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Don't twist it: Anyone who might be doing repairs around the house or on the car needs a ratchet - a wrench with fasteners for tightening or loosening nuts and bolts. A ratchet has a rotating gear inside its gear head and two levers (called pawls) that grab the gear teeth. One pawl tightens the nut or bolt when engaged, while the other pawl is used to loosen the fastener when the user turns the handle.
While these hand tools may be basic, they are not foolproof, so DIY enthusiasts will want to find the best ratchet (aka socket wrench) for the task. Also, as any professional manufacturer or machinist knows, there is a big difference between high-end ratchets and lower-quality models. This shopping guide will introduce shoppers to the 411 on these essential devices and detail why the models here top the toolbox or garage market.
Best overall: DeWalt ⅜-inch quick-release ratchet
Best value for money: Ares ⅜ in. drive ratchet
Best Handle: Neiko ⅜ in. drive retractable ratchet
Best Power Tool: ACDelco Power 12V ⅜-inch Cordless Ratchet
Best Light Duty: Tekton ¼-inch Compound Eccentric Ratchet
Best Heavy Duty: Ares ½-inch Drive Ratchet
Best Set: Craftsman Mechanics 32-Piece Tool Set
Best for Tight Spaces: Wera ¼-inch Square Head Ratchet
Each of the suggestions listed below is considered one of the best ratchet options on the market. Whether shoppers are looking to save money, buy quality tools, or just need more torque, there's a ratchet set for them. Pair one of these with a ratcheting screwdriver, a set of bits and a socket kit, and DIY enthusiasts will have a solid foundation for efficiently tightening fasteners.
Those looking for an all-around high-quality ratchet should consider this model from DeWalt. While DeWalt is known for its battery-powered tools, the company also makes quality hand tools - this ⅜-inch ratchet is an example. It features a high-quality chrome vanadium steel body that is both strong and easy to keep clean. It also features a 72-tooth gear mechanism that allows the ratchet to advance after only 5 degrees of oscillation. And, to help minimize joint damage, there is a smooth, quick-release button on the back of the head that makes socket swapping easy.
The DeWalt's ergonomic handle has non-slip grooves that allow the user to comfortably grip and apply force. However, the model does not have any additional textures, such as ribs or knurling, so greasy hands may find it difficult to grip firmly.
For those who don't want to spend a lot of money on a quality ratchet, this model from Ares may be a good choice. Despite its high-end features, it has an entry-level price tag, which means users can buy this model and save money on upgrading to other tools. Made of chrome vanadium tool steel, it is rugged and easy to clean and comes with a large quick release button that can be operated by gloved hands.
The real benefit of this ratchet (besides its price) is its transmission. With 90 teeth, this ratchet helps users make progress on fasteners even in the tightest situations - it requires only 4 degrees of oscillation. The smooth, rounded handle allows the user to grip comfortably without creating pressure points when force is applied. The biggest issue with this model, however, is the smoothness of the handle, as it doesn't provide much grip when it's greasy or wet.
Home mechanics who want more comfort and flexibility from their ratchets should consider this ⅜-inch drive retractable ratchet from Neiko. This chrome vanadium model features a firm-grip rubber handle that retracts to allow the user to maximize torque and add leverage in tight places. Simply pull back on the collar of the handle and extend it to the desired length; when released, the locking ring will keep the handle in place. It has an adjustment range of 8½ to 12⅜ inches.
The handle's grip is rubberized for improved comfort and good grip in wet or greasy conditions. In addition, the model's 72-tooth gear requires a small ratchet increment (only 5 degrees)-which may be important for extending the handle to reduce unwanted movement. However, the telescoping feature and the rubber grip make the ratchet heavier than average. While this Neiko is suitable for almost any situation, DIY enthusiasts may also want a lighter model for long and tricky jobs.
For DIY enthusiasts who don't mind spending a little more for convenience, the ACDelco Power 12V ⅜-inch Cordless Ratchet may be an option. This tool virtually eliminates joint breakage and unnecessary movement. It uses a 12-volt battery to power the ratchet function, allowing users to work faster and more efficiently.
This cordless ratchet is perfect for tightening bolts in tight spots because it features a low-profile design and is not much larger than a typical ratchet. It can also be used to handle multiple fasteners throughout a project, thus avoiding user wrist fatigue. It also comes with seven sockets and a ¼-inch drive adapter.
The ACDelco alone provides 45 pounds of torque - initially enough to tighten the bolt - and then the user can manually apply up to 100 pounds of torque to fully tighten the bolt. But because 100 pounds is its maximum torque output, the ratchet is suitable for lawnmowers, bicycles and conventional store use, but not for heavy-duty work on trucks, trailers or specialty applications.
Those looking for a new ratchet option for lighter tool sets may want to consider this ¼-inch ratchet - especially users who like to tinker with small, light projects such as audio/video, computers or small engines. With 72 teeth and a compact head for tight spots, this Tekton ratchet requires only 5 degrees of advancement with this spearhead ratchet. It also has a curved offset handle that provides more room for hands and fingers, which can be a real joint protector.
The body consists of a composite housing with a chrome vanadium core, making it quite sturdy but lightweight, and the quick release button makes changing tiny, hard-to-grip sockets much easier. This should not be the only ratchet in the kit as the user will not be able to apply a lot of torque due to the short length of the handle.
When it comes to stubborn bolts and heavy work, the Ares ½-inch drive ratchet may be the tool of choice to get the job done. This ratchet accepts ½-inch sockets and can handle a lot of torque.
The Ares ratchet has a chrome vanadium body and a longer handle, making it strong and helpful in applying torque. However, this model also retains some of the conveniences of the smaller models, such as 90-tooth teeth that only require 4 degrees of rotation and a quick-release button - a great benefit for heavy-duty sockets, making them easier and safer to remove. However, slick and slippery grip can be a problem in heavy duty applications and may even lead to injury in high torque applications.
When a high-quality ratchet isn't enough, consider this Craftsman Mechanics tool set. This socket set includes 20 ⅜-inch sockets, a socket extension, a screwdriver, multiple bits and a ⅜-inch ratchet, all in a durable plastic case. Each sleeve is marked with larger markings for easy identification, and the bits include the most common fastener styles.
The ratchet itself is Craftsman's popular ⅜-inch model. It has a 72-tooth gear that reduces oscillation to just 5 degrees. It also features a quick-release button that makes it easier to open and close these sockets, as well as durable chrome vanadium construction. If there is a complaint, it's that the kit only comes with a ⅜-inch ratchet and compatible socket, while some other kits may also include a ¼-inch ratchet and socket.
Users looking for a small but powerful (and flexible) ratchet should consider this model from Wera. Its short handle fits in tight places and is ergonomically designed for comfort and ease of use. It also has a thumbwheel on the head that allows the user to place the ratchet on the fastener and then rotate the wheel with their finger until it fits snugly-especially useful for small bolts and screws.
With the ability to accept ¼-inch hex bits and nut drivers, and with a ¼-inch drive socket adapter, this model offers a lot of flexibility. It also features drop-forged all-steel construction for durability and strength. It does, however, have a 60-tooth gear, which is lower than most other models on the list, and requires 6 degrees of rotation. However, with that short handle (less than 3.5 inches), it should be easy to use anyway.
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