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What is a Tommy Bar?

By M. Haskins
Updated May 17, 2024
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A Tommy bar, also called a t-bar or wrench lever, is a short bar or rod that is inserted through the shaft of another tool, most commonly a socket spanner or box spanner, to provide extra leverage when turning the tool. Spanners are used to tighten or loosen nuts and bolts. A spanner used with a Tommy bar has a hole through the shaft where a bar is inserted to help turn the nuts and bolts, for example when changing car tires, removing hubcaps, or doing adjustments to a motorcycle tire. Tommy bar tools come in many different sizes with varying diameters and of varying lengths, and are usually made of aluminum, steel or stainless steel that can be chrome-plated, zinc-plated or powder-coated. A Tommy bar tool is commonly included in tool kits provided with a car or motorcycle.

The type of spanner most commonly used with a Tommy bar is the box spanner, also called a box wrench. This tool is a hollow tube with a socket at each end, and the t-bar is inserted through the two holes in the hollow tube to help turn the spanner. T-bars can also be used with jackscrews.

There are different types of Tommy bars. Some come with a ball-locking device that prevents the rod from sliding out while it is being used. Other t-bars, for example many of those used as car tools, have a bent tip for this same reason. There are also stepped Tommy bars that are made up of several sections of varying diameters, making it possible to insert the t-bar in spanners with different sized holes. Very small Tommy bars are used for so-called t-bar screws that have a t-bar inserted through a hole in the screw's head in order to turn it more easily. These kinds of screws can be used for different purposes, for example in microphone stands and boom arms.

The diameter of the Tommy bar needed for a particular job depends on the size of the holes through the spanner being used, and the length needed is dependent on how much leverage or torque is required. It is not known exactly how the Tommy bar got its name. Some think the term originated with its use by British soldiers, sometimes referred to as "Tommys," in the first and second world wars, when Tommy bars and spanners were used to unscrew the base of bombs when disarming them.

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Discussion Comments

By kentuckycat — On Aug 16, 2011

@Izzy78 - Like the article mentions, a lot of the leverage created by the Tommy bar depends on the length of the bar. The longer it is, the more force you can apply to the tool. The length of the tool itself would make a difference, too. I would guarantee that there is an equation somewhere, but I doubt it's very commonly used.

My question about Tommy bars and box spanners in general, is why would you choose to use them instead of a normal socket wrench set? It seems to me that with the Tommy bar, you would have to make sure you have extra room to work compared to using a ratchet that can work in a fairly small space. That doesn't even include the space needed to fit your hands to turn the spanner setup.

By Izzy78 — On Aug 15, 2011

I didn't have a special set of tools specifically designed for a Tommy bar, but I've used the same principle on a lot of occasions.

The screwdriver set I have has holes at the ends so that you can hang them on nails or pegs. If I end up with a screw that is too hard to turn with the screwdriver, I usually take another screwdriver or some other piece of metal and put it through the hole to help turn. The extra leverage you can get is amazing sometimes.

Does anyone know exactly how much extra force you can put on something when you are using a Tommy bar?

By TreeMan — On Aug 14, 2011

I have a set of box spanners that a friend gave me, but I never knew that there was a name for the bar that was supposed to go through them.

I never knew that the main purpose for box spanners was for car maintenance. The only thing I really used the spanners for was removing the blade on my lawn mower. They were perfect for that, because I could get extra leverage with the Tommy bar.

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