What Is A Plumbers Wrench?

Oct 11, 2022 | Plumbing

A plumbers wrench, also known as a basin wrench, is an adjustable tool used to tighten or loosen fittings in hard-to-reach places. It has a U-shaped head with adjustable jaws that can be opened and closed to fit around different sizes of nuts and bolts.

While not everyone will need a plumbers wrench, if you do have one, it’s important to know how to use it properly. Here are a few tips on how to get the most out of your plumber’s wrench.

What Is A Plumbers Wrench?

First of all, let’s take a quick look at what plumbing wrenches are and what they are used for. The basin wrench is a unique plumbing tool with a rotating head that self-adjusts to grip better. With its long handle, it is used to remove and tighten the mounting nuts of faucet tailpieces in difficult-to-reach places. It also does other things like preventing marring on shower heads, fixing bathroom leaks, installing sinks and toilets, and fixing drain issues.

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Types Of Basin Wenches

Basin wrenches come in various styles. Below, we discuss some of them:

Fixed Basin Wrenches

Fixed basin wrenches are like a normal spanner in that they have unmoveable jaws, which help grip 1/2 and 3/4-inch nuts and fittings. These wrenches, however, are designed to remove the back nuts of basins, sinks, and bath taps.

While they are durable because they do not adjust, these wrenches can only be used with specific-sized nuts. It may be difficult to use the correct amount of force on especially tight or rusted nuts. A fixed basin wrench with a vertical orientation has the benefit of being able to work in tight places where a normal spanner would be impossible.

The disadvantage of rotating around the vertical axis is that because you have less strength, it may be more difficult to generate the force needed to loosen tight nuts or rusted connections.

Traditional basin wrenches are large and thick, making them unsuitable for many modern basins with limited front access to the back nut.

Adjustable Basin Wrenches

The adjustable basin wrench’s reach is greater than that of a standard fixed basin wrench, and the T-bar handle allows for more force when turning

Additionally, the versatile jaws let you use it for a more extensive assortment of nut and fitting sizes. Although you are not accustomed to this tool, it may take some time to get used to maneuvering it.  The jaws are toothed and can even grip nuts that have been rounded.

You can also use the tool’s jaws as a ratchet wrench. The spring-loaded jaws allow you to spin the tool in the opposite direction without changing the back nut, allowing you to make small turns when tight access is available.

Adjustable Basin Wrench With Telescopic Handle

Although a standard adjustable basin wrench will usually provide you with enough reach to access those difficult nuts, having a model with a telescopic handle can be quite useful when dealing with a nut or fitting that is so deep sunk that only this tool may fix the problem. It may just save you a lot of time and labor.

Adjustable Basin Wrenches With Interchangeable Jaws

Adjustable basin wrenches with interchangeable jaws are quite handy since they can fit virtually any size of nuts or fittings that you may encounter in household plumbing systems. If you frequently use this tool, then it’s worth investing a few extra pounds in a model with interchangeable jaws. That way, you’ll be able to handle any task that comes your way.

Box Spanner Basin Wrenches

The box spanner basin wrench is ideal for when you need to work in small spaces. Additionally, its hexagonally-shaped ends fit perfectly over nuts and fittings of various sizes. These tools come in handy when removing tough or rusted nuts.

If you’re unsure whether or not your fittings are accessible with a box spanner basin wrench, it’s worth checking first. If they’re not, you may be better off using a fixed or adjustable basin wrench. This tool is generally the first tool you would choose, particularly when installing it before pipework is fitted.

If you’re in need of removed stubborn or rusted nuts, then the specialized Stiffnuts box spanner is what you’re looking for. It uses mechanical advantage to remove stiff nuts easily by fitting over the threaded tap tail.

Parts Of A Plumbers Wrench

A plumber's wrench

The basin wrench has a head that pivots and is at the end of a long handle. It was designed to reach up into tight, difficult-to-reach spaces behind sinks so that one can tighten or loosen mounting nuts on faucets or flexible supply tube nuts connected to the end of faucet tailpieces.

It’s next to impossible to get to these nuts, and some plumbers prefer to put the faucet on the sink before installing it. However, where this isn’t feasible, the basin wrench allows you to reach up behind the sink from underneath, grab the mounting nuts, and tighten or loosen them easily. This tool has a long shaft with a small, spring-loaded claw head. The head can swivel 180 degrees to loosen or tighten nuts. There is also a sliding T-bar at the bottom of the shaft for extra leverage.

Though it is only designed to be used mostly on faucet mounting nuts, a basin wrench’s value lies in the fact that every homeowner will eventually face replacing their faucets. The next time you need to do this, Basin Wrench will save you $10-$20, making it more than worth the purchase price.

How To Use A Basin Wrench

A basin wrench on a sink

Apply Lubricant To Mounting Nut (Optional)

If your faucet is old and the mounting nuts seem stuck in place because of corrosion, try spraying a little bit of penetrating oil on them. This should help loosen things up so you can unscrew the nut more easily. An oil spray can with an extension straw works well for this purpose. Just apply a small amount of oil to the bolt threads and wait a few minutes before trying to remove the nut again.

Adjust The Wrench Head

Pivot the head of the basin wrench, so it is perpendicular to the shaft and faces the correct position for loosening or tightening the nut:

  • To loosen the nut, turn the wrench counterclockwise, and the claw on the head should be on the right. To tighten it, turn the wrench clockwise; the claw should be on the left.

You’ll know you’ve got it positioned correctly if the claw grips the nut as you turn the wrench in the desired direction. If you put it wrong, the claw will slip off the nut immediately.

Turn The Nut

Fit the wrench’s head around the faucet mounting nut, with the ridged jaws gripping the notches or edges of the nut. Turn the shaft of the basin wrench with the T-bar at its end and loosen or tighten the nut. You might need to apply two hands to operate the T-bar, but you may also lever it using one hand while stabilizing the wrench shaft with another.

Tips For Using A Basin Wrench

Using a basin wrench is simple, but there are a few tips for when it gets tough:

  • The telescopic basin wrench has an extendable shaft, allowing users to reach faucets mounted behind extra-deep sink basins.
  • To safely and easily remove a stubborn nut, use a pipe or the back end of an adjustable wrench to increase your leverage on a T-bar. When you’re finished, there’s no need for this kind of leverage when tightening the nut.
  • The claw can grab a nut (just like pliers), so adjust the head to any position, making it easier to turn the wrench.

Renting Vs. Buying A Basin Wrench

While renting a basin wrench at a home center or tool rental store is theoretically feasible, there is little financial benefit to doing so. Hand tools generally cost around $10 per day to hire, and a decent basin wrench can be purchased for between $15 and $20 (though you may pay upwards of $50 for a contractor-level telescoping basin wrench). What’s more, most shops even offer free delivery

Even if you use the equipment just a few times, purchasing is usually preferable to renting. Before buying a basin wrench, ensure to compare prices and shop from registered trademarks dealer to avoid counterfeits.

How To Maintain Your Basin Wrench

Like any metal hand tool, a basin wrench requires similar basic maintenance. After each usage, clean it with a clean cloth to remove any debris. A light spray of machine oil on the pivoting connection every now and then is beneficial. Using a moistened cloth to wipe the tool down if corrosion sets in. It should be kept in a dry area.


A basin wrench is a specialized tool that is very useful for replacing faucets or other plumbing fixtures, but it can also come in handy for many other household tasks. It’s a good idea to have one on hand, even if you’re not a plumbing professional. With a little practice, you’ll be using it like a pro in no time at all.

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