Wrenches are a must-have in your workshop. Their main job is to tighten and loosen nuts and bolts, so in a way, you can consider them the glue that holds things together, or at least the tool that helps to keep things rigid and in place.
However, a regular wrench is limited in its capabilities. It can’t be adjusted to meet the different size nuts you’ll be working with, so it would either be entirely useless if the nut is too big or difficult to use if the wrench is too big for the nut.
Luckily, there are many different types of wrenches. The modern design for a wrench is to have adjustable jaws to meet the different requirements you’ll face in the workshop. The two most common types of these adjustable wrenches are the pipe wrench and the monkey wrench.
This article serves to explain the differences between these similar designs and to show you where and when to use the one over the other.
The Monkey Wrench
While the history of the name may be unknown, the purpose is clear – loosen and tighten bolts, nuts, and screws. It’s a great tool to include in your tool kit. Still, it’s been mostly replaced by the newer, modern adjustable wrench, which does everything that the monkey wrench could do but is more comfortable to use. It can also get into smaller, thinner places thanks to its smaller design in comparison to the bulky, chunky monkey wrench design.
Because it’s been replaced by the modern adjustable wrench, people mostly use the monkey wrench almost exclusively for hex nuts and bolts, because that’s where the monkey wrench’s design flourishes. It’s best for these because it has straight jaws that jut out from the wrench, as well as teeth that allow it to grip flat surfaces better.
When it comes to using the monkey wrench, you need to assess the job you’re doing to decide on the right tool for the job. As we said before, you should really only be using this for hex nuts and bolts, and large ones at that. This means you’ll mostly be using it for less intricate work, like furniture or in your car.
Even then, you may find that the adjustable wrench may serve you better because it will be able to reach places the monkey wrench cannot. Unfortunately, this makes the monkey wrench nearly obsolete in the modern world, and it is now more of an antique or novelty tool.
The Pipe Wrench
The pipe wrench is very straightforward in what it’s trying to do – twist pipes. These wrenches are almost exclusively used for pipework of any kind, so you can expect this to be in the arsenal of any professional plumber you meet.
Because it was made for such a singular task, the pipe wrench can be considered a specialized design that is best suited to be used exclusively for its primary job of turning pipes. It’s similar to the monkey wrench in design, which is where the confusion comes in.
They are both adjustable wrenches with serrated teeth that allow them to better grip onto whatever you are trying to turn. However, if you look more closely at its design, you’ll notice the first key difference – curved jaws.
Just as the monkey wrench has flat jaws to better grip onto the flat surfaces of hex bolts, pipe wrenches have curved jaws to better grip around pipes. This means it can better grip and turn round pipes without damaging or stripping them. This is why you should never use a monkey wrench or other flat jaw wrench on round objects. The flat jaws and teeth can cause quite a bit of damage, potentially rendering pipes useless.
Because pipe wrenches haven’t been effectively replaced with more modern tool designs, they’re rather standard and come in various sizes, ranging from 10 inches to 48 inches. Of course, you aren’t going to need the more massive varieties if you’re only doing some kitchen plumbing.
The Main Differences
Let’s review a few of the key differences in the designs and applications of the monkey wrench and pipe wrench to help users better understand.
- The monkey wrench is an older design that is often much bigger and bulkier and has mostly been superseded by more modern adjustable wrench designs.
- The monkey wrench has serrated jaws, much like the pipe wrench, but the jaws jut out straight to better grip flat surfaces.
- Monkey wrenches are best used on hex bolts and other flat surfaces. Using them on curved surfaces can damage and strip the surfaces.
- The pipe wrench has yet to be superseded, and it remains quite common and popular today.
- The pipe wrench has serrated jaws, much like the monkey wrench, but the jaws are curved instead of flat. This allows it to better grip round surfaces, such as the pipes they are designed for.
- Pipe wrenches are best for turning and tightening or loosening pipes, as they are designed specifically for this purpose.
The Bottom Line
Both types of wrenches are great to have in your workshop, but if you are looking for what you need the most, you’ll have to look at what you mostly do work on around the house. Assessing the issue is how you know which tool is best for the job, and luckily, these two wrenches have clear-cut purposes.
If you are doing a lot of plumbing or pipework around the bathroom or kitchen, skip the monkey wrench and get the pipe wrench. You’ll be thankful for the curved jaws.
If you are doing a lot of general work around cars or furniture around the house, get the monkey wrench. It will do the job far better than the pipe wrench. If you are willing to risk damaging your pipes, you can technically use the monkey wrench in place of the pipe wrench, but you have to be very careful, and it is not recommended.
Try wrapping a cloth around the pipe first before using the monkey wrench, and make sure not to clamp down too hard to limit the potential damage.