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  • Writer's pictureJustin Schaub

Click Type vs Split Beam Torque Wrench

Updated: Jun 15

Click type vs split beam torque wrench

Recently, Harbor Fr eight sent me their brand new U.S. General Series 3 toolbox to try out. This beautiful 72” roll cabinet features a 14 drawer design with a total volume of 29,700 cubic inches and a weight capacity of 6600 pounds! It includes two double width drawers, full width latches, and precut drawer liners are included.  My favorite design of the box is their build in drawer charger, easily allowing you to plug your power tool battery chargers in, tucking them away out of sight.  The slides have been upgraded to full extension ball bearings and includes a tough powder coated gloss finish.

Harbor Freight US General Series 3 Toolbox

I have always been skeptical of Harbor Freight toolboxes in the past, but it seems they really stepped up their game for the series 3.  Being a professional mechanic, I have had all different types of boxes from cheap ones to more expensive “professional” type boxes.  My expectations have been succeeded with the series 3, and believe it would hold up to any abuse from a hobby mechanic to a professional wrencher.

I have quite a few different boxes in different shops I work out of, but since this was a Harbor Freight toolbox, I decided to build this one out with all of the Icon branded tools I could buy.  I really wanted to test them in a professional setting to see how the tools would hold up to more expensive brands.

Torque wrenches are an essential tool for any mechanic, so when it came down to choosing the correct torque wrench for this setup, I started looking at my options.  In the HF Icon lineup, there are 2 different variations that they offer. The click type torque wrench, or the split beam.  In my career, I have only used the classic click type torque wrench (the one you screw the handle up and down to change the torque value).  I have seen the split beam before, but always thought it was a cheaper style that would not hold up.  I immediately talked to many of my other mechanic friends to ask about them, as I was curious.  What I found out was most of my colleagues in the industry actually use the split beam style.  I was curious enough, so decided to purchase the brand new Icon 3/8” split beam wrench (PN 59108).

First lets discuss the difference between the two different torque wrenches and their features.

click type torque wrench
Click Type Torque Wrench

Click Type Torque Wrenches

These are a more sophisticated torque wrench compared to the split beam, which use a calibrated clutch mechanism inside.  They use a ball detent and spring which is preloaded by an adjustable screw thread.  The ball detent transmits force until the preset torque is reached, at which the force exerted by the spring overcomes the ball and you get that famous “click.”  Because of this, the wrench has great precision as well as giving that tactile feel to let you know you reached the value you set.

Although this sounds great, there are some slight drawbacks to this type of wrench.  One they usually feature laser etched numbers on the handle that can be hard to read in different lighting.  They also are required to be calibrated every so often, or if you drop the wrench on the ground. Because of the internal spring design, these wrenches ] require you to “zero” them out after use to prevent the spring from learning its tension.  Make sure when you zero them out, you do not actually go to zero as the spring can be too loose and lose its preload.  We suggest leaving it set at the bottom 10-15% of it’s value.

split beam torque wrench internals
Split Beam Torque Wrench

Split Beam Torque Wrenches

This type of wrench is far more basic compared to the click type, and features two internal beams inside its square metal housing. The first beam is used to apply the torque to the fastener you are tightening and also serves as the handle of the wrench.  When this force is applied, it will deflect predictably and proportionally in accordance to Hooke’s Law (google the principle if interested).  The second beam of the wrench is attached at the head end of the tool. This beam serves as the indicator beam.  Both of the beams run parallel to each other when the tool is at rest, and not being used. This second beam is free to travel over a calibrated scale attached to the handle usually.

When you are ready to torque a fastener, the lever bends and the indicating beam stays straight.  The indicating beam points to the magnitude of the torque wrench that is currently applied.  Because of this, the split beam style is very simple in design, which makes them much cheaper to afford.  Just because they are cheaper, does not mean they do not do a good job.  These types of wrenches have been around since the 1920s and are still widely used in the industry.

The split beam features a a dial on the side with a latch to prevent torque values from accidentally changing.  This makes one of the greatest advantages as you can quickly change the torque value in seconds.  I believe this is one of the key features that make them so popular with professional mechanics.  On top of the quick change, the wrench does not have to be “zeroed” out like the click style, as there is no internal spring.

The Icon 3/8” Split Beam Torque Wrench (PN 59108)

As I stated above, I decided to try out the split beam style for this toolbox.  This wrench features all of the items discussed in the last paragraph.  The Icon wrench also comes with a calibration certificate from the factory, showing you how accurate the wrench was at testing.  If for some reason you drop the wrench, Harbor Freight also offers a calibration service, where you can send in the wrench, which is a great bonus.  This wrench also includes a lifetime warranty.

Icon split beam torque wrench

Harbor Freight also included a flex head on this wrench, which allows you up to 15 degrees of rotation to get into those hard spaces.  I especially like this design for torquing lug nuts on wheels to allow you to get the wrench just a little bit away from the face of the wheel.  Even though this is not a “click” type wrench, don’t worry, you still receive the audible click and feel when the torque value is reached.

Harbor Freight claims this wrench has a accuracy rating of +/- 4%.  My calibration certificate came in at 1.3% or 1.8% exceeding the standard by half.  Finally this wrench uses a 90 tooth ratcheting head to make it easy to grab the nut or bolt in tight spaces.

icon split beam torque wrench


I am very impressed with the design and quality of the Icon (59108) split beam torque wrench. With the all steel construction, easy to read torque value, smooth operation, calibration certificate, and plastic hardened protective case it comes in, I think its a great value for only $99.  I look forward to using this wrench more, and who knows, it may change my mind about this style of wrench, leaving me to put the “click” type wrenches in the closet to collect dust.

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