This is the authoritative wrench buying guide where we list out, explain and provide photos of the 14 different types of wrenches. This is a must-read if you're in the market for your first, second or tenth wrench.
Almost every toolbox has a wrench or two or more. While the adjustable wrench is most common, there are many different types of wrenches you can add to your tool collection.
Some are for very specific types of jobs while others offer more universal uses.
If you’re rounding out your tool arsenal, your wrench collection is something to consider because they’re so handy and are often used for most home improvement projects.
Below is the result of our extensive research into wrenches; our aim was to create the best online wrench buying guide. Here it goes…
Table of Contents
I. Wrench Buying Guide
The wrench is a deceptively ingenious product that gives you an edge for loosening or tightening objects that shows the usefulness of physics done right. It uses torque to your advantage. You’ll find numerous types of wrenches to fit any variation of fastener or special situation. We’ll focus on the most common ones that will provide the best value.
You’ll find wrenches that are all-purpose and will vary in the types of situations where they’ll work best. Access is often a limiting factor when trying to do these jobs. The technology is impressive with designs, upgrades in materials, and accessories that make them easier to use in demanding situations.
A. Measurement Standards
One of the first things you’ll notice is that there are different measurement standards for metric and the American standard equivalent. Knowing what you’re dealing with is essential since it can make the difference between getting the job done or ending up with a stripped nut or bolt. You’ll find this information displayed prominently on the package description.
This system uses millimeters. You’ll often see it in wrenches that are manufactured outside of the United States for international markets. Some auto industry tools use it too. The difference lies in the fact that American industries are reluctant to make the move toward the metric system. However, imported products use this system, hence, the need for metric tools.
This system uses inches, specifically in fractions. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) developed the system in the 1920s. Swapping between the two isn’t always possible even with these small differences. For example, 1/16 equals 0.0625 inches whereas one millimeter is about 0.039370 inches. So, it’s not a perfect tradeoff.
You’ll often see tools color-coded which makes it easier to tell them apart. And many manufacturers use both standards which give you the best of both worlds. It’s a good compromise especially if you have both newer and older equipment or mechanics and need both systems.
You may also see mention of USS and SAE in reference to bolts as they apply to wrenches. The short answer is that the former are coarse threads and the latter, fine threads. The usefulness of a wrench comes from being able to use the right one with a particular fastener. That will involve matching the number of sides or flats of a bolt or nut.
As with many hand tools, the material will determine the durability and strength. It’ll also play a role in your cost which we’ll discuss later. You’ll find that there’s a balance between weight and strength as it relates to price. Quality will range from cheap, heavier products to more expensive lighter ones with better durability.
1. Sheet Metal
On the low-end of the scale, you’ll find tools that are stamped out of sheet metal. The advantage is cost. You’re not going to break the bank buying one or more of these wrenches. That makes them a smart choice if you’ll only use them occasionally. However, these types of wrenches are often heavy and bulky to provide the necessary strength that quality products avoid.
2. Molybdenum-Steel Alloy
Molybdenum adds to the strength of this alloy. Its use took off during World War I which offered better protection at a lighter weight. It also helps protect metal tools from corrosion. It’s a better compromise for shedding some of the extra weight of metal-only tools without a lot more money up front.
3. Chrome and Vanadium Alloys
On the high-end of the scale are alloys made from chrome and vanadium. They provide superior strength while keeping the weight of the tools manageable. Even small amounts of these materials have a large impact. These are what you’ll find in the higher-quality products with a price to match. If you’ll use them a lot, it’s a sound investment.
The length of the handle of a wrench has a direct relationship with the amount of torque. The longer it is, the greater the force that you can apply. The usefulness of a particular tool will depend on the strength you need and the ability to use it to its full advantage in a given space. Keep the latter in mind before you run out and get the largest wrench you can find.
Also, pay attention to the grip. Sometimes, you’re going to have to use a lot of strength to loosen tough bolts. Opt for tools with comfortable handles that have a good hand feel to them. It might not make a big difference for a quick task, but you’ll notice it for something more involved. That’s especially important with heavier items to help prevent fatigue.
D. Types of Wrenches
You’ll often see wrenches sold in sets with a graduated scale of sizes in both SAE and metric measurement standards. Unless you’re getting an adjustable tool, they are a good value for the price. If you need a particular size, you can also pick up individual pieces. The golden rule with wrenches is that size matters.
1. Open-End Wrench
An open-end wrench is a fixed size tool with a U-shaped opening on one or both ends. They usually have two different sizes if there are two open ends. Having a set of these is a good way to match the nut or bolt with the tool. You simply place it over the fastener and pull. It’s a good choice for an all-purpose set especially for spots that are hard to get to because of space.
You’ll often see these in sets, but you shouldn’t have any problem finding a particular size if it’s not included. They are affordable and suitable for most small jobs. You may find it helpful to have a set of smaller and larger wrenches on hand.
2. Box-End Wrench
Source: Home Depot
The box-end wrench is similar to the open-end in form, but its ends are closed. It also has a series of 6, 8, or 12 points unlike the smooth surface of the other type. That gives it some added gripping power for stubborn fasteners. The 6 or 12-point works well for hexagonal bolts and nuts. The 8-point version will accommodate square heads.
The key to using this type of wrench is access since you have to put the end over the fastener. That differs from the open-end one in which you only need to get to one side. However, the design provides more torque. The other advantage is that they’re less likely to slip. Like the previous model, you’ll find these sold both individually and in sets.
3. Combination Wrench
The combination wrench has both an open and box-end making them versatile tools for a variety of jobs. Unlike the other types of wrenches, both ends are usually the same size. They tend to more expensive since they are a more versatile tool in terms of having two kinds. You’ll need to offset that with the limits on the ranges of sizes in a set.
Because of their versatility, you’re more likely to see these types available than box-end wrenches alone. If you need both types, it makes sense to opt for this kind rather than having two separate sets of wrenches, depending on your budget.
4. Adjustable Wrench
The adjustable or crescent wrench gives you the flexibility to match the size with the fastener with the convenience of having one tool. It consists of a fixed jaw and a slightly offset moveable one. The adjusting mechanism sits below the jaws. Some models may have measurements along the top end to match the size of the fastener. The important thing is a tight fit.
While the versatility is a strong selling point, these tools have a tendency to slip especially if they aren’t adjusted tight enough. Stubborn fasteners increase the risk of hurting your hand. The correct way to use it is to apply pressure against the fixed jaw coming toward you. You should also check the fit frequently which is the key to getting the best use out of them.
You’ll find them sold individually in different sizes. You might want to get both a smaller and a larger one to suit a greater range of jobs. Look for models with rubberized hands for a grip that’ll be easier on your hands. Also, check the tightening mechanism to test how well it will hold in place.
5. Monkey Wrench
A monkey or sliding wrench is similar to the crescent model but differs in the placement of the jaws which are perpendicular to the handle. It’s somewhat archaic in its design. It’s often a heavier tool meant for bigger jobs because of its heavy weight. Unlike the adjustable model, the jaws are smooth rather than toothed.
You won’t see this type as often as the other kinds of wrenches simply because the technology has improved along with the materials that other ones more efficient.
6. Pipe Wrench
The pipe wrench is a beast of a tool. It is la large and heavy model that works well for heating and plumbing tasks. It is similar to the previous model only it has serrated jaws that grip into the materials for added force. You’ll often see them made with other materials such as cast-iron to add more to its torque. The upper jaw is adjustable to fit the setting.
These are heavy-duty tools that can be unwieldy to handle. Of course, you’ll need plenty of room to use them to get the force behind them which makes them so useful.
7. Allen Wrench
If you have a bicycle or other small equipment, you’re likely familiar with Allen wrenches also known as hex-keys. The design is a simple L-shape with a longer handle and a shorter piece that culminates in a hexagonal head. You’ll use these tools for recessed nuts. You’ll often find them in sets with a relatively wide range of sizes from 1/16 and higher.
Many items other than machinery use these types of fasteners. There are common with a variety of pieces from cookware to furniture to door knobs. It’s not unusual to have a wrench or two included for assembling a new purchase. The same risks of stripping a nut exist, so the right size is essential.
You’ll see these sold in a single unit with multiple wrenches in graduated sizes. Individual pieces are also available. They’re not expensive compared to other wrenches. But they have the unique quality in that nothing else can do the job that they can do when required because of their design.
8. Socket Wrench
The value of a socket wrench lies with its versatility and the ability to make quick work of your projects. It differs from the other types of wrenches we’ve discussed in that the head or socket is interchangeable to fit the fastener. As you may expect, these products come in sets with a wide range of sizes. You may find ones that include either metric, SAE, or both.
They’re easy to use especially in tight places where it may be hard to get your weight behind removing fasteners. You’ll often see other accessories like extensions which makes them even more useful. Another advantage with a socket set is that it’s a space saver with a lot of tool for the money.
9. Ratcheting Wrench
A ratcheting wrench resembles the socket variety only you’re able to move the entire handle in one direction to tighten or loosen a nut or bolt. It’s easier to use than a box-end wrench simply because you can get a lot done quicker. It’s also sold in sets. You’ll also see them with pivoting heads to make virtually job accessible. They are standard equipment in any automotive shop.
If you do any small machinery work or car repairs, you’ll find them handy to have around because they’re so easy to use. You’ll see varying shapes of the sockets including deep-well for fasteners with a long thread and pass-through types which help you maximize the torque.
10. Crowfoot Wrench
A crowfoot wrench increases the versatility of a socket or ratcheting set with the convenience of an open-end set. Essentially, they are just the head of this type in varying sizes without any handles. They work well in tight spaces where you can’t get access to put a wrench over the top of a fastener.
These wrenches fit over the handle just like other sockets. Like open-end ones, they come in both metric and SAE measurement standards.
11. Star-Head Key
A star-head key or torx key works with six-point screwheads, making it a specialty wrench. Sometimes you’ll see these sold as a single-unit with different keys not unlike a Swiss Army knife. That makes them easy to put in a pannier on your bike or have around in the junk drawer. And like hex-keys, they are often the only tool for the job which makes them invaluable.
12. Strap Wrench
A strap wrench is another specialty tool used for plumbing fittings and other odd-shaped surfaces. You can even use them to open containers. They come in varying lengths of reinforced rubber with a short handle attachment. The grippy surface of the strap keeps them in place and prevents slipping.
13. Basin Wrench
Source: Home Depot
A basin or sink wrench is a specialized plumbing tool used for loosening or tightening nuts or hose couplings. You’ll see models that have a set size or telescoping shafts to accommodate a variety of situations. Some will also have a pivoting head to increase their versatility in hard-to-access locations.
14. Lug Wrench
Let’s just way outright that we hope you never need to use this wrench. It is basically a socket wrench specific for use on the lug bolts of a tire. You’ll find them in the classic 4-way design with different lug sizes if you find yourself in that unfortunate position. Some models include non-slick grips which make them easier to use without hurting yourself in the process.
Another option is a portable telescoping model that you can store in your car. The advantage of replacing the standard one that you may already have is to get one that is stronger with a material like chrome vanadium steel alloy. You can usually pick one up for less than $20.
II. More Details
Knowing the types of wrenches available only scratches the surface of what you need to know. Let’s review some other things to consider when looking for a wrench.
There is a lot of specialization with these tools that go beyond their design. While they are many all-purpose models, other serve specific purposes because of the particular challenges involved with a job. But the most important factor is the proper fit.
1. Conversion Between SAE and Metric
Let’s face it. Quality hand tools are an investment. If you’re doing a lot of DIY projects, it makes sense to buy what you need. But if you’re on a limited budget, you can still work with what you have on hand. This handy chart can help you select the right tool for the job. Because you’re working with small numbers, you may find it helpful to also have a micrometer on hand.
As you’ve noticed, many wrenches are sold in sets especially socket and ratcheting types. That means a lot of small parts that are easy to misplace. An essential part of the care of your hand tools begins simply with making sure they’re put away correctly. A set typically includes some kind of case for storage. Make it a point to put each piece back into its proper place.
It’s not just about the right care. You may find it difficult to get an individual piece in the size you need. Taking these extra steps when using them will make it a lot less frustrating the next time you need to use them.
3. Matching Types
Each type of wrench serves some purposes better than others. We strongly recommend that you choose the right one for the job simply because it’ll make your job easier. A stripped fastener can make a quick job a nightmare. You can start small and get an all-purpose set and add to it as you need.
Consider the type of work for which you’ll use it. Household tasks are one thing, but doing auto repairs will require a different set of tools.
Materials and type are a big part of the price you’ll pay for wrenches or any hand tool. You can expect to pay as little as under $5 for a single adjustable wrench of a lesser quality. And it’ll serve you well for the occasional task. However, if you’ll use them often, you might want to consider investing in a set if available.
When it comes to fasteners, there’s not a lot of wiggle room. You won’t have to stop to find or buy what you need if you have a range of sizes available. Allen wrenches, for example, are an affordable option at less than $20 for a complete set. For other like open-end wrenches, you can find them for less than $50, depending on the number and material.
Socket and ratcheting wrench set are on the high-end of the spectrum. Quality products can cost north of $100 to $200 and even more. You should expect to pay around $50 for an all-purpose set.
III. Where to Buy Wrenches Online
Now that you’ve learned more than you thought possible about wrenches, it’s time to find out where you can find them online. Our favorite online merchants for these tools include: