Friday, August 13, 2021

4-way wrench has long history in Royal Enfield tool kits

Double-ended wrench with ENFIELD on it.
The little four-way wrench claims to be an "ENFIELD" product. 

It's a clever little tool, the "ENFIELD" multi-wrench that often shows up for sale on eBay. 

Double-ended, it handles two different sizes of bolt heads at each end. The advertisers usually tout it as being for "Royal Enfields." After all, it is boldly labelled "Enfield," isn't it? 

But is it really a Royal Enfield tool? Was it really in the tool kit of a Royal Enfield motorcycle? 

Once it is separated from the motorcycle, how can we be sure? Is it just a tool from the city of Enfield, in the UK? Is it from some other company someplace that just happens to use the name Enfield on its products? 

It seems suspicious that so many of these particular wrenches turn up on eBay in the United States. There are at least three there as I write.

Note the hexagonal shape of one jaw.
Clever multi-wrench handles two sizes at each end.

How did that happen in the U.S., a country where, historically, relatively few Royal Enfields from Britain were sold? (I bought a 1999 Royal Enfield from India and I can tell you that no such tool was in its tool kit, so India is not where they are coming from.)

I wondered.

The wrench seems a great little gizmo to have, if it has genuine Royal Enfield provenance. Otherwise, it would be just another gadget in a drawer. I have all the wrenches I really need in my tool kit.

How could I be sure?

At the suggestion of Royal Enfield enthusiast Chris Overton I looked in the Royal Enfield parts books posted online by Hitchcocks motorcycles.

And there it was, identified as the Part No. 6406, the "Combination Spanner."

It shows up in the parts book for the 1946 125cc (the Flying Flea), the 1949 350cc Bullet and the 1958 500cc Bullet. It shows up in the tool kit of for the 1967 Interceptor Series 1A. It even appears in the toolkit of the 1969 Interceptor Series 2, end of the line for Royal Enfield motorcycles manufactured in Britain.

Wow. So many years; so many tool kits. That might explain why so many of these wrenches are available, even in the United States.

Someone might junk a motorcycle that was used up, but as a practical matter save the tools it came with. Nothing wrong with the tools. They'll probably outlive us all.

But wait: the drawings in the Hitchcocks parts books I examined didn't show the tool as being labelled ENFIELD. In fact, none of the tools in the parts books I looked at were marked as Royal Enfield products!

So I was still suspicious. Did Royal Enfield really mark its tools "ENFIELD"? Had there been an unrelated Enfield tool company out there somewhere, producing multi-wrenches?

Chris had another suggestion: write to Allan Hitchcock at Hitchcock's motorcycles and ask what the Royal Enfield technical drawings show about the wrench. (Hitchcocks has the factory drawings, starting from Part No. 1.)

I admit my first thought was "Oh, sure, like Hitchcocks has nothing better to do!" So I was delighted to get the following answer almost immediately, from Allan Hitchcock himself:

"It does amaze me, that small things can give so much interest and take up so much time but I totally get it and fall into the same trap myself all too often, but somehow as long as you get to the bottom of it, it is so rewarding," he wrote.

He noted, as had Chris, that Part No. 6406 is a relatively low number in Royal Enfield's long history. Allan guessed it might go back to around 1920.

Royal Enfield technical drawing shows wrench.
Royal Enfield factory drawing of the multi-wrench: Not quite like eBay.

The original drawing is gone, but he sent a photo of a 1965 redrawing of the part. Perhaps the old drawing had worn out, or, since the part was still being issued, the drawing needed to be revised to bring it into line with a then current template, Allan theorized.

I was stunned to see the 1965 drawing carried over the notation that the "Combination Spanner" was for the "2 Stroke and 8 H.P." These are references to Royal Enfield models of the 1920s! These wrenches have been riding around in Royal Enfield tool boxes for a century!

But... wait. It wasn't going to be quite that easy.

Neither the technical drawing from Allan nor the tools I'd seen in the parts books on Hitchcocks' website showed the word ENFIELD on the tool.

What's more the tool shown in the technical drawing was depicted with only squared-off jaws. The tools offered for sale on eBay typically show an opening that takes a hexagonal shape.

Were the wrenches really the same thing? In an effort to find out, I posted my question on the BritBike.com Royal Enfield forum. What did the enthusiasts there have to say?

Well, first of all, they wanted to know how big a wrench were we talking about? What size bolts or nuts would it fit?

Chris Overton chipped in to translate the jaw sizes shown for the multi-tool in the Hitchcocks drawing.

"The large end sizes are 3/8-inch British Standard (5/16 Whitworth) and 5/16 British Standard (1/4 Whitworth) with .005-inch clearance over the nut and bolt head sizes. The small end sizes are actually 7/16 and 5/16 Across Flats, but would likely fit 1/4 British Standard (3/16 Whitworth) and #8 and #10  if they were made to stove bolt tolerances."

This could have been helpful, if only the eBay sellers provided measurements of their goods! They never seemed to do so and, in fact, the photos they include typically show nothing (not even a coin) to provide context. Even the overall length of the wrench would have been helpful to know: the 1965 Hitchcocks document shows the wrench should be 4 1/4 inches long.

A longtime BritBike forum member from Australia solved the mystery.

"Rohan" finally answered my question to my satisfaction by providing an image from a 1937 Royal Enfield parts book showing the tool. Not only did the 1937 image show the bold ENFIELD name on it, but it also depicted the wrench with the hexagonal features visible in the eBay ads.

1937 parts book show tool box contents.
There it is; note the hexagonal suggestion at one jaw opening.

More was yet to come. Royal Enfield Owners Club UK archivist Bob Murdoch pitched in to help after I sent an inquiry to him at reoc.archive34@gmail.com

Incredibly, to me, he found early photographs of the tool in exactly the form it's so frequently seen on eBay

"I've found the 1936 photographs used to illustrate the parts books for the new range of upright-cylinder G, H, J, JF and L models," he wrote. "They shared many common parts, including the hinged metal toolbox and apparently, the same tools within. I'm sure that your exact spanner (wrench) is the one in this photo. You can just read the word ENFIELD!"

I'd had no idea that Royal Enfield took actual photographs of parts (visibly taped to a board) and then traced them to produce the parts book illustrations.

Photograph of tool kit tools laid out.
Actual 1936 photograph includes the Combination Spanner.

"I can tell you that hundreds of hours would have been spent tracing and shading the photographs to make these beautiful illustrations," Bob wrote.

He also sent me examples of scanning he has done to add factory manuals from 1914-1946, magazine road tests, and other materials to the club library. Reader, have you joined the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK?

Among the scans Bob sent me was the 1955-58 Indian Woodsman/Westerner Parts List. This illustrates in detail the 500cc Royal Enfield single shipped to the U.S. in those years. Was the little Combination Spanner in their tool kits? If so, that would help explain why so many of these tools would be, apparently, in the U.S. (judging from the number of offerings on eBay).

And there it is, on Page 62, numbered 6406 as it should be and looking like the one photographed in 1936. (Although ENFIELD branding is not shown in the drawing, it presumably was present unless they took the unlikely step of deleting it for Indian use.)

I'm now satisfied. The Enfield combination spanner is genuine Royal Enfield kit.


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