If you’ve just started picking essential tools to pack your toolbox, you may wonder what kind of adjustable wrench you need. Adjustable wrenches are classic tools that a simple DIY job and a professional repair project require equally. So, you may want to know how many types and sizes of adjustable wrenches there are available.
The most common adjustable wrenches are adjustable spanners or crescent spanners with a moving jaw and a stationary jaw at a 15-degree angle. Others include the pipe wrench, plumber’s wrench, monkey wrench, and basin wrench. Depending on the type, they range from 4″ to 48″ (10 to 122 cm).
Read on to learn more about adjustable wrenches, their types and subtypes, sizes, and applications.
What’s an Adjustable Wrench?
An adjustable wrench has a jagged jaw with one fixed part and one movable part. This feature allows the wrench to fit all types of nuts, bolts, and screws. They have a worm screw on their top that turns and tightens or loosens the wrench’s jaws.
You can use an adjustable wrench, also called an adjustable spanner or crescent spanner, for a wide variety of purposes, from plumbing and car repair to home and furniture repairs and maintenance.
Depending on the design and functionality, there are different types of adjustable wrenches.
This type of wrench is so common that you can find it in almost every home and toolbox.
The crescent spanner gives you more torque by allowing you to use your hand’s natural grip and motion. This design gives you more control over the fastener and can open even the tightest ones.
It also has a 15-degree angle between the jaw and the handle, making it even more maneuverable in small and low-clearance spaces by providing improved leverage. You can use adjustable spanners in many situations if you work on bicycles, cars, motorcycles, or any DIY projects that involve metals and movable parts.
If you’re not technically inclined or have budget or space limitations, an adjustable spanner is a do-it-all tool that can replace many other tools in the toolbox.
For example, you can replace different sizes of the fixed wrench with one adjustable wrench. And since it’s adjustable, you can use it on different dimensioned bolts, including inch, metric, or Whitworth.
Some models come with a readable scale on the stationary jaw that helps you measure the hardware’s size that you want to replace or determine the size of the socket head. This way, you can use the wrench as a measuring tool as well.
Adjustable Spanners Limitations
Despite the flexibility that adjustable spanners provide, they don’t grip as firmly as fixed wrenches. That’s because they tend to loosen as you try to move them and cause rounding on the nut’s head or pipes.
So, you need to constantly adjust them by turning the worm screw to maintain a tight fit.
You can avoid rounding by making sure the jaws are placed over the nut as tight as possible. Plus, make sure to place the nut as deep into the wrench’s throat as possible to maintain enough strength.
Another limitation is that the adjusting mechanism needs a relatively larger space to work. So, you may need to have different sizes for different spaces. That’s ironic given their biggest advantage is eliminating the need to have several sizes due to their adjustability.
Adjustable Spanner Sizes
Adjustable spanners come in a wide range of sizes, including:
- 4″ (10.16 cm)
- 6″ (15.24 cm)
- 8″ (20.32 cm)
- 10″ (25.4 cm)
- 12″ (30.48 cm)
- 15″ (38.1 cm)
- 18″ (45.72 cm)
- 24″ (60.96 cm)
The basic sizes are 6″ (15.24 cm), 8″ (20.32 cm), and 10″ (25.4 cm), which you’ll need for common tasks. That’s because they fit most standard household hardware, allowing you to access hard-to-reach and tight corners.
For smaller items, such as bikes or kids’ toys, and even musical instruments, a 4″ (10.16 cm) will be a better fit. But for large hardware with hex-head screws, 12″ (30.48 cm) or 15″ (38.1 cm) wrenches will be a better pick.
If you can’t afford to buy all sizes but want to have a wide range of them, you can mix and match. Some brands are more durable and more expensive, while others are more reasonable and lower quality.
For example, get a high-quality 8″ (20.32 cm) wrench for most of your tasks and buy the other sizes from a less expensive brand.
When you get a high-quality wrench, it will give you better options because their jaw size is more adjustable. This way, you can get more jobs done with a single tool.
For example, this 8″ (20.32 cm) Bahco Adjustable Wrench has an extra-wide opening, tapered jaws, and a short handle that allows for better access in tight corners.
Also known as the Stillson wrench, the pipe wrench comes in different shapes, but the standard pipe wrench is perfect for threaded pipes. It has an L-shaped body with serrated jaws, ideal for rounded fittings.
The jaws are slightly curved to offer a better grip.
The long handle makes it easily reach difficult locations, such as nooks and corners. However, you shouldn’t use the pipe wrench with hex nuts because its teeth will damage the hex head.
Like most adjustable wrenches, the pipe wrench also comes in many different sizes, ranging from 10″ (25.4 cm) to 48″ (121.92 cm). Again, the 10″ (25.4 cm) or 14″ (35.56 cm) pipe wrench is better for home uses, while bigger ones lend themselves to industrial purposes.
For example, the 48″ (121.92 cm) pipe wrench can fit pipes of 5” (12.7 cm) in diameter, while an 8″ (20.32 cm) pipe wrench can twist pipes that are ¼-¾” (0.63-1.90 cm) in diameter.
If you want to have a set of sturdy pipe wrenches, check out the KOTTO Heavy Duty Pipe Wrench set. As mentioned above, the pipe wrench comes in different types and designs.
The name is quite self-explanatory: A multi-angle pipe wrench allows you to adjust the head angle.
This feature makes the wrench reach tight spaces more easily. Other than the adjustable head angle, the other features of this wrench are the same as the standard pipe wrench.
Although there are different sizes of multi-angle pipe wrenches available, they’re not as varied as regular pipe wrenches. Since they’re designed for smaller spaces, they mostly come in 8″ (20.32 cm) to 12″ (30.48 cm) handle lengths.
Sealey Adjustable Multi-Angle Pipe Wrench is our pick for its quality and ease of use.
Self-Adjusting Pipe Wrench
The self-adjusting pipe wrench features a curved stationary jaw and an angled movable jaw. What makes the adjustable pipe wrench different from the regular pipe wrench is its spring-loaded jaws.
When you use a standard pipe wrench, you need to put the wrench on the pipe, compare the sizes, remove the wrench, turn the worm screw, and repeat all these steps until you get the perfect fit.
But with the self-adjusting pipe wrench, you get the perfect fit quickly and easily. And while you need both hands to use the regular pipe wrench, the self-adjusting pipe wrench allows for a one-hand operation.
Self-adjusting pipe wrenches have limited sizes and come in 8″ (20.32) to 15″ (38.1 cm) handle lengths. That means you can only use them for smaller pipes and household purposes. For example, a 12” (30.48 cm) wrench of this type can deal with ⅝-1½” (1.58 cm-3.81 cm) pipes.
Here’s how a self-adjusting pipe wrench works:
Swedish Pipe Wrench
Swedish pipe wrenches have 90-degree angled jaws that offer a firm grip and ample leverage in tight spaces. Instead of a worm gear, they work with a knurled adjustment nut that helps open and closes the handle’s jaw.
They look like vice grip pliers that adjust the pipe quickly and easily by turning the bottom of the handle. They also have long handles that make them reach tight spaces.
You can use them for car repairs, and opening tie rod ends. It’s also possible to use them as a regular pipe wrench, but it doesn’t come in many sizes. The Swedish pipe wrench comes in 10″ to 16″ (25.4 to 40.64 cm) handle lengths, suitable for pipes less than 2” (5.08 cm).
Other varieties of pipe wrenches include:
- Compound leverage: These wrenches have a unique design that dramatically increases the turning force on the pipe. So, they’re ideal for loosening super-tight, old or damaged joints. The jaws are replaceable and made of hardened alloy steel.
- Chain pipe wrench: These wrenches have a sturdy chain instead of a moveable jaw. So, you’ll have more flexibility to fit the chain around the pipe while having a safe and tight grip and powerful torque.
- Strap pipe wrench: As the name suggests, this wrench has a strap instead of the two jaws, making it super-flexible and ideal for different pipe diameters. Here’s how to use it.
- End pipe wrench: It looks much like the regular pipe wrench, but it has an angle on its head, making it ideal for drainpipes and those close to the wall without much wiggle room. Check out the Ridgid 31065 End Pipe Wrench with a high-quality, heat-treated replaceable jaw.
- Chain and strap wrenches: Comes in different shapes, and you can find non-pipe wrench versions of them on the market, too.
Also called the adjustable slip-nut wrench, a plumber’s wrench is a type of adjustable wrench similar to the adjustable spanner. While both wrenches have one moveable and one fixed jaw, the plumber’s wrench doesn’t have angled jaws.
A plumber’s adjustable wrench comes with short handles and provides much more adjustability. And it has a clever solution to address the loosening grip issue. It has a locking nut that locks the jaw and doesn’t let it loose while you turn the wrench.
This feature makes it perfect for slip nuts, locknuts, spud nuts, and basket strainer nuts.
Since plumber’s wrenches are only designed for plumbing purposes, they don’t come in many sizes. Their jaw capacities range from 1″ to 3″ (2.54 to 7.62 cm).
Monkey wrenches are another type of adjustable wrench suitable for large-scale projects such as car repair or professional plumbing. The name may wrongly lead you to think that it has something to do with the animal, but it has its roots in the 19th century when people used the name monkey to refer to small tools.
The monkey wrench looks like the letter F, which means unlike the crescent wrench that adjusts horizontally, it adjusts vertically. The jaws are smooth and unserrated, perfect for flat surfaces, and get adjusted by a worm gear.
The long handle usually measures 24” (60.96 cm) while it can range from 8″ to 18″ (20.32 to 45.72 cm). The smooth jaws mean they’re not a suitable tool for round objects as they’re more likely to slip.
Monkey wrenches typically feature long handles, making them a perfect tool for going deep inside the machine bowls and accessing hard-to-get spots. The excellent grip makes them a perfect tool for hex nuts, lug nuts, and pipes, although you should avoid them in pipes made of soft materials.
Its sturdy construction comes from its steel body made through a process called hot-forging. So, even if you use your whole-body weight against it, the monkey wrench can tolerate it.
While it may look like a pipe wrench, a monkey wrench is a different thing. Unlike a pipe wrench with angled jaws, the monkey wrench has straight jaws and a more streamlined design, making it perfect for tight areas.
Monkey wrenches come in a wide range of sizes, from 8” to 48” (20.32 to 121.92 cm), mainly used in industrial settings. The 8″ to 18″ (20.32 to 45.72 cm) range is enough for average household purposes and will get most of your jobs done.
Stanley Proto Facom Monkey Wrench is a perfect addition to your toolbox for its sleek and sturdy design.
A basin wrench is a perfect plumbing tool for faucet nuts and drains because of its long handles.
So, if you have an under-the-cabinet kitchen or bathroom plumbing, you can use this tool to reach the pipes without crawling into the cabinet.
The basin wrench features a claw head that grips tightly onto the nuts on sink faucets. The flexible head is easily adjustable and rotates in clockwise and counterclockwise directions for loosening and tightening the nuts.
However, this wrench requires some getting used to if it’s the first time you use it. But if you get the hang of it, nothing seems to give you this flexibility.
While they mostly come in 12″ (30.48 cm) sizes, you can find basin wrenches of up to 17″ (43.18 cm) long. Some of them come with telescoping handles that allow you to shorten or lengthen the handle.
How to Choose the Most Suitable Adjustable Wrench
As a tool you use in heavy-duty projects, adjustable wrenches are subject to a lot of wear and tear. So, the first thing you should consider in picking the right tool is quality and sturdy construction.
In addition to wearing out quickly, low-quality wrenches don’t create a perfect fit with the nuts, bolts, or pipes and damage those moving parts, too. Industrial-grade steel alloy is the best material that you can find in an adjustable wrench.
In addition to quality, consider the following features.
Purpose of the Wrench
The purpose of using the adjustable wrench determines which one is best for you. If you want a wrench for most basic repair and DIY jobs, an adjustable wrench is a way to go. But for plumbing purposes or auto repair jobs, you may want to choose a more specifically designed wrench to make sure you don’t damage the movable parts.
The Size You Need for Your Project
When you finally decide on the type of adjustable wrench you want, you’ll most likely get confused by the overwhelmingly wide range of sizes available.
While the size of regular wrenches indicates the item they fit on, adjustable wrenches are slightly different. For example, when you find ⅝” (1.58 cm) on a regular wrench, it means the wrench works on ⅝” (1.58 cm) thick nuts and bolts.
But since you can use adjustable wrenches on a wide range of items, these measurements don’t show exactly where you can use them.
So, most adjustable wrenches are classified based on their handle lengths.
Longer handles generally mean they have a wider jaw capacity. Plus, the longer the wrench, the more torque you can apply to the item. That means you can use them on more stubborn nuts and bolts.
On the other hand, shorter adjustable wrenches better fit into tight spaces and store more conveniently.
But since the handle length doesn’t give you precise information about the wrench, manufacturers give you the max capacity of the wrench stating the maximum jaw opening size.
The minimum and maximum jaw capacities for adjustable wrenches range from ¼” to ⅞” (0.635 to 2.22 cm). Anything outside this range is either too small for an adjustable wrench or belongs to heavy machinery.
A wrench with a larger jaw capacity will have more flexibility. But it’ll be thicker and longer, making it difficult to use in all scenarios.
So, try to get a few different adjustable wrenches for different situations.
Adjustable wrenches come in a wide array of forms and sizes, each suitable for a particular job and space. If you’re tight on the budget, get an 8″ (20.32 cm) or 10″ (25.4 cm) classic adjustable spanner to get most of the basic repairing jobs done.
A pipe wrench will be a better option for plumbing purposes because it’s more flexible and reaches tight and hard-to-get spaces.
Whatever you choose, try to find something of the highest quality for long-lasting use and reduce damage on nuts and bolts.