I have been working on a series of DIY tool kit buying guides (thank you to Home Depot for sponsoring this endeavor!), and one of the most interesting parts involves drawing a line between “must-have” and “good-to-have” tools.
At what point does a tool become an essential DIY tool kit component?
A knife is essential. Measuring tape? Of course. Screwdrivers, pliers, and a hammer? Absolutely. But there are other tools that are good to have.
A dead blow hammer, for instance, is a solid offering that complements any starter tool kit. That’s something most DIYers and pros can use.
But what about a painter’s tool? That’s a very application-specific tool, with little utility outside of painting-related tasks. That’s the type of tool that you buy as you need it.
During one of my many visits to local Home Depot stores to research and purchase tools for this content series, I bought myself a new Husky strap wrench.
I have an older strap wrench from a different brand, and while versatile, it’s very light duty. I bought that other strap wrench quite a few years ago, motivated by a “I wonder if this will come in handy” mindset. That strap wrench has definitely come in handy.
I saw this Husky strap wrench and bought it on the spot.
My strap wrench has come in handy over the years, and I anticipate that the same will be true for this Husky. I don’t intend for this Husky to take the place of my smaller and lighter duty strap wrench, but I can already predict that I’ll use this Husky for tougher tightening or loosening tasks.
What do you need a strap wrench for? I have mainly used mine for turning PVC pipes, but strap wrenches can also be used on oil filters, caps, knobs, and pretty much anything cylindrical. I have also used mine to open jars when nothing else would work.
One thing to keep in mind is that strap wrenches are easiest to use around fixed objects, as they require two hands to adjust and tighten.
The Husky has a 28″ strap and can be used on parts 1″ to 8″ in diameter. The strap is a very thick and heavy duty rubber, with grooves for a very secure grip. It’s simple to use and easy to adjust.
Additionally, the strap is non-marring, and so it won’t damage delicate finishes the way pliers might.
To use the strap wrench, you wrap the strap around the object to be loosened or tightened. Pull the rubber strap until you have a snug fit, and then rotate the handle in the desired direction. Pivoting the tool locks the strap in place and under tension, and static friction enables users to easily apply torque to hard-to-turn objects.
You can also use strap wrenches on irregularly-shaped objects, such as this garden hose spigot, although I don’t think I’ve ever used my strap wrench in this manner yet.
This is a problem-solver type of tool. It’s the type of tool you can buy either with deliberate uses in mind, or just to have available for when you might need it.
I wouldn’t consider this a “bare essentials” must-have, but I’m sure it’d see use in any DIYer or pro user’s kit..
There are a lot of tools where I hesitate to say “buy one even if you don’t think you’ll use it, because there will be a time when you need it.” But, with a $11 price tag, this is a relatively low-risk buy, and it’s the type of tool that will sometimes justify its purchase the first time you tackle a “can’t do it any other way” type of task.
Once you have a strap wrench at your disposal, it makes all kinds of things easier. For instance, with a good strap wrench, you might never curse at your water filter housing wrench again.
The strap wrench is covered by Husky’s lifetime warranty on hand tools. They say: If your Husky product ever fails, bring it back and we will replace it for FREE.
Husky also has a woven polyester strap wrench, for use on pipes up to 2″ and tubes up to 3-1/2″ wide.
If you want something a little lighter duty, Home Depot also has a Klein strap wrench with 1-1/2″ to 5″ capacity and 6″ handle.
Having cut my teeth in business by running a plumbing business – strap wrenches are nothing new to me. The familiar brands for me are Ridgid, Reed and Klein. They come in sizes with capacities up to 12 inch pipe. They were often favorites for use on brass and chrome plated pipe and other objects where a regular wrench or pliers would mar the surface. They were a lot cheaper than the more specific Parmlee wrenches that required buying girths specific to pipe size:
Their big brothers (so to speak) are chain wrenches or chain tongs that can handle up to pipeline sized holding/turning tasks.
For smaller sizes you have options with the use of more modern pump pliers that come with padded jaws – or nylon jaws. Some of these were originally designed for dealing with electronic components like canon plugs – but then morphed into use for plumbing. Knipex and others make these.
Many light-duty strap wrenches with plastic handles are sold for tasks like jar lid opening – but they come in hand for plumbing as well. Ridgid makes one for turing plastic pipe assemblies:
Some examples of padded jaw pliers:
Some other brands:
BOA – come in various sizes – with aluminum or plastic handles, The plastic ones often are used as jar openers:
An example of a chain wrenches:
and a Chain Tongs:
I have the Craftsman 2 piece set from years ago. These, the diamond tip screwdrivers, and a few other things that I’ve seen pop up in Husky form that caught my eye as old Craftsman things leads me to believe Apex is making Husky versions of things they used to make for Sears.
I have the same set too. It’s only collected dust ever. Everytime I notice them, I always want to just get rid of them. Then I think “but they seem so useful.”
I bought one many years ago, thinking to use it for oil filters. While I have used it for that a few times, my Channellock oil filter pliers are vastly superior for that use.
However, over the years I’ve used my strap wrench numerous times – often for tasks where I need to grip or spin something where normal pliers are too small or I don’t want to damage a surface. Exactly the kind of situations Stuart brings up.
I bet if you get rid of yours, you’ll soon find yourself with a task where you wish you had them back!
They have drawbacks too though. You need quite a bit of clearance to use them effectively – they can be knuckle busters if you’re trying to hold them off-center to clear something. The rubber grips best when clean; dust and oil can make them slippery and useless (although that’s fixed easily enough with some simple green or brake cleaner on a paper towel).
These Husky versions look superior to mine because the rubber strap passes through a hole. On mine, the hole is open on one side so you can get the strap out quicker. However, that means the strap can slip out at inopportune times too.
Koko The Talking Ape
Yeah, mine’s like that too. I finally wrapped some wire around the handle to hold the strap in. It’s still a little fiddly to use.
But they are useful sometimes. I’ved used mine mostly for knurled chrome pipe fittings, where even a pliers-wrench would’ve marred the surface. And mine were cheap.
I imagine it wouldn’t be hard to make one with something like a hickory hatchet handle.
Strap and chain wrenches are both very useful tools. I find them very handy for filters–be it spin-on oil or hydraulic filters or the larger cartridge-type housings. I have two sizes of Rigid and also an old Vise-Grip locking chain wrench with an extension chain on it. I prefer the strap wrenches for round parts and the chain wrench for irregular shapes. Yes you can use a strap wrench on irregular shapes but it can often damage the strap. For example if you look at the pic in Stuart’s post of the guy using the wrench on a hose bib–that’s just asking to have the sharp threads dig into the strap.
You can mitigate some of this by place a few layers of ductape or other things around to pad the sharp edges.
There are also many copies of the original ViseGrip chain pliers like these:
Ridgid and others also make different straps for metal and plastic pipe:
It’s nice to see others making copies of that tool. They are very handy–not just for use to apply torque to some kind of fitting or part–but also for clamping irregular shapes together. I use mine for holding oddball items when I’m working them under the drill press or against a stationary grinder or sander. They’re also great for holding strange shaped parts together for gluing or welding when other clamps won’t fit.
Speaking of chain clamps, I also find chain-type pipe vises to be super handy. I have them mounted both normally (horizontal) and also vertically on the ends of workbenches. They are useful not just for pipe, but unusual or round shaped parts in general.
We had various tripod chain vises. Some of the manufacturers like (Reed and Toledo) are making some of their components out of aluminum. I would think that they would be lighter – more conducive to lugging around or up stairs. We had a part of our business (union shop) that worked in lots of older 5 and 6 story walk-ups – working on gas, steam and water piping systems. I remember hearing a dilemma about carrying full nipple boxes up the stairs versus running up and down to fetch individual pieces as the job unfolded.
For any homeowner that likes diy this is a must have. Ever see plumbing fixtures in a shower with scratches? That person didn’t have one of these. One of the best tools for the price.
We have had to use them to open jars that were sealed shut. Strap wrenches are great!
Just FYI Canucks, Grainger has a Westward 2-pack of these on clearance for less than $5 right now. It can be a little fiddly ordering from them as an individual though and shipping charges apply. Still might be worth investigating if you need anything else.
taa,Jared, for the tip for something that doesn’t cost us in canuckistan 2.4x more than the usa price…go figure,eh? this ol’ mechanic v.much looks forward to more alerts of cdn deals from You, cheers
James D Ouzts
I actually like the harbor freight style that don’t have the “hinge” part better. I’ve used them a lot for opening paint gars that have sealed themselves shut.
As far as DIYers go, I suppose you have a coupon tiers:
– minimalist: basic repairs jobs around the house when needed.
– intermediate: a little home improvement thrown in and maybe some light project work.
– advanced: contractor? Who pays for a contractor because I can do it better and cheaper.
And those don’t even cover tradesmen doing their own stuff.
A painters tool is basically must have for anyone who plans on doing more than touch up paint and that is easily the intermediate and advanced and likely beginner/minimalist as painting doesn’t really require any “tools” or mechanical know-how.
And I use my strap wrench to adjust the shocks on my bike.
I’ve got a couple of different sized strap wrenches, one brandeded MASTERGRIP and another branded ALLTRADE.
I’ve found them most useful for opening jars with tight lids…
Wala!!!!! I’ve been struggling (and neglecting ) changing my whole house cannister filter, this just might do the trick.
Strap wrenches can be a on-size-fits-all solution – or you can look for a specific wrench:
How big is this filter? Could be an excuse to get some new Channellock filter pliers too.
Dave the tool
I have had a 2-3 rubber strap wrenches and never cared for them. They look like something everyone needs but in real life they have lots of limitations especially needed clearances surround the project and so for the few times I thought they would work, I ended up finding something in the tool box that worked better and used that. They pretty much gather dust in my tool box.
My gripe with the rubber ones is that the strap is often thick enough to limit where you can use it, and sometimes the strap isn’t all that flexible either which can make it tricky to route it where you want it to go. I greatly prefer the ones with a fabric strap. Rigid seems to use a kevlar strap that’s treated with rosin, it’s nice and flexible to go anywhere and conform to parts but it’s also hellaciously strong and grips well because of the rosin. They sell replacement straps too if you manage to damage one.
Never had one work when I needed it. Threw them all away. I can’t figure out why. I followed the arrows, etc.
I have a pre-war strap wrench that was my grandfather’s. It has a nickeled handle that is a thing of beauty but the coarse woven strap has never gotten a bite on anything I’ve tried it on. (As I type this I’m wondering whether wetting it, or perhaps putting some rosin powder on it, would help? I have no idea whether either is part of the customary drill with these wrenches.). But perhaps my grandfather had similar results with it, because in spite of its age it looks nearly new. The Husky seems like a design that’s far more likely to really get a grip on a pipe or something else cylindrical.
Rosin is the typical coating – but some folks use a coating of rubber/contact cement or pine tar left to dry out. Also – the typical strap wrench only tightens up and grips when worked in one direction.
A few years back I was in a Sears that was about to start their “closing sale” they had just sold off half the store and in redoing their back room they found some stuff behind a shelf, it included a two pack of these made in England. I bought them solely because of that.
Anyone have any idea who might of made these for craftsman ? The newer versions were made in China.
My guess is that they were made by Boa Ltd.
I have had them for years and used sparingly but when that opportunity comes up you are glad you had the foresight to have purchased it when you did. My perfect example was that i had to separate some natural gas lines in the kitchen. Really not keen on making big indentations in the gas pipes with a plumber’s adjustable wrench so this grips perfectly with limited space behind the pipe to the wall.
I buy cheap strap wrench from auto part store or other place if I need one. right now I have 2.
I use them for 2 specific things. Filters that I can’t get a good grip on other wise, or plumbing fixtures that are pretty. LIke extension for shower heads or the shower head itself. etc.
Otherwise there is often a better way. I think I had one of them for over 20 years now. rubber strap runs though the middle of the handle -nice slot to put it in.
For 10 dollars if I needed one I would probalby get this. Oh and I have 2 becasue there are 2 sizes. the smaller of the 2 is great for those smaller pipes – the bigger one easily takes out a 6 inch OD oil filter if needed.