Can You Use a Torque Wrench to Loosen Bolts? Exploring the Benefits and Risks

Can you use a torque wrench to loosen bolts? You’d be surprised! The world of torque wrenches isn’t just about tightening-it’s a nifty tool with a few tricks up its sleeve. In this quick guide, we’re about to unlock the mystery behind using a torque wrench to do the opposite-loosening those stubborn bolts.

Get ready to dive into the unexpected versatility of this tool, and discover how it can be your secret weapon for a wide range of tasks. Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a pro mechanic, this tidbit of torque wisdom might just come in handy. Let’s unravel the torque wrench’s hidden talents!

Key Summary: Can You Use a Torque Wrench to Loosen Bolts?

You can use a torque wrench to loosen bolts, but it requires finesse. Set the torque low, apply gradual force, and be cautious. While effective, traditional methods might be preferable for tough bolts. Avoid over-tightening to preserve the tool’s accuracy.

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What is a Torque Wrench?

A torque wrench is a precision tool designed for accurately tightening or loosening bolts, nuts, and other fasteners by applying a specific amount of torque, or rotational force. It is a critical instrument in various industries, including automotive, construction, manufacturing, and aviation, where the correct level of torque is crucial for safety, performance, and reliability.

Key components of a torque wrench include a handle, shaft, head, scale, adjustment mechanism, locking mechanism, and often an indicator. The user sets the desired torque value on the scale, and the wrench is adjusted to deliver that precise level of force.

When the preset torque is reached, an indicator, such as a click sound or visual signal, alerts the user to stop applying force. This precision prevents over-tightening, which can lead to damaged fasteners or components, as well as under-tightening, which can result in loose or unsafe connections.

Torque wrenches come in various types, including beam, click, and digital torque wrenches, each suited for different applications. The versatility and accuracy of torque wrenches make them essential tools in professional and do-it-yourself settings where reliability and safety are paramount.

Can You Use a Torque Wrench to Loosen Bolts?

Can You Use a Torque Wrench to Loosen Bolts?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes, you can use a torque wrench to loosen bolts. However, this process is not as straightforward as it might seem. Here’s what you need to know:

Reversing the Process

To use a torque wrench for loosening bolts, you’ll need to reverse the process. In other words, you switch the ratchet head of the torque wrench to the “loosening” or counterclockwise direction. This alteration allows the torque wrench to apply torque in the opposite direction, effectively loosening the bolt.

Benefits and Considerations

Using a torque wrench to loosen bolts offers several advantages:

Precision Control

One of the primary benefits is the precise control it provides. You can set the torque wrench to a specific value, ensuring that you don’t apply excessive force and potentially damage the fastener or the surrounding components.

Preventing Over-Tightening

For delicate or sensitive materials and components, preventing over-tightening is critical. Using a torque wrench for loosening ensures that you don’t inadvertently over-tighten the bolt while attempting to loosen it.

Minimized Strain

When dealing with stubborn bolts, using a torque wrench minimizes physical strain and effort. The gradual application of torque, with the potential audible or visual feedback, prevents overexertion and potential injuries.

However, there are certain considerations to keep in mind:

Torque Range

Verify that your torque wrench has the appropriate torque range for the specific bolt you intend to loosen. Some torque wrenches have a limited range, so it’s essential to select the right tool for the job.


To maintain accuracy, regularly calibrate your torque wrench. Using an inaccurate tool can lead to imprecise results, potentially causing damage or injury.

No Click Sound

It’s important to note that when using a torque wrench in reverse to loosen a bolt, it might not produce the characteristic click sound that you’re accustomed to when tightening. Therefore, you must be particularly attentive while using it in this manner.

Step-by-Step Guide: Using a Torque Wrench to Loosen Bolts

Torque wrenches are renowned for their precision in tightening bolts, but they can also be a handy tool for loosening them when needed. To ensure you do it correctly and safely, follow this step-by-step guide:

Step 1: Gather Your Tools

Start by gathering the necessary tools and equipment:

  • Torque Wrench: Ensure you have a torque wrench suitable for the torque range required to loosen the bolt. Refer to the manufacturer’s recommendations or specifications to determine the appropriate range.
  • Socket or Adapter: Select the correct socket or adapter that fits the bolt you intend to loosen.
  • Safety Gear: Consider wearing safety glasses and gloves to protect yourself from any potential hazards, especially if the bolt has been exposed to environmental factors or debris.

Step 2: Set the Wrench

Once you have the required tools, set the torque wrench to the desired torque level for loosening the specific bolt. Ensure that the torque wrench is in the “loosening” or counterclockwise direction. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions to understand how to adjust the torque value correctly.

Step 3: Attach the Socket

Attach the selected socket or adapter to the torque wrench’s ratchet head. Make sure it fits securely onto the bolt that you intend to loosen. The socket should engage with the bolt’s head to ensure proper contact and torque application.

Step 4: Apply Steady Pressure

With the torque wrench and socket in place, hold the torque wrench securely, and begin to apply steady pressure in the counterclockwise direction. This motion is contrary to the usual tightening action. It’s essential to apply force gradually and consistently to prevent sudden jolts or overexertion.

Step 5: Monitor the Progress

As you turn the torque wrench, monitor the progress of the bolt loosening. Unlike when tightening bolts, using a torque wrench to loosen may not provide the characteristic click sound or visual indicator that you’re accustomed to. Instead, you should feel the bolt gradually releasing its grip.

Step 6: Completion

Once the bolt is sufficiently loosened, carefully remove it from its position using the torque wrench. Be cautious not to damage the threads or any surrounding components during the removal process. If the bolt is extremely stubborn, consider using a penetrating oil or a breaker bar to ease the process.

It’s important to be aware that while using a torque wrench for loosening bolts, you might not experience the same level of tactile and audible feedback as when tightening. Therefore, extra vigilance is necessary to ensure the task is completed accurately and safely.

When Not to Use a Torque Wrench

A torque wrench is a valuable tool for ensuring precise and controlled tightening of fasteners. However, there are specific scenarios and circumstances where using a torque wrench may not be the best choice:

Low Torque Range

  • Scenario: When you’re working with fasteners that require a torque value lower than the minimum range of your torque wrench.
  • Reason: Torque wrenches have specific torque ranges, and using one with a range that is too high for the task can result in imprecise and inefficient tightening. In such cases, a hand tool with better tactile control might be more suitable.

Fragile or Delicate Fasteners

  • Scenario: When dealing with fasteners or components made of delicate or fragile materials.
  • Reason: Torque wrenches, even at their lowest settings, may apply too much force for delicate materials. This can lead to overtightening, damaging the fasteners, or even cracking fragile components. In these cases, using hand tools with a gentle touch is advisable.

Severely Rusted or Stubborn Bolts

  • Scenario: When attempting to loosen bolts that are severely rusted, corroded, or exceptionally stubborn.
  • Reason: Loosening such bolts can be challenging, and the feedback mechanism of a torque wrench may not be as effective in these situations. The characteristic click sound or visual indicator is designed for tightening, and the lack of familiar cues while loosening can make the process less intuitive. For stubborn bolts, consider using penetrating oil or a breaker bar before attempting to use a torque wrench.

Inadequate Calibration

  • Scenario: When your torque wrench is not correctly calibrated or is in need of maintenance.
  • Reason: An inaccurately calibrated torque wrench can deliver incorrect torque values, potentially leading to overtightening or undertightening. It’s crucial to maintain and calibrate your torque wrench regularly to ensure its accuracy. If you suspect calibration issues, it’s best not to use the wrench until it’s properly maintained.

Excessive Force Required

  • Scenario: When the task requires significantly more force than a torque wrench can comfortably provide.
  • Reason: Torque wrenches are designed for controlled and precise torque application. They may not be suitable for tasks that demand substantial force, such as breaking loose extremely tight bolts or fasteners. In such cases, opt for tools designed for high-torque applications.

Lack of Feedback

  • Scenario: When the task demands clear and immediate feedback.
  • Reason: When using a torque wrench to loosen bolts, it might not provide the same level of tactile and audible feedback as when tightening. This lack of familiar cues can make the process less intuitive and may not be suitable for tasks that require precise feedback for safety or performance.

Risks and Safety Considerations

Using a torque wrench, whether for tightening or loosening bolts, is a precise and controlled process. However, it’s essential to be aware of potential risks and safety considerations to ensure your safety and the integrity of the task at hand:

Calibration and Accuracy

  • Risk: Using an improperly calibrated torque wrench can lead to inaccurate torque values.
  • Safety Consideration: Regularly calibrate your torque wrench to maintain its accuracy. An inaccurate tool can result in imprecise tightening or loosening, potentially causing damage to fasteners, components, or even personal injury.

Proper Torque Range

  • Risk: Using a torque wrench with an inadequate torque range for the task.
  • Safety Consideration: Ensure that your torque wrench’s torque range matches the specific requirements of the bolts you are working on. Using a torque wrench with a limited range can result in inefficient and potentially dangerous outcomes.


  • Risk: The lack of familiar feedback when using a torque wrench to loosen bolts.
  • Safety Consideration: When using a torque wrench to loosen bolts, you may not experience the characteristic click sound or visual indicator as you do when tightening. Be attentive and avoid overexertion while ensuring you apply steady, controlled pressure during the loosening process.

Personal Protective Equipment:

  • Risk: Exposure to potential hazards, especially when dealing with rusted or stubborn bolts.
  • Safety Consideration: Always wear appropriate personal protective equipment, including safety glasses and gloves, when working with fasteners. This gear helps protect you from any potential hazards, including debris, rust, or sudden bolt releases.

Fastener Condition:

  • Risk: Dealing with worn or damaged fasteners.
  • Safety Consideration: Inspect the condition of the fastener and surrounding components before using a torque wrench. Using a torque wrench on a damaged or worn fastener can lead to unpredictable results. If the fastener is compromised, consider replacing it.

Environmental Factors:

  • Risk: Bolts and fasteners exposed to environmental factors may behave unpredictably when torqued.
  • Safety Consideration: Consider the conditions in which the fastener has been exposed. Extreme temperatures, moisture, or other environmental factors can impact the performance of the fastener. Exercise extra caution when working with such fasteners.

Proper Tool Storage:

  • Risk: Incorrect storage or handling of the torque wrench.
  • Safety Consideration: Store your torque wrench properly, and avoid dropping or mishandling it. Misuse or improper storage can affect its accuracy and safety.


In conclusion, the answer to whether you can use a torque wrench to loosen bolts is a definitive ‘yes.’ The versatility of this tool extends beyond tightening, making it an invaluable addition to your toolkit. Exploring its benefits, such as precision and safety, and understanding the associated risks is essential for both DIY enthusiasts and professionals.

By mastering the art of using a torque wrench for loosening bolts, you gain confidence in handling a broader range of tasks. So, next time you’re faced with a stubborn bolt, remember the torque wrench’s hidden talent and enjoy the benefits it brings to your projects.

Frequently Asked Questions

How accurate is a torque wrench?

Torque wrenches are known for their precision, typically with an accuracy of ±4% to ±6%. Higher-quality torque wrenches offer better accuracy, ensuring that you achieve the desired torque setting.

How long do torque wrenches last?

The lifespan of a torque wrench depends on usage and maintenance. With proper care and regular calibration, torque wrenches can last for many years, often a decade or more, making them a long-term investment.

Is double-clicking a torque wrench bad?

Double-clicking a torque wrench can be detrimental, potentially over-torquing the fastener and causing damage. It’s essential to heed the first click, which signals that you’ve reached the preset torque value, and stop there to avoid overtightening.

Can you use a torque wrench to loosen bolts?

Yes, you can use a torque wrench to loosen bolts, but it’s crucial to reverse the torque direction and use it with caution to prevent overtightening.

How do you adjust a torque wrench for loosening bolts?

To adjust a torque wrench for loosening bolts, set the desired torque value and ensure it’s within the wrench’s torque range. Reverse the torque direction for loosening.

What are the advantages of using a torque wrench to loosen bolts?

Using a torque wrench for loosening bolts provides control and prevents overexertion, ensuring you avoid damaging fasteners or components. It’s ideal for precision and safety.

When not to use a torque wrench?

Avoid using a torque wrench when dealing with delicate materials, stubborn rusted bolts, or tasks that require excessive force. Also, refrain from using an improperly calibrated wrench or when precise feedback is essential.

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