Ad Radar
Car Craft
Click here to find out more!

Torque Wrench Testing - Shop Tools

By , Photography by

The torque wrench is probably the car crafter’s most often-used specialty tool. If you’re like me, you may still have your first torque wrench; I got my Craftsman 1⁄2-inch drive clicker style as a Christmas present in 1972. It is the oldest tool in my toolbox. But veteran status might not necessarily mean it’s accurate. We contacted Cornerstone Metrology in Van Nuys, California, a company that does calibration work for both industrial and individual mechanics. We needed a highly accurate test procedure to measure our torque wrenches, and Director of Quality Keith Chauvie showed us the digital scale that was accurate to within 0.10 of a pound, which suited our test just fine since we weren’t going to be working on the Mars rover.

We originally gathered a small collection of standard 1⁄2-inch drive clicker torque wrenches including a Snap-on, a Craftsman, and a Harbor Freight. Then we discovered a digital torque adapter sold by Harbor Freight. This small unit fits in between a standard 1⁄2-inch drive breaker bar and the socket, and using a digital strain gauge, it converts the torque applied through the adapter into a digital readout. At a typical Harbor Freight price of $39.99, we decided to include it in our test. We frankly didn’t expect this little unit to be very accurate. But testing proved otherwise.

We ran the torque adapter through five consecutive applications of 70 lb-ft of torque to watch it hit within 0.10 of a lb-ft twice and actually hit exactly 70 lb-ft on one occasion. The average of the five tests was an amazing 70.1 lb-ft. The unit offers a digital readout and warning lights, and it even emits a progressive electronic beep when nearing the pre-selected torque.

Next, Chauvie suggested an even more interesting test. He offered to keep our Harbor Freight 1⁄2-inch clicker wrench and test it every 30 days for two months while keeping the wrench loaded at 70 lb-ft. He said the problem with clicker torque wrenches is, when the mechanic fails to return the preload to its lowest setting after each use, the tool begins to lose accuracy. Chauvie says the longer the wrench is loaded, the less accurate it will become. He has since reported on the torque wrench’s performance at 30 days and 60 days, and we’ve included a graph to show the results (page 30). This inaccuracy occurs because the internal spring loses its tension, allowing the wrench to break away (click) at a lower torque value. Chauvie says this is a common problem for all types of clicker torque wrenches. The point here is that you should always return your clicker torque wrench to the base setting before storing the wrench. This simple step will maintain the wrench’s accuracy for years instead of mere months.

Parts List
Description PN Source Price
Harbor 1⁄2-inch clicker 239 Harbor Freight $24.99
Harbor 3⁄8-inch clicker 807 Harbor Freight 14.99
Harbor 1⁄4-inch clicker 2696 Harbor Freight 19.99
Harbor Digital Torque Adapter 68283 Harbor Freight 29.99
Craftsman digital 1⁄2-inch 47712 Sears 239.99
Craftsman 1⁄2-inch clicker 31423 Sears 79.99
Snap-on click 1⁄2-inch QD3R150 Snap-on 323.00

This graph shows three tests of a Harbor Freight 1⁄2-inch clicker torque wrench that Cornerstone performed over a period of 60 days. Test 1 is the original test that shows the wrench varied between 69 and 70.3 lb-ft. Test 2 shows what happened to accuracy after leaving the wrench at the 70 ft-lb setting for 30 days. Notice how the curve retains its repeatability but is down an average of 2.6 lb-ft. Test 3 is the same wrench after 60 days. Note how the spring in the wrench has relaxed, which has not only leveled out the testing but reduced its accuracy down to an average loss of 4.4 lb-ft. As the chart shows, the wrench now torques to roughly 65.5 with a setting of 70 lb-ft. If the wrench were left for longer, the actual torque would continue to drop.

SOURCES
Sears
Hoffman Estates
IL  60179
http://www.sears.com
Cornerstone Metrology
818-902-9551
Enjoyed this Post? Subscribe to our RSS Feed, or use your favorite social media to recommend us to friends and colleagues!
1 comments
GoGoGadget
GoGoGadget

This is exactly the kind of test I've been looking for ever since I bought 2 Harbor Freight torque wrenches! Thank you for doing this test and sharing the results.


Some people have reported that the click-stop mechanism stops working completely on these HF wrenches but that kind of total failure should be noticeable, otherwise these are accurate enough for my purposes. And since the springs tend to stretch out over time (obviously not as fast as in this test if you store it untensioned), I generally aim for the higher end of torque specifications so the bolt will still be within spec even if the wrench under-torques it by a few ft-lbs. 

Car Craft