The term Pipe wrench and monkey wrench are often used interchangeably. However, they are not the same tool. Why is this confusion, and what’s the difference? Which one is best to have in your toolbox?
What is a Monkey Wrench?
The monkey wrench is a 19th-century American take on the 18th-century English coach wrenches. At present, these wrenches aren’t commonly used by mechanical tradesmen, who tend to prefer the modern, more ergonomic shifting wrench or adjustable crescent wrench. They are still widely used by antique dealers and collectors since they’re best suited to the materials involved.
Monkey wrenches have an F-shaped design with a fixed upper jaw and movable lower jaw. The wrench’s handle is a flat piece of iron, usually 24 inches (60 cm) long. It’s a hefty hand tool and seems rather unwieldy when compared to the newer shifting wrench. When clamping the wrench onto a fastener, one would place the upper jaw against one side of the fastener, then close the movable lower jaw until it clamps the fastener securely. This movement is similar to how a monkey climbs a tree, hence the name.
The jaws on the monkey wrench are smooth, making it more suitable for fasteners with flat surfaces.
What is a Pipe Wrench?
Pipe wrenches are a staple in most handymen’s toolboxes, even today, and they come in various sizes. These are classified by their handle length, ranging from 3 inches (7cm) to 48 inches (122cm). However, some are even larger than this.
This versatile tool’s design is similar to the monkey wrench: an F-shaped design with a stationary lower jaw, movable upper jaw, and fixed handle. Designed to grip rounded fittings, such as pipes, the jaws have teeth that facilitate a firm grip on smooth, rounded surfaces. If the pipe wrench didn’t have these teeth, it wouldn’t grip rounded surfaces effectively and thus wouldn’t do the job correctly.
Difference Between Monkey Wrench vs Pipe Wrench
These are hand tools suitable for use on bolts, nuts, and pipes of various diameters.
So, what’s the difference between a pipe wrench and a monkey wrench?
Monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches are both adjustable. Monkey wrenches have flat jaws, while pipe wrenches have serrated teeth on their jaws. These ridges make pipe wrenches ideal for use on rounded surfaces, while monkey wrenches are best suited to flat surfaces.
Difference in Design
Monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches look the same to the untrained eye, and the name is often used interchangeably. These tools have two main differences: the monkey wrench has a smooth, flat jaw, while the pipe wrench has serrated teeth on its jaw. Pipe wrenches have a stationary lower jaw and movable upper jaw, while monkey wrenches have a stationary upper jaw and movable lower jaw.
Monkey wrenches usually come with a rounded handle often made of wood. In contrast, pipe wrenches have flat handles and come in various sizes, and are suitable for use in various applications.
When to Use a Pipe Wrench and a Monkey Wrench?
Now that you have seen the difference between these two hand tools, let me explain their uses.
Monkey Wrench Uses
Monkey wrenches are best suited for fasteners with flat surfaces, such as bolts, lug nuts, and screws. Their flat jaws render them ill-suited to applications with rounded edges, such as pipes. Monkey wrenches are generally used by antique dealers and collectors since better options are available to the modern mechanical worker and handyman. They are versatile in the antique space since fasteners weren’t regulated and standardized until reasonably recently.
The adjustable nature of the monkey wrench renders it ideal for fasteners that are oddly sized or that have warped and twisted with age. However, it is always best to use the correct size wrench instead of an adjustable wrench especially if it is a frozen nut or bolt. For instance, you would want to use a 6 point impact socket and an impact wrench to remove a stubborn rusted nut.
Pipe Wrench Uses
As the name suggests, pipe wrenches are best used for applications requiring fastened or loosened pipes. This easy-to-use tool is suitable for various pipe sizes. However, suppose a project calls for a wide variety of pipe sizes. In that case, you might require more than one size pipe wrench to effectively complete it.
Pipe wrenches can be used in applications with flat fasteners, where you would traditionally have used a monkey wrench. You could also use a shifting wrench in those applications, though. Note that the teeth on the pipe wrench could damage or wear bolts and other flat-surfaced fasteners, and thus it isn’t ideal.
In applications where the fasteners or joints are worn or rusted, pipe wrenches work well. Here, the serrated teeth allow the wrench to establish a firm grip on the fastener, allowing you to apply the force to the handle needed to break open the joint. Spanners and other standardized tools often don’t work well in these applications since the joint may be so severely warped or rusted that these no longer fit.
Which Wrench is Better to Own?
The answer to this question isn’t clear-cut. Monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches can be used interchangeably in an emergency, to tighten or loosen fasteners. But they’re both specialty tools. To determine which one you should have in your toolbox, determine the tasks you’re most likely to perform.
If your tasks are mainly plumbing-related, a pipe wrench is best. If you’re more likely to work with hexagonal fasteners, a monkey wrench or an adjustable wrench is the better option.