- Image: Lisa Tate

Brief Musings on Hex Nuts

Simple, six-sided, and significant. Where would we be without this little piece of hardware?

2y ago

Have you ever come across an abandoned hex nut while out on walk, or digging one up in the sand while playing with your family on the beach or park? I have often, and nearly every single one of thes little stray hexagons has found their way in my pocket or purse. There's something about that simple nut that I just can't leave behind. Contained in that little metal piece is a story. Because that little nut is no longer hugging its respective bolt, something out there isn't working properly or has long been disgarded. A bike may have fallen apart under a rider, or a racing toy might be rattling along lounder than it should. Perphaps something has been fixed or improved, and this little nut has been thanklessly left behind. That hex nut represents simple hard work, safety, and sheer multi-faceted (no pun inteneded) usefulness.

According to an article, "Nuts and Bolts," by Frederick. E. Graves, the idea of threads in on hardware date back to 400 BC and, in his summation, the nut as a fastener has been around since the 15th century (although there are experts who differ on its exact origin). There are square nuts, wing nuts easy to manipulate with finger and thumb, cage nuts with their little upraised borders, and acorn nuts sporting a dome out there, but the hex nut is most common.

As someone who grew up with a mechanic father and an artistic mother, I've always been fascinated by hex nuts. They have a perfect smooth, symmetric outside, a strong threaded inside, and are much more fun to draw than nails or screws.

For one thing, hex nuts are very attractive little things. The symmetry of little nut makes anyone with an inkling to create want to build or repair something. I've seen them pop up in jewerly design and art pieces as they fit together with a mathmatical, Escher-like perfection to create patterns. Any 9-year-old can tell you how ideal these are for stringing on yarn or parachord. There are even artists on Etsy who sell nylon and aluminum colored hex nuts just for this purpose.

I knew one clay artist named Vicente Garcia when I was living in the small West Texas community of Alpine. He used to make "industrial inspired" pieces either shaped like or adorned with hex nuts, bolts, and washers long before it was even a trend. He loved that a material easily manipulated such as clay could take on a rigid, perfect shape of a screw head, or the threads of a bolt. He has since moved from the Southwest to the Connecticut area, but I'm fortunate to still have some of his early nuts-and-bolts inspired pieces.

Fine Art fine-tuned with hex nuts by artist Vicente Garcia. Image: Lisa Tate

Fine Art fine-tuned with hex nuts by artist Vicente Garcia. Image: Lisa Tate

More importantly, it is hard to imagine any piece of machinery or architecture that doesn't take advantage of the strength and securtity of a hex nut somewhere. There are nuts as big as a human face holding together (hopefully securely) suspension bridges, and teeny-tiny easy-to-lose nuts for some electronics or reading glasses. Big or small, each one of these will pose a bit of a problem if lost.

The largest hex nut, however, can be found in the U.S. City of Green Bay, Wisconsin, built in 2016 near a metal fabrication business, Packer Fastener and Supply, Co. The 3.5 ton solid stainless steel nut stands 10-feet tall, but is so far not included in the "Guinness Book of World Records," last I checked, nor has it made itself useful in any behemoth construction project.

And yet, we take them for granted, as they maintain their grip on something we drive, walk on, live in, log onto, or even fly in. I heard a stand up comic comment on an incident several years ago where a British pilot was nearly sucked out of the cockpit, because the maintenance workers used the wrong size nut and bolt pairing. Oopsie! We may not always be aware when these little metal bits are doing their job, but we sure has hell know when they are not.

My dad used to say one of the funniest and meanest tricks you can play is, when riding a Ferris Wheel at a roadside carnival, toss a few loose nuts in the seat and tell the people coming on after you "these fell out about half way through our ride...shouldn't be a problem."

Little or big, the bolt would hardly be as safe without its mate, the hex nut. Thank you, tensile strength! Image: Lisa Tate

Little or big, the bolt would hardly be as safe without its mate, the hex nut. Thank you, tensile strength! Image: Lisa Tate

Remember the old proverb "For Want of a Nail?" It has has seen several variations, but the basic one reads:

"For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the message was lost. For want of a message the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost."

This is perfect example of how each little piece is necessary, and even the lack of the smallest detail can potentionally cause the toppling of a civilazation.

A worthy lesson, indeed, but I can't help but wonder how good that shoe would have held if they figured out a way to comfortably attach it a hex nut and bolt.

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Comments (5)

  • I've thought this for years. Nice to see it written down! Machines are a collection of parts, but one part isn't any more important than the other. Even the lowly hex nut has a value that is more than just money.

      2 years ago
  • So what do you call nuts on a wall?

      2 years ago