Picking the Right Type of Pipe Wrench

Ask any experienced plumber what happens if you pick the wrong size or type of pipe wrench and they’ll likely have a story — scars on their hands from when the wrench slipped, knocking their knuckles against the pipe. Or a time that the pipe got damaged because of their wrong choice.

For those entering the plumbing trade, understanding the different types of pipe wrenches and how to best use them can go a long way in preventing similar incidents. Plus, knowing the right wrench to use from the get-go will inevitably reduce the learning curve it takes to figure out the right tool for the job.

There are plenty of niche-use pipe wrenches out there, but in general six major categories of pipe wrenches exist. Each comes in various materials, typically iron or aluminum, and sizes range anywhere from 6 inches to 60 inches. Categories include:

  • Straight Pipe Wrench — This is the traditional pipe wrench, suitable for tightening and loosening threaded pipes of all forms.
  • End Pipe Wrench — The jaws of the end pipe wrench are set at a slight angle, compared to the straight pipe wrench. This helps when working close to the wall, near the end of the pipe.
  • Offset Pipe Wrench — For the tightest of spots and most awkward of angles, you want an offset pipe wrench. The opening of the jaws is at 90 degrees from the straight pipe wrench for better access.
  • Compound Leverage Wrench — The design of the compound leverage wrench multiplies the force applied to the pipe. This is best used for loosening joints that have become frozen due to corrosion or damage.
  • Chain Pipe Wrench — The chain pipe wrench utilizes a chain instead of the hook jaw and is best used for extremely tight pipes.
  • Strap Wrench – Very similar in concept to the chain pipe wrench, but it utilizes a woven nylon strap. This is great for when you don’t want to mar the pipe, typically because it’s polished, plastic or plated.

Making a Selection

For someone just starting out and building a toolbox, a great first purchase is a 14-inch aluminum straight pipe wrench. It will cover most residential plumbing work and the material keeps it lightweight for easy transport. An 18-inch straight pipe wrench is also commonly used in the industry for up to 2 1/2-inch-diameter pipe. It is another good initial purchase.