The 10 Best Breaker Bars
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in June of 2016. Have you ever found yourself struggling to loosen stubborn bolts on a rusted suspension only for the ratchet drive nut to shear off? Next time, try using one of these breaker bars, and you might be able to avoid ruining your tools or banging your knuckles. They are specifically designed to provide enough torque and leverage to remove even the toughest lugs and screws. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
May 20, 2021:
We no longer recommend the SK 41654 because it's not readily available, while there are several high-quality 24-inch models that remain easy to get your hands on, notably the Neiko 00206A. We also upgraded to the Craftsman 99274 from its 1/2-inch relative. Overall, the JH Williams H-41AA is still our top selection because its premium build quality stands out in a field of necessarily durable tools. It is pretty pricey, though, and models like the Tekton 15356 and Capri Tools 40120 can definitely get you by if you don't need to use them frequently, although keep in mind that less expensive options tend to have less resilient finishes, so you'll need to take just slightly better care to keep them in tip-top shape.
February 06, 2020:
While many use long ratchets like the Ampro T29772 as a breaker bar, it is not the case that this is safe practice. Ratchets are made primarily to allow quick tightening and loosening action that is carried out by a gear and pawl mechanism. Often, these components have fine gear teeth that can break off when subjected to high torque. Breaker bars have a much more robust mechanism for applying high torque and are therefore much likelier to survive rust-welded fasteners.
The JH Williams H-41AA is an excellent example of a tool built to allow both multiple angle access to bolts and withstand as much rotational force as any human can apply by hand. Note that it is an important detail that these tools are designed with the amount of torque a person can produce in mind. Adding a cheater pipe on the end of any of these tools allows you to produce even more torque via greater leverage but it may also surpass the torque rating. If the breaker bar you are using is not providing enough leverage, it is best to use a longer breaker bar than added a pipe to the end.
Working on cars can be dangerous and should be left to automotive technicians to avoid personal injury or damage to equipment.
With A Long Enough Lever...
Take the distance from load to center, divide by the distance from point-of-force to center, and flip that over.
If anyone deserves to be held in high renown for thousands of years due to intellectual prowess, it's the scientist from Syracuse known as Archimedes. He pioneered the screw (for pump use, rather than fastening), predicted the development of calculus, first explored the concepts of exponents and logarithms, and even built defensive war machines in an attempt to protect his home city from sacking. Another of the peerless researcher's most important contributions was his in-depth examination of conic sections, the bane of high school geometry students everywhere.
To do all of this, he broke down machines into simpler components, recombined them in novel configurations, and used his logic and creativity to think in ways that no-one had ever thought before. Archimedes was so fond of cylinders and spheres, in fact, that he requested that one of each be placed over his tomb in memory of his achievements.
The Law of the Lever is probably Archimedes' most famous actual theorem, and it's as important as is it simple. Take the distance from load to center, divide by the distance from point-of-force to center, and flip that over. That final figure equals the percentage of force applied to the load, as compared to the downward-applied force at the opposite end. In other words, if a three-pound weight rests on the left end of a four-foot beam, and with a fulcrum one foot to the right of it, you'll need one pound of pressure on the beam's right end to lift the load. Trust us, when laid out in equation form, it's an elegantly simple proof.
This simple math lends itself quite well to working with powerful, heavy equipment using tools like the breaker bar. Cars, houses, and industrial equipment are all great and important, and they were all built with the help of sophisticated tools, very often powered by electricity or compressed air. So, it is no surprise whatsoever that every now and then, we happen upon a bolt or nut that just will not give. If Archimedes was alive today, he might modify his famous (though apocryphal) saying; perhaps, with a long enough lever — rather than move the Earth — he could finally remove that rusted bolt from the frame of his 1987 Toyota Camry.
The Forces Between Us
Metal certainly seems sturdy and firm when held in the hand, but given time, heat, and certain chemicals, that can change, which is when you'll need a breaker bar. A car frame's number one enemy is rust. Also known as the slow fire, this oxidation process is notorious not only for weakening structures, but also fixing them permanently in place. Depending on the type of alloy you're working with, oxidative corrosion comes in a decent range of pretty colors, including frosty white and bright turquoise, and none of them are a welcome sight to a mechanic.
Nature isn't the only thing that puts the screws to steel bolts, though; if the last person to rotate the tires didn't use a torque wrench, removing the lug nuts might make you feel a bit like Archimedes trying to move the entire globe with just a ratchet. Over-tightening leads to microfractures that open the metal up to the aforementioned devil of oxidation. Extremely tight nuts can even undergo friction-welding similar to the galling process used to cold-weld heavy pipes. As you can probably imagine, a cold-welded bolt is pretty tough to extract.
Luckily, there's a way to apply superhuman pressure to simple human-made devices, without the aid of electrical appliances or powerful air compressors. The breaker bar is firmly rooted in Archimedes' lever, and allows the average mechanic to multiply the force of his arm many times.
I Want To Break Free
When faced with a stuck fastener, there are often a few options, but not always. Of course, if you can fit an impact hammer in there, that could be the way to go. On the other hand, heavily corroded hardware may shear under the sudden strikes of a rotary hammer or similar tool. Penetrating grease or naval jelly can both penetrate certain types of corrosion, possibly helping to separate components fused through oxidation; with solvents, though, there's a risk of damaging polymer-based parts like certain boots and seals. Extractor sockets are built in extra-sharp, high-hardness, reverse-threaded designs, and are meant to tightly grip rounded-off fastener heads. And if the longest lever around still won't work, you can always drill the offending bolt out of its corroded tomb and re-tap the hole. Save this for your last resort, however, as permanent damage can cause problems down the road.
To the untrained eye they may look the part, but if you try to free a frozen bolt with one, it's almost certain to end up in the scrap heap.
Most breaker bars are made of a stainless-steel alloy and have a 1/2-inch head with a spring-loaded ball-bearing stop. Whenever you use it, briefly inspect the hinge to make sure it's in good shape. You won't find many additional features on a breaker bar, because that just means more parts that could potentially break. And frankly, a good hand tool like this should come with a lifetime warranty. For that matter, the country a tool was made in isn't even especially relevant these days; what matters is whether it was made with quality materials in a plant with good standards and quality control.
So, before you go about liberating any rusty nuts, make sure you're not doing with a ratchet or torque wrench. To the untrained eye they may look the part, but if you try to free a frozen bolt with one, it's almost certain to end up in the scrap heap. It's also important to choose the right socket set. Dedicated craftsmen will tell you that the most useful attachments for your breaker bar will be half-inch, pneumatic impact hammer bits, and they're right. You'll recognize them by their flat-black finish and increased weight. And no matter your preferred field of handy work, it's worth it to have at least one good breaker bar. Talented builders, craftsmen, and mechanics have known for ages that you should always take advantage of mechanical advantage.