The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Cruiser’s Tool Kit—Wrenches

As I explained a few weeks ago, we let all our tools go with our McCurdy and Rhodes cutter, and so I’m now in the process of putting together a whole new kit for our much smaller and lighter J109.

If you did not read that article on the power tools we selected, you may wish to do so now to really understand our selection criteria.

That said, the key takeaway is that we must always guard against putting too much weight on a cruising boat, regardless of size, while still being as sure as is practical that we will have the tool we need when something needs fixing.

In this, and the next few posts in the series, I will share how Phyllis and I are balancing those two conflicting criteria.

Let’s start with wrenches.

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Alastair Currie

Drag Link Sockets are something I never thought about until I had to undo a very large slotted countersunk head bolt. My largest flat head screw driver was far too small in width and breadth. I would have a good look around the boat and if you have any large slotted bolt heads, consider a Drag Link Socket. I found such a bolt under my binnacle that secured an up-stand structure over a bevel gearbox. Definitely the right tool for the job. On my rod steering system, with drag links, it’s all nuts, bolts or cap screws – but this where the Drag Link Slot originates from.

Friends run a motorcycle shop and they use Metrinch brand spanners and sockets. They fix up HDs, classic British as well as modern bikes, hence a lot of imperial and and metric fasteners. A single Metrinch size will fit a range of metric and imperial sizes but also drives on the flats of the nut or bolt using a cam like profile, its a precision fit, so not a sloppy fit that one could assume a one-size-fits-all tool might be. It grips on the flat instead of the hexagonal corner. I have used these tools and find them very secure and positive in use. However, they still suffer the disadvantages that Wera Jokers address and require more access for the motion required to grip the flat. Nevertheless, they are a reliable solution where a mix of imperial and metric requires a productive solution than just a specific size.

I also would not be without a Stilson, or Pipe Wrench. The only tool that grips a round thing with confidence. It will dig in and mark that round thing, it will grip onto that rounded nut or bolt, grip a stud when all else fails to grip and it will keep gripping the more force applied. It is a bit of a last resort where finesse was the supposed order of the day, or useful in pipe make up, especially NPT threads, where tool marking is not an issue. They have also been used as emergency steering tillers, such is the grip they can provide.

Alastair Currie

Both links more or less gives the same data. Serenco, I think is the originator, or at least now the owner of the brand Metrinch.


Alex Borodin

Hi Alastair,
these do indeed look interesting and I am tempted to buy a set just to try it and potentially replace two tool sets with one. I am hesitant to pull the plug yet, however, because their sets fail one important test: they are sold in crappy blow-molded ABS boxes with flappy clasps. Those clasps tend to fall off if you just look at them, to say nothing of frequent use. Which brings me to one more tool buying heuristic: if it’s packaged like crap, it probably is crap. Quality manufacturers pay attention to detail.

Alex Borodin

Hi all,
I did end up buying a Metrinch set to try it out, despite my misgivings about the case and I think a quick report is in order.

I haven’t done much serious work with it yet. However, I realized today that I very much enjoy one feature that is not mentioned in the Metrinch marketing material – it saves my brain cells from learning the imperial fastener sizes. For example, if I know a nut is imperial, but I eyeball it to be about 13 mm, I can just grab the socket that has 13 stamped on it and drive that nut. And I don’t care how many 64th of an inch wide that nut happens to be. Choosing an imperial socket by sight has always been hit and miss for me. With Metrinch, it’s much better.

Now, if only I could get a proper case for the set, I’d be a happy camper.

Stein Varjord

Hi Alistair, John and Alex,
At least the last decade or so, all serious toolmakers, including Wera, of course, use the rounded profile for their sockets, wrenches, etc as seen on the Metrinch tools. This does indeed move the maximum load a bit away from the actual corners of the nuts and bolts, making them resist higher loads before getting rounded. It works. I don’t think the others have adapted their dimensions to cover both metric and imperial, but some fit anyway.

My policy on the metric versus imperial issue is to be fanatic about it. 🙂 I only carry metric tools. Nothing with imperial bolts is allowed onboard. If I suspect anything having that, I check all fasteners before accepting it. I have exchanged the few fasteners on our engines that were imperial. I just don’t want any of that nuisance and unnecessary problems. Metric is the only usable standard. Told you I’m fanatic! 🙂

Jo Blach

Alastair, I second to include a good pipe wrench. Not only are they sometimes the tool of last resort, they also make about the best easily deniable self defense weapon on a boat. Right size and weight and handles like a small mace.

René Bornmann

One other German brand to consider is HAZET and Stahlwille (all from one region in Germany). Absolute great quality!

James Evans

I was given a set of Stahlwille for my21 st. Still going strong after 54 years of motorcycling and sailing.

Alex Borodin

From my experience, I can only confirm that you can’t go wrong if you buy pro-level German sockets and wrenches. Wera, Gedore, Stahlwille, Hazet,… doesn’t matter much.

Also, if a tool looks anything like pliers at all, it better be from Knipex.

And lastly, everyone knows that Heuer vices are forever.

P.S. If I sound like a German tool fanboy, it’s because that’s just what we, Germans, do. It’s a duty to your country, you know.

Alex Borodin

I’m sorry John, but you have to be physically present for your pedal-to-the-metal autobahn driving test

Steve D

I’ve been using Wera tools for about 10 years, I got my first sample from a dealer at the Duseldorf Boat Show, a compact ice-hardened screw driver set, about which I wrote an article for Professional Boat Builder magazine. Since then I’ve added a few more kits including a metric and SEA socket set. For my work I need compact, versatile and light as I’m flying with my tools much of the time. The Wera gear fits the bill and it has never let me down. I broke one screw driver bit and they replaced it no questions asked. It’s a great product.

Steve D

Ha, OK, I’ll take responsibility.


The description of the screw driver makes me laugh. Ice-hardened. So I went to the Wera website and found “a special vacuum ice-hardening process” OK, so I get it, the general populace is really limited in it’s knowledge of materials and materials processing. But really? Total bull? Reading between the lines, they are likely using one of the high performance precipitation hardening alloys like 17-7 PH or PH 13-8 Mo or custom 465. But for me, Wera is now off my list of potential suppliers. I don’t deal well with marketing mumbo jumbo with nothing to do with reality. I’m sure they make a good product – if they are using any of the above alloys, or some other in a similar family, it’s what you want for a boat tool. It’s just my position that I believe in truth in marketing. Anything less, and you’re off my list.

Alex Borodin

Hi David,

just curious: given this criterion for disqualification, who has survived for long on your list?

Ernest E Vogelsinger

So you would bypass a product that you know to be good, and that you need for certain tasks, just because some marketing guy tries to sell it to technically not-so-apt potential customers using “colorful descriptions”?

Joshua Marieholm

Wera? I got io great stuff cheaper in Italy!


I agree, the tools help make the repair.

One of those add on items in my tool kit is a “Zero Degree® gearless ratchet”.

When reaching into the engine upside down and backwords with only enough space to flick a finger, the rachet can be used to tighten or loosen a stubborn nut/stud/bolt. There is no clicking. The slightest motion just works.

The bonus is I have fewer busted knuckles and more “thank God that worked” success.

Alex Borodin

The post should come with a warning: following the comments to this post will get real expensive real fast

Stein Varjord

Hi John,

Several of my favourite tools are Wera and Knipex. I also have some other quality tools, like Stahlville, but Wera is my preference since they seem to be more innovative, meaning they have tools with possibilities I haven’t found other places.

My absolute favourite tool is a tiny Wera ratchet with only a bit holder. It’s the size of a small 1/4” ratchet, but it only has a bit hole where the 14” square normally is. This makes it into a miraculously versatile tool that is included in close to every single tool task I do. It accepts anything you throw at it including sockets, by means of simple combinations of standard bits, and it gets into the tiniest spaces.

It’s called Wera Zyclop Mini. Looking at their page, I notice they now have a new version. I have the Zyclop1. I think I urgently need the Zyclop2, and the special sockets for it. Probably not cheap, but how could I possibly resist it? 🙂
Edit:Looking further, I think the Zyclop Mini1 is still the most versatile….

I’ve long been thinking of upgrading my wrench set, which is a bit too clunky for some jobs. The Wera Joker wrenches with ratcheting rings look great, but I’ve found that I mostly use sockets where there is enough space, and wrenches when in tight spots. I almost never have bolts protruding much through a nut. Thus, for me the wrenches need to be as slim as possible, especially at the ends. I think I can live with a bit slower speed when these are used.

The non ratcheting version of the same Joker wrenches seem great. Stahlville have some that look even slimmer. I’m also intrigued by the option with loose wrench heads. Never tried it. I have neither explored all this well enough nor decided anything, but this article has certainly tickled my feeling of “need”…. Perhaps just returning from holidays has messed up my mind a bit? 😀

Marc Dacey

I commented just the other day that the “toothless” metric channel locks by Knipex (model 86 03 250) get a lot of use aboard…in fact, I just used to separate brass propane couplers, as they don’t mar softer metals. I probably ordered them last year thanks to a comment here, but I use them seemingly five days a week.

Marc Jackson

Real nice choices, John! I have considered most of those Wera tools and I am huge Knipex fan.

Not sure if this applies to you, but I switched to Veto Pro Pac for portable tool storage for my trade, (plumbing). Mine is a Tech XL bag, but they make many sizes of bags or totes that are very durable. Cheers, Marc

Scott Grometer

As a certifiable tool junkie, I really enjoyed this article. Here in the States, Wera and Knipex (and to a lesser extent, Felo and Wiha) are becoming increasingly popular, but in the case of Wera, it is mostly limited to the screwdrivers (of which I have many). I have not actually seen or used the Wera wrenches (spanners) or ratchets/sockets, but I am now intrigued!

I love my Knipex pliers. I recently discovered the Knipex parallel jaw pliers (jaw faces stay parallel throughout the opening range due to a cam mechanism). I find I now use this instead of a combination wrench to ‘back’ (hold opposing side nut).

I am fortunate to have several rolling tool cabinets populated by tools approaching 40 years old – I say fortunate because I am finding that so many of the new tools available (at least here in the states) are vastly inferior in both quality and finish. We used to have a plethora of quality choices (Snap-On, Proto, Williams, Mac, Matco, S-K – even the *OLD* Craftsman), but even some of those brands seemed to have cheapened-out, sold the name, and/or moved production offshore.

I thought I would share something I learned recently while helping a young friend start his tool collection. For those who simply cannot afford a full compliment of Wera or comparable tools, I found that there are at least some passably decent alternatives out there if on a budget. A friend who also happens to be my tool vendor told me that SOME of the tools coming out of Taiwan are actually quite nice, and perhaps more importantly, use high-quality steel in their construction. Apparently there is a significant difference in metal quality between SOME of the Taiwanese tools as compared to Chinese. He showed me a kit made by Channel Lock (Taiwanese) that really surprised me. All of the tools were heavy Chrome Vanadium, beautifully finished, and at least appeared to be the equal of some of my older Snap-on. The ratchets have smooth, fine-tooth operation, and the ergonomics are similar to what I am used to in more top-shelf tools. I ended up buying the kit (less than $200 U.S.) for mobile use in my truck, and I have to say that I would actually consider using it on my boat if I did not already have higher-end tools there.

I ended up buying a large DeWalt kit for my young friend. It is also a Taiwan-made product, and he seems quite happy with it (he is Swiss, and is no stranger to high-quality tools).

I am in no way suggesting that these lesser-price tools are the equal of the Wera or other ultimate options. I just thought for those who cannot afford the staggering prices (I am thinking mostly of some of the young cruisers just getting started on minimal/small boats, and on shoe-string budgets), there are some reasonably sound choices to get started.

As for me, I can’t wait to check out some of the Wera wrenches! Thank you, as always, for an excellent article!

Alan Sexton

Just to add to the list, I find a Ridgid Hex Wrench quite handy from time to time
as recommended by Steve D in one of his articles

Jim Schulz

Interesting to hear all the German tool fanboy talk without having seen any mention of Festool in the power tool article. I bought my first Festool drill/driver for work 15 years ago and the ergonomics sent me back to buy thousands worth of tools from them since. Gotta say the old joke about heaven being filled with Italian lovers, French cooks, English accountants, and German engineers rings true.

Colin Post

Hi John.
Check Lee Valley Tools (Canadian company). Best woodworking tools available. They carry Festool.

Martin McOmber

Almost all of the pro boat builders in the Pacific Northwest use Festool. So much so that Fisheries Supply, the best chandlery around these parts, carry a full line of its products. Wonderful stuff with innovative features. I dream of them.

James Evans

Wow! I did not expect that! Congratulations John and Phyllis, you will have fun.

Eric Klem

Hi John,

I have no personal experience with Wera tools but will keep them in mind for the future. Most of my tools are much older Craftsman (well before the sale to B&D) with some Mac, Snap-On and other brands thrown in. The Craftsman have been great and while I can feel a difference with some of the higher end brands, it is small and they really hit my price to quality point well. Unfortunately, tools from a long time ago don’t tell you a lot about the current state of a brand, the people designing the tools change, the balance of cost versus quality can be changed and then there are the questions about how tightly controlled the manufacturing process is. Some of the premium brands know that is their niche and try to stick to it but even these go wrong on occasion where they get distracted by things like adding to many unnecessary features. I luckily don’t buy too many tools today so haven’t stayed really current on what are good brands. Some of the boat tools are getting close to needing replacement so I will need to think about it again.

I too am a big fan of 6 point sockets, I think that I have run into a 12 point bolt head only a few times ever and I am nearly sure I have never specified one in my designs. Similarly, my go to size is 3/8″ drive unless I need to apply more torque. I keep 3 sets of tools and the only one that actually includes 1/4″ drive is my shop but then again it also includes 3/8″, 1/2″ and 3/4″ drive.

The end of those wrenches is interesting. It kind of looks like it won’t grab as much of the flat of a head though which would worry me a bit. The good news is that those jaws look good and beefy so should not flex too much but hopefully they are small enough to go in tight places (my main complaint with the ratcheting box ends). I have come to really like vice grip adjustable wrenches for when you need to retain a nut, especially if working alone and are trying to work on something where you can only access one side at once. These do come with all of the drawbacks of normal crescent wrenches so I still use combination wrenches for 90%+ of what I do.

One thing that always scares me is tools that try to be a ton of things in one. Even ones that work well always have big bulky attachment mechanisms that limit their use in confined spaces. At home, I think about the optimal tool for the job whereas on the boat, I think about having a tool that will allow me to complete the job, amazingly different ways of thinking.

A few tools that we carry that I don’t see and carry on our boat are:

  • A thread file 
  • A few regular files
  • Tape measure
  • Box cutter
  • Razor blade scraper and putty knives
  • Right angle screwdrivers
  • Strap wrench/chain wrench/pipe wrench
  • Electrical tools. I am guessing you have these separately.



Hi John,
In your future article, I suggest including a band-it tool with 1/2″ SS strap and clips. I’ve used mine for two mid-passage repairs: securing a loose boom vang bracket to the boom, and a failing gooseneck bracket to the mast. The band-it strap fixes were quick, easy and effective compared to any other method I could think of, for example, drilling, tapping and refastening.

Jim Picerno

One thing I am curious about is whether getting new tools, especially those that are boxed nicely in plastic cases has reduced the tool “storage footprint” on your boat? Almost all of my wrenches, sockets and screw drivers are Snap-On from the 70’s & 80’s so very good quality, but I’m storing them in multiple tool bags which take up more space than I’d like. The other thing that seems attractive is getting a packaged complete set of specific tools. Because I’ve collected tools over the years and while I’ve got “mostly” complete sets, I know they’ll come a day when Murphy will arrive and I’ll wish I’d gotten that certain size deep imperial socket, or metric flare nut wrench that of course I won’t have.

Adam Kanis

Along with me also rethinking and purchasing tools with an eye to minimizing number, weight, and volume, i’m really stuck on a good strategy for how to store these on a boat. I’ve started to like roll-ups and Wera soft “boxes”, but i’m not sure how best to store those. How about an article on how you’re doing that on your J-boat?

Marc Dacey

I got a 200-piece, three-drawer Stanley set (on sale) I use constantly aboard and was able to modify said drawers sufficiently to add parts salvaged from a previous set where the “plastic suitcase” had fallen apart. It’s a Canadian boat with metric engine bolts and hose clamps, so this was the best course. I keep a second tray of common driverss and sockets forward in the forepeak workshop space. I couldn’t argue with the price and the quality is not Wera, but not garbage, either. I tend to spend a bit more on hand tools like Knipex and Klein.

Having one box secured in a pilothouse cubby suits us, but if I had a smaller boat, I would have a smaller box!

Gary Reed

I have been outfitting our trawler (yes, even trawler guys subscribe to AAC!) for four years now. Started with ‘consumer’ which have served us “OK” but slowly upgrading as we go. 100% endorsement for Tekton … love their look, quality, feel. Unfortunately, we are mixture of imperial and metric for “2x” everything. Have they standard wrench set as well as “jokers’. Their ‘jokers’ (never heard that term before) are excellent.

Tekton split beam torque wrench are excellent and nice upgrade from my old micrometer.

Need to upgrade sockets and ratchets … will definitely be looking at Wera. Linda (wife) will not be happy (again!). Smiling. Hardest issue thus far was locating a 36 mm socket for ZF transmission. Definitely a one-off and settled for impact deep well socket coupled with a Tekton breaker bar.

Biggest issue for us … even with a large vessel … is storage. Still evaluating options for security (meaning not moving around underway) and accessibility (can wife get to it while I have maneuvered my 6 foot frame into that impossible hole on the hull side of the engine … twin John Deere’s).

Pepijn Toornstra

Hi John and readers, great website with valuable information. As a family of 4 we’ll be moving to live aboard soon for several years of sailing.

I, too, am upgrading my tools with Wera. I wanted to let you know that Wera now also sells the imperial sizes on strips allowing one to buy the metric sets.