Wrench Sizes... Problem Solved




Introduction: Wrench Sizes... Problem Solved

Old inventor, reverted back to my 10 year-old self. A shop full of tools, a boat, race car, 3D ...

This idea is evolved from another Instructable >https://www.instructables.com/id/Cant-Find-the-Correct-Drill-or-Wrench-Size-Here/<.  My thanks to Spikoli for sending me in the right direction.

There's always a problem when I begin working on a project that requires multiple sized wrenches.  This is especially true when I work on my boats and cars.  Each of these toys are filled with complicated mechanical systems and many, many different sizes of fasteners.

I don't know about you, but I really don't care if that bolt I'm trying to remove is a 3/16", 1/4" or a #12.  I'm also not able to (even though its fun to try) guess the size by feeling it through a 3"x3" opening.

Time to ask myself what it is I really want... When I'm working, what matters is my ability to  choose the tool that fits the bolt.  It really doesn't matter what dimension is stamped into the metal.

I also don't care if my tools maintain the same look they did when they lived in the store where I bought them.  I use, modify and trim them to fit the job I'm working on, so box wrenches might be ground down to fit a snug opening or cut away completely.

All I want is to be able to grab the tool I need, when I need it...

And I think I've figured out how to do that.

Step 1: What You'll Need:

Paint... Lots of colors.

A job that has numerous, varied sized nuts and bolts.

Also, for additional ID of specific wrenches that are used a lot, a label making machine.

You may also want to try this with a colored plastic spray coating in lieu of paint.

Step 2: Break the Job Down by Components.

As I said, I don't care what size the wrench is.  I only need to "match" the wrench to the bolt I'm working with.  Any way that allows me to choose the correct wrench accurately and quickly would make sizes moot.

The problem I'm having stems from the fact that most industries don't manufacturer all the components they use in their final products, but rely on third party suppliers.  These "off-the-shelf" parts are then added to other off-the-shelf-parts made by other manufacturers.  Each using their own "standard" fitting.  Attachment methods and sizes found in the final product are likely to be all over the map.

By the time you buy that boat, car or airplane, the number of different sized tools you'll need to work on it becomes incredibly vast.

However, each component within that product will be standardized to itself.  Furthermore, because these components work with other components within the same field, the parts the component relates to will also more than likely use the same fittings and sizes.

So that's what we'll do here.  We'll code our wrenches by where they're used instead of what size they are.  In my case, I've already painted several parts of the cooling system on my project car blue.  I've chosen the cooling system of my project car to be represented by the color blue.  That's as good a color as any, so the wrenches I use to work on that part of my car are painted blue.  So far, every bolt I've come across in the cooling system fits one of less than half a dozen wrenches...   

Piece of cake.

Step 3: Start Working on Your Project

Start work as you normally would.  Work on one component, but put aside every wrench you use into a separate pile.  When you take a break, spray paint the wrenches a single color, both sides.

Use a color that will represent that section of your project your tools fit.   Whenever you need to work on this section again, you'll know exactly which wrenches to choose, even if they're mixed up with all the others.

Do the same with every other component.  If one size is used in more than one area and you have spare wrenches, you can paint each a different color.  If you don't have spares, then you can paint a single wrench multiple colors. Neatness doesn't count.

The key is, paint the wrench to mate with the job and forget about size.

Step 4: Fine Tuning

My 3D printer uses a single-sized wrench for all of its assembly bolts.    I've given the wrench that fits it a label identifying it specifically.  Marking wrenches on both sides allows immediate access without having to flip them.  Because there are fewer metric sizes, I made labels to identify sizes of all the metric wrenches I own.

Before long, I'm sure these will be painted as well, but I'll keep the label clean by wiping them before the paint drys.

I may discover I'll need the wrench I use to loosen the dashboard quite often.  There also might be quite a few green (interior) wrenches, so it still takes time to locate this "one" green wrench.  If this happens, I'll print a label that says "Dash" and paste it to the wrench's handel.  It'll make that specific green wrench very noticeable every time I look at the green "bunch".

When the next project comes around, the paint can be easily removed and the wrenches made ready for the next set of color codes.  I'll keep the labels on any wrenches that have them and get used often.

I'll update this Instructable as I learn more through trial and error.  So far, the system works pretty well.  I do run into new fittings that require wrenches that haven't been painted and I've decided not to paint my sockets.

For sockets, I find the wrench that fits, note the size, then get the proper socket .

Enjoy.  I hope this technique finds users.  I'd love to get feedback on how it can be improved. 

Step 5: More Fine Tuning

Comments have been made about commercialization and borrowed tools.  I'm assuming these were tongue in cheek, but things like that are what get me thinking.

I'll give credit for this idea to AngrierBeaver who wrote that professionals wouldn't stand for colored tools and Triniguru who wished there was a way he could color borrowed tools.

There's a product called "Plasti-Dip" available in a line of colors.  This is the same stuff they put around the handles of pliers to keep them from slipping out of your hand.

If you use Plasti-Dip to color your wrenches, you'll create a surface that's not only easier to hold onto, but if you're careful how you finish the edges, youill give your wrenches a functional and professional looking grip.

What happens when the job's done?  The truly great thing about Plasti-Dip is, you slice it and it peels off, leaving the metal underneath perfectly clean, ready for the next project.

Bada Bing - Bada Boom.

Step 6: Commercalization

For folks who like to sell things; here's how you can turn this into something you can market to big box stores.  Bags of colored sleeves that stretch over a wrench's head or wrap around and cling to the central shaft.  They'd just have to be long enough to stand out and short enough to allow other sleeves to be added... That's all the help I'm giving you. :)

 Have fun and good luck.  Let me know when they're ready and where I can get some.  I'd like a set myself :)



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    23 Discussions

    They make heat shrink tape, too. Also, apparently with a Dymo Rhino Pro labeler, you can PRINT on something you can wrap around something and shrink! So you could color code it, AND have multiple labels (like on the end of a cable) that say "dash" and "screen door" and ....

    Sorry I don't get. Have you just marked up you spanners so you can identify them, even though the manufacture has kindly marked them for you already?

    1 reply

    Thanks for your note, but your position puzzles me. When I'm on my back working underneath a car with a pile of English and metric wrenches around me, those manufacture marks are wholly unacceptable. Barely readable in the light, they become completely invisible in the darkened areas surrounding a creeper.

    The purpose of a tool is to make a job easier. The manufacturer's job is to make a product as cheaply as possible. Those manufactured marks are not there to make my job easier. They're there because it's cheap to stamp or cast them. They have nothing to do with kindness.

    I'm sorry to be critical but... most of us that use tools often can identify bolt or nut size by looking at it, and most guys like their tools looking professional and not like kiddie tools. Personally I think It's a lot of wasted effort but each to their own I suppose...

    3 replies

    No apology necessary. I appreciate any critique.

    Yes, I realize anyone who's worked with bolts for very long, quickly learns to spot the correct size.

    And I appreciate your sense of aesthetics, but when I'm working on my back with all my tools are piled around me, it's more important for me to be able to grab the correct wrench or socket than to keep my tools looking "professional".

    My prior Instructable, the one that led to this one, addressed the professional aspect of tools and how different people look at them.


    I can't speak for anyone else, but bolts I can't see or, as in my immediate project are composed of a mixture of english sizes of 16ths and 32nds (very few 1/4 or 1/8 sizes) plus 5 metric sizes. This mess of sizes has thrown me off and being a problem solver, this is my solution and it's working for me.

    I'm answering these comments in reverse order, so I've already thrown the gauntlet down for marketing. As an additional statement, anything I publish is open for anyone to market. I'm retired and plan to stay that way:)

    Well you got me there man and I really shouldn't be such an ass. I am not much of a wrench turner anyway so I should probably keep to what I know best which is woodworking, LOL. I'll let the wrenchers critique wrenching and keep my woodworking butt on woodworking!

    Happy wrenching!

    Pleeeze Don't be so hard on yourself. Your comments were very useful and gave me new ideas. As a matter of fact, you may want to polish up the idea about the rings that wrap around the handles. If I were to pursue the project, I'd probably investigate plastic covered metal snap-on clips. My woodworking shop was where I made all of the prototypes for my ideas when I was working.

    I'd love to see something like that show up in a big box store. Name them after me:)

    Many, many years ago when I worked as a service rep for IBM, I sometimes worked on machines with other techs, and it was often easy to get our tools mixed up as we usually all had our own tool bags open. To prevent this mixup, I laid out all my tools on a newspaper at home, and spray painted them all a fluorescent orange. Never had a problem identifying them after that!

    1 reply

    Way to go Pleduc. At the turn of the (19th-20th) century, my grandfather had a stamp with the letter "K" on it. Its easy for me to identify his tools to this day.

    AWESOME IDEA now my little helpers can feel more helpful ......... and less frustrating for me when i ask for a wrench! Hope i can resist painting up borrowed tools

    1 reply

    Thank you.

    It's comments like this that make me think... Borrow those tools and paint them with colored "dip-It". Not only will you have your colored wrench, but it will have a plastic coating that's good for grip (Dip-It is the plastic stuff on the handles of your pliers).

    Return the wrenches and tell your friend that for loaning them to you, you've improved them by adding non-slip grips...

    Then all you have to do is hope your friend doesn't notice the sizes aren't visible anymore:)

    Thank you. I'm still working on fine tuning it. I wish there was an easy way to do with feel what I've done with color. That way, you wouldn't even have to turn your head when reaching for that wrench:)

    Thanks. It's an ongoing project. Hopefully I'll have the panels to make it wide-body done by spring and the new hoses and wiring harness in so I can take it out again... With much wider boots. Fun car to drive.

    I don't know if I would do this myself but it is something to concider. I have multiable sets from the years and I dedicate a set to autos, woodworking, and other projects. I would think doing this with sockets would be better for myself, a couple drops of paint or fingernail polish for each of the sets would help putting them back in the right set when I need some from another set because of "missing socket syndrome". Keep up the good work, it is a interesting idea.

    1 reply

    My multiple sets of tools came from owning a boat that was moored away from the house. One set for the house and one for the boat. Also, because of my messy habits, I have the tendency to go out and buy a tool if I can't locate it in a reasonable amount of time. The missing one always shows up, of course (usually about an hour after I've picked up a new one).

    Thanks for the vote of confidence.

    I think you should try going the extra mile and come up with a way to make your idea marketable.