If you wish to anthropomorphise spanners in an analogy, take some lyrics from Jimmy Barnes' song Working Class Man:
He's a simple man
With a heart of gold
In a complicated land
Oh he's a working class man
Oh indeed. Spanners are a stoic, reliable tool that will always have a place in the toolbox. They may not quite have a heart of gold but the chrome Vanadium steel they are usually made from is far stronger and durable.
What types of spanner are there?
There are two main types of spanner; open-ended and ring, though there are also sorts of other, more-specialised options. Each has advantages and disadvantages and if you can’t decide, then perhaps a combination set is for you – open-ended at one end and ring at the other.
Open-ended spanners will fit a nut or bolt and provide a drive on two of the flat sides which, assuming the spanner and nut or bolt are in good condition and a proper fit, can be the most efficient way to apply the necessary torque. However, as they will only fit on the flats, this means that you may need a 60° turn of the fixing to be able to get the spanner on again to make the next rotation. Sometimes, you may not have that amount of space.
In addition, it’s not uncommon for open-ended spanners to slip if the fastener is particularly tight, as a result of either rounding the corners off the fastener or the jaws of the spanner parting, meaning it won’t fit properly anymore.
Ring spanners sit completely around the fastener and typically drive on six of the corners of the nut or bolt. As a ring spanner would normally have 12 drive teeth, this means it only needs to rotate 30° before it can re-engage and continue to drive the fastener. However, as it drives on corners rather than flats, this can lead to rounding of either the fastener or the teeth in the spanner on tight fittings.
Typically, a ring or open-ended spanner will have different sizes at each end but a combination spanner will have the same size of open-end and ring, one at each end. This can be very useful, but it does mean that if you are using two spanners for a job, you might need two sets if the nut head and bolt are the same sizes.
The best spanner sets:
Draper Redline Combination
Our top spanner set picks
This combination set from tool expert Draper is Amazon's choice and with good reason. The company has an excellent reputation for tools and at just over £1 a spanner, this is excellent value. You get 11 spanners in metric sizes from 6mm up to 19mm and stored in a handy rack, ready to go straight in your toolbox. The open-ended jaws are offset to make it easier to work on fasteners with tight access and they are formed in hardened chrome Vanadium steel.
The best compact spanner set
Another choice from Amazon, these stubby combination spanners from Hilka can be very useful for working with fasteners where space is tight. You won't be able to apply the same amount of torque as a longer spanner and so they may feel like harder work, but if you can't get a normal-length spanner into where the nut or bolt is, these may save the day for you. A ten-piece set with sizes from 10mm to 19mm.
Halfords Advanced Ring Set
The best ring spanner set
The Halfords Advanced range of tools always impress us; they perform well and are not over-priced and this set of ring spanners should be the same. With offset heads to allow full rotation on nuts and bolts u2013 where space permits u2013 the eight separate spanners offer sizes from 6mm to 22mmm giving great flexibility and come with a lifetime guarantee.
Clarke Obstruction Set
The best spanner set for awkward spaces
Effectively a set of ring spanners, this strangely-shaped set is designed for fasteners where access is obstructed and you can't get a straight spanner into position. This five-piece set caters for sizes from 8mm to 22mm and is made in chrome Vanadium steel with a polished finish. These can be a very useful addition to your toolkit and will only need to get to an awkward fastener once to make them worth owning.
Lazer Crows Foot
The best spanner set for really awkward spaces
These odd-looking devices are designed to go on the fastener like a spanner but are driven by a socket extension u2013 in this case, a 3/8in square drive. They are useful for fasteners where you can't get access to the length of the spanner and you also can't get a socket on. Available in both six-flat designs as here or with ring-spanner style teeth. Also useful for tightening fasteners to a specific torque when access is poor.
Silverline Open Ended Spanner Set
The best spanner set for quality
There's not a huge amount to say about this set of open-ended spanners from Silverline. Made with chrome Vanadium steel, they come with a polished finish and polished heads which are angled at 15u00b0 for improved access, reducing the angle the spanner must rotate to pick up the fastener again. They come in a tool roll and in sizes of 6mm to 32mm.
Sealey Ratchet Combination Spanner Set
The best ratchet spanner set
A set of ratchet spanners can be incredibly useful, particularly if space is very limited. Open-ended at one end u2013 to initially release the fasteners u2013 the other end features a 72-tooth ratchet that only needs 5u00b0 of rotation to move to the next tooth. The angled ratchet head means access can be even further improved and this set covers the main sizes; 8, 10, 12, 13, 14, 17 and 19mm. Supplied in a storage rack.
Draper Flare Nut Spanner Set
The best flare nut spanner set
Designed for the compression nuts fitted to all sorts of hydraulic systems, including fuel injection and brake systems, these spanners slid over the rigid pipe and locate securely on the fitting, allowing the necessary torque to be applied from potentially high-pressure systems. These give better location and drive than traditional spanners.
Laser 6 Piece Jumbo Spanner Set
The best spanner set for ginormous nuts
While it may seem ridiculous to offer 34 to 50 mm spanners unless you're dismantling a suspension bridge or nuclear submarine, this six-piece jumbo set of spanners is worth examining purely for entertainment value. They're made from Chrome Vanadium and also feature a very robust storage case.
Draper Imperial Combination Spanner Set
The best spanner set for old British cars
If you're a fan of old British sports cars you'll probably notice that older models may use imperial sized nuts, a problem if you're using standard metric spanners. This set from Draper is built to imperial measurements and will allow you to work on any car that hadn't embraced metrication. It offers spanners from 1/4" to 7/8", will be made to Draper's high standards and comes in a handy tool roll too.