Monkey Wrench Vs. Pipe Wrench: Which One Do I Need?

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A monkey wrench and a pipe wrench look pretty similar at a glance, and it may be hard to differentiate what their primary use is. Let’s take a look at both and see which one you will need in your projects.


Here’s what we cover in this monkey wrench vs pipe wrench comparison article: 

  • First, we’ll take a deep dive into both tools and tell you what they are and how to use them
  • Next, we’ll tell you about their good and bad points
  • Then, we’ll fully explain their differences
  • And finally, we’ll advise you on which one you need for your job

Sound good? Great, let’s begin!

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Monkey Wrench Lowdown

This wrench has a peculiar name whose origin has not yet been established. Over the years, there have been speculations, with several people attributing the term monkey wrench to the tool’s jaw, which they argue resembles that of a monkey.

All in all, what we know is that a monkey wrench is a reliable tool when working on light-duty projects, as can be explained by how long it has been around. It has a twisting bolt and a shaft that come in handy when tightening and loosening hex bolts.

You must be wondering if this tool is also meant for pipes since most DIY plumbers have been reported using the wrench for twisting a threaded pipe. This is a standard norm. It is not recommended as its straight jaws can easily damage soft round pipes.

When Should You Use a Monkey Wrench? 

We may have mentioned this when explaining what the monkey wrench is. Well, you should only use this tool as a fastener for tightening and loosening hex nuts. Anything other usages can be considered wrong. This is because this tool has serrated jaws, allowing it to grip the hex nut’s flat edges firmly. You can, therefore, easily adjust your furniture or tweak your car.

It is worth mentioning that the monkey wrench’s application and popularity may have declined with the advent of the adjustable wrench, which many people consider its replacement. The adjustable wrench has relatively thinner jaws and can therefore access narrower spaces than the monkey wrench. However, the monkey wrench works pretty well when working in relatively normal places.

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How to Use a Monkey Wrench 

Like we already explained, the monkey wrench is used for loosening and tightening bolts. Therefore, start by locating the nut or bolt you intend to work on. The monkey wrench usually has a turning screw mechanism that opens it and gives you suitable space to fit the nut’s head. 

The next step is to apply pressure. Once the wrench jaws have been placed around the nut’s edges, set the turning screw to hold down the nut head. Afterward, apply pressure to ensure that the nut jaws of the monkey wrench do not slip off. 

If your primary intention is to tighten the nut, turn the wrench in a clockwise direction. We advise that you hold the furthest end of the handle for a more straightforward operation. Move the wrench slowly but smoothly until you hit a specific limit for either fastening or loosening. 

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Monkey Wrench Pros and Cons 

The monkey wrench has its fair share of pros and cons. On the brighter side of things, most of them are strong enough and can be used for heavy projects. The jaws are also usually serrated to offer a tight grip on hex bolts.

However, these wrenches may not fit all spaces since they usually are more extensive and heavier. You may have to resort to other types of wrenches while working on specific projects, which may inconvenience you.

Owing to its weight, it may also be challenging to use one for long, especially on overhead projects, as you shoulder the weight. Using plumbing tools is to make work more manageable and not exhaust you any further. Even with these shortcomings, we can agree that a monkey wrench is a reliable tool that will serve you well in your DIY projects.

Our Favorite Monkey Wrenches Compared

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Pipe Wrench Lowdown

Unlike the monkey wrench, the pipe wrench is easy to explain. It has its purpose attached to its name, which is to perform pipe work. Pro plumbers understand just how vital a heavy-duty wrench is when it comes to twisting metal pipes. Pipe wrenches are meant for what DIY plumbers have been wrongfully doing with monkey wrenches.

The pipe wrench also comes with serrated jaws for grasping onto objects. However, its jaw is slightly curved compared to that of the monkey wrench, usually straight out. They can therefore hold on to round things without sliding off.

Keep in mind that pipe wrenches come in different sizes, and it may be essential to know the pipe diameter you intend to work on before settling on one. Most range between 10 to 48, meant for different applications. You can also find a straight pipe wrench, one with an adjustable jaw or movable jaw, known as an adjustable pipe wrench that operates in the same fashion as an adjustable spanner and is often sold in box sets.

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When Should You Use a Pipe Wrench? 

The pipe wrench is best used for twisting pipes or in any project that involves pipe handling. This is because it has the perfect jaws for soft metal pipes. This gives it an edge over monkey wrenches, which cause bending and warping on copper pipes. 

However, it would be best if you never tried using a pipe wrench for tightening and loosening hex nuts. You do not want to mess with the nut’s edges, especially when rusted or seized. Stripping the edges of the nut means that you may lack any tool to remove it. 

Parts of the Pipe Wrench 

The main parts of the pipe wrench are the hook jaw, nut, body, pin, heel jaw, and spring assembly. However, you may also notice that some pipe wrenches have a separate head assembly, which you will attach to the body for use. 

How to Use a Pipe Wrench

Learning how to use the pipe wrench will help you understand why you cannot use the monkey wrench in its place. First, you have to place the wrench on the pipe correctly. While doing this, make sure that the mouth of the jaw faces the direction you intend the tube to go. Therefore, if you want to make a clockwise movement or vice versa, ensure that the jaw mouth meets the same direction. 

Also, make sure that the pipe is centered in the jaws of the wrench. The next step is to lock it into the wrench for a firm grip and fit. You will achieve this by adjusting the jaw by turning the nut. You can then pull or push the pipe wrench in the desired direction. While doing this, make sure that you wear gloves to prevent cuts, common when the jaws dig into the pipe. 

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The pipe wrench has managed to be around longer than the monkey wrench, which the adjustable wrench has successfully replaced. Therefore, it comes in different sizes, which range from 10 to 48 inches. 

The different pipe wrenches available in the market can be attributed to the following: 

  • A variety of sizes– Pipe wrenches come in many different sizes. Therefore, be prepared to choose from as small as six inches to over four feet. You may need to be careful when picking the size, as each can only work on a limited range of pipes. 
  • Material– One of the reasons you will find lots of pipe wrenches in the market is the difference in materials. Unlike other tools, the pipe wrench is mainly made of cast iron and aluminum, with their fair share of advantages. Aluminum is usually lighter than handle and, therefore, best serves lengthy projects. However, iron is pretty solid and thus, produces much more torque than its aluminum counterparts. It best suits heavy projects.
  • Hook Jaw Position – In pipe wrenches, the hook jaw’s position can be situated in a differently angled part than the body. You will mostly notice parallel and perpendicular positioning.
  • Operational mechanism – The difference in tightening and loosening tools in different pipe wrenches can be attributed to the other models available in the market.

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Pipe Wrench Pros and Cons 

Like the monkey wrench, the pipe wrench has its fair share of pros and cons. It is primarily lightweight and can be used easily on more delicate projects and for extended durations. Most of them are made of aluminum, which is a light material. 

Pipe wrenches do not warp soft metals like other types of wrenches. You can therefore work on curved copper surfaces without leaving behind a dent. Try this with the monkey wrench, and you will be in for a rude shock. 

However, getting the best pipe wrench may be challenging since several models exist due to the above reasons. You will spend more time making an informed decision, which may also be an inconvenience. 

All in all, a pipe wrench is still a worthy collection that you should strive to have. 

Our Favorite Pipe Wrenches Compared

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Differences Between the Pipe Wrench and the Monkey Wrench 

Even though these two tools may look similar at a glance, they have specific noticeable differences. These are found in their designs and operations. Let’s take a look. 

Size 

Being a much older design, the monkey wrench is more significant and bulkier than the pipe wrench. This explains why it was overtime replaced by the modern adjustable wrenches, which occupy relatively lesser space. Its size also makes it heavier to move from place to place, which the pipe wrench has over it. 

Jaw design 

These two tools have serrated jaws for gripping firmly onto different surfaces. However, you will notice that the monkey wrench’s jaws are straighter to give it a better grip on flat surfaces. The pipe wrench typically has curved jaws to grip onto pipes. The curved jaws are perfectly made for dealing with non-flat surfaces.  

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Purpose 

We have mentioned this over and over. The monkey wrench best serves hex bolts and flat surfaces, wowing to its jaw design. Therefore, using it on a curved surface may lead to stripping and damages that you should avoid. 

On the other hand, the pipe wrench works best on pipe-like surfaces. It would be best not to use it on flat surfaces or hex bolts due to its jaw design. Only use one when tightening or loosening a given pipe. Due to its design, the monkey wrench is ideal for a range of projects around the house or involving working on a car. However, it may not work for specific tasks, which may force you to acquire an adjustable wrench. These usually are smaller in size and can fit into relatively tighter spaces.

Do I Need the Monkey Wrench or the Pipe Wrench? 

Now that we have seen the difference between these two, it’s now time to decide on one of them. It would be nice to have both in your tool arsenal. Keep in mind that they have different purposes and may come in handy in various home repair projects. 

If lucky enough, you can get both in a kit, saving you the stress of independent buying. However, these two are not expensive, and therefore, you will not spend as much to acquire them independently.

If you have to pick one over the other, you must ask yourself the type of projects you often do. If your projects revolve around furniture and care work, you have no business picking the pipe wrench. The monkey wrench will serve you well. 

It will enable you to grip tightly on the straight edges of the hex nuts and can be used to engage pipe occasionally, even though we do not recommend that. If you have to do this, remember to cover the tube with a cloth piece to prevent the soft jaw of the monkey wrench from destroying the soft metal pipe. Also, do not clamp onto the pipe excessively. 

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If most of your projects are done in the bathroom or basement and mainly deal with copper pipes, the pipe wrench should be your go-to product. It has a curved jaw which gives it extra holding power when working on round and relatively stubborn pipes.

To break it down further, get the pipe wrench if you mainly work on pipes and the monkey wrench if your projects especially involve tightening hex nuts. You will have a hard time if you use either of them to serve these two functions. 

We still insist that you get both to enjoy smooth operations and quality time. Also, keep in mind that adjustable wrenches are replacing monkey wrenches, and therefore, the best idea would be to get the latter and not the former. 

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10 Best Pipe Wrenches | Reviews & Buying Guide

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Walter Snyder

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