It doesn’t matter if you rarely use your toolbox for jobs around the house or take your toolbox to work for heavy jobs. There’s no doubt about it. Wrenches are one of the most important parts of any toolbox. This is true whether you’re an old pro who just needs a checklist to tick their toolbox off against, or a complete newbie who would like to know as much as possible about what wrenches to add to your toolbox. This the all-encompassing guide and list for the best wrenches to add to your collection as well as why we use different wrenches for different things.
What Are the Standard Wrench Sizes?
Wrench sizes are based not on their own size but on the size of the thread of the nut or bolt that the wrench is being used for. Most wrench sizes (or spanner sizes, which are the same thing under a different name) come in an inches format- though most countries outside of the US and UK tend to use a MM format. There are some great conversion charts available online, if these get confusing, which are perfect for printing off and taping to the top of your toolbox lid by way of a reminder.
10 Wrenches to Keep in Your Toolbox
If you’ve only ever seen a wrench as part of the “settings” option on your phone, fear not. While all of the spanners/wrenches are available in a range of sizes, with this list you’ll be able to create a great “starter kit” with which to begin building your toolbox. We’ve even taken the time to describe each one in detail and suggest the best size to start with, for you. So, without further ado, here is the list of the best wrenches to buy for a complete toolbox kit.
This wrench was given its very imaginative name due to both ends of the spanner being open-ended (ideal for both left and right-handed users, as well as being able to access the nut you’re after). As such, you look for a wrench that has a crescent moon on each side of the bar, which is where the nuts will fit. They’re probably the most common wrench available and the one that most of us will envisage when we mention the word “spanner” or “wrench”. Sometimes each side will hold a different size, which can mean some serious space-saving for your toolbox.
Usually, when you’re using these, it will be for a nut that is hard to access- such as only being accessible from one side. As such, you might find you’ll need to keep detaching the wrench and re-attaching it in order to continue loosening or tightening the nut you’re after. The most common size of the open-ended wrench is 1.4inch which covers most indoor screws and nuts.
Similar to the open-ended wrench, most box-ended wrenches will be dual-sided with either two different sizes or the same size, for the same reasons as above. The main difference is that the end will completely surround the nut you’re after, meaning the ends will have loops, as opposed to crescent moons. They’ll also usually be of a polygonal shape such as the hexagon, which helps to avoid the “rounding off” of the nut you’re working with, which can happen with some other wrenches.
The box-ended wrench is ideal for grabbing onto nuts that are particularly tough. It’s more common that these are needed when the nut itself is quite small and needs a slow but hard-grafting wrench to come loose. They can also be used on nuts that have an unusual shape, including the more square shapes, which are rare but can still be found on internal fittings.
The combination wrench holds one side as an open-ended, while the other side is a box-ended. This may shock nobody in particular but they can be very helpful to have around in smaller toolboxes, as the combination can mean you save a lot of space.
A mixture of uses, which combines the two types of wrenches written above.
Following on from the two most common wrenches is the socket wrench. This follows a similar line of thought to the box-ended wrench, with the exception that the end of the spanner covers the nut over the top, as well. This helps create more friction between the nut and the attachment which helps the user, since less effort is required to move the fastener.
These are great to use in tight places and for work that needs to be completed, quickly. They make short work of any fastener and so are a great addition to any toolbox. Some of these now come with automatically adjustable heads, which is great for saving space and saving time, since you’ll spend fewer minutes trying to find the right head for your fastener.
Cordless Impact Wrench
The impact wrench comes with a range of names, including an impactor, air gun, torque gun (not to be confused with the torque wrench) and rattle gun. These are shaped like the common electric drill, with a handle for the user and the nozzle creating a gun-shaped wrench. Cordless wrenches can use compressed air and electricity to help the user loosen or tighten the fastener with minimal output by the engineer. The nozzle uses the same process as the socket wrench and is shaped as such.
The cordless impact wrench is used on jobs where speed and ease-of-use rates higher than precision and perfected torque. As such, while they are a great addition to any toolbox if your work requires lots of repetition and the ability to access areas quickly, even though they aren’t so great for precision work.
A torque wrench uses the leverage available in the longer handles to help alleviate some of the elbow grease required when loosening the nuts in particularly difficult mechanisms. The end that attaches to the nut usually comes in a box format or in the same style as a socket wrench. The torque wrench usually holds internal mechanisms that stop the over-tightening of fasteners. It allows the user to set the specific torque required to match the specifications required by the manufacture.
As you can imagine, torque wrenches are used for applications that require specific standards, which can include use on everything from aerospace to dental work (you definitely don’t want to overtighten bolts on those braces!). Over time, the calibrations can become skewwhiff if the wrench is used improperly over an extended period of time. As such, manuals and instructions should be used when you’re looking to use a torque wrench, in order to prolong the longevity of your spanner.
The adjustable wrench follows the same format as the open-ended wrench in that it looks like a crescent moon at the end of the bar. That said, this wrench only holds one side that is usable, with the other end usually being rounded off for the user’s handling. They also, shockingly, are adjustable. As such, you should be able to see the movable aspect- usually in the form of a screw- on one side of the open end.
The adjustable wrench can be used for multiple types of fasteners and nuts due to it’s ability to change sizes. These are a great little addition to your toolbox as they can effectively replace an entire system of open-ended wrenches (that fall within it’s size differences). They can, however, be a little fiddly to change and aren’t great for working with, if you’re short on time.
When looking for a lug wrench, you’ll essentially want to keep an eye out for a large cross with each end of the cross holding a socket wrench. It’s also known as the wheel brace due to it’s most common use- changing the tires of your car. It’s easy to use and the two handles make this much easier to tighten and loosen fasteners compared to some other wrench types. They are also designed to fit between the spokes of your tires, which can be really handy for many aspects of engineering. The four handles mean that these can take up a fair bit of space, but usually have four different sizes, so can be handy to have in your toolbox.
You’ll likely recognise these from your car boot. The most common use of the lug wrench is for loosening the fastenings and nuts when changing your tires.
Often given free with flat-pack furniture, the Allen wrench is also commonly called an Allen key. They’re usually small and/or come in sets at your local DIY store- although the small sizes can usually mean you’ll lose them at the most inconvenient time. This means that they’re perfect for adding to your toolbox. Whether you gain these over time through purchasing furniture and small mechanisms, or go and get yourself a full set for heavier work, these are very handy to have around. You never know when you’ll need an Allen wrench!
Screws that hold a polygonal shape within the head of each fastener. You’ll have likely used a few of these for various furniture and small mechanisms, such as children’s toys, in the past. They are usually cheap to buy, although large sets can become costly depending on how many sizes are included.
One of the most well-known wrenches around, this is also one of the oldest types of wrench used. It’s another type of adjustable wrench but also comes in similar formats, known as the alligator wrench and pipe wrench. All of these have very slight differences between them- yet all of these have the same basic principle. The monkey wrench as a smooth “jaw” which can be adjusted to suit the size of the nut, bolt or fastener you’re working with, where the alligator and pipe wrench have serrated jaws which help with the grip and friction of adjusting your fastening. Like the adjustable wrench, these can be fiddly to work with and heavy- yet they are great to add to your toolbox, since they can help solve a range of issues,
The monkey wrench is great for heavy-duty work such as fitting pipes and round surfaces that can be tough to access, otherwise. These are generally used for older types of fastenings as well, when the nuts and bolts had square heads, as opposed to today’s format, which tend to be hexagonal.
You might not think that the strap wrench was any type of wrench at all, if you weren’t looking for it. These are a speciality tool, which are used for surfaces which have an unusual shape, or for those fastenings that are round in nature, such as pipes. They work by using the adjustable rubber strap, which is wrapped around the fastening and the gripped, sometimes serrated, surface keeps them locked in place.
Strap wrenches are used for multiple different aspects. From pipes to older forms of fasteners which don’t work well with traditional wrenches. They can even be used to open up tough jars around the house, if you don’t find yourself using them in the workplace all that often!
While there are plenty of different types of wrenches to choose from, the ones noted on this list are likely to help out with a range of issues that come up in both the workplace, on the road and at home. With these wrenches added to your arsenal, you can be sure that, whether you need to access a hard-to-reach space or perform an odd job around your friend’s house, you won’t struggle to find the right type of wrench for your needs. As such, these make fantastic additions to any toolbox and we hope you think so too.
- The Different Types of Spanner and Wrench Explained – DIY Doctor