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Tools

Best Ratchet

The name "ratchet" can refer to a few different kinds of tools, but there is one common attribute that they each share. The head of the tool rotates in one direction and prevents rotation in the opposite. It's a pretty simple concept that makes any fastening job easier and faster. The main categories are manual, air powered and electric. Manual ratchets function much like a crescent wrench, but eliminate the need to re-position the wrench with every turn. Air powered ratchets require a compressor or air pump, which must be bought separately, but they offer unparalleled power. Electrical models can either come in battery operated or wall plug versions. The wall plug models will usually be much more powerful, but they are not as versatile and useful in jobs outside of the shop.

Whether it's manual, air powered or electric; all ratchets are based on the same idea of unidirectional gears and the smaller the teeth of these gears are the smoother the action of the ratchet. This is especially important in manual ratchets where smaller teeth translate into finer working movements. The range you need to move the handle for the ratchet to engage will be smaller and allow for work in tighter situations.

No matter the power source; you want your ratchets to be built sturdy, deliver the power needed for the job and function smoothly. Not only should a tool stand up to your abuse, but powered ratchets deliver enough force that they would destroy themselves if not built well. It should also be understood that more power isn't necessarily better because an air powered ratchet delivering 85 foot-pounds of power is going to rip the head right off a small fastener. Good function includes smooth gearing, low vibration and a low chance of busted knuckles.

Pick from the right list and you'll find the right tool for your job.

Matco Tools MT2858A 3/8" Heavy Duty Air Ratchet

Matco Tools MT2858A 3/8" Heavy Duty Air Ratchet

It's not the most powerful air ratchet on this list but 50 ft-lbs of torque is plenty for most jobs and it's packed inside a slim, comfortable ratchet you can use all day without getting tired. A variable speed trigger allows you to take the power all the way down to 10 ft-lbs for more delicate tasks and I've found this control to be very precise. This is my ratchet of choice for most jobs and it performs perfectly with smooth action, moderate vibration and a reasonable price tag for the quality. The cost may seem a bit high for the power delivered but a Chicago Pneumatic air ratchet will offer years of work without so much as a hiccup.

Chicago Pneumatic Air Ratchet Wrench 3/8" Drive, 150 RPM

I've never encountered a job in my work that would require an air ratchet with180 ft-lbs of torque but Ingersoll Randhas has me covered regardless. Even with such massive power, this air ratchet isn't overly bulky and unwieldy because the compact head and well designed body is surprisingly versatile in a wide range of situations and tight spots. The reactionless torque clutch system is effective and you'll be very happy for that when you feel this baby kick. On top of all this tool is surprisingly affordable. If you need this level of power there’s no better air ratchet I've ever found but it’s not suitable for jobs requiring a light touch.

Ingersoll Rand Ingersoll-Rand (IRT2015MAX) 3/8" Low Profile Hammerhead Impactool Air Ratchet # 2015MAX

Adjustable from 70 ft-lbs all the way down to 50 ft-lbs, this Snap-On air ratchet is strong enough to tackle most jobs I've come across without destroying the fastener. Operation is quite smooth and surprisingly quiet when working in the regulated mode thanks to a muffler but open this tool up all the way and expect some noise. The cushioned grip is a nice feature that helps reduce the vibration that comes with this level of power and reduces hand fatigue after long days in the shop. The price is a bit much for my tastes but the quality of materials and engineering is obvious right from the first time you hold this tool.

Snap-On FAR7200 Heavy Duty Air Ratchet

They say this air ratchet can deliver 130 ft-lbs of torque and I’m inclined to believe them because it sure feels like it when you hit the throttle. The variable trigger regulates the power based on how hard you squeeze it for more precise control and versatility. A composite body helps reduce vibration and decrease weight, both of which are the main culprits in hand fatigue when working with power tools. It runs smoothly for how powerful it is but every little bit helps. The ratchet is a little bulky, so it’s not great for tight spaces but the addition of an adjustable exhaust means you won't be blasting yourself in the face when working at odd angles. This tool is reasonably priced for the power and quality you’re getting.

Ingersoll Rand Ingersoll-Rand (IRT1207MAXD3) 3/8" Premium Air Ratchet # 1207MAX-D3

65 ft-lbs of torque combined with superior control and ease of operation make this a great air ratchet anyone should be happy to own. I like the enclosed head design that prevents damage to both the tool and surrounding surfaces as it lacks exposed moving parts beyond the actual drive shank. Torque is easily controlled thanks to the accurate and simple to operate variable speed power regulator. This helps you fine tune the tool to your job without a lot of guess work and snapped fasteners. The composite body is well shaped to be comfortable in the hand for long days with little fatigue. It's not the cheapest air ratchet on the market but the quality is obvious and Ingersoll Rand stands by their products.

SK Hand Tools 45179 3/8" Drive Professional Reversible Ratchet 10.3"

SK Hand Tools is my favorite pick when it comes to professional quality at a reasonable price. These tools rival the most expensive competitors and cost considerably less. This particular model has a long, 10.3 inch, solid metal handle with significant weight and a knurled pattern to increase grip. The knurling is deep to make sure the grip is true, but it’s not sharp or uncomfortable to use. The internal gears are solid with beautiful motion and practically no back motion in the teeth. An added advantage with this SK ratchet is the head that can be disassembled for easy cleaning and repair.

BAHCO 7750 8" Fine Tooth Bi Mold Comfort Grip Enclosed Head Ratchet

80 teeth make the action of this ratchet pleasingly smooth and able to operate with amazingly little travel. It takes only 4.5 degrees of motion to operate and the comfortable, padded grip of this ratchet is along with smooth, round edges, meaning less hand fatigue at the end of the day. It also means this ratchet will be a bit lighter than some solid metal ratchets but only by a tiny amount and the tool itself remains balanced. The length is a solid eight inches for the right amount of power without being unwieldy. It’s easily one of the best ratchets on the market.

Craftsman Premium Grade 3/8" Drive Ratchet

Sleek is the first word that comes to mind when looking at this Craftsman ratchet. The handle is smooth and while I initially had doubts about the grip, it was actually pretty solid and comfortable to use. However, I wish it had a bit of knurling to add grip traction in greasy or sweaty situations. With 84 tooth gears this is the highest tooth count ratchet on this list but it doesn't actually change much with a 4.5 degree arc swing. The price is stellar for the quality and it's backed up by a satisfaction guarantee that lasts forever.

Proto J5252F 3/8" Drive Standard Length Round Head Ratchet

This Proto ratchet contains 72 tooth gears, which is plenty to provide smooth action and a small effective range of only five degrees. The thick handle balances the fairly low profile head quite well and is knurled for a solid grip. The direction is changed with a twist knob that's easy to operate but I would prefer a flip switch to make it easier to change and more visually obvious at a glance. The price is just right and it's backed by a solid quality guarantee meaning  you'll likely never have to buy a replacement.

Snap-on 3/8" Ratchet, Sealed Head, Dual 80 Technology

On the higher end of the price scale we have Snap-on. This 80 tooth ratchet offers stellar smoothness and absolutely solid action with minimal movement. There is no wiggle in the mechanics and it's all backed by a great guarantee and stellar replacement service. On the off chance that something does go awry, Snap-On offers amazing support for their ratchets and will rebuild the internal mechanisms for you at no cost. The price tag counts for something when you'll be using the same quality tool for decades.

SK 18 Piece 3/8" Drive 6 Point Standard and Deep Fractional Socket Set

A name not often spoken of outside of professional shops, SK Hand Tools makes some of the best tools I’ve ever seen. While far from cheap, they are of exceptional quality, are a bargain in this classification of hand tools and earn their price by guaranteeing a lifetime of smooth operation. The ratchet is beautiful and heavy without being a burden to use. The action is clean and there is almost no give when setting the teeth.

The removable gear assembly makes it easy to service and maintain, so you won't lose your ratchet to a little dirt in the gears. The sockets have everything I want with relieved corners to reduce wear, high quality materials and a good range of sizes. I wish the ratchet was just a bit longer, but the thick handle adds weight and leverage while allowing for work in tighter areas.

Snap On General Service 6-Point Socket Set

Snap On General Service 6-Point Socket Set

Snap-On is considered to be the standard in professional hand tools by many of the top craftsmen in the world. If you have the money to spend, buy this ratchet set and be confident that you have one of the best on the market. The feel of this ratchet in the hand tells you that it's a quality tool and the weight of it is often enough to loosen a fastener with little effort on your part.

The action is exceptionally smooth and operates in a surprisingly limited range. The sealed head design keeps the gears clean, but makes cleaning a little more difficult on the rare occasion that it's necessary. My only real complaints are the smooth handle and the price. I like a bit of texture on my ratchets to aid my grip and a little crosshatching or knurling would be nice.

Kobalt 63-Piece Standard (SAE) and Metric Combination Mechanic's Tool Set

Kobalt is the Lowe's line of tools and they are of surprisingly high quality while keeping prices affordable. This set fits all of my criteria for a good socket set and it's around $30 although I would be happy to pay twice as much and feel fully satisfied. If you're looking for a versatile, general duty set with very smooth action that won't break the bank then this is the one. On top of the quality tools there is a bonus in the form of great customer service; if you ever have a problem Lowe's makes up for it and then some.

Blue-Point General Service Set inches/mm, 3/8" Drive, 49 pcs

Blue-Point General Service Set inches/mm, 3/8" Drive, 49 pcs

This is a ratchet set with absolutely no extraneous parts. You get only the tools you want and the quality you'd expect from Blue-Point. The action of the ratchet is plenty smooth for my tastes while it's heavy and comfortable in the hand. I prefer 6 point sockets but the 12 point sockets are of good quality and design for years of service. The carrying case is compact, durable and efficiently designed to fit a lot into a small space. Additionally, this kit easily slips under a car seat for on the road work.

Bahco S380 Socket Set 38 Piece 3/8In Drive

I've only recently found out about Bahco tools and I'm sad that I haven't known them for longer. The quality seems to be on par with some of the most expensive brands on the market while the price isn't quite as high. Let's not pull punches here, this is still an expensive ratchet set but the ratchet itself is amazingly well built with smooth action, a sealed head design for longer life and a comfortable grip. The sockets are heavy, well designed and prominently marked for easy choosing the right one on the fly. The few extras included in this kit are actually useful and sturdy. Honestly, I think this kit is well worth the price.

Ingersoll Rand (IRTR3130K1) 20 Volt 3/8" Drive Cordless Ratchet

This is a solid tool from Ingersoll Rand with good battery life, plentiful power and great durability. Where lesser electric ratchets will sometimes use cheap plastics to reduce the cost and weight, Ingersoll Rand doesn't skimp. The handle is constructed with high strength, composite plastics and metal to increase strength and guard against the inevitable drops and sudden impacts that come with moving frozen fasteners.

One thing I really love about this tool is the placement of the battery. Most electric tools have a bulky battery stuck on the end like the head of the mace but the battery for this electric ratchet is oriented inline with the handle. It keeps the shape slim, balanced and easy to manage even if it looks a bit odd at first glance.

Milwaukee 2457-21 M12 Cordless 3/8" Lithium-Ion Ratchet Kit

All factors considered, this is one of the most well rounded electric ratchets I've found. It has countless fans and for good reason. This Milwaukee electric ratchet delivers a decent amount of torque at 35 ft-lbs of torque and is built very well with a reinforced steel housing, but I think it could be a little more powerful for the price. The shape fits the hand nicely and this tool is smaller than I thought it was going to be, which makes this a great ratchet for cramped spaces.

Durofix RW2001 Li-ion 18V 3/8" Ratchet Wrench

Durofix RW2001 Li-ion 18V 3/8" Ratchet Wrench

This tool is an absolute beast with 70 ft-lbs of torque and will deliver enough power for any job I've had come through my shop. The tool is well balanced and comfortable in the hand, which really matters when handling so much power. An internal, electronic clutch works great to keep the torque in the socket rather than in your wrist. The LCD display shows the torque stage of the clutch and battery status for more efficient work while the batteries charge in 20 minutes and have impressive life, so downtime isn’t a problem. This is a top notch tool and you'll be paying for it but te only problem I have with this ratchet is the prohibitively expensive price tag.

Blue Point 14.4V Cordless Ratchet

Blue Point 14.4V Cordless Ratchet

If you don't know Blue Point, this line of tools is the cousin to Snap-On, manufactured in China, using good quality steel, and more reasonably priced. 35 ft-lbs of torque making this tool strong enough for most jobs; however, size and price are a bit high for that level of power. This ratchet isn’t my first choice due to the fact that it's gigantic and a bit bulky but the quality is there as it's still well balanced for the size thanks to a low trigger placement. While the function is top notch. I'm not joking when I say that this ratchet is huge and I would pass on this one if you're working in tight spaces.

Snap On Cordless Micro Lithium Ratchet,14.4V 2.0aH, 3/8" Drive

Snap On Cordless Micro Lithium Ratchet,14.4V 2.0aH, 3/8" Drive

The quality of this electric ratchet is obvious from first contact. It feels light and comfortable in the hand without any hints of flimsiness. This is what I would consider a light duty electric ratchet at 30 ft-lbs of torque, which is still plenty for the vast majority of jobs but it's not going to be able to do everything. The action of this ratchet is amazingly smooth and fast while being surprisingly quiet but sadly I don’t think the price is reasonable for the amount of power this tool can deliver. If you value smoothness of operation over power then this may be the right choice for you.

Paul Joseph Morin
I grew up breathing sawdust and dirt. Now I'm back in the shop after an overly long break. This time I remembered my respirator. I have my father to thank for setting me on the path of the DIY guru and he didn't waste a day that could be spent with a trowel or hammer in hand. Now I use these skills to grow my own vegetables and fruit, craft wooden toys and tools, and keep my home running smoothly.
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