Best Plumbing Wrenches for Tight Spots

A few years ago I woke up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and was greeted by a sink that didn’t want to drain. All had seemed fine just a few short hours before so I was puzzled about what could have caused a clog to appear so quickly.

The only way to find out was to have a look inside the drain pipe underneath the sink and that’s when I realized all of my specialized plumbing tools were at work. I didn’t have the right tools for the job, but I had to deal with the issue then and there. I did find an adjustable wrench in the garage and I had to make do with that.

After a couple of hours of frustration I found a small plastic toy lodged at the bottom of the drain – our 3 year old was the clear suspect. I wasn’t really mad at her though, I was madder at myself for not having the right tool at hand when I needed it. I have learned my lesson – I now keep a spare set of plumbing tools in the house for just such an emergency.

The right plumbing wrench on that night would have saved me hours of trouble and if you want to avoid similar issues in the middle of the night you should probably make sure you have the wrench for the job in your tool box. It’s not as simple as just running out and purchasing a plumbing wrench though – there are a few different kinds. You need to take a look at your own plumbing and figure out which types you may need.

In an effort to make your life a little easier we’re going to go over the different types of plumbing wrenches you may need for those tight spaces under the sink. Surprisingly there are quite a few different setups you may run into. Don’t worry it will all make sense by the end of this article. We’re also going to review what we believe are the best wrenches for the job for you as well.

Don’t Confuse a Pipe Wrench and a Monkey Wrench

A common mistake that many people make is to confuse a monkey wrench with a pipe wrench used for plumbing jobs. It’s an easy mistake to make as they do look quite similar, but there is a distinct difference between the two.

The jaws of a monkey wrench are flat and smooth and rely on a tight fit and lots of room for leverage. A pipe wrench used in plumbing has a serrated jaw edge that actually digs into the bolt it’s trying to turn. This gives you the extra leverage you need in a tight space where that extra elbow room simply isn’t available.

A Straight Wrench

The most common type of plumbing wrench that most of us are familiar with is a straight wrench. They are typically ideal for pipes between 1 inch and 8 inches in diameter and are the best option if you have a little bit of elbow room under your sink.

They do come with a few different handle sizes depending on what you need for the job and if you’re working in an industrial setting you can find straight wrenches that can loosen pipes that are bigger than 8 inches in diameter. It’s a good idea to have a couple different sized straight wrenches on hand for different job requirements.

The Value of an Offset Wrench

Sometimes you’ll need to crawl into some pretty tight spaces where elbow room is virtually none existent. In this type of scenario a straight wrench won’t be of much use to you. Fortunately there is a solution in the form of an offset wrench. These innovative tools help you to grip a pipe tightly using a jaw that’s offset from the handle and can loosen pipes in some pretty awkward situations.

Just like straight wrenches you’ll find them in different sizes depending on the nature of your job. They may look a little funny, but they’re highly effective in the right situation.

A Wrench in the End

An end pipe wrench is another unique tool meant to be used in difficult situations when space is at a premium. If you take a look at one of these wrenches the first thing you’ll notice is that the jaws are at a bit of an angle from the wrenches handle. This gives you a bit of extra momentum when you’re working with plumbing that doesn’t leave you a lot of room to work with.

You probably won’t be able to apply a lot of force when using one of these wrenches because of the nature of the job and that’s why they also have a ridged tooth jaw that grips on tightly.

A Little Extra Leverage

A compound leverage wrench may look a little strange, but it can be a great friend if you’re dealing with a stubborn pipe that just doesn’t want to cooperate.

It has a handle that will remind you a bit of a ratchet set and you sort of torque the wrench to turn that pesky pipe that doesn’t want to budge. I could have used one of these all those years back when I was trying to fish that plastic toy out of the drain in the middle of the night. It really does make the job easier when you have the right tool for the job.

Straps and Chains

Stap and chain wrenches are variations of the same concept and are effective for use on pipes that don’t provide a lot of purchase. The strap wrench is ideal for small plastic piping and the chain wrench is better for the heavier work.

Aluminum or Steel?

Plumbing wrenches are normally made either from aluminum or steel. For most work around the home aluminum wrenches are fine, but the steel wrenches are stronger making them better for industrial work.

The Reviews

Superior Tool 03840 Adjustable Combination Wrench

The Superior Tool 03840 Adjustable Combination Wrench is a good all-purpose tool for the DIY plumber in the home. It will fit spud nuts, slip nuts, lock nuts, and basket strainer nuts. It’s great for work under the sinks in your home and for working on the plumbing behind your toilet as well.

It’s only adjustable between 1 and 3 inches though, so it won’t be of much use in heavy duty industrial applications. This wrench is zinc plated which makes it quite durable and it has a nice cushioned handle so that it doesn’t hurt your hand while you work. This is a fairly heavy tool at just over a pound so it will get a little heavy in the hand if you’re facing a long job.

Pros

  • Works on numerous different nuts
  • Great for working under the sink or on toilets
  • Zinc plated with a cushioned handle

Cons

  • Only works on pipes between 1 and 3 inches
  • Weighs just over a pound

If you’re looking for a versatile wrench that will work in many different situations this Superior Tool adjustable is a great choice. It works on many different nut types and it has a nice cushioned handle for comfort. It would be nice if it was a little lighter though.

Performance Tool W1133-14B 14-Inch Pipe Wrench

Sometimes there’s no substitute for a good old fashioned pipe wrench. These heavy duty wrenches can be used in a lot of different situations and a great choice is the Performance Tool W1133-14B. This wrench has a 14 inch handle and a jaw that’s good for pipes up to 6 inches in diameter.

The jaws have steel teeth that enable you to grip and turn a pipe with relative ease. They’re also made from steel rather than aluminum for added strength. On the down side the relatively heavy weight of 1.1 pounds does make this wrench a little difficult to work with. It also does have some mixed reviews with some customers complaining about the overall quality of the finish.

Pros

  • Heavy duty wrench with 14 inch handle
  • Works on pipes up to 6 inches in diameter
  • Steel toothed jaw for extra grip
  • Made from steel

Cons

  • A little on the heavy side
  • Questionable quality finish

While the Performance Tool W1133-14B Pipe Wrench does have a few detractors, overall it’s a pretty popular choice. With a 14 inch handle it’s the ideal size for most home plumbing needs and it’s heavy duty enough to get the job done. Once again, this one is a little on the heavy side, but at under $15 is an affordable option for those DIY jobs in the home.

Plumber’s Offset Hex Wrench 1-1/8-Inch-to-2-5/8-Inch Pipe Capacity

Unfortunately when they install plumbing in homes they don’t always give a lot of thought to the people that may have to work on repairs in the future. The Plumber’s Offset Hex Wrench is the ideal solution to help you overcome having to work in tight spaces with little space between the pipes and the walls.

This wrench has an extra wide opening made and features a heavy duty construction designed to give you a lot of leverage. It’s great for use in just about every situation such as sinks, tubs, and toilets. This offset wrench is designed for use on nuts between 1 1/8 inch and 2 5/8 inches.

As is the case with most plumbing wrenches it is a heavy tool. Some have questioned the build quality of this wrench though, but if you don’t want to spend a ton of cash it is a decent option. This one typically retails for just under $30.

Pros

  • Offset handle enables you to work in tight spaces
  • Extra wide opening
  • Works on sinks, tubs, and toilets

Cons

  • Limited for use between 1 1/8 inch and 2 5/8 inches
  • This is a heavy wrench
  • Build quality is questionable

This is a good alternative if you need a wrench that will work in tight spaces. It will not work on larger nuts though and some customers have questioned its build quality. If you want to save a little money this wrench is a passable alternative.

Ridgid 89435 2-Inch Heavy-Duty Offset Pipe Wrench

Sometimes you have to be prepared to pay a little extra for a quality tool. The Rigid 89435 Piep Wrench may be a little more expensive than some of the other products we’ve reviewed on this page, but it’s also an excellent quality wrench.

Typically you can expect to spend in the neighbourhood of $50 on this item. It has an offset jaw that enables you to work in extremely tight spaces and its 14 inch handle will enable you to get the leverage you need to handle any stubborn pipe. It also has a 2 inch capacity. The manufacturer of this wrench is so confident in its quality that they offer a lifetime warranty on their product. At just 3.5 ounces it’s surprisingly light as well.

Pros

  • Offset jaw for use in tight spaces
  • 14 inch handle for leverage
  • Offers a lifetime warranty
  • Weighs only 3.5 ounces

Cons

  • Relatively Expensive at about $50
  • Only a 2 inch capacity

The Rigid 89435 Offset Pipe Wrench is easily the best quality wrench we’ve reviewed so it’s not surprising that the manufacturer offers a lifetime warranty on their product. The price tag is a little steep, but I guess you really do get what you pay for. The only thing we didn’t like was its somewhat limited 2 inch capacity,

Conclusion

All of the wrenches we’ve reviewed above have some positive qualities. It’s difficult to say which one will be best for you as it depends on what you’re using it for, but when it comes to quality the Rigid 89345 Offset Pipe Wrench is the clear winner. Although if you’re looking for a good all-purpose tool the Performance Tool W1133-14B Straight Pipe Wrench is a good option as well.

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