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A torque wrench is a tool used to precisely apply a specific torque to a fastener such as a nut or bolt. It is usually in the form of a socket wrench with special internal mechanisms. It was invented by Conrad Bahr in 1918 while working for the New York City Water Department. It was designed to prevent overtightening bolts on water main and steam pipe repairs underground.
A torque wrench is used where the tightness of screws and bolts is crucial. It allows the operator to measure the torque applied to the fastener so it can be matched to the specifications for a particular application. This permits proper tension and loading of all parts. A torque wrench measures torque as a proxy for bolt tension. The technique suffers from inaccuracy due to inconsistent or uncalibrated friction between the fastener and its mating hole. Measuring bolt tension (bolt stretch) is more accurate but often torque is the only practical means of measurement.
Torque screwdrivers and torque wrenches have similar purposes and mechanisms.
Unlike most torque wrenches, a slipper torque wrench will not overtighten the fastener by continuing to apply pressure / rotation.
The simplest form of torque wrench consists of a long lever arm between the handle and the wrench head, made of a material which bends elastically in response to applied torque. The deflection at the handle is proportional to the applied torque and material constants of the cantilever arm. A second, smaller bar with integral mechanical indicator is also connected to the head; this is never subjected to torque and thus maintains a constant position with respect to the head. When no torque is applied to the lever arm the indicator rests parallel to the lever arm. A calibrated scale is fitted to the handle so that applied torque, and the associated deflection scaled as torque of the main lever, causes the scale to move under the indicator. When the desired torque is reached (as shown by the indicator), the operator stops applying force. This type of wrench is simple, inherently accurate, and inexpensive.
The beam type torque wrench was developed in the late 1920s/early 1930s by Walter Percy Chrysler for the Chrysler Corporation and a company known as Micromatic Hone. Paul Allen Sturtevant—a sales representative for the Cedar Rapids Engineering Company at that time—was licensed by Chrysler to manufacture his invention. Sturtevant patented the torque wrench in 1938 and became the first individual to sell torque wrenches.
A more sophisticated variation of the beam type torque wrench has a dial gauge indicator on its body that can be configured to give a visual indication, or electrical indication, or both when a preset torque is reached.
The dual-signal deflecting beam torque wrench was patented by the Australian Warren and Brown company in 1948. It employs the principle of applying torque to a deflecting beam rather than a coil spring. This helps prolong wrench life, with a greater safety margin on maximum loading and provides more consistent and accurate readings throughout the range of each wrench. The operator can see and hear when a dual-signal wrench reaches the selected torque, since the signal can be seen and heard.
A more sophisticated method of presetting torque is with a calibrated clutch mechanism. At the point where the desired torque is reached, the clutch slips, signaling the desired torque and preventing additional tightening. The most common form uses a ball detent and spring, with the spring preloaded by an adjustable screw thread, calibrated in torque units. The ball detent transmits force until the preset torque is reached, at which point the force exerted by the spring is overcome and the ball "clicks" out of its socket. The advantage of this design is greater precision and a positive action at the set point. A number of variations of this design exist for different applications and different torque ranges. A modification of this design is used in some drills to prevent gouging the heads of screws while tightening them. Typical accuracy level would be +/- 4% > 10 N·m and +/- 6% < 10 N·m.
This is a specialized torque wrench used by plumbers to tighten the clamping bands on "hubless" soil pipe couplings. It is a T-handled wrench with a one-way combination ratchet and clutch, factory calibrated to slip at a torque sufficient to seal the coupling, but insufficient to damage it. Since the ratchet is not reversible, the shaft of the wrench incorporates a folding auxiliary handle for loosening the clamps.
Electronic torque wrenches
With electronic (indicating) torque wrenches, measurement is by means of a strain gauge attached to the torsion rod. The signal generated is converted by the transducer to the required unit of force (N·m, lbf·ft etc.) and shown on the digital display. A number of different joints (measurement details or limit values) can be stored. These programmed limit values are then permanently displayed during the tightening process by means of LEDs or the display. At the same time, this generation of torque wrenches can store all the measurements made in an internal readings memory. This readings memory can then be easily transferred to a PC via the interface (RS232) or printed straight to a printer. A popular application of this kind of torque wrench is for in-process documentation or quality assurance purposes. Typical accuracy level would be +/- 0.5% to 4%.
Programmable electronic torque / angle wrenches
Torque measurement is conducted in the same way as with an electronic torque wrench but the tightening angle from the snug point or threshold is also measured. The angle is measured by an angle sensor or electronic gyroscope. The angle measurement process enables joints which have already been tightened to be recognised. The inbuilt readings memory enables measurements to be statistically evaluated. Tightening curves can be analysed using the software via the integrated tightening-curve system (force/path graph). This type of torque wrench can also be used to determine breakaway torque, prevail torque and the final torque of a tightening job. Thanks to a special measuring process, it is also possible to display the yield point (yield controlled tightening). This design of torque wrench is highly popular with automotive manufacturers for documenting tightening processes requiring both torque and angle control because, in these cases, a defined angle has to be applied to the fastener on top of the prescribed torque (e.g. 50 N·m or 37 lbf·ft + 90° - here the 50 N·m or 37 lbf·ft means the snug point/threshold and +90° indicates that an additional angle has to be applied after the threshold).
Saltus-Werk Max Forst GmbH applied in 1995 for an international patent for the first electronic torque wrench with angle measurement which did not require a reference arm.
Mechatronic torque wrenches
Torque measurement is achieved in the same way as with a click-type torque wrench but, at the same time, the torque is measured as a digital reading (click and final torque) as with an electronic torque wrench. This is, therefore, a combination of electronic and mechanical measurements. All the measurements are transferred and documented via wireless data transmission. Users will know they have achieved the desired torque setting when the wrench "beeps."
Differences between types
Click type torque wrenches are precise when properly calibrated—however the more complex mechanism can result in loss of calibration sooner than the beam type, where there is little to no malfunction, (however the thin indicator rod can be accidentally bent out of true). Beam type torque wrenches are impossible to use in situations where the scale cannot be directly read—and these situations are common in automotive applications. The scale on a beam type wrench is prone to parallax error, as a result of the large distance between indicator arm and scale (on some older designs). There is also the issue of increased user error with the beam type—the torque has to be read at every use and the operator must use caution to apply loads only at the floating handle's pivot point. Dual-beam or "flat" beam versions reduce the tendency for the pointer to rub, as do low-friction pointers.
For the click type, when not in use, the force acting on the spring should be removed by setting the scale to 20% of full scale in order to maintain the spring's strength. Never set a micrometer style torque wrench to zero as the internal mechanism requires a small amount of tension in order to prevent tool failure due to unwarranted tip block rotation. If a micrometer tool has been stored with the setting above 20% the tool should be set to 50% of full scale and exercised at least FIVE times before being used. In the case of the beam type, there is no strain on the component that provides the reference force except when it is in use, therefore, accuracy is inherent.
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