A torque wrench is a vital part of any home mechanic’s toolset. It’s a shame that it’s oftentimes overlooked by home mechanics and considered being a key component for “professionals.” This couldn’t be farther from the truth: if you have a car, motorcycle, bicycle, or any piece of machinery or furniture that uses nuts and bolts, then a torque wrench will definitely come in handy in setting the appropriate torque to reach the optimal tightness.
The main benefit of a torque wrench is – you guessed it – the ability to set the correct torque when tightening nuts and bolts. Users can configure the torque of the wrench to reach the right torque, basically eliminating guesswork and the risk of over- and under-tightening. You can imagine the dangers of driving around with inappropriately tightened wheels at high speed.
Torque Wrench Buying Guide
Despite their handiness both in the shop and in emergency situations, there is still a bit of confusion regarding torque wrenches, especially regarding the main features of a good one. Don’t worry; we’re here to help. These are the main considerations you should make when looking for a torque wrench to add to your collection of tools.
There are generally four types of torque wrenches to choose from: beam, dial, click, and electronic. The beam style is the ancient variety which is frowned upon by professional mechanics due to its inaccurate torque exertion. Dial torque wrenches show you the exertion of force in real time as you’re tightening nuts.
Click torque wrenches produce an audible click when the preconfigured torque setting is met. Finally, electronic torque wrenches produce a beeping sound when the tool has exerted the proper torque based on its digitally adjusted torque configuration. Click styles are the most widely used torque wrenches because of their relatively low price and a less than 5% margin of error when exerting torque.
A commonly asked question about torque wrenches is whether one size fits all. In truth, no, it doesn’t. However, it’s highly recommended that you find a torque wrench with the appropriate stud size that will cover most, if not all, of your torque-setting needs. In this article, we’re going to focus on ½-inch torque wrenches, though the principles of this buying guide apply to other sizes as well.
The amount of force delivered by a torque wrench is measured in either foot-pounds or inch-pounds. Obviously, the former is greater than the latter, though you may not want to exert tremendous amounts of foot-pounds on delicate furniture or bicycle handles. Instead, during these situations when dealing with sensitive components, try and find a smaller sized ¼-inch tool that exerts torque in inch-pounds.
Torque wrenches are high-precision tools and should be treated as such. This means loosening the torque setting before putting it away and keeping it nice and dry during storage.
One way to guarantee prolonged use of a torque wrench is by choosing a full-metal design. There are plastic torque wrenches that are incredibly cheap but are also incredibly flimsy and unreliable. Spend the extra cash and get a metal design.
It’s generally advised not to do ratcheting jobs with a torque wrench. Use a separate ratchet to drive nuts until they are snug then switch to a torque wrench to deliver final tightness. However, some torque wrench models offer ratcheting abilities, making it quicker to tighten nuts.
Top 5 ½-inch Torque Wrenches
Now that we know what specs to keep an eye out for when shopping for a torque wrench, the only thing left to do is that actual shopping. Because of the numerous models by different brands, it can be a bit confusing. If you’re looking for a great ½-inch torque wrench, then you might want to take a look at our picks of the five best torque wrench models available.
5 CDI Industrial Brand CDI Torque 2503MFRPH Torque Wrench
The first item on our list is the CDI-made 2503MFRPH>. This ½-inch torque wrench exerts between 30 and 250 foot-pounds of torque. It’s an easy to use tool that comes with a comfortable grip and a dual scale for measuring torque in both directions with an accuracy rating of ±3% clockwise and ±4% counterclockwise.
Adjusting and maintaining the torque of this wrench is easy to do. To release the torque setting, simply pull on the release lock, and the tool will be good to store or readjust for its next application.
One problem with this model is that you can’t actually adjust the torque to its lowest setting prior to storing the tool, increasing the risk of inaccurate readings the next time around.
4 CDI Torque 1003LDFN 1/2-Inch Drive Wrench
Another one of CDI’s torque wrenches makes our list with the dial-style 1003LDFN. Like the previous model, it has a ½-inch drive. The tool can measure torque exertion of between 0 and 150 inch-pounds, making this tool more suitable for light-duty nut tightening at home or under the hood of your car.
Using this tool doesn’t require adjusting the desired torque cap, but rather it reads out how much torque is delivered in real time, requiring the user to keep a close eye on how much force is applied. A common complaint about this model is its somewhat shoddy dual-dial design where the needles of the dial will collide into each other, throwing off the torque-measuring process entirely.
3 CDI 2503LDFNSS 1/2-Inch Drive Torque Wrench
The last torque wrench model from CDI on our list is the 2503LDFNSS. This ½-inch stud model is dial-style wrench like the previous model, but it exerts a whopping 0 to 250 foot-pounds of torque. It has a ±3% margin of error when twisting the tool clockwise and counterclockwise.
The memory needle in this model helps users know the maximum amount of torque applied during one session, making it easier for users to measure how much torque needs to be applied when performing numerous identical tasks. Like the previous model, the needles do have some issues.
Overall, the tool is easy to use and read. Be sure that you’re getting the right measurement system since this unit is sold with either the metric system or imperial system but not both.
2 Stanley Proto J6014C 1/2-Inch Drive Torque Wrench
The first item on our list that isn’t a CDI-made torque wrench is the J6014C from Stanley Proto.
This is also the first torque wrench mentioned here that has the ability to ratchet. Despite the simple design, there’s a lot to be impressed about by this tool. First of all, it exerts between 50 and 250 foot-pounds of torque, making it an appropriate tool to use in tightening lug nuts on your car’s wheels and nuts under the hood and below your car.
This click style torque wrench produces a clear clicking sound when it has exerted your desired torque setting, though it should be noted that over-tightening screws is still entirely possible if the user ignores the click. This tool has an accuracy rating of ±3% clockwise and ±6% counterclockwise. Be sure that you calibrate this tool at least once every year or for every 5,000 clicks.
1 Precision Instruments PREC3FR250F Drive Torque Wrench
Our last item, and coincidentally our most favorite torque wrench, is the PREC3FR20F from Precision Instruments.
Despite its confusing name and admittedly odd design, there’s nothing to be confused about by this tool. Adjusting the torque (between 40 and 250 foot-pounds at 5-pound increments) is done simply by releasing the lock lever, twisting the knob until the gauge reads the desired torque, and flipping the lock lever back up.
This is a click style tool that will produce a clear “ding” sound when the tool has exerted the appropriate amount of torque, but it will also send a very slight but noticeable vibration up the handle to let you know that enough torque has been applied. This tool has an accuracy rating of ±4% clockwise and counterclockwise.
Every home mechanic should have their own torque wrench. It’s a surefire way to ensure that you’re not damaging the threads on your nuts and bolts and that your car’s wheels won’t go flying off in the middle of the highway, potentially harming you and other motorists.
We admit that there’s a lot of confusion about what a torque wrench is, how it’s used, and how to calibrate the correct torque in respect to the different applications it’s used for. It’s actually a simple tool that anybody without prior training can use for maintenance around the home and under the hood of your car.
There are several things to pay attention to when looking at potential torque wrenches to add to your collection of mechanic tools. These include the type of torque wrench, the size of the stud, at what increments the torque can be set, the construction of the tool, and whether it can be used to ratchet.
We’ve also offered our picks of the top five ½-inch torque wrenches available on the market today. Although CDI has practically dominated the torque wrench market, we think that the best value comes from the 250-foot-pound PREC3FR250F from Precision Instruments.
This click-style torque wrench has a design different from what you’d normally see, but it’s still extremely easy to use. The click that lets you know when the nut is tightened to the desired torque is paired with a very slight but noticeable vibration in the handle in case you can’t hear the click.
Whichever model you decide to go with, be sure that you keep the torque wrench in your toolbox or in your vehicle at all times. However, a ½-inch torque wrench may not be the exact size you’re looking for, and all of the manufacturers mentioned in our list produce different sizes for different jobs.