Pipe Wrenches from RIDGID - a Short History

Ridgid History“Since 1923, Ridgid has remained the symbol of certainty to dedicated professionals of the expert trades…This is why every tool that bears the Ridgid brand is engineered to the same high standards of quality, strength, and endurance as was that first heavy duty pipe wrench more than 80 years ago."

It's perhaps easy for us to get twitchy a few times a year, waiting to see how our favourite tools have been upgraded, updated, improved or even replaced by an entirely new version.

This is particularly the case with power tools. Because these tools have so many moving parts, so many components, they're always going to be refined, tweaked and modernised.

But when it comes to pipe wrenches, things have stayed, well, pretty much the same for almost a hundred years. The image above is from a Ridgid newspaper advertisement from 1927. After all this time, when you look at a pipe wrench in the past or now, it's designed to do one thing; wrench pipes.

So while companies like RIDGID appear to have a philosophy of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" towards its range of pipe wrenches, we thought we'd examine the history of these tools and look at the evolution, improvements and refinements that make the RIDGID pipe wrench an essential tool, relied upon daily, by millions of you around the world.

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What is a Pipe Wrench (click to see the range we stock)?

ridgid pipe wrench

The simple definition of a pipe wrench is a hand tool with an adjustable jaw, featuring opposing sets of teeth.

That's pretty much it. Of course, the design of a pipe wrench, the teeth in particular, allow it to grip round sections of things like...pipes. This design is different to wrenches with smooth flat faces which are perfect for gripping flat sections.

What's the Origin of the Pipe Wrench?

This gloriously humble but effective tool can be traced back to the early 19th century, with a rough timeline that follows like this:

  • 1835 - Solymon Merrick patented the first wrench
  • 1858 - The monkey wrench was invented by Charles Moncky
  • 1870 - The Stillson wrench was patented by a steamboat fireman by the name of Daniel Stillson
  • 1875 - Thomas R Ellin invents the Footprint Wrench
  • 1888 - The ‘Swedish Pattern’ two handle pipe wrench patented by Johan Petter Johansson


Solyman Merrickcharles moncky


And then in the 1920s along comes the Ridge Tool Company who took the Stillson design of wrench and reimagined it with one ultimate aim; make it simpler.

The result of the redesign was a wrench with fewer moving parts, making it more durable and stronger as a result. And since then, the design has pretty much stayed the same.

The RIDGID Pipe Wrench Manufacturing Evolution

The pipe wrench has essentially two components based on the Ridge Tool Company redesign in the 1920s; the housing with the heel jaw and the hook jaw. RIDGID pipe wrenches benefit from the housing (basically the handle) and the heel jaw being one-piece construction. That makes it a very strong tool, so strong that Ridgid slaps a sticker on each pipe wrench denoting a life-time guarantee. If it ever breaks, you get it replaced. Simple as that.

ridgid pipe wrench

The housing is made out of malleable iron, the beauty of which is that'll bend before it'll snap. That means if you're putting too much pressure on the wrench, it'll bend, alerting you to the fact that you need to ease off!

And then we have the hook jaw. This is the part of the wrench you use the thumb wheel to adjust to the size of pipe you're working on. It's made from forged alloy steel and the shank is quenched and tempered which makes it incredibly tough. The teeth on the jaw are induction hardened to help them resist wearing down.

However, the heel jaw and hook jaw are both replaceable, so as the teeth inivitably wear down through use, you can swap them out for brand new ones. Investing in a RIDGID pipe wrench is pretty much guaranteeing you've got a tool for life.

All of these design features and guarantees apply across the entire size range of RIDGID pipe wrenches, from the nifty 6" version all the way to the massive 60".

60

Usability is key here, so the hook jaw has a scale embossed on it making it easy to see the size it's set to, plus it benefits from flat and coil springs inside. Now, these aren't essential for the functionality of the pipe wrench, but rather they're there to improve the usability of it. Adjusting the wrench is smooth and easy with one hand.

We've got two moving parts; the hook jaw and nut. That's it.

Another key evolutionary step was the introduction of "i-beam" construction. While the design of the pipe wrench has changed very little compared to Daniel Stillson's original, the way the handle is made has evolved to improve the strength and durability of the tools.

ridgid pipe wrench
Click to see a larger version


If you were to take a cross-section of the handle you'd see it's shaped like the letter "I". Anyone working with steel beams will recognise the strength such a shape creates, and that's exactly why RIDGID has evolved with pipe wrench to include a handle like this.

We asked Mike, a legend at RIDGID for his vast wealth of knowledge of the company's tools and their benefits to you guys, to talk us through the design of the pipe wrench. Watch him on Toolstop TV here.


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In the 21st century we come to expect new and improved features in our tools, year in, year out. But as we've seen with the humble pipe wrench, great design remains great design. And with the gradual evolution of it in RIDGID's care since the 1902s, we've got a hand tool that's built to last.

Share with us your experience of using a RIDGID pipe wrench; how long have you had it, what other "little jobs" do you put it to? Talk to us in the comments below.

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