Adam Savage’s Favorite Tools: Monkey Wrench!

On this Day:

In 1876, Daniel Stillson of Massachusetts patented the 1st practical pipe wrench.

A pipe wrench is any of several types of wrench that are designed to turn threaded pipe and pipe fittings for assembly (tightening) or disassembly (loosening). The Stillson wrench, or Stillson-pattern wrench, is the usual form of pipe wrench, especially in North America. The Stillson name is that of the original patent holder, who licensed the design to a number of manufacturers. The patent expired decades ago. Another type of wrench often used on pipes, the plumber wrench, is also called a pipe wrench in some places.

The Stillson wrench is an adjustable wrench (spanner) with hardened serrated teeth on its jaws. The hard teeth bite into the softer metal of the round pipe and provide the grip needed to turn a pipe, even against fair resistance. The design of the adjustable jaw, which permits a certain amount of intentional play out of square, allows it to bind on the pipe, with forward pressure on the handle pulling the jaws tighter. Two leaf springs, above and below the knurled adjusting knob, help unlock the jaw when pressure on the handle of the wrench is released.

Pipe wrenches are not intended for regular use on hex nuts or other fittings. However, if a hex nut becomes rounded (stripped) so that it cannot be moved by standard wrenches, a pipe wrench can be used to free the bolt or nut, because the pipe wrench is designed to bite into rounded metal surfaces.

Pipe wrenches are classified by the length of the handle. They are generally available in sizes from 6 inches (150 mm) to 48 inches (1,200 mm) or larger. They are usually made of cast steel. Today, aluminium might be used to construct the body of the wrench, although the teeth and jaw remain steel. Teeth and jaw kits (which also contain adjustment rings and springs) can be bought to repair broken wrenches, because that can be cheaper than buying a new one. Repairing a high-quality wrench can be more economical (taking into account the total cost of ownership) than either buying a new high-quality wrench or buying cheap wrenches repeatedly.

Daniel C. Stillson (1826-1899), a mechanic at the Walworth Company, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created the first such wrench. On October 12, 1869, U.S. patent #95,744 was issued to Stillson.

On 17 August 1888, the Swedish inventor Johan Petter Johansson (1853-1943) took out his first patent on the adjustable pipe wrench. The Swedish Patent Office issued the patent (SE 5636) again in 1894. The idea emerged after he established his company Enköpings Mekaniska Verkstad. Back then, nut dimensions were poorly standardized, so each time a tradesman was out on a job, he needed a trolley to take a set of fixed pipe wrenches with him. Johansson’s tool could grip nuts of different dimensions.

First, a Story:

I try and I try but I can never seem to have a good conversation about wrenches with anyone…

I guess there just isn’t that much to torque about…

Second, a Song:

Adam Whitney Savage (born July 15, 1967) is an American special effects designer and fabricator, actor, educator, and television personality and producer, known as the former co-host (with Jamie Hyneman) of the Discovery Channel television series MythBusters and Unchained Reaction. His model work has appeared in major films, including Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Reloaded. He is the host of the TV program Savage Builds, which premiered on the Science Channel on June 14, 2019. He is currently most active on the platform Adam Savage’s Tested which includes a website and a YouTube channel.


Savage’s role with his co-hosts on Mythbusters is to disprove or confirm myths through testing and experiments done at different scales. His demeanour on MythBusters is animated and energetic, providing a foil to Jamie Hyneman’s more reserved straight-man persona. Savage and Hyneman were the sole hosts of the show for the first season of MythBusters. They introduced members of Hyneman’s staff in the second season who began to appear regularly; Kari Byron, Tory Belleci, and welder Scottie Chapman appeared in the second season. In the third season, Chapman was replaced by Grant Imahara, a robot builder and model maker. Filmed in San Francisco and edited in Artarmon, New South Wales, Australia, MythBusters aired 282 total episodes before its cancellation at the end of its 2016 season in March. On November 15, 2017, sister network Science Channel revived the series with the new hosts Jon Lung and Brian Louden, who were selected via the competition spin-off MythBusters: The Search. It is now filmed in Santa Clarita and on location in other parts of southern California.

Here is Adam Savage demonstrating one of his favorite tools, a Stillson wrench (wrongly called a Monkey Wrench here, a common misconception). I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“I remember taking a space walk on the ISS. There I was, wrench in hand, tightening bolts on a new module. It was such a mundane task. But when I looked in one direction, there was Earth floating in vivid blues and greens. In the other direction, I could see the blackest black conceivable, punctured by unwavering pinpoints of starshine.” – Leroy Chiao

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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