Spanner vs Wrench: What’s the Difference?

Make sure you choose the best tool for the job.

Are you confused about the difference between a spanner and a wrench? What’s the difference? Are they different tools or are they the same thing?

Read on to find out.

Spanner vs Wrench: Quick Answer

The short answer is that spanner and wrench are interchangeable words.

In the US, the word “wrench” is used for both fixed-profile and adjustable hand tools.

But in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, a spanner is a fixed-profile tool while an adjustable version of the tool is called a wrench.

Types of spanner

Spanners | Hand Tools

A spanner is a tool that you use to provide grip and leverage when applying torque to turn objects, usually nuts and bolts, or to keep them from turning.

Spanners come in four basic types:

  1. Open-ended spanners
  2. Closed-end spanners
  3. Box spanners
  4. Combination spanners

Open-ended spanners are the most common.

This metal tool has two openings on either end for nuts (they look like a flat horseshoe), and it’s often seen in sets of several sizes.

You can use an open-end wrench to tighten or loosen bolts and screws, but you’ll need a set of multiple sizes to work with different bolt heads.

Open-end wrenches are efficient because they can be used on multiple sides of the bolt head at once. This makes them easy to use in tight spaces where your hand can’t turn around 360 degrees.

Types of wrench

Types of wrench | Hand Tools

There are many different types of wrenches are available to you depending on your needs:

Adjustable wrench

An adjustable wrench is a wrench with a movable jaw. The jaws can be moved along a threaded shaft, which allows the user to turn nuts and bolts of different sizes.

Adjustable wrenches are also referred to as adjustable spanners or crescent wrenches due to their distinctive shape, but no matter what you call it, this tool has been around for over 100 years.

Adjustable wrenches offer considerable convenience when dealing with various nuts and bolts in repair projects because you don’t have to switch between different sizes of fixed-jaw spanners.

However, it should be noted that adjustable wrenches do not offer the same level of torque as fixed-jaw spanners and generally cannot be used on very small fasteners or in extremely tight spaces.

Pipe wrench

The purpose of a pipe wrench is to hold or turn pipes or circular bars.

They are used mainly by plumbers but can also be useful for heating engineers, electricians and those who engage in DIY tasks around the home.

It may not be your first choice of tool when you think about purchasing new equipment, but it’s far more useful than its name implies – it can loosen almost any type of fastener that needs a firm grip.

Spud wrench

Plumbers are the ones who typically use spud wrenches, but you can also find them in electricians’ toolboxes.

A spud wrench has a long handle with a pivot mechanism at one end and is designed for use on pipe fittings.

However, it can also be used to remove a nut from a bolt, or to tighten or loosen a nut or bolt, making it a versatile tool.

Torque wrench

A torque wrench is a precision tool that allows you to tighten nuts, bolts and screws to a predetermined level of tightness.

The difference between a torque wrench and a normal wrench is that it has an adjustable handle with some sort of indicator so you can tell when the bolt, nut or screw has been tightened to the correct amount.

A torque wrench works by twisting the handle until you reach the required psi (pounds per square inch), which causes a spring inside the handle to twist until it can no longer hold back, then slipping into place suddenly.

This should result in an unmistakable click that indicates that the bolt has been tightened enough.

There are many types of torque wrenches on today’s market: click, beam, dial, electronic, and digital. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Chain wrench

A chain wrench is also known as a chain pipe wrench.

Chain wrenches use a chain that fits around the pipe and then a tightening mechanism which grips the chain. The mechanism may be a screw, lever or ratchet.

The principle of the tool is that when it is turned, the grappling ends of the jaws will bite into the material being gripped (usually metal) and stop it from turning while at rest. This can be used to turn nuts, bolts and pipes.

Chain wrenches are designed for use on pipes that are too large to be gripped by other adjustable types of wrench.

Socket wrench

A socket wrench is a tool that is used to tighten and loosen nuts and bolts.

Socket wrenches use interchangeable sockets and/or attachments in order to fit onto the different sizes of nuts, bolts, and screws that you may encounter.

They are, by far, the most popular type of wrench on the market today because they can be utilized for a wide range of tasks.

What makes socket wrenches so popular and widely available?

The ratcheting mechanism allows the user to save time by not having to remove the socket from the nut or bolt after each turn – instead, you can simply lift up on it (reversing its direction) as you move it around an obstacle in order to continue turning the nut or bolt.

This feature is good for users with limited hand strength or dexterity.

Ratcheting wrench

Ratcheting wrenches, unlike fixed-ratio wrenches, are great for use in tight spaces.

They allow you to turn bolts without having to lift the wrench off of the bolt head and reposition it after each turn.

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Crowfoot wrench

There are two types of crowfoot wrenches: toothed and hollow-end.

The toothed (serrated) wrench is used for gripping the head of a bolt or nut that can be set at an angle, while the hollow-end wrench is used for work in a confined space.

Use them with torque wrenches, ratchet handles, extension bars and sliding ‘T’ bars.

Riggers wrench

Riggers are shipbuilders or shipwrights, and they work in shipyards. The term is also applied to some jobs in the oil industry, where people are responsible for managing large machinery and equipment.

A riggers wrench is a special kind of adjustable wrench that you can use to hold or turn nuts, bolts, pipes and various other fittings. It’s commonly used by riggers on ships.

Riggers wrenches come in different sizes and styles – some have long handles while others are short – but they all do the same thing: tighten or loosen things really well.

Podger spanner

A Podger spanner is a short bar usually tapered and often including a wrench at one end.

Podgers are used to erect scaffolding and steel scenery, and their pointed ends align bolt holes.

Stubby wrench

A stubby wrench is a short and compact combination wrench that comes with either an open-end or box end.

While the handle of a regular combination wrench ranges from 125 to 180 mm, the handle of a stubby wrench is somewhere between 55 and 75 mm.

These wrenches are also available in different thicknesses depending on what you need them for.

Sometimes these wrenches are referred to as “shorty” wrenches because of their length but most people know them as stubby wrenches.

Wide mouth wrench

What is a wide mouth wrench? It’s basically just a wrench with a wider jaw opening, so it’s used for hard to reach places.

There are also extra-wide adjustable wrenches that you can use as well.

Crescent wrench

A crescent wrench is the name of a popular brand of wrenches that are no longer made. Nowadays, though, people use the term “crescent wrench” to mean any adjustable wrench with a broad handle that forms a crescent shape when open.

These wrenches have long been popular due to their versatility since they can adjust to fit many different kinds and sizes of nut and bolt.

This same feature can make them less useful than fixed-size wrenches, however: if you have a crescent wrench that’s too big or small to fit on the bolt you want to turn, then you’ll need another tool instead.

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Steve Kropp

Based in Melbourne, Steve's passion is vegetable gardening, and he’s been writing about it for almost 5 years. He also loves all things DIY and is always looking for a new project. When not working on his own garden projects or blogging, Steve enjoys spending time with his family, cooking meals with produce harvested from his garden, and coaching his son’s footy team.


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