Introduction: Bicycle Torque Wrench From a Fisherman's Scale

Occasionally when working on your bicycle it is advisable to use a torque wrench suitable for measuring inch pounds. The infrequent user does not particularly want to pay out twenty to forty dollars for a tool that seldom gets used. You can do your torquing jobs with an investment of only six dollars for a dial indicator fisherman's scale. You probably have the other things you will need.

Step 1: Calibrating the Scale

Torque is force over distance. Pulling the end of a ten inch bar with a force of four and one-half pounds will put a torque of 45 inch pounds on a hex key.

Get a dial indicator fisherman's scale at a sporting goods department. These run about six dollars and read up to 50 pounds in one-half pound increments.

Your scale may be accurate at some weights, but may vary at others. Calibrating the scale is easy. My carbon fiber seat post has a recommended torque of 45 inch pounds. I want to place a weight of 4.5 pounds at the end of a ten inch bar.

Water weighs 8.33 pounds per gallon. There are 8 pints to a gallon and 2 cups to a pint. The weight of a plastic milk jug is negligible. Use a kitchen measuring cup to pour four pints and one cup of water into the milk jug.

Step 2: Weigh the Jug

Hang the jug from the fisherman's scale with a wire tie and take note of the reading. In this case, the scale read 4.5 pounds with four pints and one cup of water in the jug. (In the photo the scale needle cannot be seen, but you can see how to attach the milk just with a wire tie.)

Had the scale given an erroneous weight, compensation would need to be made. Suppose the scale had read 5 pounds instead of 4.5 pounds. 5 divided by 4.5 is 1.11. The scale would have read above the actual reading by 11 percent. This means the distance between the hex key and the point at which the scale attaches would need to be extended by 11 percent to yield the proper torque. Multiply ten inches by 0.11 for the distance to be added, which would be 1.1 inches. A tenth of an inch is just slightly less an eighth of an inch. If the scale reads light rather than heavy, shorten the bar length.

Step 3: Attaching the Hex Key

A 12 inch adjustable wrench holds the hex key tool in its jaws and provides almost exactly the correct length of a bar for your home brew torque wrench. The sides of the hex key tool should be smooth. Grind the ends of the bolts holding the handles together to make the side surfaces smooth, if necessary. Make the jaws as snug as possible.

Step 4: Using the Wrench

My carbon seat post is supposed to be torqued to 45 inch pounds, but could be torqued as high as 55 inch pounds.

Place the hex key in the collar bolt. With one hand make certain the wrench jaws cannot slip off of the hex key tool body.

Measure ten inches from the axis of the hex key. The eye in my 12 inch adjustable wrench's handle is 10.25 inches distant from the hex key axis. The extra quarter inch would result in a 2 percent error, which is negligible. Hang the scale's hook in the wrench's eye.

Begin pulling on the scale handle at a right angle to the wrench handle as much as possible. Reset the hex key as many times as necessary until the scale's pointer rests at 4.5 pounds.

Step 5: A Ratchet Makes the Job Easier

Resetting the hex key until the scale reads the desired figure is not difficult, but using a ratchet makes the job easier. You will need 3/8 inch drive metric hex key bits and a ratchet with a long handle, though.

Measure the ratchet handle and mark the point where the scale should attach.

Step 6: Make an Attachment Loop for the Scale

The hook on your scale will not fit around the handle on your ratchet. With a piece of heavy wire or a rod, such as from the handle of a paint can, make a loop that can hang over the handle of your ratchet and catch the hook on your scale.

Step 7: Using the Ratchet to Torque a Bolt

Place the hex key bit in the bolt head. With one hand keep the hanger loop from sliding on the ratchet handle. Attach the scale. With the other hand pull the desired weight to yield the proper torque.

Using a fisherman's scale like this one theoretically allows you to torque bolts up to 500 inch pounds. Just remember that the reading on the scale will be one-tenth the torque figure.

If you are unsure what the torque specifications are for various parts of your bike, you can download a torque specifications chart for many bicycle components at > Repair Help and scroll in the drop down Select a Region menu for Miscellaneous Topics. Scroll down to articles about torque and torque specifications. The chart includes conversion information for torques in Newton meters, etc. Or, go to the web page for the manufacturer of your component and check for technical service bulletins with torque specifications.

Remember, too, that torque specifications usually give a range of acceptable torque for a particular application. It is not as if a bolt requiring 65 inch pounds of torque will shatter at 70 inch pounds, especially if the range is 60 to 75 inch pounds.

And, finally, always put a drop or two of oil on the bolt before torquing it. The specifications assume you are not torquing a dry bolt, but one with a drop of oil or two on it.


jessemonicapearson (author)2017-02-05

great tutorial! I'm glad I came across this. As for 15ft/lb setting, 15 pounds should be used for 12" length and 30 pounds for 6" length. But where exactly would I measure to? Would I measure to the very tip of the ratchet or the middle of the piece that the sockets click into? Hope that makes sense! I attached a photos to show where I mean


As in your photo, there is a pivot point about which the socket rotates. That would define a beginning point for your measurement. In my photo, I measured 12" from that point and attached a wire loop to which the scale was attached. That gave two pretty definite points and it was easy to measure between them. (You could also slide a piece of pipe onto the end of the ratchet handle if you need to make it "longer" for a 12" span.)

I have also come to think of torque as an "about" measurement. About 45 inch pounds is the desirable target, but about 75 inch pounds would be bad. About 50 inch pounds is probably pretty good, too, as would about 40 inch pounds be pretty good, too. If your 12" wrench works out to be really 11.25" your results will likely not move from success to failure, but will be within a range that works.

niffcreature (author)2015-12-13

isn't the weight of the wrench an issue? wouldn't it be best to lay it flat so that you're using it level to the ground, so gravity won't affect it?

Phil B (author)niffcreature2015-12-13

The weight of the wrench does not seem to make a significant difference. Also, torque specs. cover a range, such as 45 to 50 inch pounds.

shrpshtr325 (author)2010-09-27

just a comment on this, the torque is equal to the force (applied at a 90degree angle to the handle of the wrench) times the length of the handle, if you pull on the scale at an angle other than 90 (approximately, im sure a little bit off wont hurt too much) you will be exerting a different than intended torque on the part (lower, which means that it could come loose on you while riding)

sharlston (author)2009-10-21

great ible is that a specialized mountain bike?

Phil B (author)sharlston2009-10-21

 Thanks.  It is a Specialized Allez Sport road bike.

sharlston (author)Phil B2009-10-22

nice i ave a falt mystic pro 2009 bmx

kearney (author)2009-03-16

what if you were to take say a foot long piece of pipe and weld a ring to the end for the scale? when you wanted to use it all you'd have to do is slide the pipe over the shaft of the wrench and attach the scale. then you wouldn't need a long handled ratchet, and you could better judge the distance of the shaft.

Phil B (author)kearney2009-03-16

Sure. That is a good idea. The main object of this Instructable was to help folks who do not want to spend $20 to $40 for a torque wrench they will use infrequently, so that they can use a few common items costing much less money and still get the job done well. Feel free to adapt the basic principle according to what is available to you.

gritz (author)2008-08-11

If you've ever snapped off a bolt or stripped the threads of a nut because you didn't know your own strength you'll appreciate this advice and torque wrench setup. A little ingenuity goes a long ways in being more precise in making in-lbs adjustments .... plus, need I say, saving some bucks in not having to purchase a store-bought' tool! Good idea ..........

Phil B (author)gritz2008-08-11

Thanks, gritz. Discussions of torque wrenches reading in inch pounds as per cycling forums frequently say you really ought have two torque wrenches reading in inch pounds: one for lower numbers and one for higher numbers. This wrench setup will handle both. Discussions on cycling forums also say any torque wrench will have its range of greater accuracy, outside of which accuracy falls off. But, with this setup you can calibrate for the new range by weighing the right amount of water and still be just as accurate. After posting this the idea came to me that an individual hex key could be held between the jaws of the adjustable wrench just as easily as a tool with multiple hex keys. Just point the short end of the hex key toward the outer end of the jaws.

reddeth (author)2008-08-11

Wow, crude but extremely ingenious. Very nice!

Phil B (author)reddeth2008-08-11

Thank you. It has worked well for me. Originally I used a bar from scrap steel and worked out a semi-satisfactory way of attaching individual hex keys. But, the holder for the hex keys was welded. Not everyone has access to a welder, so I decided to find a more simple way, which resulted in holding a hex key tool with an adjustable wrench. Another means of calibrating the scale would be to weigh packages of meat from the grocery store. Meat comes with a label that tells the exact weight as weighed on very precise scales certified by state regulatory agencies. Use a plastic grocery back to hold the meat packages.

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Bio: I miss the days when magazines like Popular Mechanics had all sorts of DIY projects for making and repairing just about everything. I am enjoying ... More »
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