Whether you are a home craftsman or working in the field of your profession, the tool kit of any worker is one of the most important purchases you can make. So, how to choose the best wrench set for your home needs.
Whatever you store in your carrying case, from pliers to a ratchet wrench set, filling your toolbox easily can be done on a low budget and in some cases, even for free.
When it comes to employees in many trades, the key to a successful worker is owning a good combination wrench set. Having a different wrench size and weight, and finding the right wrench set is important to what kind of work you’re doing.
While many wrenches may serve similar purposes and can be swapped for one another, each style of wrench has its own strengths and weaknesses depending on the task at hand.
Pro tip: frequently searching local hardware stores for toolsets can help keep costs at a minimum, and you can usually find a combination wrench set on sale at a fraction of the cost. You can also scour your local online marketplaces or flea markets for lightly used tools for a very low cost, or even free.
So how do you know which ones are must-haves and which ones will gather dust in your carrying case?
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The adjustable wrench is the most commonly used wrench and is common for most craftsmen to have in their toolbox. Its versatility gives it an edge in nearly every situation. If you can only get one wrench, the adjustable wrench (or crescent wrench as it is sometimes known) is the best option. It can be adjusted to exact sizes and fits on nearly all bolt heads.
The variety of uses of an adjustable wrench are endless, making it a good one to have on hand for all projects. However, while being extremely adjustable, this feature comes at a cost. The downside is that this is a low torque wrench, and has a tendency to slip off of the bolt head (they don’t call them “knuckle busters” for nothing!). The adjusting screw may also need frequent tweaking as repetitive use may cause the jaws to loosen.
Open ended Wrench
Many of the negatives of the adjustable wrench are fixed with a set of fixed open end wrenches – at the sacrifice of adjustability. These very useful wrenches have the same purpose as the crescent wrench but have less of a tendency to slip, and thus can be used to tighten bolts much more.
A downside of this style is that for every turn of a bolt, the wrench needs to be removed and readjusted to continue turning. This makes repetitive use not ideal when a nut or bolt needs more than one or two turns.
But its high torque capability makes it great for breaking loose rusted nuts and bolts, and the open end design makes it good for tight spaces and places where a closed-end wrench can’t fit over the object.
Very commonly seen in a mechanics toolbox, open end wrenches can be used for many things around the home, such as plumbing piping, electrical, and woodwork. An open ended wrench is most commonly sold in a set of 8-20, in both imperial and metric units.
While open-end and adjustable wrenches have two to three points of contact between the wrench and the bolt, box wrenches can give you up to twelve, giving you maximum torque with minimum slip.
The box wrench utilizes a closed-end design that loops around the entire bolt head, enabling its use on the square, hex, and twelve-point bolt heads. A bonus to this style is that a twelve-point box wrench inherently fits on hex and square bolts without needing different wrenches. The minimal slip with open end wrenches is eliminated with a box wrench and is great for loosening stuck fasteners without the worry of slipping.
These are most useful for home mechanics but are effective elsewhere such as large appliance repair. The main disadvantage to this style is that the wrench must be able to slide over the bolt head as opposed to beside, like with open-end. This can make them less than ideal for some electrical applications, like where wiring exits from a fastener.
A combo wrench is – you guessed it – a combination of an open-end and a box-end wrench. Each end of a combo wrench will have either open or box and both will be the same size. These are the best value, as you get two wrenches in one and get double the versatility when one style doesn’t work.
Box wrenches can also be found in a ratcheting style where you remove the need to take the wrench off of a fastener to continue turning. This makes them very handy for tight spaces with bolts requiring more than a couple of turns.
However, this style can run up quickly in price depending on the size of the set and is also not ideal for breaking stuck fasteners loose due to weaker ratcheting mechanisms.
These are the most preferable wrenches for repetitive use. A socket fits over the bolt head much like a box-end wrench but has the added advantage of not having to remove the wrench after every turn to reposition. They are also significantly less likely to slip off a bolt or strip the bolt head due to more surface area. This makes them very valuable when bolts require more than one or two turns with lots of force and gives you fast and efficient installation and removal.
If you plan on doing any automotive work these are a must-have. A good socket set can be more expensive than the open or box style wrenches, but they are a mechanic’s lifeblood and will save you plenty of grief in the long run.
Pipe Wrench/Channel Locks
These are less frequently used tools but are very important for any plumbing work or larger diameter piping jobs. Both are adjustable to much larger sizes than any other wrenches available and clamp can down on the nut or bolt surface to allow for higher torque. These are must-haves for DIY plumbing, and you can usually get away with only one pipe wrench or channel lock.
Last but certainly not least, are hex wrenches (also known as Allen keys). These are used to adjust bolts with an inset head, rather than the typical exterior head. Hex keys are commonly used on electrical devices and furniture. They can apply a significant amount of torque from such a small size wrench, which can make them prone to stripping bolt heads. Hex wrenches are also found in a Torx style. Torx is a six-point star-style inset bolt that is often used in industrial settings.
At first glance, it may seem like most wrenches serve the same purpose (and you would be correct), but each type has its proper purpose and advantages. An experienced worker always has the right tool for the job, and with some of these basic wrenches in your toolkit, you will always be ready to tackle any job your home needs.