A Flower In My Tool Chest

How some long days were enriched by Snap-On’s OEXM230 combination wrench

wrench
Kevin Cameron's Snap-On OEXM230 that has not been used since 1973.Kevin Cameron

In 1971 my rider the late Cliff Carr and I did 26 race meetings with a 1970 Kawasaki H1-R. Because the rear wheel was out of the bike so often for tire and sprocket changes I decided to treat myself to this long-handled combination wrench (box and open-end) which fit only that one fastener on the bike—the rear axle nut, part # 321B1600. In 1972 and '73 it fit the same part on my home-built 750 H2-R.

With it here by the keyboard I see that several thousand miles of jiggling in the toolbox as the van droned to the next race have left its surface a mass of tiny scratches, and maybe some of the nickel underlying the polished chrome has been rubbed away at points. The wrench is otherwise perfect, graceful, actually beautiful. I appreciated it every time I used it.

First of all, it’s satisfyingly smooth to the touch. It’s plated because otherwise sweaty hands would have set it to rusting, which is always depressing (even though today it’s called patina). This wrench has never rusted. Its utility remains at 100 percent. It’s 13 inches long and in no place are the transitions from one shape to another less than organically smooth—this wrench is in fact more free of stress raisers than your average connecting-rod. The box end is 12-point to give a maximum number of possibilities in fitting it on a fastener—think of the times you’ve tried to fit a 6-point box wrench on a fastener only to find that surrounding parts won’t let you. The shank widens slightly as it approaches the box—the better to feed stress straight into the ring of steel around the fastener with minimum bending. The 12 points of the box end were formed by broaching, and it’s satisfying to see that the bottom of each point—the thinnest part of the box—is also smoothly radiused.

I haven’t used this wrench in years because after 1973 part # 321B1600 was no longer part of my life. It stayed home in another toolbox when Yamaha’s TZ750 came along (who remembers the ad campaign “Yamaha! Let me take you away!”?). I didn’t see any point in carrying tools I knew I wouldn’t use. But I’ve felt recognition every time I’ve opened that drawer and seen it. It’s been a pleasure.