Allen Keys? Boat Anchors? Coconut-powered Radio?

You might know these as Allen wrenches, hex keys, hexagon wrenches or Zeta keys. You might even call them Unbrako — but probably not coconut-driven radios. They’re those six-sided metal rods that fit into a matching hole or socket on the end of a bolt.

You already knew that.

Even if you’re throwing a leg over some exotic foreigner — I mean like a Ural; keep your head in the game here: we’re talking about motorcycles — you need Allen keys. If you’re riding orange or Husqvarna, like me, you need some extra-large Allen keys: 8, 10 and even 12 mm.

But I’ll tell you, put those in your kit and you can confidently respond when your captain hollers for the boat anchor. The 12 mm I needed to remove the front wheel of my Husqvarna TE510 was huge! I’m telling you, it was uuuge! Ahem. Sorry…

Allen Key? Anchor? Even the Professor doesn’t really know….

And then you still need to take the rest of your Allen key set, usually 2.5, 4, 5, 6 and 8 mm (depending on your bike; you’re going to figure that out by working on it at home, before you tackle the TAT).

Or you can use your sockets as Allen key adapters

You’ve seen these, right?

It seems obvious once you think about it (which you are about to do), that these contraptions are just an Allen key pressed permanently into a socket. But did you know it’s easy to make your own? And use both the socket and the Allen key? Two in one. Fun.

Plus, your home-made keys are much shorter and lighter than the originals, reducing weight and bulk without sacrificing leverage. Three in one. Triple fun. Menage a key.

Ginger, Mary Ann? Someone hand me a scalpel!

That 12 mm boat anchor weighed 139 grams; after surgery, it was 21 g. I just reduced the weight of my tool kit 118 grams — more than a quarter of a pound!

Allen in the recovery room.

It’s not rocket science: it’s brain surgery — if, you know, the patient was named Allen. The procedure goes like this:

  • Cut off a straight section of your Allen key, using an angle grinder or other metal cut-off wheel. Allen keys are hardened steel, so you won’t want to try this with a hack saw.
  • Your cut-off sections should be about 2 centimetres (one inch, plus) longer than your equivalent-sized socket.
  • To use your new, lighter Allen keys, just insert the hex section into a socket. For example, slip your 10 mm key into your 10 mm socket.Your drive ratchet now works for fastening your Allen bolts, and you can also use your 1/4″ drive extensions to create Allen keys with a longer reach. Bonus: your stubby little Allen keys can be used with wrenches as well, either open or closed-end. This option expands your ability to work in difficult-to-reach areas.

If the Allen key wants to slip out of your socket or wrench, wrap it with a bit of the duct tape you have in your tool kit.

For the truly obsessive, you can find adapters that slip over a smaller hex key to step up to the next size — skip the weight of a solid key, plus you benefit from a smaller stored size. I use one of these to adapt my 6 mm to 8 mm. Check bicycle tool suppliers for these doodads.

If you have tiny hands…

For your smallest Allen keys — 2.5, 4, maybe 5 and even 6 — you need a different strategy, since there’s not likely any reason to carry sockets in those sizes. I’ve only needed 5, 6 or 7 mm for some hose clamps, and you can use a screwdriver for those. Don’t take a socket if you already have a way to manipulate your hose. Clamps.

I have used 6 and 7 mm open-end wrenches for the spoke nipples on my wheels — but there again, a socket won’t help.

Instead, get a set of Allen bits and a matching adapter that fits the hex-shaped bits and slips onto your 1/4″ ratchet. Most tool stores should be able to set you up.


Careful there, Gilligan!

  • Use only 6-point sockets, not those nut-rounding 12-points.
  • This adapted tool allows you to generate greater torque when securing fasteners, so tighten slowly, being careful not to over-tighten and deform the socket in the head of the bolt.
  • Ball-end Allen keys help you remove or fasten bolts in awkward locations, by allowing an angled line of approach to the bolt. However, they don’t provide the straight-line contact of a regular Allen key. As a result, deforming the socket in the bolt heads is surprisingly easy. I don’t use ball-ends for any high-torque bolts – either to fasten or remove.

Now you’ve got efficient Allen keys: no more anchors in sight. So feel free to get going on that three-hour cruise, Captain. Does anybody even recognize these references anymore?

One Reply to “Allen Keys? Boat Anchors? Coconut-powered Radio?”

  1. Looks pretty sweet, Kev.
    Aww, shucks…you’re just saying that because you’re testing out the comment form, aren’t you?
    That’s right, baby!

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