When it comes to wrenches, can you really have too many? We love the advantages that a ratcheting wrench provides and many Pros keep sets on hand for SAE and metric jobs. Its thinner profile compared to a socket wrench while keeping a ratcheting action makes it a go-to tool for many Pros and automotive enthusiasts.
- Ratcheting action avoids removing and resetting like a combination wrench
- Thinner profile fits where sockets can’t
- 6- and 12-point heads available
- 120-tooth sets available
- Wide variety of price points available
- Larger diameter head can occasionally get in the way
- Higher price than combination wrenches
- Slips off of bolts easier than a socket
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Ratcheting wrenches will cover most of what you use your combination wrenches for, but there will times when its larger head gets in the way. When that happens, just flip it over and use the open-end wrench side. Both Pros and DIYers will find projects are easier with a ratcheting wrench and they fully replace the need for combination wrenches.[/alert]
What is a Ratcheting Wrench?
A ratcheting wrench works virtually identical to a socket wrench – it has ratcheting pawls inside that lets it spin in one direction and turn the bolt in the other. At the same time, it has the relative profile of a combination wrench that you turn to when a socket won’t fit.
Like a socket wrench, it can also have varying numbers of teeth. 72 is the basic standard, but there are designs with more teeth that require less swing arc to turn a hex head.
Instead of having one drive that fits a bunch of different sizes, each ratcheting wrench is a specific diameter. That design comes with some excellent advantages, but there are also a couple of trade-offs.
Why We Love the Ratcheting Wrench
Thinner Profile Than A Socket Wrench
By the time you stick a socket on a wrench, you might have 1-1/2″ or more that you need to clear to get the socket on your bolt. That’s okay when you have a lot of space to work around on the top or bottom of an engine, but space around the sides is at a massive premium. Like a standard wrench, a ratcheting wrench can go when a socket is too bulky.
Avoiding The Ol’ “Flip and Turn”
Using a standard wrench in a tighter spot, you often don’t have the clearance to just wrench away. Instead, you’ll set the wrench, make a 1/8th turn, pull it off, flip it, put it back on the bolt, and repeat. A lot.
This gives you back the angle you need to continue moving the fastener, but it’s really slow.
A ratcheting wrench will allow you to avoid this flipping and turning. Because of the ratcheting action, the tool never needs to come off of the nut or bolt until the job is done.
Flex Heads For The Win
One upgrade you might go for on your next ratcheting wrench set is a flexible head. The flex head allows you to approach the fastener from different angles and can be helpful when trying to reach into tight or awkward spaces.
Don’t Get Rid of Your Sockets
There are a few points that count against the ratcheting wrench as an end all, be all for the shop. For one thing, the socket on your socket wrench has a smaller diameter. That’s because the socket sits on the square drive and the pawls are inside the wrench where a ratcheting wrench has to put the pawls outside the open diameter. The wider diameter makes it harder to get around a bolt that’s very close to another part.
Sockets surround the head from all sides and the top. As you loosen it, it just slides further up the socket. With a ratcheting wrench, its thinner profile makes it much easier to slip down around the shank once the bolt has enough clearance.
Finally, and this is true of any wrench that works with pawls, you shouldn’t try to torque things down aggressively or break bolts free with your ratcheting wrenches. Mechanically, the pawls will be your weakest point in the wrench, and so you’ll want to avoid putting too much pressure on them. For serious torque or nut busting in tight spaces, look into breaker bars.
Ideally, you’ll have a good socket set and a wrench set. Ratcheting wrenches can replace the need for standard combination wrenches, but they can’t replace both. They also come at a higher cost than combination wrenches.
Like anything else in the tool world, prices can vary pretty wildly between manufacturers, quality levels, and features. However, you can find a perfectly adequate set of ratcheting wrenches for less than $50. You can also spend several hundred dollars on a premium set.
We love a good ratcheting wrench set’s hybrid design between a socket wrench and combination wrench because it gives us the advantage of a ratcheting action where sockets are too bulky.
There will be times over your career where a socket won’t fit and a ratcheting wrench’s head is too wide. Just flip it around to use the open-end wrench side. The good thing is that it fully replaces the need to have a combination wrench set in addition to ratcheting wrenches.
What are some of the reasons you love a ratcheting wrench? Tell us about it in the comments below.