A torque wrench guide for DIY

Torque wrenches are by far one of the most practical tools available to the average DIY-er when it comes to needing a tool for applications where a specific amount of torque is crucial to put just the right amount of tension on that nut or bolt. The best torque wrench range in complexity and functionality from the simplest old school varieties to high-powered hydraulic industrial torque wrenches (that you’re just not going to use at home). As a do-it-yourselfer, it’s important to know when you need a torque wrench and which kinds of torque wrenches are best suited for DIY applications.

Common DIY reasons to use a torque wrench

Some things should frankly be left to the professionals no matter how on point your DIY skills are. That said, there are still a wide range of reasons all intermediate to advanced DIY-ers should considering buying their own torque wrench, because there are genuine cases where a torque wrench is the only right tool for the job.

  • Automotive DIY: If your DIY skills are more of the mechanical persuasion than you are definitely going to need a torque wrench. It’s a common misconception that you can or should tighten a car’s lug nuts with a lug wrench. This is a very, very bad idea. As automotive engineering becomes more advanced, the inner and outer workings of a car inevitably become more fine-tuned. By not having the right level of tension on your lug nuts—whether too much or too little—the result can not only be epic fails of all varieties, but epic fails that require you to go to a professional mechanic with your tail between your legs, which is the ultimate shame for every automotive DIY-er.
  • Plumbing DIY: Torque wrenches are very common tools used in plumbing, because quite often, there needs to be a precise level of tension on the bolt to ensure the job has been done not only adequately but well. Once again, with the wrong level of tension, failure can and will occur, ranging from your minor embarrassment to massive, call-the-insurance-company style problems.

Other things to know about torque wrenches for DIY

Here is the quick and dirty of what you need to know:

  • Torque is measured in foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.)
  • For car and motorcycle repair DIY, your manual will list the right torque for each component—NEVER go over or under this level, because you will likely cause yourself a world of problems/hurt/embarrassment.
  • Some components feature torque markings indicating the level of torque to be used; again, always comply and never assume you need more or less, because you don’t.
  • A torque wrench can’t be substituted for any other tool when accurate measurements of torque are required for safely and effectively completing an application. (Again, don’t use a lug wrench on car components.)
  • There are two standardizing bodies regarding torque wrenches that are independent from one another: The International Organization of Standardization (ISO) and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), with the latter’s standardization system being arguably more comprehensive.
  • For safety, always store unused torque wrenches in the manner dictated by the manufacturer.

Always recalibrate your torque wrench at the designated time per the manufacturer’s instructions; if you don’t, your torque measurements may be wildly off, leading to damage of valuable components or even safety hazards.