We have extolled the benefits of ball end hex tools in the past, and for good reason – they conveniently allow for working around obstacles, engaging fasteners at angles of up to 30° off-vertical. But, ball hex ends are not capable of delivering as much torque as straight hex tips.
I own a couple of PB Swiss low-profile hex keys, and they do come in handy, featuring a 100° angle that helps clear the tools above obstacles while also fitting into more confined spaces.
Now, PB Swiss has come out with a new stubby-sized 90°-100° hex key design, featuring a ball point at the long end and a very short and combination-angled end on the short end.
PB Swiss Tools describes the new shape as being hemispherical with a half ball point, capable of high torque for versatile applications.
The new hex keys are made from a special allow based on spring steel with exceptional elasticity coupled with high grade hardening.
The new 90°-100° hex end can engage and turn fasteners with a 10° range to one side, allowing users to work over obstacles where a traditional 90° hex key end simply won’t fit.
While you could potentially use a 90° hex key to access the fastener in a recessed structure, it doesn’t leave you with much clearance to fit your hand.
The stubby hex keys I showed above feature a fixed 100° taper. But what if you need to swing the hex key under an obstacle, instead of over it?
Here’s where the special hemispherical head allows for the hex key handle to engage fasteners at a variable axis.
In their intro video, PB Swiss shows off the new hex keys being used to access a fastener, swinging above a large side wall, and then below a higher obstruction, offering easier access and allowing for a wider swing than if traditional 90° or 100° stubby hex keys are used.
The new 90°-100° hex keys will be available in metric sizing, individually and in plain and rainbow color-coded sets.
PB Swiss 90°-100° Hex Key Sizes
- Individual Sizes (PB 2222.L)
- 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 10 mm
- Set: PB 2222 LH
- Rainbow Set: PB 2222 LH RB
1.5 and 2mm sizes only have the 90° angle.
Will it be useful?
I have straight hex keys, ball hex keys, and a new-complete set of low-profile angled hex keys from back when Amazon and Small Parts were clearancing them out at a great discount.
Over the years, those angled stubby hex keys have come in handy on occasion. You get the ball hex tip on one end, and the short angled straight tip on the other.
Personally, I see this new design as somewhat of a replacement to those low-profile hex keys, rather than an adjacent offering, and it does look to provide a little more added versatility. But, you can still opt for the 100° hex keys if you are so inclined, or traditional 90° ends in standard lengths.
Sometimes you might need that 10° offset, other times you might not want it, preferring straight 90° engagement for better comfort. This new design gives you both.
Looking at PB Swiss’s website, they’re still offering the low-profile, low-profile ball end, and long low-profile ball end hex keys, series PB 2210, PB 2212, and PB 2212 L respectively, plus rainbow-colored long low-profile ball end versions, PB 2212 L RB.
While some material is removed to allow for the special semi-ball-like shape, it doesn’t look to compromise the strength and torque capabilities of the hex keys. You only get a small range of adjustability compared to ball end hex tips, but seemingly without much reduction in strength.
This new design won’t change the world, but looks to be a convenient problem-solver for certain fastener accessibility challenges.
There are other tools that can rise over obstacles, such as bit ratchets or standard ratchets with screwdriver bit holders, sockets, and extensions, but few are as compact and easy to pack into a tool bag as a set of hex keys.
I love my PB Swiss hex keys – I have a couple of their rainbow color-coded sets – but haven’t used my low-profile hex keys enough to warrant an upgrade to this new design.
I would classify these new 90°-100° hex keys as specialty tools for technicians or industrial users, but the design seemed novel enough for discussion.
interesting idea – I’d have to try it and hold it in person to see if I’d actually like it though.
I don’t know I have a need for that but it’s interesting. I sort of liked that hinged hex key at one time too.
Ah, Hex-Pro. https://toolguyd.com/hex-pro-flex-head-hex-keys/
The brand seems to have changed hands a few times. I’m not sure I’d buy them again these days, but I do use them on occasion. I wish there were an easy shaft holder so that I could turn them into T-handle drivers to increase their utility.
“I’m not sure I’d buy them again these days, but I do use them on occasion.”
Your statement is one of the reasons of why we end up with so many different tools – many of which may get in the way of finding what we really need. We often buy new tools with the speculation that its new design or special feature will come in handy. Much of the time, that is only marginally true. What we should do is decide if the new tool is good replacement for the old and which one (probably not both) to keep and which one to give away.
Another strategy (or delusion) I’ve talked myself into over the years – is to decide to put what amounts to duplicates in different spots (e.g. shop, garage, kitchen, home office, rear yard shed, cars, truck, summer house, winter place etc.) . But I’ve grown to realize that’s more of a rationalization for buying something new than it is to meet a real need. The hammers, screwdrivers, pliers and other basic tools in the shed at the rear of our property may come in handy – but more often than not if I’m working on a project back there, I’ll be lugging most of what I need from the house.
I’m going to throw this idea out there: what about combining your 3D printing and CNC interests with making the modifications to some of the tools you’ve got.
This could get you more relatable content for the site.
A machine capable of working with tool steel is going to be extremely cost-prohibitive. It could be possible on manual equipment, but would still require substantial equipment and know-how.
If a reader is going to modify their hex keys, it’ll likely be with an angle grinder or file.
Sure, it could be interesting to recreate some hand tools via CNC, but I’d sooner take up something like knifemaking, where I wouldn’t just be making a poor copy of something one could buy for a lot less of the shelf.
Flex Head or Swivel Head ratchet with a hex bit. Problem solved and no need to buy into a brand. Or you know just use an extension or a wobble. Simple
I think these may be aimed at applications that have next to no clearance.
We once had a contract to fabricate (actually modify) some wrenches so that they could work in a very tight spot on a small aircraft. When our design folks came back from looking at the application their first comment was “what idiot engineered that assembly to be unserviceable?” What we ended up fabricating worked – but the job was still very tedious. They did save the need for a major disassembly just to get at a few bolts.
“what idiot engineered that assembly to be unserviceable?” is a fair question. Unfortunately in my experience, the designers or engineers don’t think about service or even assembly. This is often the case with younger more junior engineers. I can’t count the number of times I had to ask an engineer for a redesign so I can assemble or service a product. The most common issue I see is cabling. I caulk this up to the sometimes over reliance on CAD. I will look at the CAD model and they rarely model in cabling and even connectors and plugs.
So I can see some use for this very clever tool, even if in the example shown I doubt you could remove the fastener unless it is very short.
My job on the front end is to get these concerns addressed in the design and you’re right CAD is great until you ask to see the cables. But where I’m at now I’m not privileged to be able to access the CAD so there were lots of dumb questions like “can you fit your hand with all 5 fingers and a driver in this space?”
One book that has helped me with that kind of question is called “The Measure of Man and Woman: Human Factors in Design, Revised Edition” by Henry Dreyfuss Associates.
It’s expensive new, but you might find a used copy, or it might be in a library. It has a chapter on maintenance access. By the way, it’s minimum of 3.75 inches diameter or square hole for inserting 1 inch object to wrist with visual access without gloves. According to the book anyway.
Thank you! I’ll have to search for a copy. Always good to have good resources and reference materials available.
Just what we need is another type of allen key. Screwdriver, socket, 1/4 insert, T-handle, short L, long L, all in one folding, ball head, and combinations of all those. I’ve almost bought Hex Pro Flex a few times and these seem interesting. I’ve always wanted a set with a ball head on the short side. I might grab these if they offer SAE as well.
Bondus makes stubbies with full ball ends on both the long and short end of the wrench.
I don’t own any and have not used them however I am not sure I would like them. They might be more likely to strip screw heads out. They might be a bit harder so use, possibly to many degrees of freedom. Then again they might be the right tool to get you out of a jam.
I will agree that it is a bit frustrating having and needing so many different types to cover all of the poorly located fasteners you might run across.
I’ll be giving these a try. My experience working on cheap bicycle fasteners is the ball end will easily strip out a hex. I teach to always break the fastener loose with the flat and then switch to the ball end. Especially with rear brakes and a rack, the ball ends are a real time/frustration saver. But break them loose with the flat first or you will probably regret it. I’ve found that with hex tools that are moving in and out of pockets, or on and off the stand, bits are just too prone to loss. That said I use Chapman for my bench work. The worst area I’ve ever had to work in was the transmission dampers on a AH-1 Huey Cobra. One flat at a time. removing the wrench each time to use the opposing angle. Six fasteners all the same way.
Bondhus also has regular stubbies – ball on the long end, hex on the short end. (https://www.homedepot.com/p/Bondhus-Metric-Stubby-Ball-End-Extra-Long-Arm-L-Wrench-Set-with-BriteGuard-Finish-7-Piece-16792/302013627)
I have one machine that just about demands the stubby 4mm hex end – I haven’t had occasion to use any of the other sizes as of yet.
I have the regular black – if I was going to do it over again, I’d get the Briteguard just because it’s so much easier to find when you drop it.
Not sure I’m willing to pay PB Swiss prices for a tool that may save your ass – once in a lifetime…
Can’t argue with that.
I figured I’d provide the info and let everyone determine their level of need or want for themselves. This isn’t something I need, or something I want, I just thought it was interesting, and it could be a problem-solver or frustration-saver for certain users. I had a hard time trying to think of places where I could have used this in the past. But, PB Swiss isn’t a gimmick-maker, and so I trust they must have seen some demand and received requests for something like this. Maybe users were requesting ball hex tips on the short ends, and this is the stronger compromise they came up with.
I’m speaking as a DIY’er. A pro who uses their tools to make a living may have an entirely different view.
Even Pro’s use Bondhus or other brands. PB Swiss is for people who don’t use their tools or just like to show off at how much they spent. I’ve seen 0 pro’s in the field with PB Swiss and lots with Bondhus or others.
I’m sure that some people buy PB Swiss tools, Snap-on, and other top-tier brands just to show off. But saying that their tools are only for such users is highly biased and suggests you’ve never actually used their tools.
Having bought a lot of PB Swiss tools at crazy-low Amazon clearance prices, and then trying some others at Black Friday discount prices, I can say that your opinion is completely wrong.
No, they’re not for everyone.
I couldn’t justify the everyday price of their screwdrivers, but have justified their hex keys.
Different users have different needs and wants, and different brands have tools that are proportionate or disproportionately priced for what you get.
Maybe we could just get engineers to pay better attention to fastener access! Thankfully with the advent of computer aided design, access and serviceability has become easier to implement into the final product.
Ive got the ball tip allen keys. Handy for sure. If these new ones can replace those I might opt for a set. Or if I am in a bind (pun intended) I might just heat up an old one with the torch and bend it. I’ve got a drawer in the toolbox with modified and scratch built tools.
I have successfully and unsuccessfully modified Allen keys to work for a specific spot. I find a spare of the size I need. They are easy to cut or bend or grind. They also fit into sockets. Having trouble removing a 12 mm Allen bolt. Cut and insert in 12 mm socket and use a breaker bar.
I don’t think pb swiss “invented” this “Allen”/hex wrench modification. I’ve made very similar modifications myself to some of my tools. Machinist, and Tool and Die Makers have been making modifications to their tools for over a century or more.
O.K., they (PBS) may have made have made this particular modification to a full set of Allen wrenches. But I won’t be paying for them either.
PB Swiss is stupidly priced.
I have some hex keys of pb swiss tool,
However, the product does not have the words swiss made or made in swiss.
According to some people I know, if I don’t print the place of manufacture in Switzerland, the product would be manufactured in another country. (swiss made printed on screwdriver products)
So are products not printed with swiss made by another country? Is this right
Sorry for the bad english
It could also be that the hex keys are too small to print a lot of information on.
On their website, PB Swiss says:
Thanks for your information.
“It could also be that the hex keys are too small to print a lot of information on.” >>>>This is not true, because old models still print swiss made