For some reason, wrenches have a bad rap. If you are old enough, you might be familiar with a phrase that goes something like "Well, that's thrown a spanner in the works." Often the U.S. term of "monkey wrench" is substituted for the British "spanner," but in either case, it means that one's carefully laid plans have gone terribly wrong, calling forth the image of a heavy, cast-iron wrench being tossed into the gears or moving parts of an engine and thus rendering subsequent movement impossible, or at least calamitously noisy.

This is odd, considering that wrenches as tools are designed to do precisely the opposite. Pipe wrenches staunch water leaks, while socket wrenches, crescent wrenches, open-end wrenches, and their box- or ring-end counterparts keep machined parts in place so their moving components will run smoothly. Some wrenches may be less precise than others—an alligator wrench works by the brute force of the friction between its teeth and whatever is being turned, while the jaws of an adjustable wrench will only clamp as tightly around a nut or bolt as the strength of the tool's worm-screw will allow—but as a family, wrenches are designed to keep things together rather than being the cause of them coming apart.

Wrenches have been doing this sort of thing ever since the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, when the machines that would help the world produce more goods at lower costs were built and maintained with, among other tools, wrenches. Special wrenches were designed to adjust and tighten fittings on everything from carriages to tractors to locomotives. Some wrenches were highly specialized (the pointed end of a spud wrench allowed an ironworker to line up holes drilled in two pieces of steel to make it easier to get a bolt through the holes before tightening the bolt with the wrench end), but more often wrenches were adjustable so a single tool could loosen or tighten a range fastening heads.

Farm wrenches were routinely designed for particular brands of equipment, with the brand's name either raised in relief letters on the wrench's handle or cut into it, so that one would actually grip words like Deere, Planet Jr., John Bull, or Litchfield when using the wrench. These tools often had open ends—in many cases, one end of the wrench might have two or three open ends, corresponding to the sizes of nuts and bolts most commonly used in adjustments or repairs.

Patented wrench designs boasting exclusive features came into vogue in the early 19th century. Solyman Merrick is often cited as one of the wrench's inventors, but his first patent, 8,153X, granted on April 18, 1834, was actually just an improvement to wrench patent 7,254X by Henry King, granted on October 25, 1832. Merrick did, however, patent the first screw-adjust wrench, patent 9,030X granted on August 17, 1835.

Other formidable figures in wrench history include Charles Stillson, who was granted a number of wrench patents between 1865 and 1876, and the brothers Loring and Aury Gates Coes, whose screw wrenches were commonly called monkey wrenches (the oft-told story that Charles Moncky invented the monkey wrench in 1858 is false). Famous wrench brands include Millers Falls, Elgin, Bemis and Call, Liberty, Giles, Trimo, Westcott, and Acme, which was just one of many companies that made steel wrenches with handsomely twisted handles.


Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Alloy Artifacts

Alloy Artifacts

A tool collectors’ dream, this site is a deep repository of photos and info on 20th century hand tools and the co… [read review or visit site]

Drainspotting

Drainspotting

Josh and Cam Larios have created this site enabling people to upload and 'tag' photos of historic or artistic manho… [read review or visit site]

A Millers Falls Home Page

A Millers Falls Home Page

Randy Roeder has carved out a niche for himself with his fine website devoted to the history of the Millers Falls C… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Vintage Lot Of 74 Wooden Handle Monkey Wrenches ☆☆☆free Shipping ☆☆☆Frank Mossberg Co. No. 14 Socke/wrench Set In Original Box. Antique6 Vintage Williams Superrench Wrench Set W/ Pouch Box-end, W Logo 1"-3/8'+9908 Old Pawn Vintage Mac Tools Short Deep Offset Box End Wrenches Set Antique Vintage Patented Crazy Mechanism Adjustable Wrench Minty Coes ?Vintage Crescent Tool Company Wrench Parts - Assortment Box - Repairman DealerL117- Rare Antique H.d. Smith Perfect Handle 10" Adjustable Wrench Scarce Antique Hd Smith Perfect Handle 10" S-handle Adjustable WrenchVintage Proto Tools Flare Nut, Open End Wrench Set #3757-3751 3/4-5/8" W/pouch Vintage Craftsman -vv- 12 Piece Open/box End Standard Sae Wrench Set WrenchesVintage Snap On Tools Advertising Wrench Bike Wrench Frostburg, Md DealerRare Find! Vintage Roddick Tool Co Anaheim Ca Internal Pipe Wrench Set W/ PouchParis Canada Vintage Antique Old Farm Wrench Tool Vintage Tools Wrenches, Stanley Level And Bevel,cobblers Hammers Lot Of 8 Vintage Snap On Socket Wrench Set2 Vintage Plumb Plomb 3/8'' & 1/4'' Drive Ratchet Wrenches 5249, 4749 UsaVintage Winchester No. 1001 Monkey Wrench 6" Size W/ Wood HandleVintage Bonney Ignition Wrench SetAntique Farm Tractor Buggy Implement Wrench ToolLot Of 9 Vintage Bicycle Wrenches, Pexto 14 Rigid Beckley-ralston Wizard No9 160Vintage Hazet Chrom-vanadium Wrench Lot Of 3 , GermanyHuge Lot Of 45 Vintage Wrench & Pliers. Barcalo/ Williams Etc. Antique Usa Made.Vintage Snap On Metal Case - Socket Wrench Tool Box Vintage Pair Of Blacksmith Twisting WrenchesVintage 20" Heavy Duty Crescent Wrench - Proto Los Angeles 720-sVintage Snap On Rxh 6-point Sae Double End Flare Nut 5-piece Wrench SetSnap-on Nc52 Nut Splitter Vintage UsaVintage 3/8" 1/2" Craftsman Crescent Wizard # H2606 Ratchet Wrenches And StubbyVintage Leather Spud Wrench Holder Iron Worker WrenchVintage Any Angle WrenchVintage Snap On Tools 3/8 X 7/16 Double Flex Box Wrench 12 Point Fh-1214Vintage 18" Diamond C718 Adjustable Auto Monkey Pipe Wrench, Usa6-8” Crescent Tool Co. Jamestown Double End Adjustable Wrench-vintage Hand ToolAntique Lot Ford, Inch Wrenche,pliers, Adjustable, Wrenches, Vintage Farm ToolsVintage Williams Superrench 1178 1-1/2" 12 Point Combination Wrench! 21" Antique 15" Diamond Forged C715 Adjustable Monkey Wrench Usa.Vtg Lowell Corporation No #23 Ratcheting Socket Wrench 3/4" Drive 13.5" Long Usa6 Vintage Craftsman Metric Open End Wrenches -- 7 To 19mm -- Vv And V SeriesL100- Antique H. D. Smith & Co. Perfect Handle Wrench 3/4"Vintage Craftsman Combination Wrench Set With Metal Display HolderVintage Cornwell 12" 15" Adjustable Wrench Lot, Aj12a Aj15a, Usa, Crescent StyleVintage Perfect Handle H.d. Smith 13" Adjustable Wrench - Used ToolVintage Craftsman 16" Inch Adjustable Wrench Forged Alloy In UsaK-d Vintage Ignition Wrench Set With Pouch 4090Vtg J.p. Danielson Co. 16" Adjustable Wrench Betr-grip, Usa Made Vintage Millers Falls Adjustable Buggy / Wagon Wrench, 8-3/8"Vintage 11 Pc Blue Point Open End Angled Ignition Wrench SetAntique Vintage Ford Script Model A T Tools Pliers Open End Wrench Lot Of 8 2-vintage Craftsman Usa 1/2-inch & 1/4-inch Drive Spinner / Speed - WrenchVtg Antique Ford Model A T Adjustable Monkey Wrench 9" All Ford Script Lot Of 5Vintage Williams Superrench Ignition Wrench Set In Wrap 9 WrenchesSnap On Tools 7/16" Combination Open Box End Wrench Oexh14 Vintage Vintage - 15" - Diamond Diamalloy Tool & Hardware Co. Adjustable Wrench - Usa2 Vintage Williams Superjustable Locking Adjustable Crescent Wrench 10", 8"Vintage ~ John Deere ~ Tractor Wrench ~ 15" Length ~Antique Quick Adjust Pipe Wrench, Porter Mfg Co. PlumbingVintage Double Sided 5402 100 Fp. Plomb Torque WrenchVintage Craftsman =v= Series Flying V 3/8" Ratchet Wrench Collectable Old Tools5 -vintage Stubai Porche.meredes,vw Wrenches ,Antique Car Lug & M231 International Harvester Wrench /s, Old Saw Set Hand Tool