A pipe wrench is a staple of a plumber’s toolbox. Here’s some information about wrenches to consider if you’re new to the industry.
Ask any experienced plumber what happens if you pick the wrong size or type of pipe wrench and they’ll likely have a story — scars on their hands from when the wrench slipped, knocking their knuckles against the pipe. Or a time that the pipe got damaged because of their wrong choice.
For those entering the plumbing trade, understanding the different types of pipe wrenches and how to best use them can go a long way in preventing similar incidents. Plus, knowing the right wrench to use from the get-go will inevitably reduce the learning curve it takes to figure out the right tool for the job.
There are plenty of niche-use pipe wrenches out there, but in general six major categories of pipe wrenches exist. Each comes in various materials, typically iron or aluminum, and sizes range anywhere from 6 inches to 60 inches. Categories include:
- Straight Pipe Wrench — This is the traditional pipe wrench, suitable for tightening and loosening threaded pipes of all forms.
- End Pipe Wrench — The jaws of the end pipe wrench are set at a slight angle, compared to the straight pipe wrench. This helps when working close to the wall, near the end of the pipe.
- Offset Pipe Wrench — For the tightest of spots and most awkward of angles, you want an offset pipe wrench. The opening of the jaws is at 90 degrees from the straight pipe wrench for better access.
- Compound Leverage Wrench — The design of the compound leverage wrench multiplies the force applied to the pipe. This is best used for loosening joints that have become frozen due to corrosion or damage.
- Chain Pipe Wrench — The chain pipe wrench utilizes a chain instead of the hook jaw and is best used for extremely tight pipes.
- Strap Wrench – Very similar in concept to the chain pipe wrench, but it utilizes a woven nylon strap. This is great for when you don’t want to mar the pipe, typically because it’s polished, plastic or plated.
Making a Selection
For someone just starting out and building a toolbox, a great first purchase is a 14-inch aluminum straight pipe wrench. It will cover most residential plumbing work and the material keeps it lightweight for easy transport. An 18-inch straight pipe wrench is also commonly used in the industry for up to 2 1/2-inch-diameter pipe. It is another good initial purchase.
Regardless of the type of wrench purchased, contractors need to make sure they are selecting a quality wrench. It’s an investment purchase that could last an entire career if cared for properly. For example, RIDGID pipe wrench handles are made from ductile iron that allows them to bend before they break. This provides you with a warning before the wrench fails under load, a critical safety feature.
Once you’ve purchased wrenches, how you use them at the job site and maintain them in between is also important.
At the job site, consider the type of project you’re working on and the surrounding space constraints when selecting a wrench. Also make sure the pipe falls within the diameter range for the given wrench. Choosing the wrong wrench can lead to added time on the job, or worse, damage to the pipe.
When using a pipe wrench of any size, it is important to maintain a 1/2-inch gap between the back of the hook jaw and pipe. This will allow the teeth to produce the gripping action of the wrench. If the pipe is in contact with the hook jaw, the grip is greatly reduced and will cause the wrench to slip.
To properly maintain wrenches, regularly check them for wear or damage. The teeth of the wrench should be cleaned with a wire brush and nonpainted parts should be well lubricated with oil to prevent rusting.
With just a little TLC and knowing how to make the right choice, a quality pipe wrench can be a trusted tool for years to come.
About the Author
Rob Dulabon is a product manager at RIDGID, a global manufacturer of more than 300 dependable and innovative tools, trusted by professional trades in over 140 countries. Learn more at RIDGID.com.