Some nights the internet drags you in. "Do I need a lightweight wrench?" I wonder into the dark. And there goes an hour. "Is there such a thing as a titanium adjustable wrench? That ought to be good and light and strong." And there goes another hour. "How much would such a wrench cost?" I sort my search results, high to low, and that's enough to stop me dead.
Eight-hundred and seventy-three dollars, available for sale at a site called Universal Medical.
I wrote it out so there's no mistake, no misplaced decimal point. The cost even increased a little since I first discovered it. It's staggering—probably double the value of my extended collection of tools and handily 100 times the cost of my adjustable wrench. I had to know more. Luckily for me, a chat bubble on the Universal Medical site appeared at just that very moment.
So I asked.
In my recollection, it took a little bit for the agent time to formulate a reply, the gist of which was that this , 10" titanium adjustable wrench is sold specifically for use on MRI machines. "Why would an MRI machine dictate the use of a lightweight and super strong wrench?" You might wonder. Well, it doesn't.
Since the creation of the first practical MRI machines in the early 1980's, the tremendous magnetic field has created unique challenges for anyone working around the extraordinary devices. YouTube is thick with videos of oxygen tanks and getting sucked at incredible velocity into hungry mouths of MRI machines. Because of the danger these flying projectiles pose to patients and the expensive machines themselves, steel tools, ferrous implants—anything magnetic is strictly verboten in the rooms housing MRI devices.
That explains some of the cost, I suppose. Like any other tool, the more rare, the more specialized the application, the more precise or exotic, the higher the cost. Of course, the $873 adjustable wrench isn't the only interesting and expensive specialized tool.
For the sake of your social life, do not let your curiosity drag you down this rabbit hole. Just believe me when I tell you that a , typically a beautifully manufactured and little thing used in tight spaces, can easily run into the tens of thousands of dollars. Likewise, when a heavy-duty electric or pneumatic impact wrench goes for a couple hundred dollars, a hydraulic version made for can cost more than three thousand.
My path soon veered from wrenches and took a turn for the familiar, yet foreign. An old high school teacher of mine, a fascinating English professor and sometime carpenter, once sung the praises of Japanese carpentry hammers. They had extraordinary balance, he told me, and the numbing vibrations of hours of framing were muted by their thoughtful design. It turns out they're , a little peculiar to the eye. At about twice the price of a Western fiberglass hammer, they're not especially spendy. For a taste of real exotica though, I begin to eyeball steel and white oak hammers, which go for about $90 at their cheapest. That's about on-par with the most technologically advanced of American hammer technology, which relies on exotic metals and composites.
Satisfied that I'd found the end of the internet, I went to bed and thought a little about how hard it must be to make a wrench out of titanium. The stuff is notoriously hard to work with. It gave Lockheed fits when it was employed in large scale for the manufacture of the SR-71 Blackbird.
How cool, that we live in a world where a niche tool from Spain, made from exotic metal for the purpose of working around magnets, can be snapped up and delivered to your door?
Even if that wrench comes at a cost. A staggering one.