Best Air Ratchets: Power When You Need it for Tough Jobs

An air ratchet is a handy tool to have in the shop for turning tough fasteners

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An air ratchet greatly reduces the amount of effort required to do certain jobs. It helps loosen tough bolts, and it installs fasteners quickly, too. An air ratchet is especially handy when working on tasks like replacing brake parts where components are rusted or corroded or when installing bolts repetitively on a truck or car. Check out our picks for quality air ratchets.

  • Best Overall
    SP Air Corporation ⅜-Inch Super-Fast Mini Impact Ratchet
    Summary
    Summary
    This air ratchet provides torque between 10 and 41 Nm (7-30 foot-pounds). This is a heavy-duty tool that is also available in a quarter-inch version. It is 175 mm long, which is a little less than 7 inches.
    Pros
    Pros
    You can access restricted areas with this small but powerful ratchet. It is reaction free and features a single-dog clutch impact mechanism. The ratchet exhausts from the rear at the base of the handle.
    Cons
    Cons
    It may not put out as much torque as listed. There are reports of some heads breaking off.
  • Best Value
    DeWalt ⅜-inch Square Drive Air Ratchet
    Summary
    Summary
    This air ratchet kicks out 65 foot-pounds (88 Nm) of torque at 160 rpm. It has a light but strong aluminum body and a closed head. It also features a touch control trigger.
    Pros
    Pros
    This tool operates smoothly and has a comfortable ergonomic grip. The yellow handle makes it hard to lose and easy to find. It comes with oil and the required NPT fitting.
    Cons
    Cons
    It needs a lot of air to operate. May spit out oil during use.
  • Honorable Mention
    Ingersoll-Rand Heavy Duty ½-Inch Pneumatic Ratchet Wrench
    Summary
    Summary
    This air ratchet puts out 50 foot-pounds (68 Nm) of torque at 160 rpm. It has an adjustable exhaust and a variable-speed, lever-style throttle.
    Pros
    Pros
    The exhaust for this unit is adjustable 360 degrees, allowing you to point it away from the work area and from yourself. Its compact design lets you work in tight spaces.
    Cons
    Cons
    May not put out enough torque. Loud operation to some ears.

Tips

  • Check out different sized air ratchets. They come in ⅜-inch, ½-inch, and ¼-inch versions. Determine the size bolts you will commonly be turning to determine which air ratchet to purchase.
  • Determine where you will be using the air ratchet. If you often work in tight areas, you need a small, slim ratchet. If you work in more open areas, you can purchase a bulkier tool. 
  • Make sure your compressor puts out enough power to operate the air ratchet of your choice. If you don’t have enough compressed-air power, your air ratchet won’t do the job.

FAQs

Q: What is an air ratchet?

A: It is a tool that operates with compressed air to help you turn bolts. It supplies power to turn rusted or corroded bolts or to install bolts. This requires more than muscle power, so it is a handy device to have.

Q: How does an air ratchet work?

A: After you press the throttle, compressed air enters the ratchet and turns the gears inside. The gears are connected to the head of the air ratchet. Attached to a fastener, the head turns the fastener with force.

Q: How do I maintain my air ratchet?

A: Oil the ratchet according to the manufacturer’s instructions and occasionally clean the outside surfaces with water and mild soap. Otherwise, there is little maintenance you need to perform.

Final Thoughts

The SP Air Corporation ⅜-Inch Super-Fast Mini Impact Ratchet is our best overall pick, in part because it is small but powerful. 

The DeWalt ⅜-inch Square Drive Air Ratchet, which features an adjustable exhaust, is our pick for best value.