Introduction to Pipe or Pipe Wrenches

The pipe wrenches (or rather, for pipes) are among the most present tools among users. Plumbers, gas operators and all those who work with pipes and pipes in general, from the most straightforward applications to industrial, oil or mining, for example, have various adjustable wrenches to facilitate their task.

Below we will develop a brief introduction to learn a little more about this fundamental tool.

What is the origin of the Pipe Wrenches?

The rise of adjustable wrenches, today essential for this type of work, began in the second half of the 19th century, when the American inventor Daniel Stillson patented the tool that bears his name in 1869. Even today, the Stillson wrench is extremely popular, especially in America.

The History of the Pipe Wrench

On the other side of the Atlantic, many European countries were still far from enjoying the advances of the Industrial Revolution, and one of them was the now thriving Sweden. In 1887, a pioneer named Johan P. Johansson decided not to emigrate to the United States like many of his fellow Swedes. Instead, he set up his repair shop in a town near Stockholm, drawing on his previous experience as a labourer, machine builder, and master blacksmith. In time, his workshop would become famous around the world.

Back then, workers had to carry many different tools to cover every conceivable dimension of pipe, bolt and nut. Johansson couldn’t afford a complete set of tools for himself and his employees, so he was forced to find a solution to this problem.

From his clever imagination then came a considerable tool he called “the iron hand”, which Johansson wields in this photo.

The first two-branch adjustable wrench was specially designed for pipes, whose jaws allowed handling pipes and jackets of various dimensions. But the invention came with an extra accessory: in addition to condensing into a single piece an assortment of tools of different sizes, it could also be used as a pipe clamping tool, a characteristic that made it superior to the single-branch wrenches used in the time, typically the one invented by Stillson.

What is the Pipe Wrench?

This innovative tool has two branches of different shape and construction:

  • a mango
  • an adjusting rod

The adjusting rod has a regulating nut used to close the movable jaws around the spout or clamping element (for example, a hex nut).

The adjustment nut is precisely the one that allows the jaws to be adjusted to the desired size and measure using their upward or downward movement along the rod and also enables the key to be locked in the desired position.

The more pressure applied to the handle, the greater the clamping force of the jaws, to the point of even being able to support the weight of an adult standing on the tool.

The jaws are usually made of steel of high hardness and resistance. They feature progressive teeth for a robust and secure grip on the workpiece. The very design of the jaws accommodates not only various object shapes (round, square or hexagonal) but also in tight spaces.

The designs of the spout wrenches have evolved significantly over time, giving rise to innumerable models that have different functionalities according to the specific application needs.

On the other hand, design-wise, unlike Stillson wrenches, let’s review the grip considerations. The nut provided on the adjusting rod of the pipe wrench has a safety stop that prevents the nut from falling and provides a much more precise and safe jaw opening regulation mechanism.

On the other hand, contrary to what might be assumed due to its length, a pipe wrench is suitable for narrow and confined places. This is possible thanks to the various models currently offered by the trade since we can find pieces with different head geometries whose stylized jaws are oriented at 90 and 45 degrees, facilitating work in corners and corners.

Finally, let’s examine the construction details since another question we might ask is whether such a long tool is heavy and difficult to manoeuvre. To this end, manufacturers have already addressed this question and today offer their pipe wrenches with construction designs that managed to reduce their weight by 40% compared to the Stillson wrench and others—used in plumbing and related tasks. The novelty is introduced by handles whose exterior is made of a resistant sheet of folded steel covered with plastic material to offer a soft, non-slip grip and, in some models, even ergonomic. The folded sheet metal core offers high resistance thanks to the steel alloy it presents and is much lighter than a similar size and material tool, but it is provided with a solid section handle.

Uses and applications of pipe wrenches

The unique opening and grip characteristics (the latter measured according to the recommended pipe diameter) of these tools make them extremely useful in an immense variety of applications in plumbing, clamping and adjusting various tubes, rods, and all kinds of parts—circular section. Here are just a few of those applications.

  • Industrial facilities and household water, gas, compressed air and steam
  • Industry of construction
  • Mechanical workshops, for work on the front end of vehicles
  • Fire networks
  • Maintenance tasks in oil and mining facilities


Sometimes, mainly in plumbing, the pieces are stuck or blocked due to rust, lack of lubrication, etc. The truth is that, although on occasion this may result, the safe use of the tool prohibits overloading the handle because the torque that is generated is much greater than that calculated to withstand under normal conditions, and this could cause a breakage of the handle—metal with the risk of injury to the operator. As we always remember, it is essential to use the tools safely!

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