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In the Workshop: Adjustable Wrenches

Filed Under: Tools, Know-How

Doug Mahoney is a professional carpenter and the editor of Tool Snob.

adjustable wrenchCorbis

Wrenches are an integral part of your tool collection. Their main function, as any DIYer knows, is to apply torque to an object -- in other words to grip and twist. It's used for removing nuts and bolts as well as larger objects like plumbing fixtures. Adjustable wrenches are a unique type of hand tool, in that one adjustable wrench can take the place of an entire set of fixed wrenches. They usually work with some kind of worm shaft that opens and closes the lower jaw, allowing you to adjust the fit and the grip.

Adjustable wrench: This primary member of the adjustable family of wrenches is also called the Crescent wrench (after the U.S. version made by Cooper Tools) is probably the most useful type of wrench -- and thus the most common. It acts like an open end wrench, but here, the lower jaw is adjustable, so one tool instantly replaces your entire metric and SAE wrench set. When buying one of these, make sure to test out the play in the lower jaw, the less the better. If the lower jaw is wiggly, the wrench can easily slip off a nut while in use, potentially stripping it.

Monkey wrench
: Also called a Stillson wrench, this tool has been for hundreds of years -- although its popularity decreased with the rise of the more compact adjustable wrench (above). Its smooth jaws are perpendicular to its straight handle.

Pipe Wrench - Often mistaken for the monkey wrench, this tool is almost identical to its doppelganger, except for the fact that its jaws have serrated edges that help it grip objects. When the handle gets pressure, the jaws actually lock around the object giving you a great degree of strength and control in your twist. A pipe wrench is a good choice when you need a strong, sturdy tool.

monkey wrench, pipe wrenchLeft: Pipe wrench (Getty Images). Right: Monkey wrench (


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