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What is a Pipe Wrench?

By Jami Yontz
Updated May 17, 2024
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A pipe wrench is an aluminum or steel tool used for gripping and then tightening or loosening rounded metal objects, such as bolts, pipes or rods. A pipe wrench is made of an upper hook jaw and lower heel jaw piece connected to a flat handle. The jaw pieces have small teeth or grooves for gripping rounded objects when turned, and the lower jaw can be adjusted either up or down to fit the size of the metal object. Pipe wrenches come in a variety of sizes and types.

This type of wrench should not be used on hard metals, such as steel, or on square objects, as the teeth of the wrench can cause damage to the surface. Also, there should be a 0.5-inch (12-mm) space between the back of the hook jaw and the surface for the proper amount of gripping to be applied and to prevent damage to either the object, the wrench or the person. If damaged, a pipe wrench, also called a Stillson wrench, can be repaired by purchasing a teeth and jaw kit.

There are three main types of pipe wrenches: the straight, the offset and the end pipe wrench. Other types of wrenches include the compound leverage wrench, the chain pipe wrench and the strap wrench. Each of these tools has its own unique purpose and specification.

The straight wrench is the original pipe wrench designed by Daniel C. Stillson in 1869. A straight wrench is the most popular general purpose wrench and is an essential part of any tool set. Wrenches are measured by the length of the handle, and a straight wrench can be purchased in sizes ranging from 9 to 60 inches (about 23 to 152 cm).

An offset wrench is designed to be used in tight spaces where there is little to no room to swing the handle of the wrench. They also are useful for turning objects that are at an awkward angle or when a pipe is parallel to another object. An offset wrench’s hook jaw is placed parallel to the handle of the wrench and has a narrower jaw head.

The end pipe wrench is used on the parts of a pipe that are close to the wall or where the pipe changes direction. The hook jaw and heel of the wrench are at a slight angle to the handle of the wrench, which makes this tool very useful in tight spaces. The end wrench can also be useful when working on overhead pipes.

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Discussion Comments
By JimmyT — On Aug 16, 2011

@stl156 - Just looking at the two, a pipe wrench and monkey wrench look almost identical. The real difference is in the jaws. Like the article says, a pipe wrench has teeth, but monkey wrenches do not have teeth. They just have a smooth surface. I think monkey wrenches used to be much more popular until pipe wrenches were invented. Pipe wrenches can do all the jobs of a monkey wrench and then some.

As for the types of pipes, I have used a pipe wrench on a steel pipe before. It could leave some marks, but how often are pipes visible anyway?

By stl156 — On Aug 15, 2011

Is a pipe wrench the same thing as a monkey wrench? After I read the article, I looked up a few pictures of pipe wrenches, and I have always heard them called monkey wrenches.

Also, in the article, it says not to use a pipe wrench on steel or square pipes. If you can't use a pipe wrench, then what are you supposed to use to loosen those types of pipes?

By Izzy78 — On Aug 15, 2011

@matthewc23 - I have replaced the teeth on a pipe wrench before. It's not hard at all. Really, all you have to do is loosen a screw, take off the old parts, and put the new ones on. To make sure everything is working right, though, you should probably make sure you follow the instructions that usually tell you to lubricate everything.

The cost for replacement parts depends on the type and size of the wrench, but I think most kits are around $10. If you say that you don't really use your pipe wrench that much, I would just skip replacing it until you need it again. If you just need to loosen or tighten smaller diameter pipes, sometimes a crescent wrench will work fine.

By matthewc23 — On Aug 14, 2011

I never knew that you could buy kits to replace the teeth on a pipe wrench. I broke my pipe wrench a few months ago and still have it sitting in my tool box.

Has anyone ever tried to replace the head on a pipe wrench? How much does one of the kits cost, and is it even worth the time and the effort to replace, or should I just go ahead and buy a new one? I hardly ever use a pipe wrench, so if the replacement is expensive, I might just go without it.

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