Pry Bar vs. Crowbar. What’s the Difference?

Pry bars and crowbars are commonly used demolition hand tools, and these terms are often used interchangeably. While their uses overlap, they’re not the same. What’s the difference, and why is it important?

Let’s find out.

Difference Between a Crowbar and a Pry Bar

Pry Bar and hammer
Crowbars and pry bars are very similar and are typically used to pry apart objects.

The main difference between a pry bar and a crowbar is the intricacy of their task: pry bars are usually flatter and thinner than crowbars, making them better suited to intricate tasks. The simplest way to describe it is that pry bars are the little brother of the crowbar family. Smaller, but just as tough.

If it’s anything over 16 inches (40.6 cm), it’s a crowbar. These are typically used in applications where you want to pry things apart and don’t necessarily care to keep the pieces intact. On the other hand, if you’re undertaking delicate work and want the portions you’re removing to remain intact and useful, a pry bar is the tool to use.

What is a Pry Bar?

Pry bars come in many shapes and sizes, but the job stays the same: it’s a leverage hand tool used to pry things apart. The pry bar is the little brother of the crowbar family, meant for delicate work. These come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from keychains (yes, that small) to pocket or larger sizes. They’re usually smaller than crowbars, though.

Flat Pry Bars of different sizes

Pry Bar Uses

Pry bars are typically used for tasks that are too intricate for crowbars, such as removing small nails from wood, furniture repairs, or scraping off paint. The survival pry bar is a staple in survivalist circles, used for repairs, salvaging, opening crates and doors, and even for close-quarter self-defense. It’s a versatile tool.

In demolition work, pry bars are used for more delicate tasks. Here, you want the components to be separated without much damage and to remain whole and useful. A good example is disassembling wooden fences. Here, you can remove delicate trims from the fence boards without damaging them or the boards. You could also remove nails from said trims and boards using the nail puller while inflicting minimum damage. You could even attempt to use the chisel end as a screwdriver in a pinch, although this is generally not recommended.

Some more jobs for a pry bar include

  • Removing molding
  • Opening stuck windows
  • Opening paint cans
  • Removing floor tiling
  • Puncturing glass
  • Opening jammed car doors

What is a Crowbar?

Crowbars are leverage-based hand tools meant to pry things open. Most of them have two leveraged ends, each meant for different tasks. The chisel end typically has a less pronounced leverage end, while the other usually sports a gooseneck angle. These could have nail pullers, too, although this isn’t necessarily standard.

As mentioned above, crowbars aren’t the same as pry bars, although their purposes overlap. Crowbars are typically used to pry open paneling and crates.

Pry bar vs. Crowbar

However, survivalist circles tend to be far more creative with this versatile tool. Here, they could serve as a weapon for self-defense, smashing sheetrock, or any other imaginable task. Whatever the task, know that whatever you’re prying apart would probably be irreparably damaged – crowbars aren’t surgical tools, like their pry bar cousins.

Types of Crowbar

These versatile tools come in various shapes and sizes. The most common is the classic shape (chisel end and gooseneck end). These are usually manufactured from durable metal, such as high-quality carbon steel, and coated with corrosion-resistant material.

High-end crowbars, designed explicitly for survivalist purposes, look almost like a cross between an ice-ax multi-tool and crowbar. Here, the design takes ergonomics, functionality, style, and durability into account. With a strong focus on user comfort, this tool even features shock absorption.

Crowbars come in four basic shapes:

  1. Flat
  2. Cylindrical
  3. Hexagonal, and
  4. I-shaped.

Of these, the I-beam shape is the strongest, able to withstand immense stress before bending. Conversely, the cylindrical shape is the weakest of these and will typically bend if excessive force is applied.

Wrecking Bar vs. Crowbar

The main differences between a wrecking bar and a crowbar are the presence of a nail puller, shorter length, and purpose for which the tool is used. A wrecking bar is for hard work, not delicate work. This tool has a prying wedge on one end and usually a curved or gooseneck with a nail puller on the other end.

While wrecking bars are often called crowbars, they’re not the same. Crowbars are longer than wrecking bars and don’t always include a nail puller.

Crowbar vs Wrecking Bar

Wrecking bars are typically strong enough to handle nails larger than 16d. They can also pry apart pieces of framing lumber that is nailed together. For added strength and stability, wrecking bars are typically hexagonal stock and equipped with secure grips. 

In a pinch, wrecking bars could be used for chiseling work, too, although this wouldn’t be precision work unless you’re an experienced hand. These versatile tools provide tons of leverage, making light of some really tough demolition jobs.