Nine Types of Wrenches and Pliers

Twist, turn, tighten or loosen anything with these nine essential types of wrenches and pliers.

| June/July 2006

A collection of wrenches and pliers is a standard part of any toolbox, and they’re among the most useful tools for home improvement projects and auto repair. Perhaps the biggest challenge is selecting the right tool for the job. Wrenches are designed to fit nuts, bolts and other standard fasteners. Pliers grip, turn, squeeze and rotate round or irregularly shaped objects of most any size, from baling wire to barbecue grills.

One bit of advice: If you have a job that could be completed with either a wrench or pliers, use the wrench. You’ll get better results with an appropriately sized wrench, because it won’t slip and damage the fasteners you’re working on. Pliers are always more tempting to use because one pair can grip a wide range of fastener sizes. But doing so can quickly ruin machine parts by rounding off the heads of nuts and bolts. Use a wrench whenever possible, and save the pliers for when your wrenches won’t work.

Types of Wrenches

A socket wrench set is invaluable because it’s so versatile. All sets include a wrench handle, an assortment of detachable sockets that fit different sizes of nuts and bolts, and a couple of extensions. Extensions lengthen the tool’s reach and snap in place between the wrench handle and the sockets. You can adjust socket wrench handles to turn the socket in either direction, using a button or lever on the handle.

If you purchase only one socket set for jobs such as vehicle maintenance or home improvement, buy a half-inch system. This measurement refers to the size of the square-drive recess in the base of each socket. Half-inch sockets are versatile and will handle most small- and medium-size jobs, delivering sufficient torque without breaking. A three-eighths-inch drive socket set doesn’t cost as much, but the socket will break more easily if you exert too much force on it. Another size is a three-quarter-inch drive socket. But unless you’ll be working on large fasteners frequently, you can save money by using another kind of wrench.

Socket sets are sold in two systems of measurement: English (measured in fractions of an inch) and metric (measured in millimeters). You can use an English-unit socket on a metric-unit bolt (or vice versa), but it won’t fit precisely. For low-torque situations, the difference in measurements usually won’t cause problems, but if you use a mismatched socket and have to exert much force, it will slip. But either way, both metric and English sockets will fit the same socket handle.

A socket wrench is an effective tool, but it won’t fit in some tight work spaces. Sometimes, a flat open-end wrench is the only tool that will turn a nut or bolt. Even in very tight spots, the classic U-shape of the open-end wrench usually will slip onto the fastener.

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