No matter whether your're a mechanic or a woodworker, there's no way your workshop could possibly be complete without assorted wrenches. The obvious problem is that there are boatloads of different wrenches out there for you to choose from. Which of them are a necessity, which would be nice to own, and which will end up being just another dust-catcher? The answer is, pretty much "It depends." Here, however are a few guidelines that might help you decide on how to begin stocking your toolbox.
An Adjustable wrench is a Good Place to StartThe best selling point of an adjustable wrench is that it makes no difference whether a nut is SAE or metric. These tools come in sizes from tiny to monsters the size of a kid's baseball bat. The wise choice is to start out in the middle, since little ones aren't big enough for common nuts and bolts, around 1/2 inch, and really big ones are too bulky. My favorites are six to eight inches long, although there are also 4-, 10-, 12-, and 15-inch wrenches in my tool chest.
When shopping, look for a wrench with drop-forged steel construction and a handle with non-slip features. A classic design with a worm-gear drive for the jaws can last forever (I have my Dad's Crescent brand, which is 70-plus years old). Somehow, I don't expect the newfangled "quick-adjust" designs to hold up under heavy use, but they're probably OK for weekend warriors.
Hand Wrenches in Many Designs
There must be a hundred different hand wrench designs out there, not to mention the myriad sizes. Let me briefly introduce you to the most common wrench designs.
Hand Wrench Considerations
- Metric or Imperial (SAE)? Unfortunately, probably both.
- Lengths? As a rule, the smaller the size, the shorter and thinner the wrench. Bigger sizes are sold in "shorty" versions, while small sizes are available with long handles.
- Sets? Any size and configuration of wrench you want is probably available in a set. There's almost always a price break if you get hand wrenches in a set, so it's usually a good idea.
The Wide World of Sockets
What can you say about socket wrenches? Tons and tons...
More on Sockets
- Accessories are not essential, but tend to be handy. This includes universal adapters, slider bars, and speed handles.
- Metric or SAE? See above: you will likely need both.
- Keep all your sockets orderly with socket racks. Buy a rack for each configuration: metric, SAE, deep well, 6-point, 12-point... you get it.
"Allan" or "Allen"?
More Wrenches You Probably Can't Do Without
About those 1,000-piece sets BigBox stores advertises at Christmas or Father's Day? I'd avoid them: perhaps 30-40% of those "pieces" are weird little bits you will never use. Instead, I'd put my hard-earned dollars into qualty tools in the most common sizes. If you buy the right brands, you'll never have to replace them and if you do, they'll be covered under warranty. It's also likely that you'll have all the tools you'll ever need with the right, smaller sets.