interesting comments, thanks everyone. my open-ended question was something out of exasperation - “is it worth it” - as I figured, it depends.
of course, I can imagine there are fasteners etc. that require specific, low torque, but I was clearly ignorant of them.
@asemaster said “Who are you?”
I take this to actually mean “what” and not “who”. As might be clear, I am a DIY/learner - not a pro.
I am working on a Porsche 944. The shop manual has plenty of low-torque numbers in there. One that has come into my sphere of interest is a small cover on the tranny which needs some low torque value I don’t know off-hand. Another is a bolt on the rear of the engine on a cover that I just tightened without a TW and it seems OK - no leaks, but not too tight. Also the TW might not fit in there.
also, Harbor Freight has some wrenches for twelve bucks on sale, so in fact I got one after I posted the question to try it out. Sears doesn’t have a 1/4-inch AFAIK. I am trying to find out if I should really save up for a Snap-On - or if an imprecise torque for these covers will suffice. Even a relative torque would be better than free-form tightening. From comments, seems so. but if doing more complex things like rebuilding tranny, no.
there is some confusion about my use of the term “1/4-inch”. As many comments suggest, I used this term assuming that small-size wrenches cover the low end of torque values, while larger wrenches cover the higher end - e.g. 1/2-inch TW for wheel nuts around say 100 Nm. This thread is not to deal with the “sweet-spot” of any particular wrench, or whether e.g. a 3/8-inch wrench actually suffices for some torque values that a 1/4-inch might cover. Of course low-end torque values have importance, but at the end of the day we need to buy a wrench, and 1/4-inch is the lowest there is, and the torque values are such as can be achieved by finger-tightening. compare with wheel nuts, where that is not the case.