The 10 Best Ratchet Sets
10. Stalwart 75-HT3014
9. Sunex 9726
8. SK 91848
7. Bostitch BTMT72287
6. Craftsman 009-38108
5. EPAuto 40-piece
4. Tekton 13101
3. Stanley 92-839
2. Crescent CTK170CMP2
1. DeWalt DWMT73803
What Exactly Is A Ratchet Set?
Whether you’re working under the hood of a car or under your kitchen cabinet, it’s likely that you’ll have a ratchet set by your side. The term ratchet set is actually something of a misnomer, however, because this term usually refers to what you would more properly call a set of ratcheting socket wrenches.
In fact, the word ratchet by itself describes any device employing the system of teeth that allows for uni-directional motion. A ratchet can be added to several types of common tools, including screwdrivers and regular wrenches. There are also ratcheting models of tools the home repairperson or garage mechanic may not ever need, such as pipe cutters and wire crimpers. Despite there being plenty of ratcheting tools, the ratcheting socket wrench is probably the most widely used and familiar, so it’s come to be known simply as a ratchet.
So, how does a ratcheting socket wrench work? Essentially, this tool has two crucial pieces that work together: the handle, which contains the ratchet, and the socket. Once you place the socket over the fastener, you turn the handle clockwise to tighten it. Thanks to the ratcheting mechanism, swinging the handle back prepares it to tighten again, so you won’t need to pick up the wrench and reposition it, as would be necessary with a regular model. Loosening a fastener is possible, too, thanks to a switch on the handle that changes the direction.
If you consider that you don’t have to reposition this type of wrench constantly, you might see why ratchet sets are so handy. A ratchet is also excellent for jobs that require tightening or loosening a fastener that’s in a tight spot because they make the work go much more quickly and easily. And since the socket fits entirely over the fastener, it’s less likely to slip, as can happen with a regular wrench.
Variations Of Note
There’s no shortage of ratchet sets for you to choose from, since manufacturers from small to large produce an impressive variety of these tools. As you might imagine, the biggest difference you’ll find relates to dimensions, which includes the size of the ratchet handle and sockets, as well as the number of pieces in a set. All sockets won’t fit on all ratchet handles, since the latter come in different sizes, referred to as the drive size. The most common drive sizes are 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, 1/2-inch, and 3/4-inch.
Sockets are measured in both metric and standard sizes, which correspond to the size of the fastener over which the socket will fit. You’ll find a wide range of these for each drive size. If you need a wrench often, a set with many sizes would probably be your best bet. You’ll also see that sockets have different interior shapes; the most common are six-point and the 12-point. A six-point interior requires that the fastener be the correct size for the socket, whereas a 12-point, since it’s more round inside, leaves a little wiggle room. It’s easier for less experienced users to choose the wrong 12-point and accidentally strip a fastener head, so many experts recommend starting with a 6-point set.
Sockets also vary in their length; they can be shallow or deep. The former, also called low-profile, fit in tighter spaces, but they aren’t useful in some instances. For example, if a nut is substantially lower than the top of the bolt, then a shallow socket won’t be able to reach it. For this reason, you may want to select a ratchet set that does have at least a few deep sockets.
Beyond size, there are a couple of features to look out for that make a higher-quality ratchet set. The first of these is the materials from which it’s made. Thanks to its toughness, chrome vanadium steel is a common choice. Next is the durability of the case. It’s not uncommon to accidentally drop a tool on the case or even drop the whole thing on the floor, so you’ll probably want a case that can withstand some abuse. Finally, look for sets that have the size stamped on each socket to make both selection and cleanup much faster.
A Brief History Of The Ratchet Set
The invention of the wrench is attributed to Solymon Merrick, who received a patent for this tool in 1835. It’s probable, however, that this type of tool existed long before Merrick applied for a patent, especially since the idea behind the wrench is remarkably simple. The next large development occurred in 1863, when J.J. Richardson received a patent for a ratcheting socket wrench that would make using these tools in tight spots more convenient. Then, in 1913, Robert Owen Jr. received a patent for "new and useful improvements” to ratchets.
The story of the ratchet truly becomes interesting, though, in 1964, when 18-year-old Peter Roberts invented the quick-release ratchet. Then an employee of Sears, Roberts sold the company the rights to the patent for $10,000. Sears had informed Roberts that their research wasn’t promising; it suggested that the invention would not be profitable or in demand. Unbeknownst to Roberts, however, the company was planning to manufacture a large quantity in expectation of successful sales. The company’s lawyer also belittled the originality and usefulness of the invention to Roberts.
When Roberts later learned that the wrench had sold over 500,000 units in the first nine months, and that Sears was marketing the device as a breakthrough, he was (probably rightfully) upset. Thus, in 1969, a long legal battle began that eventually worked its way all the way up to the Supreme Court. Despite many judges weighing in, many verdicts, and many appeals, no final decision could be reached. Finally, 20 years later, in 1989, just at the start of yet another new trial, Sears settled with Roberts for an amount rumored to exceed $8 million.