LaserMill™ | A New Way to Make Wrenches
At Tekton, we respect tradition while questioning convention. We believe there's always more to learn than it appears, even where assumptions have gone unchallenged for centuries. Our LaserMill™ process emerged from this philosophy.
What Is LaserMill?
LaserMill is Tekton's proprietary method for making wrenches. We use it to produce our USA-made angle head and crowfoot wrench lines. In this process, we start with rolled plates of alloy steel. The sheets are cut into two-dimensional blanks by a powerful laser. Then we use a CNC mill to form the three-dimensional contours of the wrench. Finally, the wrench passes through heat treatment, finishing treatments, and a nickel-chromium plating. The final tool is precise and strong, with technical specifications that meet the highest professional requirements.
How Does LaserMill Compare with Conventional Methods?
LaserMill is different from conventional methods in that it doesn't use a forging step. By eliminating forging, we open up new possibilities for designing and creating a better wrench.
In 2017, when developing our angle head wrenches, our first instinct was to proceed with conventional forging. We assumed that forging was necessary to produce a wrench of sufficient strength. However, we also saw that if we could avoid forging, we‘d be able to move faster at lower cost and open up additional design possibilities.
A forged wrench is made from a rod of alloy steel, which is first heated to red-hot temperature, then placed in a forging die and mashed into shape by a heavy hammer. One reason companies forge tools is that the mashing process can make the finished part stronger. The strengthening happens in part by orienting metal grains to follow the form of the tool, which can help it withstand high forces without breaking, and in part by compressing the steel to reduce voids in the steel. Many Tekton tools are forged, and it's a viable option for making many wrenches. However, it requires expensive dies that are limited in their geometry and difficult to change. In most cases, every size wrench requires a different forging die.
As we researched our options for angle head wrenches, we became interested in lasers because of their high cutting power and flexibility. Laser cutting has been used in the past to form tools, but the tools are normally special-purpose two-dimensional blanks not intended to be ergonomic or to withstand the rigors of day-to-day use by mechanics.
To make a wrench without the forging step, we had to make sure that we could produce wrenches of sufficient strength. LaserMill allows us to make wrenches similar in strength to forged wrenches of similar geometry in three main ways.
- First, we obtain many of the benefits of forging by using a rolled 4140 chromium-molybdenum steel that has been compressed during processing. This eliminates voids and defects in the steel.
- Second, we use a carefully controlled heat-treatment process to create the right balance of strength and ductility in the wrench. Wrenches that are too weak deform easily under force. Wrenches that are too hard tend to snap under high force or perform poorly after many cycles of use due to metal fatigue. Good heat treatment can reset the grain structure and phase of the steel to largely equalize the steel properties in an item, whether it was initially forged, laser cut, or formed by other methods.
- Third, our precision cutting and finishing processes form smooth curves with minimal surface defects. On any wrench, whether forged or otherwise, sharp curves and surface defects concentrate stresses, which can lead to tool failure.
What are the Benefits of LaserMill?
LaserMill doesn't just produce strong wrenches. It also has multiple advantages over a forging process.
- First, the LaserMill process supports iterative design that leads to better tools. Forging dies are expensive and time-consuming to make and modify. Because there is no die to change, LaserMill lets Tekton iterate designs rapidly. We can test and modify our wrench specifications as many times as we want through computerized programming changes. This helps us make incremental improvements that add up to important performance gains. Since no engineering process is perfect on the first try, this iterative process makes a better overall wrench that benefits directly from being tested and repeatedly refined under real-world conditions.
- Second, LaserMill wrenches are able to have more varied and optimized shapes than forged wrenches. Forging is well-suited to narrow shapes where the form of the tool fills up the die. Some wide shapes require forging lots of extra steel on each part because more of the die's total surface goes unused. Or it can require an expensive multi-step shaping process.
- By comparison, LaserMill wrenches can have almost any footprint. They can be wide and can include tight corners that are difficult to forge. In our angle wrench models, this translates into better access around obstructions.
After successfully implementing the LaserMill process to make our angle head wrench line in 2018, we introduced our second LaserMill product in 2020: crowfoot wrenches. Like angle head wrenches, crowfoot wrenches are used to avoid obstructions and turn fasteners in tight corners. Once again, our LaserMill process contributed to a better wrench. We used testing data to iterate our design over time and to bring the wrenches to market faster and at lower cost than we could have with a conventional forging process.