What can I use as a spoke wrench substitute?

It looks like you’re in a bit of a bind with your mountain bike and need a makeshift tool to use as a spoke wrench alternative. No worries, I’ve been there, and I’ve got some creative ideas to help you out.

Just remember, these are temporary fixes, so plan on getting a proper spoke wrench when you can – they’re cheap, and a great addition to any mountain bikers garage workshop.

(This is a cheap multi spoke wrench tool I picked up to add to my toolbox in my basic mountain bike garage workshop)

Using Pliers or Needle-Nose Pliers

One of the most common go-to tools when you’re missing a spoke wrench is a pair of pliers or, even better, needle-nose pliers.

These tools can often grip the nipple of the spoke well enough to turn it. The trick here is to be gentle.

You don’t want to damage the nipple by applying too much force or squeezing too hard. Grip the flat sides of the nipple, if possible, to minimize slipping and rounding off the edges.

Also, watch out you don’t have the pliers pressed down onto the rim, as you can gouge the metal rim as you rotate the spoke nipple. I found this out the hard way by getting careless one day. 😀


  • Pliers are a common tool that you might already have in your toolbox.
  • They offer a decent grip on the spoke nipple.


  • There’s a risk of damaging the nipple, especially if the pliers slip.
  • It’s harder to achieve precise adjustments with pliers.

Using a Flathead Screwdriver

Not really a suitable method for most of us mountain bikers running tubeless rims, but for others if the spokes on your bike have slots on the top, you can use a flathead screwdriver as a substitute.

This method is a bit more challenging as it requires you to access the nipple from the inside of the rim, but it can be done.

Choose a screwdriver with a head width that fits snugly in the slot of the nipple. Be cautious and turn slowly to avoid slipping and damaging the nipple or the rim.


  • Screwdrivers are another common tool that’s easy to find.
  • If the fit is good, it can provide precise adjustment.


  • Only works with slotted spoke nipples.
  • Requires access to the inside of the rim, which might be difficult/impossible with certain wheel designs and tubeless setups etc.

Using a Small Adjustable Wrench

A small adjustable wrench can be a lifesaver in a pinch.

You can adjust the wrench to fit snugly around the nipple. This method is similar to using pliers but offers a bit more control over the size and grip.

As with pliers, be cautious about applying too much force to avoid rounding off the nipple.


  • Adjustable to fit various nipple sizes.
  • Provides a better grip and more control compared to pliers.


  • Still a risk of damaging the nipple if not adjusted correctly.
  • Can be cumbersome to use in tight spaces.

DIY Solutions

If you’re feeling particularly resourceful, you can make your own DIY spoke wrench!

This can be done by taking a small piece of sturdy metal and cutting a slot into it that fits the spoke nipple. The general idea is to to clamp a piece of metal in your vice, and then cut or grind a slot into the piece of metal the same thickness as your spoke nipple. This can involve a bit of trial and error – just start narrow, and widen if needed, as you don’t want a spoke wrench to have any slop or play from side to side as you use it, as you can damage the spoke nipple.

Some people apply this technique to the top round/square part of their house key which they always carry, so that they always now have a DIY spoke wrench on them at all times! Great little DIY idea!

This requires some tools and skill, but it can be a fun and satisfying project. Another DIY method is to use a pair of old scissors, where you use the inner part of the handle (the circular part) to grip the nipple.


  • Customizable to fit your specific spoke nipples.
  • A fun project if you’re into DIY solutions.


  • Requires tools and some DIY skill.
  • Might not be as precise or durable as a real spoke wrench.

The bottom line…

While these alternatives can get you out of a tight spot, they’re not perfect.

Each has its pros and cons, and none are as good as using the right tool for the job.

So, use these tips as a temporary fix, and get yourself a proper spoke wrench when you can. It’ll make your life a lot easier and keep your wheels in better shape. Enjoy, and see you out shredding those trails! 🙂

(Most people would agree that Park Tool make the best professional grade spoke wrench’s, but I only have this one, and have bikes with a variety of spoke nipple sizes!)