The 10 Best Hex Wrench Sets
This wiki has been updated 20 times since it was first published in April of 2016. Anyone who has shopped for furniture at IKEA will be very familiar with these tools. Whether you call them Allen keys or hex wrenches, these handy little drivers make tightening or removing those specially designed bolts a quick and simple process. We've included sets in a variety of sizes and designs so you can select the style that best suits the types of jobs you plan on tackling. When users buy our independently chosen editorial selections, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best hex wrench set on Amazon.
October 16, 2018:
Removed the Ares Ball Key from the list after noticing reports that the ball ends of the wrenches tend to lack precision and accuracy. Researched the Sunex 2637 and added it into a prominent position as a high-quality comprehensive set that can be used for a variety of applications.
The History Of The Hex Wrench
If you've ever put together pre-fabricated furniture, you're well aware of their existence — and you've probably learned a few new swear words because of them, as well.
Whether you call them hex wrenches, hex keys, Allen wrenches, or something else entirely, these little tools have only been around for about a century or so.
The first patent was issued in 1909, by William G. Allen (hence the name). There is some debate among people who debate this sort of thing as to whether Allen actually invented the wrench that bears his name. Designs might have been around for at least 50 years by this point, but as far as anyone can tell, no one actually made one of these devices until Allen, in large part because no one was making screws with hexagonal heads, and thus there was no need for hex wrenches.
In fact, Allen's company, the Allen Manufacturing Company, began making the screws before they made the wrenches. Billed as the "safety net screw," these new devices were created as part of a general push in society to make conditions safer for factory workers.
Previous screws had heads that could potentially snag on a worker's clothing, get tangled up, and drag that worker into the teeth of the machine. This made for some pretty grisly injuries. Allen's recessed, headless screw, on the other hand, had no exposed parts that were capable of grabbing onto some cloth.
Once released, these new screws and wrenches caught on. Anyway, most mechanics and engineers weren't interested in switching to a completely new system that required purchasing all-new tools, regardless of the safety benefits.
That all began to change during WWII. Since the war effort required a massive amount of industrial manufacturing, and many of the people who would ordinarily be tasked with doing said manufacturing were fighting abroad, factories needed a way to quickly assemble products without placing inexperienced workers in harm's way. The recessed screw, and with it the Allen wrench, was seen as one of the answers to this problem.
While Allen wrenches haven't cornered the market by an means, they're now seen as an essential tool in any handyman's basic toolbox. If you've ever put together pre-fabricated furniture, you're well aware of their existence — and you've probably learned a few new swear words because of them, as well.
A Secret Tip That Makes Using Allen Wrenches Easier
Using an Allen wrench can be a frustrating experience. It can be difficult to get the wrench to stay put in the socket, and turning that little key is a chore, especially if you have big hands or are working in tight spaces.
So, what would you say if we told you there was a better way?
Don't worry, we're not going to try to sell you our $99 course on "Secrets of the Allen Wrench" just yet. But there is a way to use these wrenches that's faster, easier, and less punishing on your hands — and all it requires is for you to break your tools.
You're probably familiar with the basic shape of a hex key.
You're probably familiar with the basic shape of a hex key. It looks like an L, with a short little handle and a long shaft. Typically, using the wrench involves gripping the handle and trying to generate enough torque to tighten or remove a bolt. It's both painful and time-consuming.
So, what you need to do is get rid of that little handle.
Put your wrench (you can do this with all of them or just one, your choice) in a vise and tighten it. Then, using a hacksaw or a grinder, shear off that little bit of metal at the end. You can then use the grinder to clean up any remaining burrs, if you like.
Congratulations — you now have a hex key-shaped drill bit.
That's right, you can put this new little tool in your drill, snug it up, and use the drill to make short work of putting together that table or bookshelf.
Listen, we're not heroes, and you don't have to thank us. All we ask is that you send us a big basket full of money in exchange for all the time and frustration we just saved you.
Putting Together The Ultimate Cheap Toolbox
Now that you've created your own perfect little Allen wrench bit, what other tools do you need to have in your toolbox?
Before we start, we should say that we realize that tools can be expensive, so you shouldn't buy any more than what you need — and only you know what you truly need. Still, the options below should be used frequently enough by anyone to warrant inclusion in your tool set.
Likewise, a socket set can take the place of most wrenches in a pinch.
One of the best ways to get the most bang for your buck is to select tools that can fill multiple roles. While this can mean investing in a high quality multitool, it also requires you to think outside the box a little bit while shopping.
For example, you can use vise grips in place of pliers, clamps, wire cutters, and more. You can use a flathead screwdriver as a chisel or even a knife if need be. Now, these things won't work as well as tools designed for those tasks, and you run the risk of damaging your tools in the process, but this is a great way for the cash-strapped novice to build a collection on the cheap.
That being said, don't be afraid to splurge if it makes sense in the long run. As mentioned above, a cordless drill can be extremely useful, and can potentially replace a huge assortment of handheld tools, saving you a lot of space in your cabinet, as well. Likewise, a socket set can take the place of most wrenches in a pinch.
Of course, over time you'll add more and more pieces to your collection, especially if you find you have a knack for this DIY stuff. This should be enough to get you started, though, and most importantly, it will give you an excuse to go tool shopping.
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