When I was putting together a list of some items that I am going to need to assemble my ultimate homeowner’s tool kit, I hit a bump in the road when I came across spanners and wrenches in my research. To find out if I really needed both, I did some more reading to find out if spanners and wrenches are the same.
Are spanners and wrenches the same? Spanners and wrenches are technically the same thing, they just have different names. In other words, both spanner and wrench tools are used to loosen and tighten objects.
Additionally, these tools can come in many different variations of shapes, sizes, and specific functions. The term “wrench” is used in the United States, while British countries refer to these tools as “spanners”. In total, there are approximately 39 different types of wrenches/spanners that can be used.
If you have ever seen a spanner and a wrench tool next to each other in the same area, you might have wondered what the difference is between the two. Most people would be surprised to learn that, although these tools have different names, they are actually the same thing.
Keep reading to find out everything that you need to know about the comparison between spanners and wrenches, as well as how you can classify and use them in different circumstances.
Are Spanners And Wrenches The Same?
When it comes to the differences between the functions of spanners and wrenches, there are virally none. The only real discrepancy between the two are their names.
Spanners Vs Wrenches:
- No differences in functions
- USA – wrench
- UK – spanner
- Both used to tighten/loosen nuts and bolts
- Grooves inside mouth openings for increased grip
North Americans will typically use the term wrench as a standard for this tool, with the spanner being a specialized form of the same. The British on the other hand use the term spanner as a standard for the tool, with the wrench being a specialized form of the same.
Spanners and wrenches are essentially the same and for the most part, they do the same thing. In definition, a spanner or wrench is a hand-operated tool whose function is to loosen or tighten nuts or bolts. The science behind such tools is that they work as levers.
These tools have grooves at their mouths, or openings, which when attached to a specific nut or bolt and turned at a right angle, either loosen or tighten it. Nowadays, they are highly specialized to the type, size and function of the nut or bolt.
Not surprisingly, like many other inventions, the wrench and spanner’s invention is full of controversy and some racism. Some suggest that an African American man by the name Jack Johnson was the first to invent this tool.
In fact, they go on to say that it is because of his racial background that the common wrench known as the monkey wrench got its name. Historians have however disputed those opinions, because there are citations of the term ‘monkey wrench’ being used even before Johnson’s time.
In actuality, not only is the monkey wrench not the first wrench to be invented, but it was actually invented by a man named Charles Monchy, a mechanic in Baltimore around 1858.
The man credited with inventing the wrench is Solymon Merrick of Springfield, Massachusetts. Merrick was awarded a patent for this tool as early as 1835.
The history of the tool’s invention however does not shed light on the semantic difference between the tool in North America and the UK. So, why do North Americans call the tool a wrench while the British refer to the same thing as a spanner?
The etymology of both words may provide an answer for the question above. On the one hand, the term wrench, derivative of old English wrencan, means to turn or bend.
On the other hand, the term spanner derivative of old English spannan means to join, link, clasp, fasten, bind, connect, stretch, or span.
Similarly, as figures of speech, the phrases “throw a wrench into” and “throw a spanner in the works” mean exactly the same thing, which is to sabotage or frustrate plans.
Hence, since both words mean the same, and are used in much the same way, then perhaps the difference in their usage occurs merely as a matter of chance.
For the purposes of this article, we will use the North American term for the tool wrench as opposed to spanner, since the first patent for the device was awarded to an American, in reference to the general variations of the tool.
As hinted in the discussion on the invention of the wrench and spanner tool, there are many different and more specialized classifications. The distinction between both of these tools lies in how they are used.
How Spanners And Wrenches Are Used
Now that you have learned all about the history and language discrepancies that go along with spanners and wrenches, you might be wondering how these tools are actually used.
In this section, we will be going over a general illustration of how wrenches and spanners are used, with a brief explanation of all 39 types that were mentioned in the introduction of this article.
Keep reading to discover a broad description of where and how you might see these tools being used in your daily life, or when you might need to use them in the future.
In general, wrenches are tools used for holding, twisting or turning objects such as bolts or nuts. They come in male or female variations. Male variations are inserted into the object to be turned i.e. screwdriver. Female variations have an opening that attaches around the object to be turned.
Wrenches can be further categorized into keys, sockets and spanners. Keys are specialized forms of wrenches, without teeth, that usually appear as t-shaped sockets with a male or female tip.
They include bottle openers, hex keys, window cranks, sardine can keys and in dentistry, the dental key used for leverage in pulling out teeth. Socket wrenches, usually female have an opening that attaches to the object being turned to loosen or widen it.
As mentioned in the discussion on spanners and wrenches, in North America, the spanner is a specialized kind of wrench. It usually twists and turns the object via a pin or hooking mechanism.
Common Types Of Wrenches (39):
- Adjustable Wrench
- Hex Key Wrench
- Box-Ended Wrench
- Combination Wrench
- Crowfoot Wrench
- Impact Wrench
- Lug Wrench
- Oil Filter Wrench
- Open Ended Wrench
- Pipe Wrench
- Ratcheting Wrench
- Socket Wrench
- Torque Wrench
- Alligator Wrench
- Armorer’s Wrench
- Basin Wrench
- Bionic Wrench
- Cone Wrench
- Drum Key Wrench
- Fire Hydrant Wrench
- Monkey Wrench
To begin, the adjustable wrench has an open end used to attach to the bolt or nut. However unlike other wrenches, it is adjustable, hence its popularity.
With this wrench it is possible to turn many size bolts and nuts because at the open end it has a screw that can be turned to adjust the distance between the bottom pincer and the top pincer.
The hex key wrench, also referred to as an Allen Wrench, was named after the Allen Manufacturing Company. It is a male type wrench, meaning it inserts into the bolt or nut to be turned.
Hex Key wrenches come in T-shape and L-shape variants. They also come in different sizes depending on the size of the object to be turned.
Box wrenches, on the other hand, are usually female in type and have depressed loops at both ends, so as to be able to turn nuts in a hollow space without rounding them off. The loops at each end are usually of different sizes and may fit either square or hexagonal bolts. They are often sold in sets.
The combination wrench is a cross-breed of the open-ended and box-ended wrench. On one end there is a U-shaped opening, while on the other, a closed loop. It serves to loosen very tight nuts.
The closed loop, which usually has more contact points, loosens the nut while the open ended side, which can inserted and removed with more ease, removes the nut quickly.
A specialized form of the open-ended wrench, a Crowfoot wrench is slightly different from the others. Interestingly it doesn’t come with a handle. Being handle-less it can be used to access deeper placed nuts since at its base it has an opening to insert a vertical handle.
Impact wrenches resemble a power drill. The similarity arises because this type of wrench is powered. It comes in two variations air impact and cordless impact. The former uses compressed air to increase torque while the latter uses a replaceable battery.
They are especially useful in operations where many nuts need to be loosened and/or tightened.
You may commonly find lug wrenches in your car repair kit. It is responsible for removing the nuts on your car’s wheels when you intend to replace your tire.
These wrenches come in either L-shape or cross shape variants. The L-shape variant may come with an open-ended opening on one end and a loop opening on the other. The cross shaped variant commonly comes with four socket type ends on each of the four ends.
Another wrench that you can find in your car repair kit is the Oil Filter Wrench. As the name suggests, this wrench is used to change a cars oil filter. It comes in four different shapes depending on the model of the car.
The first has a loop and a handle. These come in two variants; the chain loop and the metal loop. When the loop is adjusted it clumps the oil filter, allowing you to turn the oil filter loose or tight.
The next is known as a claw wrench which functions similarly to the adjustable wrench. When adjusted, the bottom pincer moves closer to the top pincer thus hooking the oil filter.
The last is a socket-style filter wrench. It essentially looks like a cup with an opening to attach a vertical handle that can then be used to twist the oil filter loose or tight.
The open-ended wrench is one of the most common types of wrench. They come with two U-shaped socket type openings on each side, which are often of different sizes. Although they may come in handy when dealing with nuts that are hard to access, because they have a less secure fit than the close-ended variant, they are more liable to round of the edges of the nuts.
The pipe wrench, alternatively, is often used by plumbers. It resembles and functions much like the adjustable wrench. While the latter is used for nuts this one is used by plumbers on pipes and fittings. It is sturdier and has grooved pincers.
The ratcheting wrench is a cross between a combination wrench and a ratcheting end. As the comparison suggests, it has an open ended side, and a closed ended side with a ratcheting mechanism that allows the user to tighten or loosen nuts without having to remove the wrench each time. This allows for efficiency and ease.
The socketing wrench is of the male variation as well. That means that it is inserted in a nut or bolt as opposed to attaching around them. Unlike the hex key, which is also of the male variant, this one has a ratcheting mechanism that allows the user to remove nuts or bolts more efficiently.
The torque wrench, on the contrary, has more similarities with the impact wrench. Both wrenches are powered, in order to apply more torque. The two fundamental differences between the two devices are that the torque wrench is not indiscriminate in the amount of torque it provides.
To allow for precision one can set the precise amount of torque needed to adjust a given bolt. Secondly, it is smaller and more nimble than an impact wrench.
The old-fashioned alligator wrench is rarely in use today. This is because it was used to adjust the now rare square shaped heads. This wrench has an open ended opening on one end. One pincer is usually grooved, and the other smooth.
An armorers wrench is contrarily used in gun repair shops most of the time. It has serrated C-shaped opening on one end and a loophole one on the other. They are available in model specific designs. Confirm the gun’s model before purchasing.
Another wrench that can be found in a plumbers toolkit, the Basin wrench, also known as a faucet wrench, is used adjust the fit of fixtures. It has a T-shaped handle with one end of it having curved, grooved pincer.
The bionic wrench, though, is essentially an adjustable box-ended wrench. This peculiar looking wrench pliers shaped handle, which when squeezed causes the loop holed end to tighten around the nut. Therefore, it can be used to adjust many sized box nuts.
Cone wrenches are flat open-ended wrenches. Like the quintessential open-ended wrench, it has two U-shaped openings on either end. It is however flat unlike its cousin. It is used to access flat surfaced nuts that the normal open-ended wrench would otherwise be unable to access.
On another note, the drum key wrench is more T-shaped than the other designs. It comprises of a square holed socket wrench attached to a longer, flat rod at the top, allowing the drummer to apply more torque. As the name suggests, it is primarily used by to tune percussion instruments.
The highly specialized wrench known as the fire hydrant wrench was developed solely for use on the fire hydrant. The opening on one end is pentagon shaped. It is also adjustable to suite different sized fire hydrant nuts. As a result of the highly specialized nature of their nuts, fire hydrants can only be opened with this wrench.
However, the money wrench is perhaps the most famous wrench. Disputes have flared over its invention, and intended meaning of the word monkey in its name. The wrench has even found its way into English literature.
The saying ‘throw a wrench in the works,” was typically made in reference to this wrench. It resembles the alligator wrench, minus its cousins serrated edges. It is also adjustable.
In conclusion, the differences between the terms wrench and spanner are merely semantic in nature. The term wrench is predominantly used in North America, while spanner is most commonly used in the United Kingdom.
In both regions, the counterpart is used to denote a specialized form of the commonly used term. However, both of these types of tools are used for the same purposes, due to the fact that they belong to the same family of tools.
So, with the understanding of the differences between a spanner and a wrench throughout this article, you should never have to worry about confusing these two objects again in the future.