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Wondering when you are supposed to use an open ended spanner instead of your socket set, or why you should be picking up your 6-point sockets instead of your shifter for those stubborn bolts? Here's the generally preferred order in which you should pick up your tools.
Your first choice for loosening or tightening that fastener should generally be a socket. Why? These offer the best contact with the fastener's edges, which reduces the chance of slipping off or rounding the corners of the fastener.
These are quite commonly found, and have the advantage of connecting to the socket at twice as many angles as the 6-point sockets. The disadvantage is that they can sometimes have less contact area, which can make a difference for high-torque applications.
These can offer more contact area which can be ideal for high-torque applications or stuck nuts and bolts. For most applications there isn't a great deal of difference between the 6 and 12 point sockets. You'll find that most impact sockets are 6-point.
Here we are referencing socket extensions, not handle extensions for your ratchet. It's always best to use no extension or the shortest extension you can get away with to reduce the chance of angling the socket on the fastener and rounding it off.
Sometimes you can't get a socket or ring spanner onto a fastener - such as if it's on a cable or shaft that you can't access either end of - and in this circumstance an open ended spanner is your best bet. It's only going to offer two faces to contact the fastener with, so this is far from ideal if it's a stubborn or rusty nut or bolt... but sometimes that's the only option.
There are variants of this called flare wrenches which have a narrow opening for slotting over, say, a brake line and then sliding it down over the fastener to offer better grip than just two faces.
These things are great! For rounding off your bolt heads. They offer all of the disadvantages of the open ended spanner with the added disadvantage of having an inbuilt ability to slide the faces further apart in use, resulting in a greater likelihood of rounding off the bolt.
Well at this point you've well and truly stripped out or rounded off the fastener and have to resort to using vise grips to loosen it. I say loosen there, because if you've stripped off something you're trying to tighten you should start over and get a new bolt from your local fastener store rather than tightening something with vise grips.
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