Tips on Buying and Maintaining Your Next Ratchet

Ratchets are one of the most demanded tools in your equipment maintenance toolbox. In today’s market you will find in a variety of lengths and designs all created to help complete repairs quickly and efficiently. If you are wondering what to look for in your next ratchet, read on.

Six Things to Consider When Buying A Ratchet

  1. Head Shape. Ratchets are available in different sizes and shapes such as flex head, slim head and go-through head, just to name a few. The two most common designs are the round head or pear-shaped (or teardrop). Choosing one design over the other is a matter of personal preference, as either will deliver years of reliable service. Ratchets come in an array of drive sizes, the most popular being ¼ in., ⅜ in. and ½ in.
  2. Intended Application. Before buying your next ratchet, it is important to consider what the likely applications will be. Once determined, decide whether you need a stubby ratchet, long reach ratchet, or flex-head ratchet for getting into tight areas such as on the newer, smaller, compact automobiles.
  3. Number of Teeth. The larger the tooth count the smaller the arc required to turn the ratchet. This is ideal when removing fasteners in confined spaces. Consequently, these types of ratchets generally have lower maximum torque output. Therefore, choose a ratchet with fewer teeth if high torque is the primary need. If fine-tuning and confined space work is the priority, choose a model with 72 or more teeth. Choosing the right model is key to preventing personal injury or damage to the ratchet.
  4. Material. With today’s advances in forging, metallurgy, machining and heat treatment, ratchets are available in a variety of materials. Examples include carbon steel, S2 steel, lightweight composite or titanium, non-sparking metal alloys and even insulated for working in precision of live electricity.
  5. Handle shape and size. Do you prefer comfort grip or all steel? All steel is most durable but can be slippery in some applications. Multi-material grip handles may help reduce slippage but are less durable in the presence of solvents and oils.
  6. Release mechanism. Do you need a quick release button? A quick release button is the easiest way to remove sockets and attachments especially when hands are slippery or greasy. The downside is quick release design ratchets will allow more damaging debris and dirt to enter ratcheting mechanism compared to a fully closed back model.

Ratchet Maintenance Steps

Proper serviceability and maintenance are key to getting the most out of your new ratchet. A quality hand tool brand will have spare parts and be willing to service a ratchet years after initial purchase. Additionally, quality brands will back their ratchets will a lifetime warranty.

The ratchet is likely the most neglected tool in any toolbox. It is put to the test daily, but seldom taken apart to be cleaned and lubricated. Below are some tips on maintaining your next ratchet for years of reliable service:

  1. Take it apart as soon as you sense a problem or do not hear a clean smooth ratcheting sound. On pear-shaped models, you will usually find two screws or a snap ring holding in place a back plate.
  2. Inspect the pawl and gear to see if they are in good condition. 95 percent of damaged ratchets have been over torqued, causing the gears to strip but not break. You will notice this as a shearing of the gears; otherwise, you will find pieces of the ratchets in the head.
  3. Once the head has been removed, take out the gear and clean it thoroughly with a degreasing product. Spray the head with the degreaser and switch the reverse lever back and forth to remove the dirt from between the housing and the pawl.
  4. When all the dirt has been removed, replace the gear and lubricate with good oil, NOT WD40 or other degreasing product. These products clean but to do lubricate properly. Simply use a little oil. Do not use grease, as it will attract dirt that builds up and turns into a grinding compound, wearing the ratchet out prematurely.
  5. Replace the back plate, and you will find the ratchet back to new condition.
  6. With the round head ratchets, there is a ring on the moveable ratchet mechanism that must be removed. Inspect the gears that are part of the main ratchet head. Clean all debris from the gears with a cleaning brush and solvent. Inspect the moveable gear (pawl). It has a pawl mechanism built into the moveable part. Clean it and inspect the teeth making sure the teeth are not damaged. Follow the same steps as above lubricating the ratchet.
  7. To ensure maximum performance and reliability, preform the above maintenance steps at least once per year.

Ratchets are essential to getting a job done quickly and properly. When using any ratchet choose the right size. Don’t try to use a ⅜-in. drive ratchet to do the job of a ½-in. model. That means using the largest ratchet whenever possible.

In summary, carefully determine your needs before buying, implement an annual maintenance and inspection routine, and consider long-term serviceability. As the workhorse in a toolbox, consider your next ratchet purchase an investment — one that if chosen properly should last a lifetime. A cheaply priced ratchet may cost less upfront but could prove much more costly if it damages a work piece, fails and cannot be serviced, or even causes personal injury.

Happy ratcheting.

Paul Dean is the VP of Operations at Gray Tools. He has over 30 years of manufacturing and operations experience, helping thousands of professionals build and maintain their Gray and Dynamic tool collections for years of reliable use.