What Is an Allen Key?

Set of Allen wrenches

Not all fasteners require the use of a traditional screwdriver or wrench to install. Some of them are designed with a socketed head that fits an Allen key. Allen keys are small handheld and manually operated tools used for the installation or removal of these special fasteners. If supported, you can install or remove a fastener by placing an Allen key in the fastener’s head and turning it.

An Introduction to Allen Keys

Also known as a hex key, an Allen key is an L-shaped tool that’s used for the installation and removal of fasteners with a hexagonal head. They consist of a single piece of material, typically metal, that’s formed into a right angle. Both ends of an Allen key are hexagonal. Therefore, you can use either end to install or remove a fastener, assuming it fits.

How Allen Keys Work

Allen keys work like most other screwdrivers and wrenches but with a few nuances. You can use them by placing one of the ends inside a fastener with a hexagonal socket head and turning it. Turning the Allen key clockwise will tighten the fastener, whereas turning it counterclockwise will loosen or remove the fastener.

When inspecting a traditional Allen key, you may notice that one side is longer than the other side. Allen keys are shaped like the letter, with their two sides being different lengths. By twisting the long arm, you’ll create more torque, thereby making it easier to install or remove otherwise stubborn fasteners. Twisting the short arm, on the other hand, allows you to fit the Allen key in small spaces.

Benefits of Allen Keys

Allen keys offer a simple and easy solution for the installation and removal of fasteners with a hexagonal socketed head. They don’t require any power tools, nor do they require a special bit. They are one of the simplest tools available for installing and removing supported fasteners.

Allen keys protect against the unintentional stripping of fasteners. Since they are used with hexagonal fasteners, they’ll “grip” fasteners better than other common screwdrivers and wrenches. This strong gripping action protects fasteners from being stripped during installation or removal.

Since they are inexpensive, Allen keys are often packaged with consumer-built products. Furniture, for example, often comes with one or more Allen keys. Using the Allen keys, consumers can assemble the furniture pieces. Consumers can also use the included Allen keys to tighten the pieces later in the future.

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