No tool is more iconic of a trade than the pipe wrench is for plumbing. But the pipe wrench is a relatively new tool even though indoor plumbing has been around for millennia. In 1869, machinist Daniel Stillson patented what became known as the Stillson or Stillson wrench. Apparently, it’s the best design for the job required because a Stillson is very similar to the pipe wrenches we use today. So how do you improve upon a design that works? The folks at Milwaukee are experts at improving tools and their answer is the Milwaukee 18-inch Aluminum Pipe Wrench.
Knowing that Milwaukee prides itself on disruptive innovation, I expected to find design features on this tool that make it more than just another pipe wrench to fill a gap in Milwaukee’s hand tool lineup. I live a plumber’s life and had many many galvanized waste arms and fittings lined up for installation and service to see how it compares to my current wrenches.
Aluminum vs Steel Pipe Wrenches
Pipe wrenches have traditionally been made of steel. It makes them tough as nails but also heavy and unwieldy. You can’t help but notice the remarkable weight difference between this aluminum wrench and its steel counterpart. For comparison, Milwaukee’s 18-inch steel pipe wrench weighs in at about 5.6 pounds whereas this wrench is a mere 3.6 pounds – that drops more than a third of the weight off!
Many plumbing jobs don’t afford you the space to hold a heavy wrench comfortably for long periods of time. You also find yourself working overhead or on a ladder so this is a tremendous benefit as long as the pipe’s strength isn’t compromised.
A Jaw with an Overbite
Milwaukee claims that the through-hardened, Overbite jaw offers the largest gripping surface of any 18-inch pipe wrench available. Of course more gripping surface means more control and more force for loosening and tightening.
To accomplish this, you’ll notice a slight difference in the jaw angle on Milwaukee’s Overbite design. The fixed upper jaw is still perpendicular to the handle, but the lower jaw now comes down at a bit of an angle. This brings the grip of the jaws a little closer to each other than they normally would be. The jaw’s shaft hides an upper and lower spring which is designed to bite down harder as you engage the pipe and let go easier when you release it.
Other notable features include a measurement marking on the jaw’s shaft and a tether hole to keep it attached to you.
Milwaukee Aluminum Pipe Wrench Power
We need wrenches because we can’t turn pipes and fittings with our hands. A pipe wrench allows us much greater leverage than we could muster on our own. If you remember back to science class, the longer the lever, the greater the power. I often find that the handle isn’t long enough on a 12-inch wrench to get the leverage to break an old fitting or pipe loose. Moving up to the Milwaukee 18-Inch Aluminum Pipe Wrench gets the job done without additional weight penalties.
Only one time did I need some extra leverage on a particularly stubborn fitting. (Stay tuned: in the near future you’ll see my review of the Milwaukee Cheater pipe wrench for those extra tough jobs.)
On the flip side of this wrench’s strong gripping power and leverage is the need to be gentle with older or thinner pipe. It can easily get ovaled, damaged, or otherwise crushed by such force. I had one degraded pipe collapse under the Milwaukee wrench’s strength during this review. It’s just part of the job sometimes, but you have to be mindful that this wrench creates a lot of torque.
Pro Tip: You don’t have to bottom out the threads. Just because a pipe wrench gives you the torque to go all the way, it’s not necessary.
Milwaukee Pipe Wrench Grip
The jaw and teeth grip with exceptional strength and the dual coil spring makes the wrench’s action very smooth. As soon as you release the pressure on the handle, the springs allow the jaw to rock back and forth slightly, readying the pipe to take another bite. You don’t find yourself having to break the jaw’s grip as an extra action. It’s a small but very nice feature.
Once the jaws are engaged on the pipe, there’s no letting go under load. Some users may take a look at the Overbite jaw design and think the angle could cause the potential for slipping, but the reality is the complete opposite. The combination of angle and dual coil springs actually creates a stronger grip than traditional designs.
Milwaukee 48-22-7218 Ergonomics
The lightweight aluminum is an incredible improvement and the handle was comfortable even when I had to apply extra force. Milwaukee designed the handle to fit your hand better and it just doesn’t dig in as my other wrenches do.
The Bottom Line
I like everything about the Milwaukee 18-inch aluminum pipe wrench – the light weight, the dual coil springs, the handle length and comfort, and the gripping force of the overbite jaws. I certainly recommend it to other Pros and my coworkers constantly want to borrow it. Of course, there’s a premium over the steel version – aluminum is about $60 while the steel runs closer to $45, but I think it’s well worth it.
Now I can’t wait for the titanium wrenches.
Milwaukee Aluminum Pipe Wrench Features
- Overbite jaw – largest gripping surface
- Dual coil springs – For maximum durability and tool life
- Ergonomic handle form – designed for maximum comfort, won’t dig into the palm
- Ergonomic hook jaw design – for easy detachment from the workpiece
- Through hardened jaws – increased durability and grip
- Tether-ready handle loop
Milwaukee 18-inch Aluminum Pipe Wrench Specifications
- Model: Milwaukee 48-22-7218
- Length 20.5 inches
- Weight 3.6 pounds
- Maximum Pipe Diameter: 2-1/2″
- Warranty: Lifetime
- Price: $59.99