Tool Tests


REVIEWED BY COLIN MOLLOY for Australian Car Mechanic

We reviewed a set of Alden Wrenches made by Chicago Tools. These have a ratcheting open-end design and come as three spanners in a fairly robust tray, in this case in the metric sizes 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 17mm. These are also available in imperial.

They are made from hardened stainless steel, rather than chromed steel, and have a pleasing polished finish. They don’t look like the kind of tools that will rust up over time, and being stainless, will just polish up again anyway.

According to their website they use stainless steel because they were intended for use in the aerospace industry, where the potential hassles caused by chrome flaking off could be disastrous.

I have ratchet ring spanners and use them all the time, but I wouldn’t consider using them to break loose a very tight bolt or nut, that’s what sockets and normal ring spanners are for. I would give these spanners the same respect, but sometimes we encounter a nut or bolt that is tight all the way, perhaps due to threadlocker or sealant. The ring and socket don’t fit in the available space and they are too tight for fingers, so we use an open ender and keep flipping it with every move.

If only someone would invent an open end spanner that ratcheted. That’s exactly what these Alden Wrenches do.

Named after their inventor, they have a clever moving jaw on one side and a fixed jaw on the other. Put them the right way around and swing them at least 30 degrees and you can move the spanner back to the starting position and swing again without having taken the tool off the nut. They ratchet just like your other ratcheting tools do and they do it well.

I have looked at other ratcheting open-enders and many of them have a fixed-head design with only a small moving part. Like a normal open-ender they might round the heads off and slip if too much torque is applied. The Alden Wrenches are instead a bit like a Stillson; the harder you swing, the more they bite – but as I said, I would break the initial tightness with a ring or socket first.

The final drive on my motorbike has four nuts near a chromed cover. This cover prevents a socket being used and, although a ring spanner will fit, there isn’t enough room to use a ratchet ring. The Alden Wrench spun these nuts off effortlessly.

Then I tried it on a brake pipe flare nut and was amazed at how well it worked, without damaging the nut at all. A pipe spanner might be better to crack these loose, but the Alden Wrench would be far quicker.

The third task I set for it was the thermostat housing bolts that had been coated with sealant. Sure, a ring or socket would have fitted, but these bolts were too tight for fingers due to the sealant, so I gave the Alden Wrenches a go and they worked perfectly.

These spanners are well finished and seem robust. They work well and when you really DO need them, you’ll be glad you bought them.

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