Introduction: Size Markings for Wrenches and Sockets

Picture of Size Markings for Wrenches and Sockets

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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.


josh made it! (author)2016-09-29

It works with other tools too!

make-it-mike (author)josh2017-09-15

That is wicked cool lookin'!

TallTrav (author)2016-10-08

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

make-it-mike (author)TallTrav2017-09-15

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*

slice73 (author)2017-04-16

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!

MichaelT177 (author)2016-09-30

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.

af11641450 (author)MichaelT1772016-10-11

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.

MichaelT177 (author)af116414502016-11-06

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

mountainfish (author)2016-10-26

Holy crap this is a good idea!

ScottM100 (author)2016-10-03

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.

DiyWaterDog (author)2016-09-30

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.

mc2517 (author)2016-09-30

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

RUSmiling (author)2016-09-28

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

IanC113 (author)2016-09-28

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.

wastubbs (author)2016-09-28

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

NihilFB (author)2016-09-28

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.

bd5 (author)2016-09-28

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

jimvandamme (author)2016-09-27

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

NihilFB (author)jimvandamme2016-09-28

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.

PhilipH4 (author)2016-09-28

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

Buso (author)2016-09-27

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

physci (author)2016-09-27

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.

Mark 42 (author)2016-09-27

Excellent. Simple, but effective.

roley1 (author)2016-09-27

This is a great idea, it will make reading the size much easier. Although with the massive mixture of sockets and spanners that I have collected over the years it will be a slow process to get them all done, using a different color for the different styles will be an aid in sorting them back into the right i might even try and match certain color combinations with exact tool boxes to make it even quicker to put things away. When using Metric, Sae and Whitworth they all seem to get mixed together on the bench and floor when working in the shed, the joy of working on old cars and engines is that even from the factory they seem to have 20 different size's on the one part.

gwenmart (author)2016-09-27

I too use nail polish, also on padlocks and corresponding keys..

javabeano (author)2016-09-27

I do almost the same thing, except I use nail polish. I also put nail polish at the end of the threaded end of machine screws and bolts, with colors contrasting between other that are closely sized - or in adjacent bins. Then when my daughter our wife bumps into or drops my organizer, sorting is pretty easy. I also color code my Allen wrenches to match any set screws which I also paint at the inside bottom of the hex hole.

brianchadorourke (author)2016-09-27

Back in the 70s, when we would get our D&D dice, they would be unpainted. We did this to them. I particularly like the different paints for metric and imperial measurements.

HAHAHA - D&D dice - I remember doing that to mine as well!

Christovich (author)stierney22016-09-27

Speaking of dice, I used crayons. I wonder if they would work for tools?

stierney2 (author)Christovich2016-09-27

Interesting thoughts... When I worked at a bowling center - we would use grease pencils/crayons to re-highlight the bowler's engraved name, etc...

JGDean (author)2016-09-27

Try using nail polish, which is really lacquer and available in a wide variety of colors and often quite inexpensive. It even has a nice, small brush included. This is often used for fill in engraved lettering on firearms (see many YouTube videos) and the excess is removed after thorough drying with acetone (nail polish remover). For flat surfaces, lay down several thickness of thin fabric (like T-shirt material) and put a few drops of acetone on it and lightly rub your tool back and forth, checking it often to keep from removing too much. Add drops of acetone as needed.

Ken664 (author)2016-09-27

Great idea, will help my failing eyes. I always have just used coloured electrical tape round the metric wrenches (spanners) so you can tell them immediately from the SAE - this is another level of that.

AlexB403 (author)2016-09-27

I have a British lathe all fastenings are Whitworth.

The tools and accessories have American threads. To save space on the tool board I bought five combination wrenches and ground out the open ends from SAE to Whitworth: and so that they would not get mixed up with my other wrenches I dipped the ends to match the lathe's colour. Result five wrenches instead of ten.

And just as an aside: I was engineer on a ship built at the time UK was going metric.Whitworth and metric plus the special threads for electrical, Swiss engines and pipe fittings we had seven different systems. The most popular tool was the adjustable wrench.

bpark1000 (author)2016-09-27

Try this method of removing the excess paint: select a solvent that the paint is not compatible with. For the oil-based paints you are using, denatured alcohol is good. Put that on the rag. Apply the paint to the tool, but do not wait for it to dry. Wipe immediately lightly with the rag. What will happen is that the paint will congeal on contact with the (non-compatible) solvent. The paint on the surface will ball up and slide off, like the way dried rubber cement does, but that in the groove will congeal and stay there. I use this technique to "silk screen" circuit boards made on a circuit board router. I first rout the "silkscreen" with a 10 mil cutter 10 mils deep, apply Naz-Dar oil-based silk screen ink with a razor blade, when wipe off the excess with the alcohol rag. Then I proceed with the drilling the holes and routing the traces (I must be careful to not "cut" traces with the silkscreen printing).

Hassocker (author)2016-09-27

I put a wrap of electrical tape around the large end of double ended spanners/wrenches so that you can easily tell which end is the biggest with a glance.

JKCK616 (author)2016-09-27

I haven't tried it yet. I just saw the Instructable. Would using an etching tool in the grooves remove the plating , allowing the paint to adhere a little better ?

Great idea for these old eyes . Thanks.

stannickel (author)2016-09-27

Great idea!

cchubb (author)2016-09-27

I've done this. It speeds up the wipe-down process and doesn't risk loosening the paint in the grooves if you wait for the paint to dry most of the way, until it will take a fingernail dent but isn't sticky, then use a razor blade to scrape off the top layer of paint, leaving only some smears around the numbers. Then wipe down. I use only a dry rag and/or a green brillo. Whenever I used solvents it would loosen the paint and ultimately start falling apart. But at a certain point you will need to redo it, especially if your tools get as many solvents on them as mine do. Now if I could only find a tool that would stick to the chrome metal and resist solvents I would be golden.

wmwinkle (author)2016-09-27

Nice idea. I'll try it. I clean the grease an oil off my wrenches before I put them up. Wonder how it hold up to parts cleaner as in carb cleaner, kero or WD40.

smartrem (author)2016-09-27

Love the idea and I'd like to do the same on my tools. Any advice on the brands for the marker or the lacquer you're using?

kenbob (author)2016-09-26

I love this. I was thinking i would do all the writing on each wrench, to provide even more metric to US contrast. thanks for sharing.

joshua.artist (author)2016-09-26

Isopropal alcohol works well to remove the extra paint.

buildandsewandstuff (author)2016-09-26

Love the idea of using one color for US and one for Metric - it's so easy to get them mixed up in the tool box.

rafununu (author)2016-09-25

I made the same thing in the workshop where I work to mark the tools of the technicians. One color per tech. If they lost something, they've got to pay for it, but they got a monthly bonus for their tools.

buck2217 (author)2016-09-23

I have seen expensive wrench sets that are anodized different colours for each size and considered buying them. This is a much better idea at least the wife won't complain that I am spending even more on tools. Mind you those anodized set are attractive!!! (I'm a toolaholic)

madmedic22 (author)2016-09-23

Considering a person can buy tools with this done by the factory, it seems that the rest of the tool world isn't all in agreement with you. Some are, some aren't. Please try to either keep your comments constructive, complementary, or absent.

dmoore26 (author)2016-09-23

Thank you! excellent idea! I'm looking forward to making my set of wrenches easier on my eyes!

seamster (author)2016-09-23

This is an excellent idea. I need to do this with my wrenches!

Swansong (author)2016-09-23

This is a great way to make it stand out!

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a microbiologist and geneticist by education who does home woodworking projects in my spare time. I also dabble in Raspberry Pi and home ... More »
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