One-Size-Fits-All Wrench Points To A Nut Job

When [Hand Tool Rescue] came across a 1919 patent for a one size fits all wrench, he couldn’t help but recreate it. Described in the patent as “a new, original, ornamental design for a wrench”, the wrench had a slot for possibly every fastener that the inventor could think of. Not only did it have slots for several hexagonal fasteners, but many others for octagonal, square and even a pentagonal fastener.

[Hand Tool Rescue] reckons there are 47 slots for various sizes and types of fasteners, not counting the ones whose purpose he could not fathom. Just in case he missed any fastener sizes, the original designer decided to add an alligator wrench at the other end of the handle, potentially negating the need for any of the other slots. The tool even features a sharp edge along one of the sides, possibly for use as a scraper of some kind.

Why such a crazy design was patented, or what were the functions of some of its slots are questions that will likely remain unanswered. At best, we can all take guesses at solving the mystery of this tool. [Hand Tool Rescue] scales the original drawing such that one of the slots has a width of 1 inch, and then uses that as a template to recreate the wrench. He starts with a slab of 3/8th inch thick, grade 4140 steel, which has a high strength to weight ratio and can be case hardened after machining, making it suitable for this ornamental project.

He then embarks on his journey of excessive milling, drilling, filing, band sawing and shaping (using a slotting attachment), totaling about 11 hours worth of drudgery. Of course, one could argue that it would have been much easier, and accurate, to have used modern machining methods. And we are spoilt for choices here among laser cutting, water jet cutting or even EDM machining, any of which would have done the job faster, cleaner and more precisely. But we guess [Hand Tool Rescue] wanted to stick to traditional methods as would have been available in 1919 to an inventor who wanted to make a prototype of his awesome, all in one wrench.

If you can help explain the overall function of this wrench, or identify some of the more vague slots in it, then [Hand Tool Rescue] would be happy to get the feedback. And talking about less desirable wrenches, check out how this Sliding Wrench Leaves a Little to be Desired.

Thanks, [Carson] for going down a wrenches rabbit hole and coming up with this tip.

37 thoughts on “One-Size-Fits-All Wrench Points To A Nut Job

        1. Deer Per Jensen, tank jou four corecting mi zilly miztace. Althaugh eye woot lyke too hafe correktet it myselve, this wondevull webzite doez nat featuure a moodify butt-on. Therefour eye wazn’t abble too fiks it myselve. Butt tank yuo vor helpin me aut here, otherwize poeple wood nod understant thad I ment too wite the wort “hammer” az eye vorgot thi leter “m”, speling the wort “hamer” insteat of “hammer” hovv sily of me.

          1. That was ez to read but the ones that work for there knowledge have to hold on to the rules that apply, otherwise they wasted that time studying, or so there lead to believe, sry not my place but spelling and grammar is installed into a beast of a system

  1. I think they might have done it as a patent trap, to get as many of the known fastener shapes in one patent they can refer to when someone else tries to patent a tool that includes one of these.

    1. That was a tempting approach to me at first, as well, but reading the literally one page patent :

      Be it known that I, MICHAEL VOLPE, a
      citizen of the United States, residing at
      Westaburg, in the county of Washington
      and State of Pennsylvania, have invented
      a new, original, and ornamental Design for
      a Wrench, of which the following is a speci-
      fication, reference being had to the accom-
      panying drawing, forming a part thereof.

      The figure is an elevational view of the
      wrench showing my new design.
      I claim:
      The ornamental design for a wrench as

      Together with the drawing from the video thumbnail *THAT* is the whole patent.

      The claims (which is one claim in total) literally say “as shown”. That’s gonna be a hell of a infringement claim to make if I just leave out any one of the numerous crannies in that design!

      So, I think this is what would have been a “Gebrauchsmuster” (utility model? Don’t know if that translates, AFAIK the anglo-saxon countries never adopted that) in Germany; a “patent light” which would have been cheaper, quicker to acquire, shorter in protection period, and would have only applied to a *product*, not a method or a class of constructions. Maybe Mr. Volpe saw that an Austrian or German acquintance of his held such a Gebrauchsmuster and wanted to have the same for his nice ornamental wrench?

      1. Yes, but it also serves as prior art to anyone wishing to patent any of the details. Prior art makes the patent fail either the originality claim, or the inventiveness claim because an example that does the same thing already exists.

        You could make a multi-socket wrench without infringing on the patent by leaving out any of the features, but you could not patent the new design in turn because the features are already present in the existing patent. You’d have to further justify why it is not just a re-hash of the old thing.

        1. As someone who is working around one of these -ever-so-slightly-related prior art thingies for one of our patents… AAAAAAAaaaaaaa kill me

          But yes it is a legit tactic to block other people from patenting things.

        2. Yeah, that would make sense. I also considered “stubbornness” as reason for such a specific patent (like, his attorney might have tried to make him extend the claims, but he was like “no, that patent application’s perfect in its current shape”); so I looked for more by him:

          This looks like the same inventor name with the same signature:

          That wrench might have been his first, but it’s not been his only patent.

      2. This is a design patent, not a utility patent. You can tell by the “D” in the patent number, the style of claim, the short spec, and the figure. See MPEP Chapter 1500. The rules have changed since 1919, but this is a fairly typical design patent. The scope is naturally narrow and is primarily focused on preventing others from copying the exact design. While it does serve as prior art as others mentioned, that’s not the main intent. If prior art was the main interest, it would be easier and cheaper to use statutory invention registration or just publish it in your local newspaper.

        1. The patent examiner will search from the existing patents for prior art – they will not go for newspapers in the local library. That would make the trap spring at the moment someone tries to patent a multi-tool socket wrench – rather than having to go to court to prove the case.

          1. It doesn’t matter whether the patent examiner finds the newspaper article or not. 35 U.S.C. 102 makes it clear that ANY publication published before the effective filing date is potentially invalidating prior art, even if the examiner misses it and the patent issues. And you don’t need to go to court or wait for a lawsuit if you know of relevant prior art; you can simply submit prior art citations to the patent office for free and they will be added to the issued patent’s file wrapper for all to see (see 35 U.S.C. 301, MPEP 2202-2208, and note that you also have to serve the patent owner). If the patent owner wants to bring a lawsuit, their attorneys will talk them out of it or fire them as a client because they will know that they could face Rule 11 sanctions (career suicide) for bringing a frivolous lawsuit with an invalid patent.

            It’s also worth noting that examiners have limited time to search and must manually generate search queries and check potential references. Unfortunately, they can easily miss relevant patents. Merely filing a design patent just to generate prior art offers no guarantee that it will show up in an examiner’s rejection. So would you rather spend $3k-$5k on attorney and filing fees for a design application that you have no intent of prosecuting, or just spend $50 on a small-town newspaper ad? Or in modern times just write a blog post and publish it on the internet for free!

          2. Oops, the design application route is actually more expensive than I thought. The problem is that design applications never publish, only issued design patents (MPEP 1120 I). So in order to generate prior art with a design application, you would be forced to prosecute it through to issuance. That means paying your attorney even more to respond to office actions and paying the issuance fee. And this whole process could take a year or more. Definitely an expensive way to generate prior art.

          3. I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice. But in my experience a patent examiner looks at more than just a patent database when looking for prior art. They will look at other relevant publications in the field (e.g scientific papers) to see if the device or method described in the application has already been suggested, or is obvious to a person skilled in the field. I don’t know about the local library, but the patent office probably does have a subscription to all those paywalled academic journals whose high prices we keep complaining about :-)

  2. This is a good example of the patent system being used for what its meant for (unlike the vague over broad patents we get these days). This guy patented the thing, got his limited-time patent and now that its expired, someone else can use the patent to re-create the invention.

    1. The patent system and associated economic factors have changed substantially in the last 100 years. Plus, this is an example of design patents, which have little relation to the much more common utility patents. Thus, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me to hold up a 100-year-old design patent as an example of how the patent system “should” work today.

      1. Yes patents expire but usually companies patent parts of the product or process and basically drag it out as long as possible. Drug companies do this by patenting drugs in different stages of being broken down by the body.

  3. That five-sided hole right in the center of where the handle meets the head is going to severely limit the amount of torque you could put on it. Who the heck uses a five-sided nut? Of that exact size? Huge weak point for just about zero added utility.

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