“Mr Allen? I’d like a word with you…”

I think I can say without fear of contradiction that the Allen wrench is the worst-designed hand tool ever created.

In the interest of transparency, I’ll confess that I decided this shortly after dismantling a canopy frame that was held together by approximately five thousand Allen bolts. I removed about three quarters of them with the “wrench”. The rest were torn out of the frame by twisting the metal back and forth until they ripped out of their holes.

What’s wrong with good old-fashioned screws (flat head or Phillips, I’m not picky)? Or just bolts with nuts and washers on the end? Connectors that can be attached with a screwdriver you can wrap your palm around, or a nut that can be tightened with a socket wrench?


But, no. It makes MUCH more sense to require a tool consisting of a skinny piece of polished metal that constantly slips between the fingers and bounces off the steps of a ladder into grass still awaiting the first mowing of the spring. (I realize that’s a pretty specific complaint, but, you get the idea.)

As documented elsewhere, I’m not the ablest home improvement/repair guy around. My motto has always been, “Don’t let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of ‘Good enough to hold until next weekend. Probably”. So I don’t need the added frustration of a perfidious little scrap of metal making everything take five times as long.

Based on my extensive research of the available literature (Wikipedia), the first patent for a hex key system was recorded in 1910. A man named Howard Hallowell (which sounds fake) apparently wrote a book documenting the adoption of the tool during World War II.  The tome is quoted as follows:

“the transition from a square head set screw to a hexagon socket head hollow set screw, for which had to be developed special keys or wrenches for tightening or loosening the screw, was the cause of more profanity among the mechanics and machine manufacturers than any other single event that happened….. I am sure that the old-timers who read this book will remember this period vividly.”

Which may be the least surprising paragraph ever written. Because I can safely say Allen wrenches are in my top three profanity generators. The other two being Cincinnati Reds radio broadcasters (#FireJeffBrantley) and people who insist on crowding around the baggage claim carousel in airports.

Airport Bromma

I can just picture this Allen guy sitting around with a bunch of other lowlife industrialists, cheating each other at poker and drinking bathtub gin. Suddenly, it occurs to him to scam all of the exhausted working people dragging themselves home after a long day who just want to put something together. Like an icebox or furniture from Ikea. Chuckling to himself as he pulls an ace from his sock, he says, “Boys, I’ve got an idea that’ll make us and all of the mechanics in the world a fortune. Convince everybody to eschew (I’m thinking he was a Yale man; just go along with me on this, for once) regular screws and bolts, and make a tool so clumsy, so inefficient, so……French…..that they’ll never want to fix anything themselves again!”

They all laugh cruelly, drain their glasses, and play cards until somebody gets shanked.

I don’t ask for much. Give me good craft beer and a late afternoon sunset at the grill or smoker and I’m a contented man. But I’m begging manufacturers here. Enough with the hex keys. I’ve only got so many trips up and down the ladder left in me.