it possible to turn all 1/4 inch square drive sockets with any 3/8 inch square drive handle.

Torque wrench

torque wrench

Torque wrenches are designed to measure the specific degree of tightness of nuts or bolts. Torque wrenches are considered precision instruments and therefore they must be regularly calibrated. Torque wrenches are used for final tightening of nuts and bolts and they are used to precisely measure the torque with which is the nut or bolt must be tightened. They are usually used for engine bolts, compressors and pumps when exact torque is needed in order to get a tight seal and not to damage the gasket in the process. There are several types of torque wrenches. The most common drive click torque wrench has an adjustable dial on the handle and the wrench clicks when the set torque is measured. The dial torque wrench is a professional tool with the dial for reading the exact amount of torque. If you need or want to know the exact amount of torque and the dial torque wrench is to expensive for you then the scale torque wrench is the tool for you. The scale torque wrench has a rod which runs parallel to the handle and the drive element. This rod moves across the scale to the right or left as torque is applied.

Adjustable wrench

adjustable wrench

The adjustable wrench has one fixed jaw and a movable or adjustable jaw. The adjustable jaw is set against the face of the nut by turning a knurled worm gear. You must use the adjustable wrench with care and always use the fixed jaw for applying pressure to tighten or loosen nuts or bolts. Adjustable wrenches are used to remove and/or install nuts, bolts and studs when the correct size wrench or socket is not available and is mostly used in plumbing. Do not mistake adjustable wrench with adjustable joint pliers, adjustable wrench is used for nuts and bolts while the adjustable joint pliers are used for holding and turning pipes. The monkey wrench and auto wrench are very similar to adjustable wrench and they are considered as types of adjustable wrench. They are used in the same way and for same purposes as the adjustable wrench and only difference is in the mechanism of the adjustable jaw.

Hex key wrench (Allen key)

hex key wrench

The hex key wrench is an L-shaped, six sided wrench. Both ends of the “L” are the same size so you can turn the wrench either to gain access to the screw head or to obtain a leverage advantage. The hex key wrench is used to remove and/or install hex head screws. Its main purpose is for assembling furniture and bicycles.

Plug wrenches

plug wrench

The plug wrench is used for holding pop up plugs and drain strainers in place during installation. They usually come as a multi-tool with three different adapters. Plug wrench most not be mistaken with spark plug wrench. The spark plug wrench is basically a socket wrench designed to remove spark plugs on gas powered motors.

Spanner wrenches

spanner wrench

There are two basic types of spanner wrenches, the hook-type and the pin type. Hook type spanner wrenches are either fixed or adjustable and are normally used for tightening fire hoses or similar couplings which have a protruding lip. Pin-type spanner wrenches have pins protruding from the handle which fit into holes in the coupling or plate to be tightened or loosened. Spanner wrenches are special purpose wrenches and are to be used only for their intended purpose. There are three kinds of hook-type wrenches. The hose coupling pin for tightening and loosening hose couplings, the fixed hook for tightening and loosening couplings with protruding rims or edges and the adjustable hook. The adjustable hook is similar to the fixed hook type but it can be adjusted around objects and fastened before use.
Also, there are two main pin-type wrenches. The fixed pin spanner wrench is designed to fit a particular pattern and it can’t be adjusted. The fixed pin wrench is used to remove protective cover plates or removal of plates on grinders. The adjustable face spanner wrench has two arms joined at a common point. The other end of the arms contains pins which may be engaged in the holes of a cover plate for removal.


Through this guide we presented you with all types of wrenches needed for every repair in the house, around the house and even for repairing your car or motor. Normally, if you are a DIY homeowner you probably will learn by yourself that you need quality wrenches to get the job done. You don’t have to buy all wrenches mentioned in the article at once, but every homeowners tool kit should have at least a rachet handle, basic set of sockets and a basic set of hex wrenches. Wrenches in basic tool kits or wrenches alone will not get you through every repair but without good wrenches almost every repair is impossible.

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