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Monkey Wrench vs Pipe Wrench – Which is Best for Your Needs?

monkey-wrench-vs-pipe-wrench

It can be difficult for those who are just starting their wrench collection to know if you should get a monkey wrench or a pipe wrench. Both wrenches have virtually the same design and bulky frame. This causes many inexperienced users to use the wrenches interchangeably, but they should not be.

Since the two wrenches have different jaw designs, they serve different functions. Monkey wrenches have a flat jaw while pipe wrenches have teethed jaws. This means that you should not use them interchangeably, despite their similar designs and structure.

To find out more about monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches, read on. We provide an extensive overview of both wrench types, including when and how to use them. We even offer alternative wrench types and wrench recommendations. Let’s get to it.

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Overview of Monkey Wrenches

The monkey wrench is an adjustable wrench. It is the 19th-century American version of the 18th-century English coach wrench. Although these wrenches were used frequently in the 19th and early 20th centuries, they are rarely used in the mechanical trades today. Most mechanics prefer the newer style of shifting wrenches due to their ergonomic design, but many antique dealers and collectors like the monkey wrench.

monkey wrench
Image Credit: PxHere

Design

Many people mistake the monkey wrench for a pipe wrench due to their similar overall shapes. The monkey wrench uses a flat piece of iron and is 24 inches long. It has an L or F shaped appearance with a fixed upper jaw and a movable lower jaw. The body is relatively bulky for a hand tool.

The lower jaw moves up and down through the wrenches screw mechanism. The lower jaw movement mimics a monkey climbing up a branch, which is where the wrench gets its name.

A monkey wrench is different than a pipe wrench, however, based on the jaw design. Monkey wrenches have smooth jaws or jaws with no teeth. This means that monkey jaws have a smooth jaw that is ideal for turning or twisting flat surfaces.

Best For

The flat jaw on the monkey wrench makes the tool most suitable for fasteners with flat surfaces. Since they don’t have teeth, monkey wrenches are not ideal for rounded surfaces. Instead, monkey wrenches are best for clamping fasteners such as lug nuts, bolts, and screws because of the flat jaws.

How to Use

Attach the jaw of the monkey wrench to the fastener head. You will then slide the lower jaw to fit the specific fastener. Make it so that both jaws of the monkey wrench grip firmly onto the flat sides of the fastener. To tighten the fastener, turn the monkey wrench clockwise. In contrast, turn the monkey wrench counterclockwise to loosen the fastener. Whenever you are done, unscrew the screwing mechanism so you can safely remove the wrench from the fitted surface.

Pros
  • Versatile for flat fasteners
  • Easy to use
  • Antique or collectible tool
Cons
  • Better options available today
  • Bulky

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Overview of Pipe Wrenches

Though there are different types of pipe wrenches, the standard pipe wrench is designed for threaded pipes and pipe fittings. They are classified by their handle length, ranging from 3 inches to 48 inches or larger. Unlike the monkey wrench, pipe wrenches are used frequently today.

Ridgid Pipe Wrench
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Design

Like the monkey wrench, the pipe wrench has an L or F shaped body with a stationary lower jaw and movable top jaw. The top jaw can be moved using the screwing mechanism on the handle. Depending on the size of the pipe wrench you choose, these tools can either be compact or bulky.

The pipe wrench differs from the monkey wrench because the pipe wrench has teeth on the jaws. This allows the wrench to grip on to rounded fittings more easily. Other than the serrated teeth, the pipe wrench is virtually identical to the monkey wrench.

Best For

As the name suggests, pipe wrenches are best for rounded surfaces like a threaded pipe or pipe fitting. The jaw’s teeth allow the wrench to adequately grip rounded surfaces. Without these teeth, the wrench would not be able to grip the rounded surface enough to twist it. That is why the monkey wrench is only suitable for flat surfaces; it cannot grip round surfaces correctly.

How to Use

You will use the pipe wrench just as you would use the monkey wrench. Place the jaws around the pipe and adjust the upper jaw so that both jaws fit tightly around the pipe or rounded surface. Turn the wrench clockwise to tighten the pipe or turn it counterclockwise to loosen it. Remove the wrench from the pipe by unscrewing the screwing mechanism.

Pros
  • Commonly used
  • Comes in several sizes
  • Easy to use
Cons
  • Might need to buy more than one pipe wrench for projects of different sizes

How to Know When You Need a Monkey Wrench or Pipe Wrench?

Although monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches are often confused, it is pretty easy to know when to use which one after you learn about their differences. In short, you will select the wrench based on the surface that you need to adjust.

If you need to tighten or loosen a fastener with a flat surface, you will always choose a monkey wrench. On the other hand, select a pipe wrench if you need to tighten or loosen a pipe or other rounded surface. It really is as simple as that.

Scenario Which Pipe to Choose
Nuts, bolts, or other fasteners with flat surfaces Monkey wrench
Pipes, pipe fittings, or other rounded surfaces Pipe wrench

Since each wrench satisfies a different need, it’s always nice to have both wrenches on hand since they are useful. If you’re able, keep both wrenches in your kit and pull each one out for individual projects. Doing so will ensure that you are prepared no matter what.

Similar Wrenches

Though the monkey wrench and pipe wrench are great options, there are other wrench types that you may want to consider. These wrenches have similar functions as the monkey and pipe wrenches, but they may be more useful in certain scenarios.

Alternative to the Monkey Wrench: Adjustable Wrench

adjustable wrench
Image Credit: Pixabay

The adjustable wrench is a popular wrench choice for fasteners with flat surfaces. You may know this wrench by the name crescent wrench. As we mentioned earlier, many people choose an adjustable wrench over a monkey wrench.

The reason for this is that adjustable wrenches are much more compact and lightweight. This makes them easier to use than the traditional monkey wrench. Virtually every other aspect of the adjustable wrench is just like the monkey wrench.

Since monkey wrenches are bulky and out of style, we recommend choosing an adjustable wrench over a monkey wrench. It will be more comfortable and easier to use in tight spaces. The ergonomic design makes it vastly superior to the monkey wrench. If you like using antique tools you can still go with the monkey wrench. Otherwise, select an adjustable wrench.

Alternative to the Pipe Wrench: Plumber Wrench

plumber wrench
Image Credit: Pixabay

The plumber wrench is specifically designed for rotating plumbing pipes. It is adjusted to different diameters by rotating the key ring. You might want to choose the plumber wrench over the pipe wrench since it grips forcefully without engaging a nut. The plumber wrench can be difficult to use because it can dent or break a pipe. You can use this wrench for flat points too.

You should only select the plumber wrench over the pipe wrench if you are comfortable using such a powerful tool or working on plumbing specifically. Unlike the monkey wrench, the pipe wrench is still highly useful, and you should always have one in your toolkit; you should still have a pipe wrench even if you have a plumber wrench.

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Factors to Consider When Buying a Wrench

Although monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches are not used interchangeably, you should still consider the same factors when buying them. Below are key factors to consider when buying a wrench to ensure you get the most bang for your buck.

Durability

When selecting any tool, you need to consider durability. Always opt for a wrench that is made from heavy-duty materials such as aluminum or steel. These materials ensure that your wrench will last a long time, even after frequent use. Read reviews and buyer’s guides on individual wrenches before spending any money.

Size and Weight

Pipes and fasteners come in all shapes and sizes. Ensure that the wrench you choose fits the fasteners and pipes you intend to be working with. Pipe wrenches come in many sizes to make sure that all pipe diameters can be fitted properly.

Directly related to size is the weight. Heavy-duty wrenches will weigh more because they use more dense materials. Although you do not want to sacrifice any durability for weight, it is always a good idea to look for lighter tools simply because they will be more comfortable to use, especially for extended times.

Grip

To use your wrench for a long time, you should look for options with comfortable grips. Rubber is often used as the gripping material. These grips ensure that your hand stays comfortable no matter how long you use the tool. Not all wrenches come with a grip.

Jaw Type

As we saw by looking at the monkey and pipe wrench, you need to select a jaw type based on the surface of the fitting you intend to be working on. Rounded surfaces, such as a pipe, require jaws that have teeth. The teeth allow the wrench to better grip on to the pipe to be loosened or tightened. In contrast, select a flat jaw for flat fasteners since it will provide a snug fit.

Quick Look: Our Top Choices

Image Product Details
Our Favorite Monkey Wrench Channellock 8WCB 8-inch WideAzz Adjustable Wrench Channellock 8WCB 8-inch WideAzz Adjustable Wrench
  • Ergonomic
  • Precise grip that opens up to 1.5 inches
  • Made from a Chrome vanadium steel
  • Our Favorite Pipe Wrench Tradespro 830914 14-inch Heavy Duty Pipe Wrench Tradespro 830914 14-inch Heavy Duty Pipe Wrench
  • Heavy-duty
  • Precise
  • Efficient
  • Our Favorite Monkey Wrench: Channellock 8WCB 8-inch WideAzz Adjustable Wrench

    Channellock 8WCB WideAzz Adjustable Wrench

    Since monkey wrenches have gone out of style, we recommend getting an adjustable wrench instead. It is virtually the same, just with a more ergonomic design. The Channellock offers a precise grip that opens up to 1.5 inches. The jaws are extra-long, allowing you a better grip. It even comes with measurement scales in the front to help you size the nut or fastener diameter. The Channellock is made from a Chrome vanadium steel construction, ensuring that it is durable.

    Our Favorite Pipe Wrench: Tradespro 830914 14-inch Heavy Duty Pipe Wrench

    Tradespro 830914 Pipe Wrench

    The Tradespro Heavy Duty Pipe Wrench offers heavy-duty and precise gripping abilities. It is a 14-inch pipe wrench with a jaw opening of ½ inch to 2 inches. It comes with an easily adjustable precision machine tooth, which allows the wrench to grip rounded surfaces easily and efficiently. The tool is made from drop forged steel with heat treatment. This makes the Tradespro highly durable, efficient, and precise.

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    Conclusion

    Monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches are very similar, but they have different jaw designs. Monkey wrenches have flat jaws, while the jaws on pipe wrenches have teeth for gripping rounded surfaces. You should use monkey wrenches for flat surfaces and pipe wrenches for rounded surfaces.

    It is always recommended to have various wrenches in your set since you never know what projects may get thrown your way. We advise adding both a pipe wrench and adjustable wrench to your kit to help you be the most prepared. The reason we say get an adjustable wrench, as opposed to a monkey wrench, is that adjustable wrenches have a more ergonomic and modern design.

    If you only want to buy one wrench, then select one based on your intended use. If you do that, you will be able to select the best wrench for your project.


    Featured Image Credit: Creative Commons CC0, Pxhere

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