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What is the difference between a spanner and a wrench?

What is the difference between a spanner and a wrench?

Spanners vs Wrench

In the UK, a spanner is a fixed-profile hand tool which fits or removes a fastening by turning a nut or bolt and a wrench is a similar tool but turns non-fastening components, for example, a pipe (or Stillson) wrench which is used to turn and manipulate pipes.

The term ‘wrench’ is also used to describe a spanner-type tool that has an adjustable profile size. These tools are also known as ‘adjustable spanners’ or ‘monkey wrenches.’


In the USA, the word ‘wrench’ is used almost entirely instead of the word ‘spanner,’ but, because the USA and European markets are linked, the terms ‘wrench’ and ‘spanner’ often appear interchangeable in Britain.

History of Spanners and Wrenches

It is thought the word ‘spanner’ comes from the late 18th century German word ‘spannen,’ meaning ‘to twist,’ and ‘wrench’ from the Late Old English ‘wrencan,’ meaning ‘twist,’ dating from before the Norman Conquest in 1066!


This shows that the word ‘spanner’ is newer and only came into common use well after English-speaking people had first emigrated to America, taking with them the older word, ‘wrench’.


This might be why the USA uses one word and the UK another.

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