Monday, September 20, 2010

Allen Wrenches

I've quickly learned that no home tool kit is complete without a set of Allen wrenches. But I've decided that I don't like them. I don't like that they bear my name, either. (By the way, Allen wrenches were not invented by a guy named Allen, at least according to Wikipedia.)

What's my beef? My biggest beef is this: why do there need to be so many different sizes? In order to have a "complete" set of Allen wrenches, you need, like, 20 different wrenches. I use Allen wrenches most frequently with my bicycle, and the set of 12 we had wasn't even enough for that, because one of the hex sockets was a metric-sized socket (measured in tenths of millimeters) rather than an American-sized socket (measured in 64ths of inches). Ugh. And why must botg a 5/32-inch wrench and a 9/64-inch wrench be considered "standard"? Why don't the makers of the sockets just stick with 1/32-inch incremements, or even 1/16-inch increments? Is the functionality of the screw (or bolt or whatever) really going to be that much worse if the size of the socket is 1/64th of an inch bigger or smaller? I think we could seriously consolidate the number of "standard" sizes here. There is too much precision.

And why do Allen wrenches even exist in the first place? I'm no engineer, but there must be a reason why a hex is a better fastener option than the more common and more flexible (in terms of the tools required to tighten or loosen them) flat or Phillips head screws, right? Why not just use Phillips head screws for everything? Maybe someone can explain. Or, maybe it's just a conspiracy by the manufacturers of such tools to require us, the consumer, to have to buy more of them.

Or, maybe this is just the sort of thing that wasn't standardized that well from the beginning, and because of that, now we have a mess on our hands that we can't really fix at this point. You usually can't just buy one Allen wrench; you need to buy a whole set. And for a set to be a whole set, you need to include wrenches sized to hit all of those unnecessarily obscure and over-precise sizes, because they do exist, and without them, your set won't be complete. And as long as these obscure sizes are included as part of a standard Allen wrench set, there's really no incentive for manufacturers to stick with 1/16-inch or 1/32-inch increments. As long as 9/64-inch sockets are sold alongside 5/32-inch sockets, from the manufacturer's perspective, why not use them? So, we're stuck.

Unless we just do away with Allen wrenches altogether, that is. But of course, the consumer has no power here. As long as manufacturers continue to use hex sockets, we'll need Allen wrenches, whether we like it or not. Conspiracy!

(Yes, I know this post is absolutely ridiculous, and that I'm fighting a losing battle. I don't really care that much. I just didn't feel like writing about sports or curling today. Curling tomorrow, though. Or Wednesday.)


bubba said...

It's not like it is any different for socket wrenches. And that's without even getting into all the other types of screw drives like torx. The real question here is why are we still using Imperial measures?

Jeff said...

Because without Allen wrenches, you'd never be able to open the windows in Walker Building!