Why is it called a spanner?

Why is it called a spanner? - Fix It Cape Town

Uncover the Etymology Behind the Term “Spanner” and Its Origins in the Tool’s Function of “Spanning” or Turning Nuts and Bolts

The world of tools encompasses a vast array of devices designed to assist in various manual tasks. One such tool, the spanner, has a rich history and an interesting etymology. In this article, we will uncover the origins of the term “spanner” and explore how it relates to the tool’s function of turning nuts and bolts. So, let’s delve into the intriguing world of spanners and discover their fascinating story.

What is a Spanner?

Before we explore the etymology behind the term “spanner,” it is essential to have a clear understanding of what a spanner actually is. A spanner is a hand tool primarily used for turning nuts and bolts. It consists of a handle and a head that typically incorporates a hook, pin, or opening to grip the nut or bolt securely. By applying force to the handle, torque is exerted on the fastener, allowing it to be tightened or loosened.

Spanners come in various shapes and sizes, each serving a specific purpose. The most common types include adjustable spanners, combination spanners, socket wrenches, and box spanners. Their versatility and widespread usage across different industries make spanners indispensable tools for both professionals and DIY enthusiasts.

The Etymology of “Spanner”

The term “spanner” has its roots in the United Kingdom, where it is predominantly used. However, it is recognized and understood by tool enthusiasts worldwide. The etymology of “spanner” can be traced back to the verb “to span” or “spanning.” In this context, “spanning” refers to the action of turning nuts and bolts using a tool.

Interestingly, the term “spanner” is mostly exclusive to British English. In American English, the tool is primarily referred to as a “wrench.” The distinction in usage gives the impression that “spanner” and “wrench” are two different tools, but in reality, they denote the same type of device, differing only in nomenclature across the Atlantic.

Evolution of the Spanner

To understand how the term “spanner” came into existence, we must explore the historical development of the tool. The earliest forms of spanners can be traced back to ancient civilizations, where they were made from rudimentary materials such as stone, wood, or bone. These early tools served the purpose of tightening or loosening fastenings.

As technology advanced, so did the design and construction of spanners. In the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution brought about significant changes in manufacturing processes, leading to the mass production of tools. This era saw the birth of more refined and efficient spanners made from iron and steel.

FAQs about Spanners

1. Who invented the spanner?

The invention of the spanner is not attributed to a single individual. Rather, it is a result of gradual improvements made by numerous inventors over centuries.

2. Is a spanner the same as a wrench?

Yes, a spanner and a wrench refer to the same type of tool used for turning nuts and bolts. The difference lies in the regional terminology used.

3. What are the different types of spanners?

Spanners come in various types, including adjustable spanners, combination spanners, socket wrenches, and box spanners.

4. Can I use a spanner on any nut or bolt?

Spanners are designed to fit specific sizes of nuts and bolts. It is crucial to choose the appropriate spanner that matches the fastener for optimal functionality and safety.


The term “spanner” finds its origin in the verb “spanning,” which refers to the action of turning nuts and bolts using a tool. Although primarily used in British English, the term is well-known across the globe, with the tool being called a “wrench” in American English. The evolution of spanners throughout history has seen them transition from primitive materials to durable and efficient tools made from iron and steel.

As we uncover the etymology behind the term “spanner,” it becomes evident that language and culture play a significant role in shaping the names we assign to tools. Regardless of regional differences in terminology, spanners continue to be an essential part of our daily lives, assisting us in assembling, maintaining, and Repairing a wide range of objects. So, the next time you reach for a spanner, remember its storied past and the fascinating journey it has taken to become the indispensable tool it is today.

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