Size Markings for Wrenches and Sockets





Introduction: Size Markings for Wrenches and Sockets

About: I am a microbiologist and geneticist who does home woodworking projects in my spare time. I also dabble in Raspberry Pi and home automation projects.

I did this on Craftsman wrenches and socket sets of various vintages ranging from my father and grandfather's to current. Most had deep engravings of the tool sizes. It was more difficult to get it to work with very fine markings found on some of their smaller 1/4" drive socket wrenches. Some of the finer markings required more than one attempt. I'm not sure how well this works on laser etched tools that became available in more recent years. I would think that quickly wiping off the paint with a dry towel will work, but the effect would be more subtle. The good thing is that I could completely clean off the paint with lacquer thinner if the results were not to my liking.


  • Hand tools to mark
  • Oil based paint marker, avoid extra fine tip if possible. Sharpie oil markers work well. Optional: Contrasting colors to suit your categorization needs.
  • Shop towels or rag
  • Lacquer thinner

Reasons to do this

  • Make it easier to spot the right tool size quickly.
  • Using contrasting colors make metric and US/SAE tool sizes easier to differentiate in a pile of tools while I am in the middle of a job, particularly if I'm not returning them to their storage locations right away.
  • Looks nice and is customized to you
  • Cheaper than buying a certain name brand that offers enameled lettering

Step 1: Prep Work

Clean off heavy dirt and oil deposits from the tools with a towel and some lacquer thinner, acetone or other solvent that evaporates quickly. They don't need to be clean enough to eat off of, just clean enough to allow paint to adhere well.

Step 2: Apply Paint

Scribble over the size markings with the paint marker. You want to lay on the paint fairly thick. I started with one tool to see how the color turned out, then worked in batches of 20-30 tools.

Allow the paint to dry for a hour or two.
Note: I used two contrasting colors to differentiate between metric and US/SAE tool sizes. You could also use one color for the lettering and another for the size. It's really up to you on how to customize your tools.

Step 3: Removing Excess Paint

Apply a small amount of lacquer thinner to a shop towel. I had a spot about 1 - 1.5 inches in diameter. Lacquer thinner flashes off rather quickly so soaking the towel will just be wasteful and make excessive fumes.

Gently dab the dried paint once or twice to soften the surface. I found rolling the tool through the moistened towel works the best. Ideally only the surface paint is softened up while the material down in the crevices remains relatively dry. You should still have seemingly heavy deposits of paint on the tool surface, this is okay if you work quickly.
Note: You could just wipe the paint with the lacquer thinner, but it seemed to strip too much out of the crevices. If this happens just mark over the surface with the paint marker, allow it to dry and make another attempt.

Wipe the excess surface paint off of the the tool with a solvent free part of the shop towel. Most if not all of the surface paint should come off with a few seconds of rubbing. A hard object finger nail or small piece of wood like a Popsicle stick backing up the towel can help. Note how there is a bit of paint remaining on the surface in the picture. It should come off easily if you work quickly while the paint is still softened.

Step 4: Cleaning Up

Clean up any stray paint that made its way into the roughened areas of the tool with a bit of lacquer thinner.

Dispose of the rags as directed by the lacquer thinner can.

Allow the paint to dry for a few hours to ensure it doesn't smudge.



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I'm a repair tech for medical equipment. Went through a whole 5S (workplace organisation process thing) recently. I was in charge of doing the tooling (organisation, purchasing, storing etc) so I did this to the sockets and wrenches. My boss didn't like it. The techs loved it. The boss threw a fit and had me clean it all off the tooling. When he retires, it's the first thing I'm doing. Some folks will never

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I'm with you. What possible downside could there be to making the markings easier to read??!? Any manager/supervisor worth their salt should welcome ANY cost-effective way to improve efficiency.

When the marking is done with a bit of care, IMHO the tools will even look BETTER than they did before... as well as being more useful. There's just no figuring some people. *SMH*

I'm currently in the process of doing this thanks to your instructable. I decided to go with model paint and it's working out great. Pictures to follow!

Instead of using paint.Why didnt you use a crayon or an artist Litho Wax pencil? I have been doing that for years. Eversince the late 70s or early 80s if you were into Dungeons & Dragons and you bought any of the games. The dice would come with a small white or yellow crayon to use on the dice to be able to read the etch markings on the dice better. I have always used a white or yellow crayon on my tools from wrenches, sockets especially the smaller ones and drill bits. Makes it easier to read. I found that white, yellow or red is best to read on tools.

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I too have been doing this for years, I use a paint crayon used to mark prices on windshields of cars for sale, it never comes off.

yep that works great to I couldnt think of what they were called. But I know that both the crayon and Litho Wax pencils you get in a art supply store both are made from beeswax and they work great to

I just did this, recently, to my breaker panel, too. I used a white-out pen. And it shows up great, with only a flashlight.

have you tried to mark drill bits. Those are the ones that drive me nuts. Sometimes I think I'm as blind as a bat.

How about using some fine grit alum-oxide paper to sand off the flats. Great piece of advice!!

Great idea! I'm going to try fingernail polish though, cheap and dries fast!

Great idea. How about we use what most of married men have in the house. Nail polish and remover. Between my kids and wife, I can mark the world.

Heh, after a couple uses of a fresh wrench, I end up doing the same thing with moly grease instead of paint!

Excellent idea - I will give that a go with the socket set first because that's the one I find I have to peer at in order to see which size it is.


Aw man, I did this years ago, I still do. 'Never thought to make an instructable out of it!

I wrap colored tape around sockets and wrench handles. It cuts down the sorting by 50%.

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We use coloured LX tape around tool handles backstage so that all of the techs can keep track of the spanners, screwdrivers, hammers, wire-cutters, whatever.

I own a set of Metrinch sockets and wrenches. Each of them fits both SAE and metric.


This is much more elegant than the solution I use.

Over 20 years ago, I found four sheets of stickers with wrench sizes. Although I put them on every wrench and socket I own, I had enough to give one sheet to a friend. The sheets had many duplicates--a good idea because of common sizes and the stickers on the well used tools gets damaged often. Many have been replaced a couple times. Though most of them are pretty ragged, I am going to try to attach a photo showing a couple of the best survivors.

I have found these markings to be priceless time-savers.

Your method ensures that the marks can be kept sharp and clean for a lifetime.

d tools had some extras. away to a friend and


We are the only large industrial country where we still need 2 sets of wrenches: Metric and SAE. If you dropped once your box you know how much more difficult it is to reorder the wrenches in SAE. Everyone will end up saving time and money if, like the rest of the world, we use SI.

Please call you representative to move forward.