Monkey Wrench vs Pipe Wrench: What’s the Difference

Wrenches are pretty handy tools to have in your workshop or your vehicle. Wrenches are mainly used to tighten and loosen nuts, but if there’s a rat in your workshop, a wrench can become an excellent long-range weapon.

There are several drawbacks to a regular wrench, such as their loose grips on nuts, causing your knuckles and fingers to slide away from the piece and bash into the nearest metal object. Also, the distance between a wrench’s two jaws can’t be adjusted. Basically, your 11/32-inch wrench is for 11/32-inch nuts and nothing more.

Monkey Wrench vs. Pipe Wrench

Innovations on the regular wrench have led to the creation of different types of wrenches. The latest models come with adjustable jaws. With one of these in your toolbox, you can work around all sorts of different nut sizes without needing to switch tools.

Two common types of wrenches are monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches. At first glance, they may not look or feel quite different. However, looks can be deceiving. In this article, we’re going to focus on what these wrenches are and how they differ.



What is a Monkey Wrench?

The origins of the name “monkey wrench” are unknown. Some accredit the invention of the monkey wrench to somebody named Monck, Monk, or Monckey. Others argue that the wrench’s jaws look similar to that of a monkey (?). Whatever the case, it’s a handy tool to have for light-duty jobs.

Monkey wrenches have actually been around for quite a long time. This wrench with a twisting bolt and shaft is designed to tighten and loosen hex bolts. Even though many DIY plumbers use a monkey wrench for twisting pipes, it’s not recommended due to the straight jaws which could damage round pipes made of softer metals.

When to Use a Monkey Wrench

As we mentioned earlier, a monkey wrench should be used exclusively for hex nuts only. This is because the serrated jaws give it an excellent grip on the flat edges of a nut. This means adjusting furniture and tweaking your car.

However, the adjustable wrench – another wrench with a shaft and twisting bolt – has pretty much replaced the monkey wrench in all ways. This is simply because the adjustable wrench has thinner jaws which can fit into tighter spaces much better than the bulky jaws of a monkey wrench.

What is a Pipe Wrench?

A pipe wrench is exactly what the name suggests – it’s a wrench meant for twisting pipes. Ask a pro plumber, and he or she will tell you that they use a pipe wrench exclusively for turning metal pipes. If they use a monkey wrench, then get them out of your house ASAP.

Like a monkey wrench, this a pipe wrench has serrated jaws which give it a better grasp onto objects. The main difference between the two is that while a monkey wrench’s jaws just straight out, a pipe wrench’s are slightly curved. This gives them a better hold on round objects without the possibility of stripping it.

There are several different sizes of pipe wrenches. You’ll find that they range between 10 and 48 inches. You may not need an extremely long, 4-foot pipe wrench if you’re only doing light-duty pipe turning in your bathrooms.

When to Use a Pipe Wrench

The main benefit that a pipe wrench has over monkey wrenches, especially when turning pipes, is that the jaws are much more delicate on soft metals. Copper pipes won’t bend and warp in shape when you use a pipe wrench to turn it.

You shouldn’t use one of these wrenches to turn hex nuts. It’s possible that you could turn a hex nut using a pipe wrench, but if the nut is seized or corroded, then you’re more likely going to strip the edges away than turn it. If the nut is stripped, good luck removing it with any tool you have in your arsenal.

So do I Need a Monkey Wrench or Pipe Wrench?

It’d be nice if you had both, especially if you find yourself doing more home repair jobs than hiring expert help. In fact, you can probably get both in a toolkit if you need them. Buying them separately, though more expensive than in a set, is also possible since they aren’t as expensive as power tools.

However, if you had to choose one over the other, it really depends on what types of projects you do more often.

If you do more general work around furniture and cars, skip the pipe wrench and get a monkey wrench instead. It’ll give you a better grip on the straight edges of hex nuts. You could even use them to twist pipes if you’re careful. We don’t recommend this, but some people use monkey wrenches to twist open pipes by covering the pipe with a cloth. This will prevent the straight jaws from bending the soft metal pipe, but it depends on how hard you clamp down on the pipe.

If you find yourself in the bathroom or basement dealing with copper pipes on a regular basis, the more appropriate wrench to use would be a pipe wrench. Its curved jaws give a ton of extra holding power when twisting round, stubborn pipes.

If you’re in a pinch and need to twist hex nuts with a pipe wrench, you’re not going to have a good time, even with a cloth to prevent stripping. Leave hex nuts to the monkey wrenches (or adjustable wrenches).

Final Remarks

Monkey wrenches and pipe wrenches may look similar, but their differences are rather significant. You shouldn’t use a monkey wrench for turning pipes, and you shouldn’t use a pipe wrench for loosening hex nuts. It’d be best to have both of the tools in your toolbox, so if you’re looking for a one-wrench-does-all sort of tool, neither of them will do. In fact, a monkey wrench might be a little too old-school for some people, especially those looking to work in cramped areas. In this situation, an adjustable wrench would work best.