This three-footer might not fit in your toolbox.  But let's talk about wrenches.

  2017 June 27    Tools


The ice maker malfunction got me thinking about "multi-use wrenches".  What follows is the second part in a series that I decided to do, for no particular reason except that I like old wrenches. 

Fixed-size wrenches are the proper tool for many jobs.  But even if you have a pile of them, they're not always nearby. 

Here we'll look at three basic, wrench-type tools that everyone should know how to use. 

A Quick Note

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In This Article

The Standard Bolt-Rounder

The Rustyard Special

The Favorite


The Standard Bolt-Rounder

"You shouldn't use an adjustable on that," a friend says.

"Yeah, I know," you reply, as you remove your 10,000th fastener with one.

Originally popularized by the Crescent brand name, the standard adjustable wrench is everywhere now.  These things have probably rounded off more fasteners than even the monkey wrench.  And yet, a good-fitting adjustable is surprisingly effective.  Especially when the fastener is not torqued down to the triple digits.

The common adjustable is everywhere:  floor of your buddy's car underneath some old french fries.  Rusty toolbox on the porch.  Maybe even in your back pocket, where it's starting to wear through the denim.

But then you go to someone's house and they need "a wrench".  And you realize they don't even have a single adjustable in the whole place.  When something goes wrong, they're helpless. 

The best all-around sizes:  get a 6-8-10 set;  they're inexpensive and should cover most of the common wrenching tasks.  Some of the sets there include the 12";  also good to have, especially if you work on your own car. 

Realize, though, that the better sets have closer tolerances and smoother adjustment.  A well-made adjustable is actually pleasant to use, and it won't round fasteners so easily.

If you were to own only five hand tools, I'd say an adjustable wrench should be one of them.


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The Rustyard Special

Not just for plumbing, the pipe wrench is also great for removing fasteners that have become rounded off by other wrenches.  You can also use the pipe wrench for bending metal, taking apart bottle jacks, unfreezing stuck axles, and other rustyard fun. 

In USA and some other places, this type of wrench is often called a "Stillson" after its inventor. 

Best size for the home handyman:  probably an 18-inch or a 14-inch.  Pipe wrenches are best to have two of, so you don't cause leaks elsewhere in the plumbing.  In other words, you hold the fixture in place with one, and you turn the fitting with the other.

If you can, get the Ridgid brand.  Either that or Reed.  These are the two brands favored by pros, and for good reason.  Sooner or later a pipe wrench ends up with "extra leverage" in the form of an old pipe put over the handle.  The cheaper wrenches tend to be made of cast iron, so they may break from this.

By the way, I didn't think an E10 pipe wrench would be that useful, but it is.  I've already used one for lots of different stuff, such as rotating the bent axle on my "Big-Box Fail" lawn cart.  Awful cart, excellent wrench.


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The Favorite

Properly termed "adjustable auto wrenches", these are often called "Ford wrenches" in conversation.  That's probably because many of the early ones actually say "Ford" on them in the script that classic-car enthusiasts know and love. 

Some people call them "F-wrenches", as you might expect from the shape.

One big advantage of this type of wrench:  it opens wider than a standard adjustable.  It's also right-angled, so it can get at fasteners that a regular adjustable can't. 

These are often used on hex or octagonal pipe fittings, because a regular pipe wrench would probably mar them.  So, the adjustable auto wrench is sometimes referred to incorrectly as a "pipe wrench" or (even more incorrectly) a Stillson wrench. 

Best size for a home handyman:  the 11".  This link should take you to a Crescent-branded one;  this one should take you to a Stanley Proto / Facom wrench.  Actually I would probably get the one by Martin Tools.  Try also this link.

As with other adjustables, jaw length limits the usable opening size.  Larger stuff will run into the back of the wrench before you can get a grip on it.  The solution is very simple;  just get a bigger wrench.  Far as I know, Crescent is the only current brand that makes that size. 


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Multi-tasking wrenches are great, because you don't have to haul around a pile of fixed sizes. 

We've looked at three wrench types that are essential if you work on stuff.

None of these wrenches can really replace the other.  Three wrenches to wrench them all!  Well, almost.  Every all-purpose toolbox should have at least one modern-style adjustable, a pipe wrench, and an adjustable auto wrench. 

I hope you enjoyed this article.  If it helped you in any way or you even just found it entertaining, please help me out by using any of these links to purchase your gear.  Your support is what keeps this website online.   Thanks!!


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