Wrenches come in many different sizes and a variety of form factors with different functionalities. In fact, even an experienced tradesman wedged into a tight space with one hand holding a fastener and the other hand stretched out for a tool may ask his assistant for “the wrench with the thing” rather than a “ratchet wrench with a quarter inch driver and a half-inch socket.” The tradesman in this scenario may have to follow up by asking for “the other wrench with the other thing” multiple times.
The truth is that while most of us are familiar with wrenches and use them frequently, fewer people really understand their exact technical specifications. And when you’re ordering tools for the assembly line or maintenance room assuming that because a wrench has a ratchet it must be a socket wrench, that can lead to trouble. Clearly understanding the differences between torque wrenches vs. ratchets will allow you to choose the best for your business.
Defining Torque Wrenches vs. Ratchets
A ratchet is a mechanical device that only allows movement in one direction. When it is equipped onto a wrench, it allows the user to set two turning directions: one where the wrench head is fixed and one where it spins freely. This allows operators to turn the fastener without needing to be able to turn the wrench in a full circle or to turn it for only a few degrees before lifting the wrench off and resetting it. Wrenches with ratchet heads considerably speed up fastening, and most people are familiar with them in the form of socket wrenches. In fact, many may assume that a ratchet wrench is automatically a socket wrench. However, other forms do exist, and you can find combination wrenches with ratchets on the box head of the wrench and even a few wrenches with ratcheting open end heads with a limited range of motion.
Comparing torque wrenches vs. ratchets can be a challenge because their mechanisms deal with two different areas. If too little torque is applied, then the fastener will come loose; too much and the fastener or components can become damaged. Wrenches that indicate and control torque are equipped with ratchets. Torque wrenches with ratchet heads have a wide range of applications and can increase the reliability of assembly or repair projects.
When to Use Torque Wrenches Instead of Ratchets
The correct application of torque can greatly improve the reliability of the machinery and products we depend on daily. If you’ve ever stepped on your car’s brake pedal and felt it pulse underfoot, an improperly torqued lug nut may have played a large role in creating the problem. Incorrectly tightened lug nuts put uneven pressure on a car’s brake rotor so that when the rotor heats up as your car stops, the uneven pressure causes uneven expansion of the rotor. This warps it—known as rotor runout— and causes pedal pulse and sometimes steering wheel wobble. In spite of the potential for damage, tire centers don’t always use lug nut torque wrenches. I
In general, you’ll want to use torque wrenches for:
- Heavy-Duty Applications: Any looseness or structural compromise in a fastener holding heavy equipment like overhead cranes, locomotives, or boring machinery can damage parts or cause a critical failure that could lead to serious injuries.
- High Precision Fastening: In electronics assembly, medical device assembly, and other high precision manufacturing fields, tolerances can be literally microscopic. Even slight over or under-tightening of a fastener can render a device unserviceable and unsafe.
- Attachment of Rotating Parts: Uneven or imprecise tightening of the fasteners that hold a rotating component to a central axis can cause an uneven distribution of forces, causing damage to both the component and the axis. In the automotive industry, this damage is only apparent over time. In helicopter maintenance, and jet engine assembly and aircraft repair, the effects of improper torquing are likely to be sudden and very apparent.
In these applications, a torque wrench is the proper tool to use instead of a plain ratchet. Fortunately, in all but the tightest or most specialized of applications, ratchet torque wrenches can be used. In applications where a ratcheting mechanism will not fit, other non-ratchet torque wrenches provide precise and accurate fastening.
Choosing Torque Wrenches for Your Business
In most applications, manual torque wrenches are the best choice. There are two types of torque wrenches with ratchets available. Cam-over wrenches reach their set torque limit and a clutch disengages the driver to prevent over-torquing, making them suitable for fasteners and substrates that are especially sensitive to damage from over-torquing. Click wrenches make an audible click at the set torque limit but don’t actively prevent over-torquing. They are, however, suitable for most vehicle repairs since the fasteners and components found on automobiles and industrial vehicles tend to be robust and made of steel.
The two types of ratcheting torque wrenches are also compatible with torque multipliers in the heaviest of heavy industries, like pressure pipes for the oil and gas industry or maintenance of rolling stock demands. In situations where there is no room for a socket and ratchet head torque wrench, break-over wrenches provide torque control, the ability to fit into tight spaces, and a variety of interchangeable wrench heads.
In most applications, when comparing torque wrenches vs, ratchets there is no need to choose. Torque wrenches with ratchet heads offer the best of both worlds. In the rare occasions where a choice has to be made—for instance, when a fastener can only be reached with a wrench with a short width—then torque wrenches should prevail, as it is more important that a fastener is properly torqued. And it all starts with understanding the differences between standard torque wrenches and ratchets.
Mountz, Inc. understands the importance of torque wrenches that are easy to use in a variety of applications. That’s why we make high-quality break-over, cam-over, and click wrenches. To see our full range of products, shop our store. Contact us anytime to ask a question. To inquire about price, request a quote. If you’d like to see our equipment in person, schedule an appointment.