Breaker bars and torque wrenches are a staple in many toolboxes. They look similar, and both can be used to tighten bolts and nuts. That’s where the similarities end, though.
You can not use these two hand tools interchangeably in many situations.
Let’s find out more.
Difference Between a Torque Wrench and a Breaker Bar
The main difference between a torque wrench and a breaker bar is that the torque wrench allows you to measure or control the torque of a fastener. Conversely, a breaker bar is a heavy-duty hand tool used for loosening frozen nuts or bolts and has no torque control or ratchet mechanism.
Can You Use a Torque Wrench as a Breaker Bar?
No. Do not use a torque wrench as a breaker bar since it can ruin the calibration of the tool or could damage the torque measuring mechanism. It should only be used for tightening the fastener or loosening the nuts or bolts that are properly torqued and is within the range of the tool.
Torque wrenches are precision instruments and should never be pushed beyond their specified torque range. When using them as breaker bars, they would endure a very high torque value, damaging or even breaking the instrument.
Breaker Bar vs. Torque Wrench Comparison
1. Working Principle
Torque wrenches and breaker bars have similar working principles. Both tools are used to tighten and loosen nuts and bolts through lever action, leveraging a handle that applies torque to a socket tool. They also fit the same nuts and bolts and look similar to the untrained eye. That’s where the similarity ends, though.
Breaker bars are simple tools that are incredibly sturdy. They don’t have any spring action or other internal components to control the amount of force applied to the fastener. What you see is what you get.
On the other hand, torque wrenches are more delicate and far more precise tools. Internally, they have a set of springs and measurement devices measuring the torque applied to a nut or bolt.
Once the required torque is reached, the tool will alert to stop you from turning the nut or bolt further. The alert can be a clicking sound (in case of a click-type wrench), beep sound (digital type), or will display the reading in case of beam type. If you push it past that point, you could over-torque and damage the fastener or break the tool.
Breaker bars are used to undo nuts and bolts that are too tight to undo using smaller tools. These sturdy hand tools can resist high torque values and don’t break easily. Their application tends to be non-precision, like loosening rusted bolts or undoing lug nuts on trucks. Breaker bars are straightforward workhorses. Breaker bars can also be used to tighten nuts and bolts, although you should be careful not to overtighten them with this strong tool.
Torque wrenches are precision instruments (in comparison to breaker bars). These are meant to tighten nuts and bolts to a specific point and no further. Automated torque wrenches take this one step further, speeding up the process and making it even more precise.
These tools aren’t great for loosening nuts and bolts, though, especially when they’re really tight or frozen. This could damage the tool or skew the torque wrench calibration, which would render it useless for its intended purpose. Also, note that torque wrenches should only be used inside the specific torque limits set for each tool since going outside the intended range would damage the tool.
If you require precise control over an application, the torque wrench should be your tool of choice. Applications such as tightening wheel nuts or engine bolts come to mind since these should be done precisely to let the car function at its best.
Breaker bars don’t allow much control – they apply force and lots of it.
3. Size & Weight
Torque wrenches come in a range of shapes and sizes, typically including drive sizes of ¼ inch, ⅜ inch, ½ inch, and ¾ inch. Smaller drives have shorter handles, and torque wrenches typically fit into small working spaces, like wheel wells.
These tools tend to be relatively light and easy to wield.
Conversely, breaker bars are large and heavy. They have the same typical drive sizes as torque wrenches, but their handles are far longer. Breaker bars tend to have solid metal (usually steel or cast iron) handles, enabling them to withstand high amounts of torque.
4. Ratchet Mechanism
A ratchet mechanism is a mechanical device that allows movement in one direction while preventing movement in the opposite direction. This allows you to quickly turn the tool back to its original position without removing the socket.
While the breaker bar has no ratcheting mechanism, many (not all) torque wrenches come with a ratchet function.
5. Efficiency (Leverage & Control)
Breaker bars can exert far greater torque than a torque wrench since its handle or effort arm is significantly longer. This allows for more pressure to be applied to a nut or bolts with less effort – this is a great win when loosening rusted or really tight nuts.
The torque wrench, in contrast, isn’t as efficient as the breaker bar at loosening nuts and bolts; but it offers better control. It’s not meant to be used in heavy-duty applications requiring excess force such as loosening a rusted nut. It is a precise tool that you would use when you need control over the force, as would be the case with the lug nuts of your car.
Torque wrenches are perfectly safe to use. The likelihood of them experiencing catastrophic failure, stripping a bolt, sending splinters flying everywhere is very small. That is if you use them as they’re intended.
On the other hand, breaker bars are more hardcore. The type of applications they’re used for is far more intense. The likelihood of injury is also far more significant.
Since breaker bars are used to undo bolts and nuts that you couldn’t loosen by other means, a bolt could likely shear off, sending metal splinters flying. In extreme cases, the breaker bar’s handle could even snap off, causing injury to the operator and potentially damaging nearby equipment.
It’s best to always wear safety glasses when using a breaker bar.
Breaker bars are far less expensive than torque wrenches. You can get a breaker bar for as little as $20, while a torque wrench will cut at least a $100 hole in your pocket. More if you want an upmarket one, and even more if you opt for an automated one. So, breaker bars are easily replaced, while torque wrenches are not.
Can I Use an Extension With a Torque Wrench?
You can use extensions with torque wrenches provided they are sufficiently thick. If you use a long extension with a thin cross-section, it will affect the torque settings. The longer the extension, the higher will be the loss of torque.
Do not use the universal joint extensions with torque wrenches as they have a lot of play at the joints and may the accuracy of the effective torque applied on the fastener. The same goes for wobble sockets and adaptors.