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Ball Driver vs Allen Wrench (What is the Difference?)

This is a close look at Allen keys and ball drivers along with small mechanical parts.

Most people don’t know the difference between a ball driver and an Allen wrench (Hex key)—and many don’t even know what on earth I’m talking about. Well, this is the thing, the idea of an Allen wrench is not a new concept at all. The concept can be traced back to the 1900s when Allen wrenches were introduced into the market.

However, the idea of hexagonal-shaped screwdrivers existed even back in the 1800s. I was among the ignorant group until I discovered how useful these tools are in making life easier—now I have an Allen wrench set in my car glove compartment and in my house tool kit, just in case.

The main focus of this review is the difference between Allen wrenches and ball drivers. Ideally, the comparison between the ball driver and Allen wench narrows down to two aspects; the convenience that comes with using the former in narrow workspaces and the efficiency required in high torque applications, which the latter provides.

In a nutshell, a ball driver or ball end hex key provides a flexible arc swing, giving you an offset angle of up to 30 degrees. This trait enables access to blind or narrow spaces. This isn’t possible if you worked with an Allen wrench that requires you to approach the workspaces directly from a 90-degree angle. 

The exciting thing is that some Allen wrenches have ball ends on one side, making them excellent as both Allen wrenches and ball drivers.

So, what are the advantages of a hexagonal-shaped screw bolt head over other screwdrivers? Hex hardware, as the name implies, has six pressure points, while most of the common screwdrivers we see today have only four.

You’ll have an easier time “gripping” the screw or bolt with more pressure points, making it easier to drive in or out. They are also sturdy and do not break easily like their counterparts.

You probably won’t notice the difference if you’re just driving a single screw or bolt. However, their design minimizes fatigue while enabling you to operate more efficiently while disassembling a big piece of furniture, equipment, or machine. The exciting thing is that today’s Allen wrenches have ball ends, making them excellent as both Allen wrenches and ball drivers.

The Allen wrench that comes with most DIY kits is designed to fit the hex screws that are supplied. However, since the little, unmarked wrenches are easy to misplace, it’s advisable to have an Allen Wrench set on hand to finish the job.

Related: Wrench Sizes | Types of Allen Wrenches | Types of Wrenches | Types of Screws | Allen Wrench Sizes | What is Allen Wrench | How to Find Hex Key Size | Allen Wrenches vs. Torx Wrenches | Why Allen Keys Have Ball End | Allen Keys vs. Allen Wrench | Where to Buy Allen Wrenches | How to Remove Rust from Allen Wrench | Allen Wrench Alternatives | How to Use Allen Wrench with Drill | Are Allen Wrenches Hardened | How to Measure Allen Wrench | Top Allen Wrench Brands | How to Use Allen Wrench | How to Clean Allen Wrench | Allen Wrench vs. Hex Key | Best Allen Wrench Sets

What to Consider During the Purchase of an Allen Wrench

This is a close look at a stainless steel set of Allen keys fastened with a yellow holder.

Before we focus on the different aspects during purchase, let’s understand what you are precisely about to purchase.  

An Allen wrench, also known as the hex key, is an L-shaped tool with variants like the T-shaped and folding hex wrench. Its core functions are to tighten or loosen bolts, screws, and nuts.

Here are the crucial aspects you ought to consider before making any purchases.

The end geometry

The end geometry of a good Allen wrench is one without sharp ends. Blunt or curved ends allow you to insert the wrench easily at an angle. In addition, this gives you a firm natural grip coupled with smooth torque.

This enables you to work efficiently without straining your wrists and eliminates the need to align the mate and screw head perfectly.

Length of the wrench

The application in question is what will determine if you have to buy a short or long Allen wrench. In areas with limited accessibility, your perfect choice will be a long wrench. On the other side though, shorter wrenches will be most suitable in limited working spaces.

Therefore, buy a hex key after you are sure of the nature of its intended application.

Wrench durability

The durability of a hex key set depends on the grade and quality of the construction material. Most of them are of steel material but with different quality grades. The highly durable Allen wrenches have a rating of C5; the Rockwell Hardness rating. Such are of high tensile strength and offer increased torque capabilities.

Most manufacturers specify the hardiness rating, and purchasing one with a high rating reduces the need to replace the wrench from time to time.

The surface treatments

The surface treatment of an Allen wrench will determine its lifespan, as well as its performance. During purchase, go for those with chrome-plated surfaces since they reduce friction and last longer. 

Black oxide and zinc finishes on wrenches are susceptible to rusting and flaking; hence they may not last long. 

Types of Allen Wrench

There are various types of Allen wrenches, and they are available in different shapes. For this reason, each of the different kinds of wrenches is suitable for specific applications.

T -handle

T Handle Allen Wrench Set (18 Pack - Metric and Standard) Industrial Grade Hex Keys

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It’s a popular hex driver in the motorsport industry. It allows the user sufficient leverage in ushering in as you can spin the top adjustable T part freely. The adjustable top apart also enables you to create an L-shaped Allen wrench, and for this reason, it’s gaining a lot of track with bike mechanics.

L -style

Klein Tools L-Style Hex Key Caddy Set Metric, 9-Piece LMK10 , Black

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The L-style hex screw, as the name suggests, is “L” in shape. It’s very popular among the many options available. This is because it can reach the tightest of spots, at the same time giving you full control. It’s readily available in the market and comes in different sizes, which range between 1.5 and 10mm. 

Folding hex

Klein Tools 70550 Hex Key Set, 11 SAE Sizes, Heavy Duty Folding Allen Wrench Tool with Extra Long Hex Keys

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Folding hex wrenches come in a storage handle from which they fold out in 90-degree positions. They have two main advantages: optimum torque, and they don’t get easily lost since they are attached to the storage handle.

They are popular with cyclists and motorbike riders for repair and maintenance purposes.

P -handle

Park Tool PH-1.2 P-Handle Hex Wrench Set – 2mm to 10mm

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They are larger versions of the L-shaped wrenches, and you will find them in most workshops. The largeness in their handles gives a firm and comfortable grip to the user. In addition, they tend to give T- handle wrench function similarities. 

Torque wrench

This is a torque wrench with a black handle and yellow accent.

The torque wrench is usually in the form of a socket wrench, but it has special internal mechanisms. It’s in many cases used in applications that require specific torque. Some of the fasteners it’s compatible with include lag screws, nuts, and bolts. 

 It allows for the proper loading of all parts with the required tension. There are various different types of torque wrenches, and each one of them has different calibrations to offer the required tension in its applications.

Allen screwdriver

EKLIND 92600 PSD Ball-Hex (allen) Precision Screwdriver - 6pc set Metric MM sizes 1.3-4

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Allen wrenches are perfect in applications that require low torque and tight clearance. They are hexagonal, L-shaped and their ends fit sockets of bolts or screws. The commonly available sizes are between 1.5 and 5mm.

They are perfect to use with different types of levers and adjusting of disc brakes.


5 mm Ball Hex Journeyman T-Handle 6-Inch Klein Tools JTH6M5BE

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Also known as a ball head Allen key. They are purposely used to drive screws with hexagonal sockets. One major advantage they have over other types is that they can work in areas with difficulties (blind areas), especially obstructions.

They offer a 30 degrees offset angle hence easy and quick access to the much-needed points.


5/32” Standard Hex Dogging Key with Full Loop, Allen Wrench Door Key for Push Bar Panic Exit Devices, Solid Metal - 10 Packs

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This type of Allen wrench is an L-shaped Hex with a key ring mounted using spring retaining clips. They are affordable, and they offer a lot of convenience in terms of storage.

They are light in weight and can fasten screws that other wrenches can’t. There are different options available to offer different torque as the user may require. 


DURATECH Super-Thin Open End Wrench Set, SAE, 8-Piece, Including 1/4", 9/32", 5/16", 3/8", 11/32", 13/32", 7/16", 1/2", 9/16", 11/16", 3/4", 13/16", 7/8", 15/16", 1", 1-1/16", with Rolling Pouch

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They are double open-ended Allen wrenches that have U-shaped openings on either side, which are different sizes. The open ends flip over bolts offering a tight grip for loosening and tightening of nuts. In most cases, they are convenient with projects with narrow operating spaces.

Ratcheting hex

This is a hex head wrench with a black handle and green accent.

The ratcheting hex Allen wrenches are unique when compared to the other types. Some of the features that make them stand out are their dynamic nature and availability in various varieties. In addition, they deliver high-speed operations and can work with screwdriver bits and sockets.

These wrenches can operate with electric drill drivers and, therefore, can handle rotor bolts.  


GEARWRENCH 11 Pc. 3/8" Drive Crowfoot Wrench Set, SAE - 81908

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They are similar to open-end and box-end wrenches. However, the slight difference is that they have no shaft. There is also an opening behind the wrench’s mouth. 

They are the best to use in tight spaces like valve adjustments and fittings like power steering, abs modulators, and clutch operations. They are also used in combination with ratchet and torque wrenches. 


InPower Allen Wrench Set, SAE and Metric Hex Key Set 30pcs, Allen Key Set Tools with Storage Case for Hex Head Socket Screws.

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The Allen socket wrenches have hollow cylinders to which you can attach handles. The hollow cylinders fit over nuts or bolts during tightening or loosening.

The handle of such is detachable, and for this reason, they are useful in different applications. You can use them from different angles, and they offer high efficiency and speed all the time.


VCT 48PC Ratcheting Combination Wrench Set SAE & Metric 1/4″ to 3/4″ & 6-18mm, & Hex/Allen Ball End Wrench Sets MM/SAE, Chrome Vanadium Steel, with Carrying Bag

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Combination Allen type of wrenches have open ends on one side, and a box ends on the other. Depending on the wrench size, both ends are of different sizes, and you can use them for different purposes. Commonly, they are useful in repairing bicycles.


HORUSDY 4-Piece Adjustable Wrench Set, CR-V Steel, Crescent Wrenches Set(6-inch, 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch)

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Due to the versatility of this wrench, it’s useful in many applications. It’s also known as the network wrench, and one of its jaws is moveable; hence you can adjust it to fit the size of the bolt in question.

It’s important to note that they are available in 3 sizes, 200, 250, and 300mm. It’s applicable to plumbers, electricians, car repairs, furniture assembly, among others.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the common questions people ask about Allen wrenches:

1. What is an Allen wrench that has a hole in the middle?

An Allen wrench with a hole at its center is also known as a security screw. The security screw is an Allen key that is used with a pin hex fastener and is applicable in high torque applications instead of other standard fixings like socket screws. 

2. Is there a power Allen wrench?

There exist power Allen wrenches, and they come in a set of 11 pieces that are different in sizes purposely to drive in and unscrew different sizes of hexagonal screws and bolts.

3. Which direction do you turn an Allen key to loosen?

To loosen an Allen key, you ought to turn it in the anticlockwise or rather counterclockwise direction. The clockwise direction is for tightening purposes.

4. Are hex keys similar to Allen wrenches?

Hex keys or hex wrench and Allen wrenches are one and the same tool. They refer to a common tool that is hexagonal and L-shaped whose use is to drive and fit screws and bolts with hexagonal socket heads. 

5. Can you put an Allen wrench in a drill?

Yes, you can put your Allen wrench into any drill. But first, you will need to modify it by cutting it at the L-shape branch, making it a straight Allen driver. After which, you can then put it in a drill for the intended use.