If you’re the type of person who substitutes a pair of pliers for an entire set of wrenches, you may want to consider adding a few of the proper wrenches to your toolbox. Wrenches are relatively inexpensive and the good ones last a lifetime — and you’ll probably be surprised at how much the proper tool can simplify your project.
Here are a few wrenches to consider:
Open- and box-end wrenches: Open-end wrenches have an opening on one end to allow them to be placed on a nut or bolt head from the side. Box-end wrenches are open on the top and bottom but not on the side, and while they grip more securely than an open-end wrench, they also require enough access to slip over the bolt from above. Open-end and box-end wrenches are rated by size, and are available in both SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers, which are the standard bolt sizes in the United States) and metric dimensions.
Adjustable wrench: As the name implies, an adjustable wrench will open and close to accommodate various sizes of nuts and bolt heads. Also commonly called a Crescent wrench after the name of one of the better manufacturers of these tools, adjustable wrenches are sized by their overall length, such as 10-inch, 14-inch, etc. Adjustable wrenches have basically the same applications as open-end wrenches, but the disadvantage is that they do not grip the bolt head as securely. A set of three is perfect for the average toolbox, and allows you a lot of versatility.
Socket wrench set: A socket wrench set typically consists of a ratchet handle and several sockets, sometimes with other accessories such as extensions and adapters. The ratchet handle has a square drive fitting on one end that’s at right angles to the handle itself, and the interchangeable sockets have a matching square hole that snaps onto the drive fitting. Sockets are rated by size in both SAE and metric dimensions.
Sockets and ratchets are also known by the drive size, which is the size of the square drive fitting. Common sizes include 1/4-inch drive, for small sockets; 3/8-inch drive, the most common for everyday use; and 1/2-inch drive for larger sockets and heavier applications. Some sets include a 3/8-inch-by-1/4-inch adapter, which allows you to use 1/4-inch sockets with a 3/8-inch ratchet. …CONTINUED
Nut driver: A nut driver looks like a socket that’s been attached to the end of a handle, and is used very much like a screwdriver to rotate small nuts and bolts on and off. Nut drivers are available in SAE and metric sizes, and are sold individually or in sets.
Pipe wrench: A pipe wrench, sometimes called a Stillson wrench, is used specifically for gripping cylindrical objects such as pipe, conduit, etc. The wrench has an adjustable head that opens and closes to accommodate pipes of different diameters, and contains two serrated jaws — one fixed, the other pivoting. In use, the pivoting jaw rocks open to allow the wrench to slip over the pipe, then closes as you apply pressure. The more pressure applied to the handle of the wrench, the tighter the jaws grip the pipe. Unlike other types of wrenches, a pipe wrench needs to be positioned on one side of the pipe to rotate it in one direction, and reversed to rotate it in the other direction.
As with adjustable wrenches, pipe wrenches come in different sizes, which are designated by the overall length of the handle. Each size of wrench will accommodate a range of pipe sizes, and a set of two or three is all you’ll need for virtually any type of plumbing task.
Basin wrench: This is one of those odd tools that you may only use once, but if you need one, there’s really no substitute for it. Used to tighten and loosen the nuts that hold a faucet to a sink, a basin wrench has a long slender handle with a curved, pivoting jaw at one end, set perpendicular to the handle. The wrench is snaked up behind the bowl of the sink to the faucet nut, and set so that the curved jaw is in contact with the side of the nut. As you apply pressure to the handle, the jaw tightens onto the nut and allows you to rotate it. There is a sliding bar at the other end of the handle to allow for additional leverage. To change which direction you rotate the nut, simply reverse and reposition the wrench so that the jaw grabs the opposite side of the nut.
All of these wrenches are available at home centers, hardware stores and other tool retailers. And as with other types of tools, you get what you pay for. An adjustable wrench that’s $2.99 in the bargain tool bin may look tempting, but for $9.99 you can get one that works better, is more accurate, is safer, and will probably outlive you and your kids. Always look for easy and smooth adjustments, well-finished metal and a good guarantee.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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