The Best Adjustable Wrench
If you’re looking for an adjustable wrench for your home toolbox, we recommend the Channellock 8WCB WideAzz Wrench. The tool is a manageable 8 inches long but has the jaw capacity of a much larger wrench, making it easy to handle and very versatile. The wrench has a smooth jaw adjustment, a comfortable padded gripping area, an excellent overall build quality, and a thin, tapered nose for getting in tight spots and grabbing small fasteners. We came to our conclusion after 9 hours of research and testing 13 wrenches representing a variety of styles from reputable manufacturers.
Why you should trust me | Why an adjustable wrench? | How we picked | Our pick | Who else likes it? | Flaws but not dealbreakers | A runner-up | A step down | Step up (into a new realm) | Long-term test notes | Competition | Wrapping up
Why you should trust me
Between a ten-year construction career, seven years of writing about and reviewing tools, and three years of gutting and rebuilding my own house, I’ve gained a thorough knowledge of hand tools. While in construction I spent time as a carpenter, a foreman, and a job supervisor working on high-end custom homes in the Boston area (some were quite unusual). Since then, I’ve written articles that have appeared in This Old House, Popular Mechanics, and Tools of the Trade.
Why an adjustable wrench?
How we picked
To narrow down the hundreds of wrenches on the market, I relied on my own experience and had conversations with two tool experts; Marc Lyman, editor of HomeFixated.com, and Stuart Deutsch, editor of ToolGuyd.com. Each brings a unique perspective; Lyman is a DIY/home improvement aficionado and Deutsch approaches his tools from an engineer’s standpoint (and has a PHD in Materials Science and Engineering to back it up).
What I discovered after my research and interviews is that if you’re only going to own one wrench, it should be an 8-inch, wide-mouth model with some kind of ergonomic grip area.
Of these features, the wide-mouth part warrants a little explaining. Basically, it means that you’ve got an 8-inch wrench with the jaw capability of a 12-inch wrench. This leaves you with a very useful tool that isn’t burdened by a long, bulky handle.
On a standard 8-inch wrench, the jaws open to about 1⅛ inches, which is enough for a lot of tasks but not all of them. To step up in jaw width, you usually need to go to a 10- or 12-inch wrench. Most 10s open just over 1¼ inches and the 12s sit around the 1½-inch mark. But with these traditional tools, this increased jaw capability comes with a longer, more cumbersome handle. So recently, a few manufacturers have released 8-inch wrenches with a larger jaw capacity, usually around 1⅝ inches.
In my house there is a perfect example of the benefits of these wide-mouth wrenches. The radiator manifold in my basement (which I need to tinker with every time I fuss with a radiator or remove it for painting) has brass connections that are too large for a standard 8-inch wrench. They’re also situated in such a way that a tool with a large handle isn’t practical to use. A wide-mouth wrench makes it easy for me to loosen and tighten the connections; I can grab the fitting and also have plenty of room to move my hand and operate the tool.
There is also my heating system. Virtually every connection coming off my boiler and water heater, up and into the radiator manifold, is sized so that a standard 8-inch wrench can’t grab it but the wide-mouths can.
I asked Lyman about these wide-mouth models and he said that he really likes what they have to offer, adding, “I have run across situations where my [standard 8-inch] adjustable didn’t have the capacity needed for a specific job. That’s always a bummer.”
Lyman also pointed out another benefit to the wide-mouth wrenches. To accommodate larger-sized nuts, the jaws are longer. This added length means that you have a little more reach to the tool if you’re working in a tight spot like under your sink. It also means that it is easier for the jaws to fit around the entire edge of the nut. As Lyman told me, “I’ve had the joy of rounding off larger nuts when the jaws don’t make contact along the full length of the nut edge.”
It’s also worth getting a tool with some kind of padded/ergonomic handle. I’ve used standard metal-handled wrenches plenty over the years and I’ll always pick a padded one over them. It’s just not worth the discomfort, especially with a turning tool like a wrench.
With these criteria in mind, we set out to find testing candidates. We tested all of the 8-inch wide-mouth options: the Channellock 8WCB WideAzz ($25), the Klein D509-8 ($30), and the Bahco 9031 Big-Mouth ($25).
With these tools all priced at $25 and above, we also looked at a few standard-sized 8-inch wrenches from reputable manufacturers. With a jaw capacity of only 1⅛ inches, they won’t be able to handle large fasteners, but they’re also consistently priced $10 lower, making them ideal for people on tighter budgets who are willing to sacrifice some usability for the reduced cost. Of these smaller tools, we tested the Klein D507-8 ($22), the Irwin 2078608 ($12), and the Stanley 90-948 MaxSteel ($13).
In addition to this, we looked at three ratcheting adjustable wrenches—the $22 Stanley FatMax FMHT72184, the $18 Bostitch 99-079, and the $17 Crescent ATR28, and we tested one vise-grip/wrench hybrid (the $15 Stanley 85-610 MaxGrip) to see how it would perform. Lastly, we checked out three double-handled adjustable gripping wrenches, the 7-inch Knipex Pliers Wrench ($52), the Kobalt Magnum Grip ($13) and the Craftsman Max Axess ($18).
To test these tools, I spent a couple days with each one doing a number of small around-the-house projects (both general maintenance and as part of my larger renovation). I adjusted chair legs, attached training wheels, emptied and refilled my heating system, assembled a tricycle, put together some knockdown furniture, attached garden hoses, installed a radiator, and tightened up some loose gate hardware. I also recruited my uber-finicky carpenter friend Aaron to spend an evening looking over the tools and testing each one on a variety of fasteners. Aaron has been in the trades for about 13 years and is very particular about the quality of his tools. He has absolutely no patience for cheap gear that falls apart within a couple years.
The handle on the Channellock is large and well padded, giving ample protection to the hands, particularly in high torque situations. It also has a good amount of texture to it, so it’s unlikely that it will slip out of your hands. Klein opted for a more traditional plastic dipped handle that doesn’t offer the comfort of the Channellock’s. The Bahco had the most comfortable handle of the three but had other problems that took it out of contention.
Like the other wide-mouth wrenches, the overall quality of the Channellock is very high. The wrench has a nice weighty feel and the lower jaw doesn’t have a tremendous amount of wiggle to it, indicating a quality connection between it and the thumbturn. While being adjusted, the jaw moves smoothly up and down. It wasn’t until we got into the under-$20 range that we started to see discrepancies in these areas.
Unlike most Channellock tools, which are made in the US, this wrench is manufactured in Spain by a company called Irega. “Made to Channellock specifications in Spain,” is what the Channellock website says. Irega is a company that makes nothing but adjustable wrenches. They are very highly regarded and have a great reputation for quality.
Who else likes it?
The Channellock Wide Azz is well-liked by both Deutsch and Lyman. When I spoke to him, Deutsch told me that “Channellock’s Irega-made adjustable wrenches have become yardsticks to which I measure all other adjustable wrenches.”
Over at ToolGuyd.com, Deutsch, writing about his first experience using the Channellock, noticed that the “adjustable had very little play in the jaw, was relatively smooth to operate, and felt robust and sturdy.”
A year later, he referred to it as “by far my favorite [wrench] to use.” Two years after that, he included it in his Ultimate Gift Guide by writing, “Channellock’s made-in-Spain (by Irega) adjustable wrenches are our absolute favorites. The cushion handles are grippy and super comfortable, the adjustment mechanism is smooth and strong, and the jaws open wide without the wrench being too large or bulky.”
Lyman also likes the Channellock, telling me that he, “definitely likes the extra capacity that the Wide Azz brings.”
The tool also has a stellar reputation with its Amazon purchasers, currently logging in 4.8 stars with 35 reviews. The significance here is that the reviews come from a full range of people from plumbers and HVAC workers to bike and RV enthusiasts to homeowners and DIYers. Looking through the reviews, one sentiment often repeated is, “this is the best wrench I’ve ever used.”
Flaws but not dealbreakers
One annoying thing that I did notice about the Channellock handle is that the molding seam that runs around the entire edge was very ragged (though Wirecutter associate editor Michael Zhao did not notice this on the one he bought). It’s a minor issue and probably wouldn’t bother most people, but I’m pretty finicky about handles, so I trimmed off the excess with a utility knife. Once I did that, the tool felt better (but not enough to satisfy Aaron).
But it appears that the majority like it. As stated above, Deutsch wrote that “the cushion handles are grippy and super comfortable…” In the Amazon reviews, the padded handle is often mentioned often as a highlight of the tool. Reviewer “mike” writes, “the handle is soft enough to use excessive force without hurting your hands.”
At least one Amazon reviewer agrees with Aaron. Douglas Goldberg, who works maintenance in a large building, and who gave the wrench a very positive review, said that he ended up cutting the padded handle off.
So it seems that the majority opinion is that the handle is a good thing, but there is some dissent on the matter. If it’s something you feel that you won’t like, well, that’s what our next recommendation is for…
The jaw of the Klein has very little wiggle to it and the open/close movement was the smoothest of the tested wrenches (we’d say maybe 5% smoother than the Channellock, which was also extremely smooth but gave out a little squeak from time to time). The jaws of the Klein are a little stubbier and fatter than the Channellock, so it has a slightly harder time in confined spaces.
Interestingly enough, the Klein wrench is also made in Spain. While I couldn’t find any definitive proof, the online rumor mill seems to indicate a high likelihood that it is also manufactured by Irega.
A step down
If you just want a small, basic wrench and are looking to keep the investment to a minimum, we suggest the $12 Irwin 2078608. The major drawback is that it’s not a wide-mouth model, so it won’t be able to handle larger tasks. The Irwin can’t fit over most of the connections coming in and out of my boiler, water heater, or water treatment system, but it does open to just over 1⅛”, so it should be able to handle around-the-house jobs like bike adjustment and furniture assembly. But in an emergency, you’d be better off with the Channellock. It’s better to have the extra width and not need it then to not have it and need it.
Otherwise, the Irwin is a solid little wrench. The lower jaw fits nicely to the tool. And even though the handle has an odd rectangular shape to it, we found it comfortable and easy to hold. Even Aaron liked it quite a bit, proving that he’s not entirely opposed to padded handles.
Step up (into a new realm)
The body of the Pliers Wrench takes the form of a pair of adjustable pliers. The jaw size adjusts the same way, with a push-button mechanism that allows you to slide the lower jaw up and down a series of stops. But where the tool is different is how the lower jaw moves in relation to the upper jaw once the handles are squeezed. On traditional pliers, the lower jaw moves off a pivot point, like an alligator’s mouth, but on the Pliers Wrench, the lower jaw is always moving parallel to the upper jaw. So to use the tool, you make the push button adjustment to be a little larger than what you want to grab, then when you squeeze the handles, the lower jaw clamps up towards the upper jaw, but remains parallel to it the entire time.
As Knipex shows in this image, a traditional wrench doesn’t really grip the sides of a nut, but instead it catches the edges of the corners. Even with such nice tools as the Channellock, Klein, and Irwin, this is the case. Because of the unusual mechanism on the Pliers Wrench, the jaws clamp down on the entire side of the nut, truly grabbing the object with a parallel gripping force. The result is a near zero chance of stripping or rounding over the edges of the nut, regardless of how stuck it is.
The one downside to the tool when compared to a traditional wrench is that there are times when the handles can be tricky in tight spaces. Most of the time, you can work the adjustment so that they are nearly closed when you grip, but a few times, this wasn’t possible and the tool had to be operated with open handles. Still, the space needed to grip half-open handles isn’t much larger than that used to grip a normal wrench.
The Pliers Wrench is universally praised. Deutsch, writing at Popular Mechanics, says, “Knipex’s Pliers Wrench is the Popeye of pliers and quick-adjust wrenches. It may be small, but it is capable of exerting a surprisingly high level of nut-gripping leverage.”
Ralph Fincher at Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools wraps up his review with, “To summarize, the Knipex pliers wrench combines the best features of other tools, enabling one to grip and turn nuts and bolts with a single tool, and apply considerable squeezing pressure on objects without gouging or tooth marks.”
Long-term test notes
For the past six months, I’ve had the three recommended wrenches in my tool box and have used them all quite a bit as I’m wrapping up my renovation. The one that I reach for the most is the Channellock. When I originally wrote the guide I still wasn’t 100% sold on the padded handle, but it has become one of my favorite features. If you have a stuck bolt, it really lets you lean into the wrench with very little discomfort to the hand. The Channellock’s slender nose has come in handy repeatedly as I’ve made many adjustments to my tightly packed heating system. The Channellock fits between the fittings while the other wrenches don’t even come close.
I still really like the Irwin, but it just doesn’t have the jaw capabilities of the wide mouth wrenches. The Klein is also a very nice tool, but because of the stubbier jaws and dipped handle I tend to reach for the Channellock first.
The Bahco 9031 Big-Mouth ($25) brought comfort to a new level but the wrench has a feature that made it difficult to use. The jaws are designed so that they are just out of parallel with the tips slightly closer than the throat. This causes them to lock on to the nut, preventing slippage which could result in possible hand injury.
All of this is true, but a side effect is that, once tightened, the wrench is nearly impossible to pull straight off a nut. So if you’re doing more than one turn on a nut (and you almost always are), this feature becomes frustrating very quickly. Bahco’s choice of design makes sense, seeing as the company manufactures tools for the industrial and mechanical trades, where high torque is needed on a consistent basis and slippage is a constant reality. But for more casual use, the non-parallel jaws got in the way of speed and ease of use.
Like its wide mouth brother, the Klein D507-8 ($22) is a very smooth, very nice tool. It has a slightly larger jaw than the Irwin, coming in at about 1¼”. But at over $20, it’s priced a bit on the high side when compared with some of the other tools. If you’re already at the $20 mark, you might as well kick in another five and get the Channellock Wide Azz with the larger jaw capability.
The Stanley 90-948 ($13) is in the same price range as the Irwin, but doesn’t have the same level of finish. The thumbturn has a grainy feel and the lower jaw wobbles back and forth and up and down more than any of the other wrenches. At ToolGuyd.com, Deutsch wrote that the 6-inch version of this tool is his second favorite wrench (behind the Channellock). There may be manufacturing differences between the sizes, because the movement on the lower jaw of the 8-inch is too significant to ignore.
The ratcheting adjustable wrenches were all too bulky and clunky (and with limited jaw openings) to make it as someone’s primary wrench. Of the three we tested, the Stanley FatMax ($22) was the most successful, but even that one was fussy to use due to its oddly shaped handle, locking mechanism, and difficult thumbturn. The Crescent ($16) has the same mechanism as the Stanley, but the plastic handle on the tool felt brittle. The Bostitch ($17) was the easiest to use, but to change direction on the ratchet you need to flip the wrench over, and there isn’t always room for that. There are other ratcheting models that we didn’t test, but they all suffer from similar limitations, most notably jaw size; Skil Ratcheting Adjustable ($9), Duralast Adjustable Ratcheting ($25), and Craftsman Mach Adjustable ($39). Basically, the tools might make sense in certain situations, so they could be good secondary wrenches, but if you’re only putting one wrench in your toolbox, we recommend passing.
The Stanley MaxGrip ($15) could also be a strong contender for a second wrench, particularly if you’re constantly finding yourself coming up against rusted or stuck bolts. The tool is a cross between an adjustable wrench and a set of locking pliers (aka Vise-Grips, a registered trademark). The thumbturn adjustment gets the jaw snug and then the lever that runs the length of the handle locks the jaw tight. A second, smaller lever unlocks the jaw. It’s a cool setup, but the smallest size it comes in is 10 inches and the max jaw width is not even 1¼”.
The Craftsman Max Axess ($19) and the very similar Bionic Wrench (which we didn’t test)2 are interesting but not versatile enough for the lone wrench in a toolbox. The head of the tool has a circular hole that you place around the nut; when you close the handles, a series of metal studs extend into the hole and grip the nut from all sides. We liked how the tool grips in a clamping fashion, like the Knipex Pliers Wrench, but it was much more awkward to maneuver. Because the tools completely surrounds the nut, there are going to be times when it can’t be used, like if you need to tighten a connection on an existing pipe or hose. The Bionic Grip is also available, which has an open-mouth design like a traditional wrench. Still, all of the tools max out at a width of ¾” and are really only for smaller tasks.
In his review of the Bionic Wrench and Bionic Grip, Lyman liked the tools for their gripping power, but noted that they’re difficult to use in tight situations. He makes the point that “you have to keep a firm grip on the tool, which is tricky to do when your hand basically needs to go between the wrench and the flat surface the nut or bolt is attached to.” The Craftsman Max Axess exaggerates this problem by recessing the locking studs in from the sides of the tool. There is no doubt that the gripping ability is there. That said, these could be handy tools to have around if you do a lot of wrenching on small bolts with room to maneuver, but understand their limitations before making the purchase.
The Kobalt Magnum Grip Pliers ($13) have auto-adjusting jaws with a maximum opening of about 1¼”. The jaws of the tool have serrated teeth, but they come with little rubbery covers (that don’t fit very well) to simulate smooth jaws. Once you close the handles, it’s hard to tell when you’ve got a good grab on a nut because of the amount of cushion in the jaw mechanism. Overall, this one has a cheap feel to it. It’s just not a very good tool.
In the end, it makes sense to go with a wrench that has a wide jaw capacity. Even if you think you’ll never use the extra width, it could come in handy during a plumbing emergency. Channellock’s 8WCB Wide Azz fits the bill perfectly because it combines this wide jaw with a compact handle and an excellent overall build quality. It costs about $25, so it might be a little more than you intend to spend, but it’s a very nice tool that’s worth the investment.
Originally published: June 16, 2014