After testing 15 adjustable wrenches over the past three years, we’re still convinced that the Channellock 8WCB WideAzz 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench is the best one for your home toolbox.
The Channellock 8WCB is a manageable 8 inches long but has the jaw capacity of a much larger wrench, so it can handle everything from a fat garden hose to a small fastener on a child’s toy. Because the jaws are narrow and come to a point, they can work in tight spots where other wrenches are too bulky to fit. As for comfort, this Channellock model had the best padded handle of all the wrenches we looked at, allowing us to put some real strength into a turn without worrying about having sore hands afterward. Lastly, the build quality is excellent: The thumb turn is smooth, the lower jaw has little wobble, and after consistent use over three years, the wrench is hardly showing any wear at all.
At this writing the Channellock will set you back about $25, so it’s more expensive than a standard, smaller-jawed wrench. But if you’re going to own only one wrench, it’s smart to have one that can tackle all but the largest jobs. Even if you don’t consider yourself a DIYer, you never know what leaky plumbing connection you might need to tighten at 2 in the morning.
I spent 10 years in construction as a carpenter, foreman, and site supervisor in the Boston area. I also recently wrapped up a four-year full gut and remodel of my own 100-year-old farmhouse. In addition, I’ve been writing about and reviewing tools since 2007 with articles appearing in Fine Homebuilding, Popular Mechanics, This Old House, and Tools of the Trade, among others. Through all of this, I’ve gained a thorough knowledge of hand tools, including adjustable wrenches.
To narrow down the hundreds of wrenches available, I relied on my own experience and had conversations with two tool experts: Marc Lyman, editor of HomeFixated, and Stuart Deutsch, editor of ToolGuyd. 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).
For testing, I enlisted the aid of Aaron Goff, a high-end residential carpenter with 13 years of experience.
What I discovered during my research and interviews is that if you’re going to own only one wrench, it should be an 8-inch, wide-mouth model. This means that it’s an 8-inch wrench with the jaw capacity of a 12-inch wrench, a versatile 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 also step up in overall size and go to a 10- or 12-inch wrench. Most 10-inchers open just over 1¼ inches, and the 12-inch models sit around the 1½-inch mark, but with these traditional tools the increased jaw capability comes with a longer, more cumbersome handle. So recently, a handful of manufacturers have released 8-inch wrenches with a larger jaw capacity, usually around 1⅝ inches.
In my house I have a perfect example of the benefits of 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 up at the ceiling 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, as I can grab the fitting and also have plenty of room to move my hand and operate the tool.
My heating system is another example. 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 a wide-mouth can.
I asked HomeFixated’s Marc Lyman about 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.” He also pointed out that to accommodate larger-sized nuts, the jaws are longer, meaning you have a little more reach to the tool if you’re working in a tight spot such as under your sink. In addition, it means that the jaws can more easily fit around the entire edge of the nut. Lyman noted, “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.”
With those criteria in mind, we tested all of the 8-inch wide-mouth options: the Channellock 8WCB WideAzz 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench, the Klein D509-8 Adjustable Wrench, Extra Wide Jaw, and the Bahco 9031 R US 8-inch wide mouth adjustable wrench. Since our original guide, we’ve also tested the Channellock 8SWCB Xtra Slim Jaw WideAzz 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench and the Milwaukee 48-22-7508 8-Inch Wide Jaw Adjustable Wrench.
With all of those tools typically priced at $25 and above, we also looked at a few standard-size 8-inch wrenches from reputable manufacturers. With a jaw capacity of only 1⅛ inches, such wrenches can’t handle large fasteners, but they’re also consistently priced around the $10 mark, 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 Adjustable Wrench Extra Capacity, the Irwin Vise-Grip 2078608 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench, and the Stanley 90-948 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench.
In addition, we tested a number of other styles to see how they would measure up to a traditional adjustable wrench. This group included three ratcheting wrenches, the Stanley FMHT72184 FatMax Ratcheting 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench, the Bostitch 99-079 8-Inch Ratcheting Adjustable Wrench, and the Crescent ATR28 8-Inch Ratcheting Adjustable Wrench; a locking plier/wrench hybrid, the Stanley 85-610 10-Inch MaxGrip Locking Adjustable Wrench; and lastly, three double-handled adjustable gripping wrenches, the Knipex 86 05 180 Pliers Wrench, the Kobalt Magnum Grip Pliers, and the Craftsman 8-Inch Max Axess Locking Wrench.
Before I put a single wrench to a bolt, I checked the stability of each contender’s lower jaw (the part that moves when you adjust the wrench). A lower-quality wrench will wiggle from the get-go, but a good wrench will have a jaw that sits securely in the tool and connects solidly with the thumb turn with minimal movement. You’ll always see some play, but if the lower jaw can freely move up and down 1/16 of an inch, you’re not looking at a high-quality tool. Such looseness can prevent a tight grab and cause the tool to slip off the nut, which can round off and mar the edges in the process. When it comes to tool quality, it’s all about the shaping and machining of the metal, and the better tools simply have higher tolerances.
To test these tools, I spent a couple of days with each one doing a number of small around-the-house projects (both general maintenance tasks and as part of a 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, set up a garden irrigation system, and tightened up some loose gate hardware. I also recruited Aaron Goff, a Boston-based carpenter, to spend an evening looking over the tools and testing each one on a variety of fasteners. Goff 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 of years.
The Channellock is one of the few wide-jaw wrenches available, meaning it has a maximum jaw opening of 1⅝ inches but measures only 8 inches long. This jaw capacity is about ½ inch larger than that of the typical 8-inch wrench and is a size usually associated with a 12-inch wrench, which has a much longer, bulkier handle. In practical terms, this design means that the Channellock can tighten everything from a teeny nut on a child’s toy all the way to a garden hose or a larger plumbing fixture, like those found near my boiler.
The handle on the Channellock is large and well padded, giving ample protection to the hands, particularly in high-torque situations such as trying to loosen a stuck bolt. The grip also has a good amount of texture, so your hand is unlikely to slip off while turning. The other wide-jaw wrenches either have a traditional dipped handle (Klein) or no padding at all (Milwaukee). The Bahco offers a comfortable padded handle, but in our tests that tool had other problems that took it out of contention, as described below.
As with 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 up-and-down wiggle to it, indicating a good-quality connection between it and the thumb turn. During adjustments, the jaw and thumb turn both move smoothly. We found that this wasn’t the case with most of the wrenches priced in the under-$20 range.
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 makes nothing but adjustable wrenches; the products are very highly regarded and have a great reputation for quality.
Stuart Deutsch and Marc Lyman both like the Channellock Wide Azz. During our conversation Deutsch said, “Channellock’s Irega-made adjustable wrenches have become yardsticks to which I measure all other adjustable wrenches.”
In a 2009 post on ToolGuyd about his first experience using the Channellock, Deutsch notes that the wrench “had very little play in the jaw, was relatively smooth to operate, and felt robust and sturdy.”
In a post dated a year later, he refers to it as “by far my favorite [wrench] to use.” Three years after that, he includes it in his “Ultimate Tool Gift Guide,” 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, who also likes the Channellock, told me that he “definitely likes the extra capacity that the Wide Azz brings.”
The tool has a stellar reputation among its Amazon purchasers, too, as it currently boasts a 4.8-star (out of five) rating across 162 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. Throughout the reviews, one oft-repeated sentiment is “This is the best wrench I’ve ever used.”
While we appreciate the Channellock’s padded handle–and judging from Deutsch’s comments and the user feedback at Amazon, most people would agree with us—we’ve seen some dissenting opinions on it, with Aaron Goff, our tester, really not liking it at all. I was a little skeptical at first, but as I worked with the tool, I got used to the handle and ended up quite fond of it. The handle is certainly larger than most, and even though it’s comfortable, it isn’t particularly form-fitting to the hand (like the Bacho grip). But at least one Amazon reviewer agrees with Goff: Douglas Goldberg, who works maintenance in a large building and gives the wrench a very positive review, notes in an update to the review that he ended up cutting the padded handle off.
So the majority opinion seems to regard the handle as a good thing, but we did encounter some dissent on the matter. If it’s something you think you won’t like, well, that’s what our next recommendation is for.
Even with no padded handle, the Milwaukee wrench is extremely comfortable to hold. On tough, stuck nuts, it doesn’t offer the palm protection of the Channellock, but during regular use it fits the hand well, and the metal has a slight grainy texture.
One unique aspect of the Milwaukee is that the thumb turn makes contact with the lower jaw with five different threads; the Channellock has four. This design is supposed to give the Milwaukee added stability in the lower jaw, but in closely comparing the two, we couldn’t see any notable differences. Both are stable and precise.
Like the Channellock, the Irwin has a padded handle, but this one has an odd rectangular shape that we found comfortable and easy to hold. Even Aaron Goff, our tester, liked it quite a bit, proving that he’s not entirely opposed to padded handles.
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 differs is in how the lower jaw moves in relation to the upper jaw once you squeeze the handles. On traditional pliers, the lower jaw moves off a pivot point, like an alligator’s mouth, but on the Pliers Wrench, the lower jaw always remains parallel to the upper jaw. 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 toward the upper jaw but stays parallel to it the entire time.
As Knipex shows in this image, a traditional wrench doesn’t really grip the sides of a nut, instead catching the edges of the corners. Even with such nice tools as the Channellock, Milwaukee, and Irwin, this is the case. Because of the unusual mechanism of the Pliers Wrench, this model’s jaws clamp down on the entire side of the nut, grabbing the object with a truly 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.
Another plus of this tool is that it makes quickly tightening or loosening a nut simple. Once you’ve made a turn, just release your grip a bit to open the jaws, reset the tool, and tighten again. It’s an easy rhythm to fall into, and one that makes for speedy work.
The one downside to the tool in comparison with a traditional wrench is that the handles can be tricky in tight spaces at times. Usually you can work the adjustment so that they are nearly closed when you grip; occasionally in our tests, however, this wasn’t possible, and we had to operate the tool with open handles.
It’s also a high-end tool that comes with a high-end price, usually just over $50. The models with nonergonomic handles are a few bucks cheaper, but once you’ve decided to go in on a tool like this, getting the padded handles makes sense. Pricing fluctuates; the next size up, the 10-inch 86 05 250, is typically over $60, but at times it dips down under $55, at which point it’s a great value (the 10-inch model has a jaw capacity of about 1¾ inches).
The Pliers Wrench gets universal praise. In a ToolGuyd review entitled “The Amazing Knipex Pliers Wrench,” Stuart Deutsch writes that it “is an amazingly versatile tool that is unlike any other pliers or adjustable wrenches currently on the market.” Later in the piece Deutsch states, “My Knipex Pliers Wrenches are among my most valued tools. They really are as functional and practical as everyone raves.”
Ralph Fincher at Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, wrapping up his review, writes, “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.”
For the past three years, I’ve had our recommended wrenches in my toolbox and used them all quite a bit as I wrapped up a major home renovation and moved into a new place. The ones that I still reach for the most are the Channellock and the Knipex. When I originally wrote this guide, I still wasn’t 100 percent sold on the Channellock’s padded handle, but since then it has become one of my favorite features. If you have a stuck bolt, it really lets you lean into the wrench with little discomfort to your hand. And the Channellock’s slender nose has come in handy repeatedly as I’ve made many adjustments to my tightly packed heating system; the Channellock slips between the fittings while the other wrenches don’t even come close.
The Klein D509-8 Adjustable Wrench, Extra Wide Jaw was our previous runner-up, and it remains a very nice wrench. It differs from the Channellock and the Milwaukee in that it has stubbier, rounded jaws, so it has a harder time in tight spots such as an irrigation manifold. It also has a plastic-dipped handle, rather than a padded one. Like our Channelock pick, it’s an Irega-made product, and it’s of a similar high quality.
Channellock also sells the 8SWCB Xtra Slim Jaw WideAzz 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench, which is nearly identical to our pick (the same handle, jaw width, and overall build quality) but equipped with thinner jaws that are only 3/16-inch thick (looking from the top of the wrench). The jaws give this tool a better reach in tight, constrained spaces (the jaws of our top pick start at a thickness of ⅜ inch and taper to ¼ inch at the points). It typically has a price tag of nearly $30, though, and we think it doesn’t offer enough of a benefit to justify an additional investment of $8 to $10.
The Bahco 9031 R US 8-inch wide mouth adjustable wrench is comfortable to hold, but the jaws are designed so that they are just out of parallel, with the tips slightly closer than the throat. This design causes them to lock on to the nut, preventing slippage that could result in possible hand injury. Unfortunately, it also means that, once you’ve tightened a nut, the wrench is nearly impossible to pull straight off. 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 design choice makes sense, though, seeing as the company manufactures tools for the industrial and mechanical trades, where high torque is necessary on a consistent basis and slippage is a constant reality.
Like its wide-mouth sibling, the Klein D507-8 Adjustable Wrench Extra Capacity is a very smooth, very nice tool. It has a slightly larger jaw than the Irwin 2078608, coming in at about 1¼ inches. But at over $20 right now, it’s priced on the high side in comparison with some of the other tools we looked at. If you’re already at the $20 mark, you might as well kick in another five bucks or so and get the Channellock Wide Azz with the larger jaw capability.
The Stanley 90-948 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench sits in the same price range as the Irwin but lacks the same level of finish. The thumb turn has a grainy feel, and the lower jaw wobbles back and forth and up and down more than that of any of the other wrenches we tried. At ToolGuyd, Stuart Deutsch writes that the 6-inch version of this tool is his second-favorite wrench (behind the Channellock). The sizes may have manufacturing differences, though, because the movement on the lower jaw of the 8-incher is too significant to ignore.
In our tests, the ratcheting adjustable wrenches were all too bulky and clunky (with limited jaw openings) to make the grade as someone’s primary wrench. Of the three ratcheting models we tested, the Stanley FMHT72184 FatMax Ratcheting 8-Inch Adjustable Wrench was the most successful, but it was still fussy due to its oddly shaped handle, locking mechanism, and difficult thumb turn.
The Crescent ATR28 8-Inch Ratcheting Adjustable Wrench has the same mechanism as the Stanley, but the plastic handle feels brittle.
The ratcheting adjustment of the Bostitch 99-079 8-Inch Ratcheting Adjustable Wrench was the easiest to use in our tests, but to change direction on the ratchet you need to flip the wrench over, and you don’t always have room for that.
The Stanley 85-610 10-Inch MaxGrip Locking Adjustable Wrench is a cross between an adjustable wrench and a set of locking pliers (aka Vise-Grips, a registered trademark). The thumb-turn adjustment makes 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, and it’s useful if you’re constantly coming up against stuck bolts, but the smallest size this wrench comes in is 10 inches, and the max jaw width is not even 1¼ inches.
The Craftsman 8-Inch Max Axess Locking Wrench and Loggerhead’s very similar Bionic Wrench (which we didn’t test)1 are not versatile enough to be 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 this tool gripped in a clamping fashion, similar to the Knipex Pliers Wrench, but it was much more awkward to maneuver. Because this tool design completely surrounds a nut, you’ll have times when you can’t use it, such as if you need to tighten a connection on an existing pipe or hose.
Loggerhead’s Bionic Grip has an open-mouth design like a traditional wrench, but it maxes out at a width of ¾ inch and is really only for smaller tasks.
The Kobalt Magnum Grip Pliers have auto-adjusting jaws with a maximum opening of about 1¼ inches. 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 model has a cheap feel. It’s just not a very good tool.
(Photos by Doug Mahoney.)
Originally published: July 8, 2016