The best torque wrench will ensure a bolt is properly tightened (not over-tightened or under-tightened). Nowadays, torque wrenches come in several different types, from your standard torque wrench to digital torque wrenches to even torque wrenches with WiFi. There are plenty of good torque wrenches out on the market now, but the best torque wrench to buy really depends on the job at hand.
Opinion is sometimes split on the need for a torque wrench. Some swear that muscle memory alone is enough to ensure proper torque. Others say not using a torque wrench is a recipe for disaster. The real answer is that for jobs where a specific torque is recommended, you’re always better off using a torque wrench than not. In fact, you’ll save yourself a lot of future headaches. It could also save you a lot of money due to broken equipment and stave off a potential lawsuit. So, just bite the bullet and get the torque wrenches you need instead of putting it off. In the end you’ll be glad you did.
Benefits of a Torque Wrench
The main benefits of using a torque wrench should be obvious. For one, the clamping force will be the desired for you want and the nut or bolt you are tightening will be at just the right torque to produce the right clamping force. What the means in layman’s terms is that the bolts you tighten will stay tight. This means less chance of injury, accidents, or a lawsuit.
Here are some of the other benefits of using a torque wrench:
- Avoids busted bolts: Too much torque means a bolt is going to break. Bolts cannot withstand too much torque from being over-tightened.
- Same torque for all bolts: You can ensure that all the bolts holding whatever it is you’re rightening together hold it at exactly the same pressure at exactly the same time. If the torque is consistent throughout the object, it’ll have more integrity and be able to hold together with the most strength possible.
- Keeps the lawyers away: Let’s imagine a bridge with over-tightened bolts that all break under a heavy load. Imagine that catastrophic loss of lives and the amount of money wasted, and the lawsuit. Although your project may be of a smaller scale, it is no less important.
- Builds trust: Many people may drive off in a car or machine that you fixed only to find out later that something malfunctioned due to improper torque. Not only may you be hit with a lawsuit, but word travels fast and before you know it you lost a large percentage of your customers and/or new clients.
- It’s the right thing to do: Imagine you’re a customer and you hire someone for a project where they’re supposed to use torque wrenches and proper torque but they don’t. How would you feel? Of course you’d be pretty pissed off. Just follow the golden rule and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Types of Torque Wrenches
The torque wrench was invented in 1918 by a New York City Water Department worker named Conrad Bahr in order to prevent the over-tightening of bolts on water mains and steam pipes. Since then, torque wrench technology has dramatically improved and several different types of torque wrenches exist on the market.
Although this list is not exhaustive, here is a list of the most commonly used torque wrenches:
- Slipper Type: Slipper torque wrenches are designed in such a way to ensure a bolt is not over-tightened. The type of mechanism used for this is a roller ball and cam.
- Beam Type: Beam style torque wrenches have two bars, the main bar which bends as force is applied and the indicator bar which stays stationary and shows the amount of torque applied.
- Dial Type: Dial type torque wrenches are exactly the same as beam type torque wrenches. The only difference is that wrenches of this type have a dial to show the force applied as opposed to an indicator bar. This style is generally more expensive than those with an indicator bar.
- Deflecting Beam: Unlike a standard beam style torque wrench, a deflecting beam torque wrench (dual-signal torque wrench) applies force to a deflecting beam instead of a coil spring. This has the advantage of reducing the wear and tear on the wrench, as well as providing more accurate and consistent torque readings.
- Click Type: Click type torque wrenched use a calibrated clutch in order to specify the torque applied. When the set torque level is reached the clutch will slip to prevent from over-tightening. Several different forms of click type torque wrenches exist, with the most common form using a ball detent mechanism.
- No Hub Type: Mainly used by plumbers, this type of torque wrench is designed to tighten clamping bands on soil pipe couplings. It generally has a T-handle and is calibrated to slip at a set torque.
- Electronic: Electronic torque wrenches are those that show digital readouts of torque onto a small display screen. They can also store torque readings which can later be uploaded to a computer for assessment. There are even digital adapters which can be used with a standard torque wrenches to get the same advantage of an expensive electronic torque wrench.
- Mechatronic: Similar to a click type torque wrench, a mechatronic torque wrench operates in the same manner except the readout is transferred wirelessly to a display (and stored be accessed for later assessment). Here you get the best of both worlds, having a mechanical and electronic device combined.
- Hydraulic: Hydraulic torque wrenches use a hydraulic pump to apply specific torque. There are two common types of hydraulic torque wrenches, low-profile and square-drive. Low-profile torque wrenches use cassettes and do not require sockets. Low-profile hydraulic torque wrenches are mainly used where space is concern as they can enter tight spaces. They’re also good in situations where no other torque tool fits. On the other hand, square-drive hydraulic torque wrenches do use sockets.
- Pneumatic: Two types of pneumatic torque wrenches exist, stall torque nutrunners and shut-off nutrunners. Stall torque nutrunners provide continuous rotation and torque varies by the air pressure set. Shut-off nut runners operate at a constant air pressure and also provide continuous rotation, however, they simply shut off once they reach the desired torque.
The amount of torque wrenches available today is incredible. It seems as if a new one is being invented every day for a different use. Although you don’t need a torque wrench for every single application, especially when products such as DTI washers exist, it’s good to have a few common sizes available for jobs that require a torque wrench.
And while the list of torque wrenches available is long, the list of the best torque wrenched is surprisingly small. There are only a few good brands for each style of torque wrench that are highly sought after. You could take a chance buying some of the lesser brands, but it’s not recommended, especially if you are looking to buy the best torque wrench.
Learn how to use a torque wrench properly here.
Best Torque Wrench Brands
When it comes to brands, for most tools, you’re going to get a lot more opinion than fact. O.K., we’ll admit that DeWalt usually does deserve its bad reputation in most cases, but they’re an exceptional rather than the rule. When it comes to torque wrenches, however, there really are some stand out brands. The rest of the brands are just “okay.”
Two brands of torque wrenches that stand out amount the others are Precision Instruments and Snap-On Industrial (which makes CDI). These two companies have put the most research behind their torque wrenches. They also use state of the art technology not only in their torque wrenches, but also to test their torque wrenches. While there are a few exceptional torque wrenches that fall outside of these two brands, you know that the vast majority of torque wrenches on the market are the best torque wrenches out there if you see Precision Instruments or CDI stamped onto the side.
Best Torque Wrenches for 2020
This best-of list will not include every single type of “the best torque wrench” available on the market. However, it will include the best torque wrenches in the most common categories including the best click type torque wrenches, the best drive beam torque wrenches, the best dial torque wrenches, the best split beam torque wrenches and the best electronic torque wrenches. We will cover the best pneumatic torque wrenches and hydraulic torque wrenches in a separate article.
Best Click Type Torque Wrenches
1. CDI 3/8-Inch Drive Micro-Adjustable Torque Wrench (1502MRMH)
CDI is an ISO 9001 certified company that manufactures only professional-grade torque wrenches, which are made in the USA. The 1502MRMH by CDI is a shining example of their professional quality. Not only is this torque wrench built of rugged metal and industrial strength, it also provides top-of-the-line accuracy in its torque setting.
At approximately 10 inches in length, this torque wrench provides good leverage for a 3/8″ torque wrench. Its knurled handles makes the grip comfortable and your hand won’t slip off easily, even when greasy. It also weighs only 0.90 lbs. so it’s easily portable and easy to use even for extended periods.
Its micrometer adjustment offers a torque setting range of 20-150 in-lbs. (2.8 – 15.3 Nm) and it increments at an incredibly low 0.12 Nm (1.06 in-lbs.). Not only that, it’s a dual-scale so it’s also calibrated in both directions. It’s easy to set just by a quick turn. Then, it locks via a pull-down locking ring and is positive locking, to ensure accuracy. In fact, it’s accurate to +/- 4% clockwise and +/- 6% counterclockwise. It also features an N.I.S.T. calibration certificate so it’s ready to use right out of the box.
All in all, a high quality torque wrench and one of the best torque wrenches on the market (for click type) made by an extremely reputable manufacturer. It even comes with a handy carrying case.
This torque wrench meets/exceeds ASME B107.14-2004, ISO 6789 standards.
See more information on how to set this torque wrench here:
Best Beam Type Torque Wrenches
The Ares 70214 Torque Wrench is an affordable beam type torque wrench that’s accurate and extremely durable, especially for the price. Featuring both standard and metric markings, it’s easy to read, and it’s designed for both clockwise and counter-clockwise use.
So what makes a beam style torque wrench worth buying? Well, for starters, they’re extremely cheap. Another thing is that they have a wide range of torque readings. This one in particular provides a torque measurement of 0-800 in-lbs. (0-90 Nm). However, the best reason to go with a beam style torque wrench is that they don’t wear out, even after a lifetime of use they’ll still read true.
This torque wrench is accurate within +/- 4% but unlike other wrenches on this list, does not come with a certificate of calibration. The only other downside (and beam style torque wrenches in general) is that it increments in 25 in-lbs. (11 Nm) increments. Compare this to the click type torque wrench which increments at nearly 1 in-lb. and split beam at 5 in-lbs. So, if low increments is important to you, you might want to consider another type of torque wrench.
Overall, even considering the few downsides, it’s still the best torque wrench in the beam type category. It’s affordable, well-made, durable, and will, in fact, last a lifetime of use.
This torque wrench is also available in a 1/4-inch drive model.
Best Dial Type Torque Wrenches
1. Precision Instruments Dial Type Torque Wrench (PRED2F150HM)
Precision Instruments’ torque wrenches are always going to top the list when quality and accuracy are your top two priorities. As far as we are concerned, if a torque wrench is made of quality metal and built to be dead accurate, what’s the point of buying one?
This dial type torque wrench by Precision Instruments fits the bill entirely for quality and accuracy. In fact, it’s accurate within +/- 2% both clockwise and counter-clockwise, not too shabby. With a capacity of 30-150 lb-inches and 2.5 lb-inch increments, it handles a pretty good range of torque as well. This torque wrench also records your peak torque, so you don’t have to worry about trying to remember it.
This torque wrench is a fixed drive style torque wrench and measures 9-29/32 inches, with an effective length of 8 inches. Weighing only 1.13 lbs. it’s fairly light and easy to cart around with your other wrenches and tools. It also comes with a plastic case so you don’t have to worry about banging up the sharp-looking chrome/nickel finish.
So what’s the biggest selling point here and why would you want to shell out your money for this? Well, what it comes down to is accuracy, accuracy, accuracy.
First off, the dial type torque wrench is the most accurate of all torque wrenches. Number two, dial style torque wrenches are not affected on where you hold the torque wrench, which isn’t the case with other types of torque wrenches. These are two huge advantages.
And with Precision Instruments being the best in the industry in terms of quality (they use superior testing equipment for all their torque wrenches), you know you’re getting a super-accurate tool. In fact, their design is so accurate they patented it so no one else can use it.
Overall, this is a superior torque wrench and one you should feel comfortable buying and not looking back. Well done, Precision Instruments, well done.
This dial type torque wrench meets/exceeds the GGG-W-686C / ANSI B107.14M specifications.
See more information about the superior quality of Precision Instruments’ dial type torque wrenches.
Best Split Beam Torque Wrenches
The Precision Instruments split beam click type 1/2″ torque wrench is made of solid steel and is extremely durable. It’s also one of the best torque wrenches that’s made in the USA. And, as the name of the company implies, it’s dead accurate and precise.
This torque wrench comes calibrated with an included calibration certificate. Precision Instruments uses state of the art machinery to before they ship out their torque wrenches. This particular torque wrench was tested and has an accuracy of within 0.1%, so you know it’s fully functional and ready to go.
It measures 22-1/8″ long and can be set to 40 to 250 ft-lbs. of torque, with 5 lb-ft. increments. It’s also easy to change the torque setting, just unlock the clip, turn the dial, and lock back the clip. What’s nice about this it that it doesn’t need to be turned down between uses or reset. All you have to do is use it and then put it away into its storage box.
During use, you’ll hear a distinct popping sound when the desired torque is reached. It’s around 80 decibels loud, which should provide enough sound for use under most conditions. To put this in perspective, that’s about the sound of a freight train from 100 feet away. However, if you’re in a noisy construction area or garage, you might have to listen a bit more closely to hear the pop.
This torque wrench feels comfortable in the hand and the handle, while long, isn’t too long that you won’t be able to get into tighter spaces. And at 3.39 lbs., it’s actually pretty light weight for an all-steel 22″ torque wrench.
According to the company, this is the sixth revision of the product and it has nearly been perfected. In fact, the design has even been simplified to ensure there is less probability of having any issues, which makes this torque wrench extremely durable and reliable.
Additional information on this torque wrench:
All in all, this is an affordable and high quality wrench. You get a lot of bang for your buck here and with its one-year warranty, if you do ever have any problems you have the peace of mind knowing that you’re covered for a year.
This torque wrench meets/exceeds GGG-W-686C / ANSI B107.14M standards.
- Overall Length: 22-1/8″
- Effective Length: 19″
- Width: 1-5/8″
- Head Height (without square): 3/4″
- Drive Size: 1/2″
- Drive Type: Flex ratchet
If you’re looking for a torque wrench with superior leverage, look no further than the C4D600F Torque Wrench by Precision Instruments. Coming in either 3/4″ or 1″ drive, this combo set comes with a breaker bar and is able to operate effectively up to 44-31/32″. Not only will this provide accurate torque, it’ll also loosen even the most stubborn bolts.
As is always the case with Precision Instruments, this breaker bar and torque wrench are both made out of high quality American steel. It breaks apart into three pieces and comes with a box that you’d imagine would be for a 250 ft-lb. wrench, yet this torque wrench is capable of up to 600 ft-lbs.
This torque wrench has a setting range of 200-600 ft-lbs. It also increments in 10 lb-ft. increments. It operates the same as the torque wrench above and doesn’t need to be set back before storing either.
The best features of this torque wrench are its portability and tightening/loosing power. An excellent wrench if you’re looking for a lot of torque in a small package.
This torque wrench meets/exceeds GGG-W-686C / ANSI B107.14M standards.
- Overall Length: 48-29/64″
- Effective Length: 44-31/32″
- Width: 2-3/8″
- Head Height (without square): 1-1/4″
- Weight: 11.76 lbs.
- Drive Size: 3/4″ (also available in 1″)
- Drive Type: Detachable ratchet
Best Electronic Torque Wrenches
When it comes to electronic torque wrenches, the prices get outrageous quickly and swing wildly. In fact, it’s sort of hard to determine what the exact price point of any particular wrench is in this category. CDI’s 6004TAA Torque Wrench offers a good balance when it comes to price and performance, especially when considering it’s made in the USA.
This torque wrench has everything you could want in a digital wrench. First of all, it has not just torque readings in ft-lbs., in-lbs, and Nm, but also features angle readings as well. So, not only will you be able to apply an accurate load to a nut, bolt, etc. but you’ll also be able to get the specific angle you desire as well.
Switching between angle and torque only requires a simple button push. What’s more is that ratcheting has no affect on the angle, so no need to worry about that. In fact, the same technology that’s use to get the angle on this wrench is the same technology that helicopter pilots rely on to keep level when flying.
The torque is super accurate with accuracy at 2% CW and 3% CCW, within 20-100% F.S. Within 10-19% F.S., you’re looking at 4% and 6% accuracy. The increments are in intervals of 0.1 ft-lbs. (0.1 in-lbs/ 0.1 Nm). The angle accuracy is +/- 3% and the readouts are displayed in 1 degree increments all the way up to 360 degrees.
As far as the actual torque goes, you have from 120-600 ft-lbs. And at 49 inches of length and weighing 14 lbs., you’ll have no problem applying the full amount of torque if necessary. Not to mention, there’s an ultra-comfortable handle that features non-slip technology, to keep your hands from slipping off even when they’re messy.
This electronic torque wrench comes with an N.I.S.T. certificate, traceable for 20-100% of full scale. It can safely operate in from temperatures of 40-110 degrees Fahrenheit and up to 90% humidity. It can safely be stored from 0-122 degree Fahrenheit.
CDI has outdone itself with this heavy duty electric torque wrench. Ample leverage and a robust digital output gives this a huge leg up on the competition, especially at its competitive price. If you need torque plus angle, you just found the best torque wrench for the job.
- Audible alert sounds for target torque
- Head of ratchet is sealed
- 3/4-inch drive
- Low battery indicator / auto idle shutoff (2 min.)
- Operates via 4-AA batteries (included)
What Is Torque?
In a nutshell, torque is a force that causes an object to rotate (turning/twisting force). Although it can be explained by the equation τ = r x F sin (θ), it is better understood by example. A common example given is that of opening a door. Torque increases in force by increasing the energy you use to push open the door and also how far you are away from the door’s hinge when you push on it. As anyone can attest who has tried to push a door open close to the hinge, it is much harder. This is because there is less torque.
Hence, the more torque, the more easily something turns. This makes sense for torque wrenches where the longer the handle you’re using, the easier it is to turn an object. It’s just common sense for those of us who use wrenches all the time, the more leverage you have the easier it is to loosen a nut or bolt. Likewise, the more force you put onto the handle, the greater the likelihood the bolt or nut loosens (or tightens).
Why Do Mechanics Care About Torque?
Torque is extremely important for several reasons. The most basic reasons, however, come down to the most common use of a torque wrench, tightening nuts and bolts. If you don’t tighten a nut or bolt enough (not enough torque), common sense will tell you that it’s going to come loose at some point in time. In fact, nuts and bolts can vibrate or rattle loose over time. This translates eventually into damaged equipment, or even safety issues concerning employees.
However, over-tightening (too much torque) is just as bad, if not worse. When too much torque is applied a bolt undergoes too much stress and can bust off. Since almost every piece of machinery has a specific torque for certain nuts and bolts, the only way to ensure a proper torque is to use a good torque wrench. Otherwise you can end up with damaged equipment, injured employees, and even sued.
How Does Leverage Change Torque?
The way to think about this is fairly simple. Let’s say you grabbed a wrench two feet away from where the bolt was and applied 10 lbs. of force to the handle. This is a simple calculation of 2 feet x 10 pounds, aka 20 ft-lbs. of force. If you grab that same wrench only one foot away from the bolt and applied the same amount of force, how much force would you generate?
Again, this is just a simple calculation. You are one foot away this time applying 10 lbs. of force so you’re only generating 1 ft. x 10lbs. of force, so 10 ft-lbs. What this means is that just by applying more leverage, aka moving your hand farther away from the bolt, you were able to apply twice the amount of torque even though you’re using the same amount of force (10 ft-lbs. vs 20 ft-lbs.).
Torque vs. Horsepower
Although this video was designed to explain horsepower vs. torque, it is a great video for learning about torque itself. It’s also explained in a way that is easy to understand.
Torque Wrench Calibration
It is a general recommendation to calibrate your torque wrenches one a year, depending on its use. If you use your torque wrench more often, you might need to estimate your use of the wrench, and calibrate it every 5,000 uses. While it is often best to go to a professional for torque wrench calibration, if you need to calibrate your torque wrench sooner here’s a handy guide that explains how to calibrate your torque wrench, courtesy of EquipmentWorld.com. Also, to confirm that your torque wrench is accurate, you can buy a quality torque tester. Generally, the best torque wrench will need to be calibrated less often than one that is of lower quality.
If you’re looking to apply more torque to nuts and bolts, consider looking into some of the best impact wrenches on the market.