Pipe Wrench Uses. Unearthing Its Many Surprising Uses

One of the most common and easily recognizable hand tools is the pipe wrench. It’s a tool that is used by professionals along with many homeowners. But what exactly is a pipe wrench? What does a pipe wrench do? And do you need a pipe wrench for your home?

What is a Pipe Wrench?

A pipe wrench is really several types of wrenches that all fall into the same category.
Pipe Wrench

In simple terms, a pipe wrench is an adjustable wrench that has serrated teeth on its upper and lower jaws. The teeth are designed to bite into softer metal, such as that found in pipes, to provide enough grip to turn a pipe in the desired direction.

Pipe wrenches have long handles, and the upper jaw is a separate piece that moves up or down until the desired size is reached. With some models, two leaf springs are located above and below the adjusting knob. This helps to unlock the jaw when the pressure on the handle is released.

The pipe wrench operates by opening the jaws wider than the pipe. Fitting the pipe between the jaws, then closing the jaws until the teeth have clamped firmly into the pipe. The adjustment is made to either tighten or loosen the pipe. Once made, the adjusting knob is turned or the two leaf springs will open the jaws so the pipe wrench can be removed.

Related read: Pipe Wrench vs. Monkey Wrench

Pipe wrenches range in size from 6 inches up to 48 inches in terms of handle length. This gives them a wide variety of pipe sizes that can be addressed.

Common Uses of Pipe Wrench

Pipe Wrench Uses
The reason why pipe wrenches are so commonly used is their versatility. While they are specifically made for rounded pipes, they can also be used in other situations where standard wrenches are not applicable. What follows is a series of common uses for the pipe wrench.

1. Piping Installation and Removal

The most common use for a pipe wrench is to install and remove pipes. Because the jaws of the wrench can fit most pipes, it is easy, thanks to the leverage provided by the handle to install and remove when needed.

You’ll see a pipe wrench on the belt of anyone who must join pipes together, making it a universal tool for many different types of jobs. The only downside is pipes that are not made of softer material compared to the wrench. This is a rare occurrence but one that needs to be considered when installing or removing pipes.

2. Plumbing and Maintenance

The pipe wrench can be found on the tool belt or in the toolbox of plumbers around the world. Because the wrench is easy to carry and is adjustable, most plumbers carry the same size.

However, because different sizes exist, you’ll probably find a larger pipe wrench in their trucks or vehicles.

Although you probably will not see the 48” version, there may be 10” or larger wrenches for sewer pipes or other large pipes and connections.

3. Automotive Repair

One of the less common uses for pipe wrenches is automotive repair. However, pipe wrenches can be handy in this regard when it comes to connecting exhaust pipes and mufflers. Because the metal that makes up the exhaust pipes and mufflers tend to be thinner and softer, a pipe wrench can be used to grip and turn them properly.

In addition, pipe wrenches are handy when bolts or nuts have been stripped. When standard wrenches no longer work, a pipe wrench can be used to extract the stripped nut or bolt so that it can be replaced.

4. Construction

The pipe wrench tends to be one of the standby tools for most construction work. In essence, apart from fitting pipes, it has no specific purpose. But its versatility makes it a go-to tool when standard tools are not working.

14 inch Pipe Wrench used at construction site
While hammer wrenches and iron worker’s spud wrench are more common in the early stages of construction, the pipe wrenches can be used to break apart fasteners and connections to materials when they are not properly put together or have been damaged.

Of course, pipe wrenches can be misused as hammers, given their construction and perhaps the frustration of workers who may not have the proper tools handy.
But for the most part, when materials need to be taken apart or when fasteners are stripped, the pipe wrench is a handy tool to have.

5. Removing Stubborn Fasteners

There are times when fasteners become stuck, such as rust or becoming jammed. When standard wrenches cannot pull them out, a pipe wrench can be used in its place. The handle allows for greater leverage and more torque applied, which removes stubborn fasteners easier.

It should be noted that pipe wrenches are not designed to fit over hex nuts and similar types of fasteners. You should use a standard 6-point or 12-point wrench for such jobs. If the nut or bolt is corroded, apply some penetrating oil such as WD-40. Then use an impact wrench with an impact socket to loosen the frozen fastener.

However, if the hex nut becomes rounded or stripped, then a pipe wrench can be used to free it. Because a pipe wrench is designed to fit on rounded surfaces, it works well in removing stripped nuts or bolts.

6. Breaking Frozen or Corroded Parts

This is very similar to the above usage. The strong jaws of a pipe wrench can help break frozen or corroded parts, such as rusted plumbing fittings or seized bolts.

7. Gas Line Maintenance

Pipe wrenches are also used in gas line maintenance and repair.
They are primarily used to tighten or loosen gas fittings, which is crucial when installing or repairing gas appliances like stoves, water heaters, or furnaces. Pipe wrenches are handy for turning off gas supply lines in an emergency.

8. HVAC Installations and Repairs

Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning (HVAC) systems comprise a complex maze of pipes, ducts, and fittings. Pipe wrenches are used to install new units or repair existing ones, supporting in tasks like connecting ductwork, adjusting pipe fittings, and even performing routine maintenance tasks.

9. Oilfield Operations

The oil industry has a constant need for heavy-duty, reliable tools, making the pipe wrench a staple in this environment. Here, pipe wrenches are used for handling tubular equipment on the oilfield, including casing, tubing, and drill pipe.

10. Farm Equipment Maintenance

In the context of agricultural settings, a pipe wrench can be an essential tool for the repair and maintenance of a variety of farm machinery. Farm equipment, like tractors and harvesters, often includes complex systems of hydraulic pipes and mechanical linkages. The pipe wrench provides the necessary grip and leverage to loosen or tighten these fixtures, aiding in routine maintenance, breakdown repairs, and even in the installation of new equipment parts.

That said, I highly recommend you use the right tools, especially when working with tractors, engines, or other delicate parts.

Pipe wrenches are useful when you need a heavy-duty tool. For instance, a pipe wrench can be used to adjust the fittings on a tractor’s hydraulic system, ensuring they’re tightly sealed to prevent leaks and maintain pressure.

Additionally, the durable nature of a pipe wrench makes it suitable for outdoor use in a variety of weather conditions, further increasing its utility on a farm.

5 Lesser-Known Uses

The above are some of the common applications of pine wrenches.
Now, let’s delve into a realm less traversed, exploring some unconventional, perhaps surprising, uses of a pipe wrench that you might not have considered.

  1. Temporary Vise: Want to drill a hole in a small object that you can’t hold properly? When you do not have a vise to clamp the work, a pipe wrench can act as a substitute by securely holding small workpieces in place while you work on it.
  2. Artistic Metalwork: Artisans and metalworkers can use pipe wrenches in creative ways to bend, shape, or otherwise manipulate metal for art projects or custom design work.
  3. Jar or Bottle Opener: In the absence of a conventional opener, a pipe wrench can be used to grip and twist the lid of a stubborn jar or bottle. Do this only in an emergency situation and apply extreme caution.
  4. Straightening Bent Pipes or Rods: By clamping a bent pipe or rod in a pipe wrench and applying gradual pressure, it is possible to straighten it to some extent. Do this cautiously since you have less control over the force you apply.
  5. Survival and Wilderness Situations: In a survival or wilderness situations, a pipe wrench could be used as a multi-tool, serving as a hammer, for prying, or even for defensive purposes.

Who Invented Pipe Wrench?

Sometimes called a Stillson wrench or plumber’s wrench, the pipe wrench was first patented in 1869. Since then, it has changed considerably, and today is one of the most popular types of wrenches available.

Created by Daniel C. Stillson, a mechanic who worked for the Walworth Company. The pipe wrench that he made looks somewhat like the pipe wrenches of today, but it lacked a very important feature., In 1888, Johan Petter Johansson addressed that feature by creating an adjustable pipe wrench.

Before Johansson, a typical tradesman would have to carry dozens of pipe wrenches around with different sizes. Thanks to the adjustable feature, only one pipe wrench was needed. For many years, pipe wrenches were made from steel. Today, cast steel or aluminum is used for most of the wrench, but the jaws and teeth are steel.

The pipe wrench is a highly versatile, robust tool that, with a little maintenance, can last a long time. A well-constructed pipe wrench can be passed down from generation to generation when the proper care is provided.