Wrench vs. Ratchet

The terms “ratchet” and “wrench” are often used interchangeably, but they’re not necessarily the same. What are they, and what do we use them for?

Difference Between a Wrench and a Ratchet

Ratchet vs Wrench
A ratchet is appropriately called a ratchet wrench. As part of the wrench family, it is used to tighten and loosen fasteners. Ratchets are distinguished from other wrenches since their handles can be repositioned without letting go of the fastener – something traditional wrenches can’t do.

What is a Ratchet?

The ratchet is the pivoting handle attached to a socket wrench, torque wrench, or other types of wrenches. It only allows movement in one direction.

How to attach a ratchet

Here’s how: it attaches to the wrench “head” – the portion that attaches to the fastener to loosen or tighten it. This handle generally has gears that allow you to turn the fastener in one direction with force applied on the fastener. When reverse the handle back towards its original position, the hear slips without affecting the fastener – similar to a bicycle’s gears.

In short, it allows you to tighten or loosen fasteners without removing the wrench’s head from the fastener, saving time and effort. This is incredibly convenient in tight spaces that don’t allow much room to maneuver a traditional wrench. Tools such as scaffolding ratchets not only saves time, but also cause less fatigue to your arms.

When you want to switch between loosening and fastening action, flip the directional dial on the ratchet handle – this reverses the directional restriction.
How to flip the ratchet direction
One ratchet handle usually accompanies an entire socket set and can be interchangeably used with all these sockets. Ratchets come in various sizes, designated by the handle length, and have a square nub at one end that fits into the relevant sockets.

The most common type of ratchet wrench is the socket ratchet, but there are various other types of ratchet wrenches. Some have a ratchet inside the socket head, some have an open-end head attached to a ratchet (these have a limited range of motion). Most ratchet types are geared, but some are gearless.

Power Ratchets

These are power tools that work on similar working principle of a manual ratchet expect that they are driven by power, usually battery. Cordless ratchets are commonly used in automobile industry to remove fasteners at hard to reach spots.

Socket Wrench vs. Ratchet

What is a Socket Wrench?

Wrenches can attach to fasteners in various ways. The traditional wrench has one open end, allowing it to slide onto the fastener from the side. This type of wrench slips off the fastener easily, especially when it’s in a tricky, hard-to-reach position. Socket wrenches have a socket that encloses the fastener on all sides, and it slides onto the fastener from the top. This wrench doesn’t slip as easily since it holds the fastener securely on all sides, fitting snugly.
A common example of socket wrench is the 6-point or 12-point box wrenches.

Regular Socket Wrench vs Ratchet
The main difference here is that, the handle of a regular socket wrench doesn’t have the ratcheting mechanism. However, you can get socket wrench set with a ratchet handle.

There are various types of sockets available, and most can be attached to a ratchet. These include SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), standardized according to the American measurement system, and Metric sockets (according to the metric system). You also get Torx bit sockets for Torx screws and impact sockets used with impact wrenches. There are also driver sockets, specifically meant for use with the ratchet handle and spark plug sockets.

When to Use a Socket Wrench

Socket wrenches are ideal for applications where fasteners must be secured tightly, requiring quite a bit of force. The downside of using non-ratchet socket wrenches is that you must remove the socket from the fastener to reposition the handle. This wastes time and is difficult (or nearly impossible) when working in tight spaces.

Torque Wrench vs. Ratchet

What is a Torque Wrench?

A torque wrench is maybe equipped with a ratchet since this is a necessary component when controlling torque. These wrenches have a dial (usually digital) indicating the amount of torque applied to a fastener. There is also click type torque wrenches, where it slips when the set torque is achieved.

A click-type torque wrench

Torque wrenches come in various shapes and sizes and can even be socket wrenches equipped with a torque dial.

What is the Difference Between a Ratchet vs Torque Wrench?

A ratchet allows you to apply rotational force on a nut or bolt in one direction and rotate it back without exerting force on the fastener. But the ratchet has no torque control. Whereas, with a torque wrench you can apply force precisely with its ability to set torque.

When to Use a Torque Wrench?

Torque wrenches are ideal for applications requiring tight control of the torque applied to fasteners. This scenario is often found in assembly lines. Applying too little torque would cause the part to loosen and potentially fall off or cause some other damage. Conversely, applying too much torque could create unnecessary stress and strain in the part, causing damage.

Torque wrenches are commonly used in heavy-duty applications, like manufacturing or servicing overhead cranes. High precision fastening, as with medical devices or electronics, also often require torque wrenches. Lastly, attaching rotating parts, such as the lug nuts in your car’s brake system requires torque wrenches. This ensures even force distribution, preventing unnecessary damage and uneven wear on the parts.


Socket wrenches are the most common type of wrench used with a ratchet handle. These allow for fast work in tight spaces since the ratchet only restricts the fastener’s movement to one direction. This allows you to reposition the wrench’s handle without removing the socket from the fastener, saving time and effort.

Torque wrenches allow precise control of the amount of torque applied to a fastener. This is crucial in high-precision and assembly-line work, where the proper functioning of the finished product may depend on it.