Adam holds a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Linguistics, and creative writing has always been his greatest passion. For more than 25 years he's been working for several well-known automobile and travel magazines as an editor and expert consultant, but when Adam started his writing path here, at WisePick, it turned out that he's capable of writing practically anything about everything.
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Last updated: June 05, 2021
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Mechanics and DIYers find themselves working on bolts very often– after all, they hold together the vast majority of car engines and other metal structures. But using a traditional ratchet takes too much time and sometimes is really challenging. Therefore, having one of the best air ratchet wrenches at hand is critical, since they can vastly improve the efficiency of mechanical projects and save a huge amount of time. A high-quality air ratchet wrench saves energy, making every project safer and more enjoyable, and is much more powerful than any electric ratchet, not to mention traditional wrenches.
There is a wide variety of air ratchets on the market. So for someone new to air ratchets, how do you sort through the noise to find the air ratchet wrench that fits your needs? We reviewed tens of popular air ratchets, digging through technical specifications and customer feedback, to simplify the choice for you. In the end, we came up with six air ratchet wrenches that we think stand apart from the rest of the market and will be the perfect addition to your next project.
The table below highlights our six picks and summarizes what we liked best about them. For more information on each ratchet, keep reading – we’ve used customer feedback and our own experience to describe each ratchet, highlighting the pros and cons. Once you’re familiar with our favorites, the buying guide offers more information about air ratchet wrenches in general and the features that differentiate them in order to help you choose the ratchet that’s right for your needs.
Ingersoll Rand is a well-respected brand in the world of ratchets, and this 3/8” drive air ratchet is no exception to their quality. Delivering 70 foot-pounds of torque at 300 RPM, this air ratchet offers one of the best combinations of speed and power on the market today. Better yet, users report that the ratchet can consistently deliver the 70 foot-pounds of torque for which it is rated.
The exhaust is adjustable in 360 degrees, which is a nice feature for being able to work without air blowing at you. Plus, the head is designed with durability in mind and comes with a one-year warranty. While not especially quiet, this ratchet is also not especially loud.
The downsides to this ratchet primarily apply if you are working in confined spaces. The ratchet uses a power cord rather than batteries, so you’ll need to keep the cord out of the way while working. At 12 inches and more than 3 pounds, it also is relatively long and heavy compared to other 3/8” drive ratchets.
Although this ratchet from Aircat is one of the less expensive ratchets in our round-up, customers are quick to note that the price does not reflect the quality of this tool. Users find that the 70 foot-pounds of torque is more than enough for most standard bolts, and the 280 RPM is competitive with ratchets that cost more than twice as much. The length and weight of the ratchet are not the lowest among ratchets we reviewed, but the tool is nevertheless small enough to work in most car engines or similarly compact spaces. In addition, the handle is designed to be ergonomic, and users found that the torque can be adjusted by squeezing the trigger more or less.
What really sets this tool apart, though, is how quiet it is. At 82 dB at full power, this ratchet is one of the quietest available. Experienced mechanics cannot overstate how welcome the reduced noise is, and many say that they will use this ratchet for any job that it is capable of handling simply for that reason.
Our budget pick, this tool from Ingersoll Rand is perfect for those who want an air ratchet to increase their productivity but don’t want to spend a fortune. The 55 foot-pounds of torque applied at 170 RPM is perfect for quickly working bolts on or off. Plus, the short length and light weight mean that this tool is easy to get in and out of tight spaces like a car motor and won’t tire out your arm from a full day of use.
One of the best qualities of this ratchet is its durability. Since it comes with Ingersoll Rand’s treated ratchet head, many users find that the ratchet will last years of day-in and day-out use. The handle is ergonomic and the trigger easy to use, so customers have no problem using this tool for everything it can handle.
The only downside to this ratchet is that it is somewhat loud, especially when compared to the tool from Aircat for only a slight increase in price.
If you’re looking for speed and maneuverability above all else, this air ratchet from SP Air takes those features to a level not matched by other ratchets. At 500 RPM, this ratchet is significantly faster than all of the other tools we reviewed. When long screws are frequent in your project, that extra speed can lead to huge cumulative time savings.
In terms of maneuverability, it’s hard to get any smaller and lighter than this ratchet. At just over half a foot long and weighing almost a pound less than its competitors, this ratchet is perfect for getting to bolts that no other air ratchet would be able to reach. The ratchet is also relatively quiet, which is a huge plus for working in these confined spaces where sound can echo out of control.
The disadvantage to this ratchet was that customers repeatedly found that it could not put out the rated 50 foot-pounds of torque. As a result, the ratchet is much more suited for lightweight jobs or turning already unstuck bolts than for starting or finishing moderately heavy bolts.
What are our favorite features?
High RPM saves time
Extremely small for use in compact spaces
What could be better?
Cannot put out the 50 foot-pounds max torque for which it is rated
A 1/4” air ratchet is perfect for working on smaller bolts in compact workspaces, and this ratchet from Ingersoll Rand achieves those goals perfectly. The short length and light weight allow it to get into car engines and other tight spaces with ease, while the tool is also able to deliver 25 foot-pounds of torque for effective tightening and loosening of small bolts. The 250 RPM speed is comparable with other ratchets of this drive size and is more than enough to receive the boost in efficiency this tool promises. Plus, the ratchet is relatively quiet, which makes it ideal to use this for small jobs in conjunction with a larger and louder 3/8” air ratchet.
Because the tool is from Ingersoll Rand, it comes with the quality that company is known for and is highly durable. The all metal body can take a beating, and the one-year warranty covers any rare manufacturing issues.
The little brother of the 105-L2 from Ingersoll Rand, reviewed above, this ratchet is perfect to keep in your pocket for small jobs. Although it offers the same nominal torque and RPM as the longer version, the effective torque on bolts is significantly lower – therefore, this tool is primarily useful for screwing bolts on and off of long screws to save time. The short length and low profile help to achieve this purpose in compact spaces, and the ratchet is relatively quiet. The all metal body and metal head are highly durable, so for a low price, this ratchet is a great accessory tool to increase productivity.
What stands out?
Low profile and short body
What cons did we manage to find?
Low torque makes it primarily useful for screwing bolts on and off long screws
Things to Consider
Now that we’ve introduced our six favorite air ratchets on the market today, it’s important to understand the specific features of air ratchets that differentiate the good from the bad and what features are important for your intended uses. The Buying Guide will cover the basics of air ratchets, as well as introduce important features to watch for when choosing a ratchet.
How air ratchet wrenches work
Air ratchets derive power by utilizing the pressure difference between compressed air entering the ratchet and the atmosphere outside the ratchet. As the pressure difference forces compressed air to try to exit the ratchet, it spins a built-in turbine – similar to how a windmill works – to create torque. The one-way action of the ratchet is created by a set of gears with directional teeth inside the casing, which catch a set of gears attached to the turbine only when they are moving in the desired direction.
Benefits of using an air ratchet wrench
The primary reason to use an air ratchet wrench in your work is that it drastically improves efficiency and productivity anytime there are bolts involved. Air wrenches also offer the advantages that they are typically smaller and more powerful than conventional power tools, and so are perfect for confined workspaces. Because there are fewer moving parts than traditional power tools, air ratchets also tend to be more durable and experience fewer mechanical issues.
Air ratchets come in different sizes, known as drives, and the drive you need will depend on the project you are working on. Typically, air ratchets are found in 1/4”, 3/8”, and 1/2” drive sizes. The smaller drives are more compact, so they are ideal for work on hard to reach bolts such as inside a car or other confined workspace. However, the larger drives provide more torque – although most mechanics find that the 1/2” drive ratchet is only necessary for industrial work.
Torque and Speed
Torque and speed are the specifications that matter most in determining what size bolts an air ratchet can handle. Higher torque ratchets can typically unstick and ratchet on larger bolts, although it is important to determine whether the ratchet can maintain the maximum torque for which it is rated. Speed, in RPM, measures the rate at which the ratchet head spins. Most ratchets are adjustable in speed up to their maximum by placing less pressure on the air trigger. Faster ratchets can lead to large cumulative time savings when working with long screws, but for short screws, significant differences in RPM may not be as important.
Length and Weight
The length and weight of a ratchet are also important to consider, since they directly affect its usability. The shorter the ratchet, the easier it will be to use in a compact workspace like a car engine. However, this also depends on the profile of the ratchet head relative to the space around the bolt. Shorter ratchets can also be less comfortable to hold for long periods, as can heavier air ratchets, since balancing several pounds in your hand can become tiring over a long workday.
Air ratchets can be built out of a number of different materials, which directly affects their comfort to hold and durability. Typically, the best air ratchets will have a metal head and mostly metal body, with a soft anti-slip rubber covering on the handle for ergonomic comfort. Cheaper ratchets can have plastic bodies, which are often not durable, or full metal bodies, which are less comfortable to hold but extremely durable. Consider how frequently you will be using the ratchet when determining how important durability and hand comfort are to you.
A secondary consideration when choosing an air ratchet is how much noise the ratchet produces when engaged. Some ratchets are designed to be relatively quiet, producing about the same amount of sound as a power drill, whereas others can be loud enough to warrant ear protection. Especially consider noise if you plan to work in an otherwise quiet area, for example in your home at night.
Although most air ratchets are designed with durability in mind, having a good manufacturer’s warranty is always important for a new purchase. Most air ratchets come with a one-year limited warranty, but some manufacturers offer longer warranties up to five years in length. Also consider the company’s past record of customer service, since this directly impacts how likely they are to honor the intention of the warranty rather than its exact wording.
A good air ratchet wrench that fits the projects you most often encounter can lead to huge time savings and a more productive work setting all around. While the market is filled with air ratchets, these six stand out from the crowd for their innovative features, usability, and price. Plus, thanks to our Buying Guide, you’ll know exactly what features to look for in determining which air ratchet is best for your next project.