Friday, November 19, 2021

Royal Enfield tool is novel, but what is it good for?

Tool labeled Enfield adjusting handlebars.
Royal Enfield four-way wrench fits handlebar bolts. 

 My investigation convinced me. The clever little "ENFIELD" wrench often seen advertised on eBay was, historically, a tool Royal Enfield put in the tool kits of Royal Enfields made in Redditch, England before the company ceased production there.

 But what was the little four-way "Combination Spanner" supposed to be used to do? Turns out, the answer is of more than mere practical importance.

 First, let's review the record of authenticity.

 There is evidence of originality found in the files of Royal Enfield authorities including Allan Hitchcock of Hitchcock's Motorcycles and Royal Enfield Owners Club UK archivist Bob Murdoch.

Allan (and Royal Enfield enthusiast Chris Overton) pointed out that the part number for the tool is 6406, a remarkably low number in Royal Enfield parts books. It has been a part of Royal Enfields for a long time.

Allan emailed a technical drawing of the No. 6406 "Combination Spanner" that says it was for the "2 Stroke and 8 H.P." Those are references to Royal Enfield models of the 1920s!

A forum member who signs himself Rohan pointed to a drawing of the tool in a 1937 Royal Enfield parts book.

Royal Enfield wrench shown in tool kit photo.
Bob Murdoch provided this photo of the wrench included in 1936 tool kit.

And then Bob provided an actual photograph showing the ENFIELD tool among the items that a 1936 Royal Enfield tool box would contain. 

I also reached out to other Royal Enfield owners. I wrote a letter to the editor of The Gun magazine, official publication of the Royal Enfield Owners Club UK.

"Curious if anyone out there with a UK-made Royal Enfield has a believed-original tool kit with their Royal Enfield that includes the cute little four-way combination spanner?" I wrote.

"If you have one, what year Royal Enfield did it arrive with, and does it have the ENFIELD branding and does it look like the one in this photo?"

The Gun graciously printed my letter and photo in the October/November 2021 issue. Perhaps answers to my questions will be in the December/January or later editions of The Gun. I included my email address, in the hope of receiving more immediate answers.

So far there have been only two emailed responses, both including photos of the writer's ENFIELD tool atop my letter and photo.

Royal Enfield tool photographed by Jacqui.
Jacqui Furneaux sent a photo of her Royal Enfield wrench.

One email was from Jacqui Furneaux, who travels the world on her Royal Enfield Bullet. She is the author of "Hit the Road, Jac! Seven Years, Twenty Countries, No Plan."

"Some years ago, a friend gave me this spanner. He'd found it in his tool box and thought it might be useful to me but I have yet to find a use for it! Instead it is an ornament in my sitting room," she wrote.

Wherever her friend got it, her wrench has obviously been well used, for tasks besides being an ornament.

This is less true of the tool in the photo sent by Alan Styles of the UK.

Royal Enfield wrench photographed by Alan.
Shadows are deceiving but Alan's copy of the wrench is much like mine.

"It has been in workshop for some time, having bought it from an auto fair a while ago I think... It's a nice tool though, and a good keepsake, although I've not actually tried using it on one of my Indian Enfields," he wrote. 

Inquiries I made about the wrench on forums brought responses from Royal Enfield enthusiasts who've seen or even own examples of the wrench. Rohan has an ENFIELD wrench but he also has very similar (but not exactly identical) tools labeled not ENFIELD, but B.S.A.!

A Royal Enfield wrench and similar from B.S.A.
Rohan's collection of ENFIELD and B.S.A. wrenches.
B.S.A. put its name on the other side of the wrench.

Curious, I purchased an ENFIELD wrench for myself from an eBay seller in Cape Neddick, Maine. The seller didn't know much about the tool, having purchased it himself "from an elderly tool dealer in Standish, Maine."

I unwrapped it, anxious to discover what tasks it would accomplish on my Royal Enfield Bullet.

My Bullet is a 1999 model, from India, so I didn't expect the old wrench to fit many fasteners. But some of the nuts and bolts on my Enfield are Whitworth sizes, so it was worth a try.

Royal Enfield wrench fits on this nut.
My Royal Enfield four-way wrench fit this nut perfectly, 
but was too clumsy to adjust the pushrods under the cover.

I was honestly surprised when the four sizes available on the Combination Spanner fit almost nothing on my Enfield. Even when it did undo the nut holding the pushrod adjustment cover, it was too awkward to adjust the pushrods themselves.

It wouldn't open the oil drain plugs in the motor, adjust the spokes or the brakes. But it fit the bolts that hold the handlebars

It worked to open the oil-level inspection hole on the four-speed Albion gearbox, but did not open the gearbox oil filler hole. Now this isn't just odd, it's telling. That's because the gearbox oil filler plug on my 1999 Indian-made Royal Enfield Bullet is not from 1999. It's much older.

Royal Enfield wrench opening inspection hole.
Royal Enfield wrench opens the gearbox oil level inspection hole...

Chris Overton sent it to me when I noted that the older filler plugs were labeled (in tiny type) with the varieties of oil approved for use in the gearbox. I thought that was pretty cool.

Chris got the old filler plug from a gearbox he believes was used on a Royal Enfield built in 1958 for an Indian Apache or Chief.

It would have made sense for the ENFIELD tool to let the user add oil to the gearbox.

Royal Enfield wrench too small to open this.
...but if you need to add oil  to gearbox you'll need a different wrench.

To be fair, the four-way wrench ought to be handy as hell, in theory.

The toolkit supplied with my 1999 Bullet contains wrenches marked with the Whitworth and British Standard sizes they fit. Comparing these to the openings on the four-way wrench to my toolkit wrenches I found that they do correspond to Whitworth and British Standard sizes.

From smallest to largest, the openings are:

1/8W or 3/16BS
3/16W or 1/4BS
1/4W or 5/16BS
5/16W or 3/8BS

All useful sizes. But trying to even use this little tool immediately demonstrates its limitations.

Comparing jaws of wrenches.
Comparing my size-labeled wrenches to ENFIELD wrench.

With two sizes at each end of the wrench, the ends are twice as thick as a normal wrench. There's often not room for the thicker-than-usual wrench to get where it would need to be.

It's short: only 4.25 inches. That doesn't give much leverage.

Two of the openings are partly rounded, deliberately reducing their grip on a nut. It's as though the main use for this wrench would be in rounding off the edges of everything it touches.

And it's heavy for its size: 3.5 ounces. It will fit in your pocket but you won't like carrying it there.

Were the four-way ENFIELD wrenches just a marketing gimmick? As a novelty item they make a great keepsake. Maybe that is all they were intended to be?

1955-'58 parts book includes Royal Enfield tool.
Part No. 6406 "Open End Wrench Combination" is number 12 
in 1955-'58 Indian Woodsman and Westerner parts book.

This does not answer why Royal Enfield apparently thought for decades of production that part No. 6406 belonged in your tool kit. After all, it's in the parts books.

In fact it's even in parts books for Royal Enfields that were badged as Indians and sold in America in the 1950s. (This perhaps explains why the little four-way tool often turns up on eBay in the U.S.)

Could the explanation be in the technical drawing Allan Hitchcock showed me? Is it possible that the tool was developed for specific purposes on the 8 H.P. and two-stroke models of the 1920s and it afterwards simply became a fixture, although specific needs changed?

What do you think? I'm still hoping to find clues from people who have the little wrench.


  1. Your later February 11, 2022 article on can openers or "Church Keys" at led me down a rabbit hole of collectors of such items out there on the web. So now I am wondering if I might have a possible answer to what that little squared wrench may be for. If its opening or jaw is about 3/16" square it may have served well as a "Prest-O-Lite Key" used to control the sort of pre-electric acetylene lamps that were used in many vehicles well into the '30s or even later. Such a key was so useful that one was included in many can openers, pocket knives and other tools well into the '50s. Of course, it may have served other purposes on early Redditch-built bikes that were heavily festooned with oddball Whitworth nuts and bolts, but one wonders if simple inertia and continued usefulness for that sort of popular non-electric aftermarket lighting led the company to continue putting those odd little wrenches into their tool kits long after that size had grown moribund where their own products were concerned.

    1. What an amazing response. Thank you. Your theory makes sense to me. I see various references to Prest-O-Lite wrenches from 3/16 to 5/16 (my smallest opening measures closer to 5/16 square than 3/16) so it is certainly possible.


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