How to Tighten Bolts and Nuts

How to Tighten Bolts and Nuts

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Everything around us is held together with nails and screws. But not just those alone! In this article, we’re going to explore their more robust cousin: the nut and bolt. You won’t have to look far to find something fastened with a nut and bolt, it’s the primary fastener for pretty much any vehicle on land, sea, and air!

2 Best Tools for Tightening Bolts and Nuts

Here’s a quick run-down on the best tools to tighten bolts and nuts.

1. The Wrench

Wrenches The classic wrench, or spanner in some Commonwealth countries like the UK and Australia, is a tool that uses manual force to apply torque (rotational force) to the traditional hexagonal nut around the bolt’s screw threads, and vice-versa.

There are several versions available such as the crescent wrench, which is an adjustable version, or the monkey wrench which is adjustable in a similar fashion.

Here are some pros and cons to using wrenches:


  • Cheap and readily found in every home hardware store, and even supermarkets.
  • Fairly flexible in terms of sizes, especially with adjustable wrenches.


  • Bolt tightness is limited by muscle power.
  • There are limits to the size ranges some adjustable wrenches can accept.

2. The Impact Driver

BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX* POWERCONNECT 1/4 in. Cordless Impact Driver Kit (BDCI20C) This is the tool you may want to use if a wrench isn’t enough. Impact drivers are essentially power drills with a punch, delivering a lot more torque (rotational force) in a smaller, lighter package. There are also impact wrenches made specifically for tightening nuts and bolts.

Below we will list the pros and cons of using an impact driver:


  • Power tools are, well, powerful! Impact drivers can deliver an immense amount of torque, perfect for heavy-duty situations such as automotive applications.
  • Also speeds up the workload, especially when you have lots of nuts and bolts to work with.


  • Relatively expensive. Tool-only and battery options tend to be in the hundreds of dollars.
  • Being battery-powered could be a concern – an impact driver with a dead battery is pretty much a paperweight. There are corded options but those are relatively rare.

How to Tighten a Bolt and a Nut

Now, let’s take a step-by-step look at the process of tightening bolts and nuts.

1. By Hand

A manual tightening of a bolt and nut will require the use of two identically-sized wrenches with the correct size of the bolt head or nut size involved. One wrench will be to brace and the other to tighten.

Here are some simple steps to follow:

Step 1 – Ensure the nut and bolt are installed correctly: Make sure that the nut is installed the right way, screwing on easily in a clockwise trajectory up the threads; the nut will not install in the wrong orientation. Screw on the nut until it is finger-tight to the surface opposite the bolt head.

Step 2 – Brace the bolt: With your non-dominant hand, take one wrench and fit it onto the bolt head. Ensure that the fit is exact and snug, there should be no ‘play’ or looseness. If using an adjustable wrench, adjust until the fit is exact. This wrench will be used for bracing the bolt, providing a stable bolt for the nut to tighten to.

Step 3 – Fit wrench on nut: With your dominant hand, fit your wrench onto the nut. Like the previous step, ensure that the wrench size is exact to your nut size, with no looseness between tool and nut. If using an adjustable wrench, adjust accordingly.

Step 4 – Tighten: With the bolt braced by the wrench in your opposite hand, proceed to tighten the nut in a clockwise fashion (you may have to reset the wrench position after each turn) until stiff resistance is met. Add a quarter-turn to finish.

Tightening Bolt with Wrench

2. Using An Impact Driver

An impact driver is easy and quick to use, here’s how:

Step 1 –  Ensure correct installation: Make sure that the bolt threads are clear of any debris before screwing on the nut until it is finger-tight.

Step 2 – Brace the nut: In this instance, the nut is to be braced instead, with a wrench or suitable pair of pliers, with your non-dominant hand.

Step 3 – Position socket: Next, ensure that the impact driver setting is set to tighten, there should be a button or switch near the trigger. Check by pressing the trigger. If it spins clockwise, you’re set! With the correct socket attached to the impact driver, fit the socket to the bolt head. Ensure that the entire bolt head is inside the socket.

Step 4 – Tighten: With the nut held in place by the tool in your non-dominant hand,  depress the impact driver trigger in short bursts until the nut and bolt are tight. Usually, one or two bursts do the trick. Do not overtighten, as you will destroy the nut, bolt, and whatever you were trying to work on!

Tightening Bolts with Impact Driver

Mistakes to Avoid, Tips & Tricks

Here’s some extra tips to make the process smoother.

1. Do Not Overtighten

Keep in mind the ‘Right for tight, left to loose’ rule in terms of which direction to turn. Never use too much force as you can cause damage. This rule of thumb is especially important when using an impact driver. A light touch is all that’s needed.

2. No Room? No Problem!

When there simply isn’t enough room for the wrench to fit in the regular way, you can simply angle your wrench head until you get the tips of the ‘horns’ of the wrench to fit snugly on the walls of the bolt head/nut. Turn to tighten or loosen as usual.

3. Getting Unstuck

If faced with an old nut and bolt that doesn’t want to budge, a good spray with a common household lubricant such as WD-40 or its equivalent can come in handy. Clean the fasteners of rust/debris with a steel-bristle brush.

Make sure you’re wearing a mask while doing this in order to avoid breathing in iron-oxide dust. Spray using the included straw nozzle, ensuring the fluid seeps into the threads. Leave it to ‘marinate’ for a few minutes and then attempt to loosen as normal with slow but steady force.

4. Spinning?!

Sometimes, a bolt will keep spinning. In those cases, there are several ways you can prevent it from doing so and tighten it properly. I wrote in more detail about those in this article.

Tightening Bolts and Nuts: Frequently Asked Questions

Lastly, below are answers to some of the most asked questions on the topic.

How Tight Should You Tighten Bolts?

Tighten manually until ‘finger-tight’, and then use a wrench until the tool starts to be hard to turn and the nut/bolt refuses to move. That’s a good spot to stop applying force.

Does It Matter Whether You Tighten the Bolt Head or the Nut?

Typically not, depending on convenience, but convention dictates the nut is what tends to articulate or rotate. When impact drivers are involved, it is far more likely that the bolt is what moves, as socket heads tend to be shorter than bolts usually allow. Longer socket heads can be used to tighten a nut instead but it’s far more convenient to simply swap which component spins.

Can You Tighten a Bolt or a Nut with a Wrong Size Wrench?

In a nutshell, the answer is yes. It’s not recommended, though. A larger wrench head can cause damage. This issue is amplified with power tools; too large of a socket can easily strip the corners of a bolt head/nut body.

Can You Tighten Bolts and Nuts Without a Wrench?

Here, we are not talking about wing nuts but regular hex nuts. There are some ways you can improvise a make-shift wrench to make do. A pair of coins for example make a surprisingly effective ‘wrench’ when pinched together on the fasteners. How’s that for making your money work for you?

In a separate article, I wrote more about how to tighten a bolt without a wrench.


Whether it’s by hand or using power tools, tightening nuts and bolts is a simple and straightforward process. As long as appropriate force is used and care is taken, you can use the holding power of nuts and bolts to keep things together for quite a long time!