Spanners are some of the most basic tools you could use – but they’re also as useful as they are basic.

“But wait – that looks like a wrench!”

Not so fast; there is a difference between a spanner and a wrench – just like there are differences between a socket wrench and a spanner. 

In this blog post, you’ll discover:


  • What a spanner is – and how it’s different from a ‘wrench”
  • How a socket wrench works – and why it’s NOT the same thing as a torque wrench
  • Something to remember when buying new sockets
  • A useful tip to avoid rounding down nuts or bolts

What is a Spanner?

image of a spanner set
A spanner is a type of gripping tool that’s used to loosen or tighten nuts and bolts, such as when you’re changing the oil. In terms of tools, a spanner is one of the most basic yet also one of the most common tools you’ll use.

Spanners vs. wrenches

Many people think that a spanner is the same thing as a wrench, and while it’s not the most outrageous thing out there, it’s not 100% accurate either.
Pictured on the left is a wrench. Notice that it has a small wheel on it. If you roll this wheel, you’ll adjust the width of the wrench’s grip.
Compare this with spanners (pictured on the right). Notice that it has a permanently fixed grip.  In other words, you can’t adjust this grip. For this reason, spanners are often sold in sets of 5-20.
image of a spanner set

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    A socket wrench does the same as a spanner – it loosens and tightens bolts. But it has one key difference – the socket wrench has a ratchet mechanism so you can turn the bolt or nut without adjusting your grip. For this reason, a socket wrench is sometimes known as a “ratchet wrench.” Aside from that, socket wrenches also use detachable sockets, typically sold in sets.

    Socket wrench vs. Torque wrench

    Many people think that a socket wrench is the same thing as a torque wrench – this is false, however.

    Yes, they’re both used to tighten down bolts and nuts, but a torque wrench is used for one purpose only – to tighten down nuts and bolts to the correct tension – also known as “torque.”

    So if you have a torque wrench, don’t use it as a regular socket wrench.

    How to attach and remove a socket

    Attaching a socket to a socket wrench is easy – simply slide the square-shaped end onto the socket wrench’s head (which, for the record, is also square-shaped). To remove a socket, press the button on the back of the socket wrench’s head.

    Buying new sockets? Something to keep in mind

    If you need to buy extra sockets, remember to check the socket wrench’s size. Socket wrenches come in all shapes – typically in the following sizes:
    • 1/4″
    • 1/2″
    • 3/8″
    These sizes refer to the rectangular end of the socket wrench that you attach the sockets onto.  

    Socket wrench sizes – something to remember

    image of socket wrenches in different sizes

    Photo by Pixabay

    One easily overlooked aspect of socket wrenches is the size – the size of the square-shaped attachment point, that is.

    Socket handles come in several different sizes, with some of the most common ones being:

    • 1/2″
    • 3/8″
    • 1/4″

    You might not realize it, but in this context, size DOES matter – a lot, maybe even more so than for spanners.

    But why? Let’s take a look at an example.

    Say that you’re looking to buy some new sockets for your 3/8″ socket wrench. After searching on XLMoto, RevZilla, or even Amazon, you finally find a set you like.

    But once it arrives in the mail and you try to attach them to your socket wrench, there’s a problem – the sockets won’t attach.

    Why does this happen? Was it because you got ripped off?

    No – it’s because the sockets you bought were for a 1/4 wrench.

    The takeaway here is this:

    • 1/4” sockets will ONLY fit a 1/4” socket handle
    • 3/8” sockets will ONLY fit a 3/8″ socket handle

    How to Use a Spanner or Socket Wrench Properly

    Whether using a spanner or a socket wrench, you must use one with the correct size. Why? Because if you use a socket or spanner that is too big, you could damage the edges of the bolt or nut.  This is sometimes known as “rounding down,” – and it’s terrible news. The bolt or nut will be harder to remove if you round down the edges.  So how can you determine whether the spanner or socket is the correct size? Simple – take the spanner or socket and slide it across the edges or bolt head and wiggle it gently back and forth. There should be next to no wiggle room when you do this – if there’s too much of it, switch to a smaller size.