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Wrenches are required for tightening and loosening a nut or bolt and work by gripping the flat sides. If the wrench you use doesn't fit the nut or bolt exactly, either you won't be able to fit the wrench around it or you will concentrate the twisting power on the weaker corners of the nut or bolt and risk deforming it and losing the ability to tighten or loosen it. Since standard English and Metric sized nuts and bolts, with a few exceptions, do not have equivalent sizes, you will need either an adjustable wrench or a wrench for the proper system. Most domestically produced nuts and bolts are English, but cars and internationally made products tend to use Metric measurements.

The main types of wrenches are:

  • open and box end wrenches - open end wrenches are easily slipped on from the side; box end wrenches require access from the end but won't slip off. The size of the box end will depend on the number of sides on the nut or bolt. Both are available in "offset" models that put the head in a different plane from the handle to allow easier work in crowded areas, and both are available in a variety of lengths with the longer wrenches offering more twisting power but requiring more work room.
  • crescent wrenches - an open ended wrench that is adjustable to fit a range of sizes. It's adjustability makes it a handy item for a tool box. When shopping, examine the quality of the worm gear, as this will determine the ability of the wrench to grip without shifting sizes.
  • socket wrenches - usually sold in sets with a range of sockets, and available in standard and deep dimensions (for reaching nuts around protruding bolts).
  • ratchet wrenches - available as individual wrenches or in the handle of a socket wrench, a ratchet allows faster twisting by allowing you to twist the nut with a series of short, linear moves.
  • Allen and hex wrenches - designed for special nuts and bolts, usually small in size, that are a cross between screws and bolts. These wrenches tend to be pieces of bent metal and may be available as screwdrivers or screwdriver bits.
  • pipe wrench - a heavy, wide-mouthed, adjustable wrench for plumbing.
  • spanner wrench - a special purpose wrench that provides twisting power to two points opposite of each other. Uses include sink drains, axles, and wherever you are trying to twist a tube-like nut with the proper indentations that has been screwed around or within a larger housing.
  • strap wrench - a handle with a leather strap that is useful for working where you don't want to risk marring the surface, as when installing tub spouts.

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