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Air Ratchets Explained – What Are They, How They Work, What They’re Used For + Buying Guide

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Air ratchets are very well-known air tools within the automotive & manufacturing industry, typically helping users tighten or remove nuts and bolts. There are a variety of air ratchets available in today’s market, so understanding how to compare them is important when thinking about purchasing an air ratchet to add to your tool collection. Let’s ensure you walk away with the air ratchet most suitable for your application.

This article will provide you with all the relevant information on air ratchets, along with a buying guide and examples of some of the best air ratchet available on Amazon.

Table of Contents

Clarke Air Ratchet

What is an Air Ratchet?

An air ratchet is a hand-powered air ratchet wrench that has a motor attached to turn the socket drive. Pneumatic ratchet wrench receives power from an air compressor in order to tighet or loosen nuts and bolts. These tools are generally capable of generating torque power between 30 ft-lbs and 80 ft-lbs.

The primary reason to use an air ratchet wrench for your projects is that they can drastically improve your efficiency and productivity anytime there are bolts and nuts involved. Air ratchets 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 in the long run.

Advantages of Air Ratchets

  • Conveniently sized and lightweight, making them easy to control
  • Great accuracy and ability to accept any kind of socket
  • Variety of different sizes available
  • Good choice for small and precise tasks

Disadvantages of Air Ratchets

  • Don’t provide as much torque as impact wrenches
  • Not suitable for rusry nuts and bolts
  • Not suitable for large tasks

How Do Air Ratchets Work?

Air ratchets derive power by utilizing the pressure difference between compressed air entering the ratchet and the atmospheric pressure 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 power which is capable of tightening or loosing bolts.

The one-way action of the ratchet is created by a set of gears with directional teeth inside the casing. These teeth catch a set of gears attached to the turbine only when they are moving in the desired direction to initiate action.

Air Ratchet Buying Guide

When it comes to buying an air ratchet, there are a number of features you should consider when comparing them to ensure you walk away with the right one for your project. These features include:

  • Torque
  • Speed
  • Drive size
  • Length and weight
  • Noise
  • Materials
  • Warranty


Torque is a very important consideration for determining what size bolts an air ratchet can handle. The higher the torque the more tasks you will be able to complete. It’s important to ensure that the air ratchet is capable of maintaining the maximum torque it is rated, if you require that.


Speed is another important specification related to the size of the bolts the air ratchet can handle. Typicall given in RPM (revolutions per minute), it’s a measure of 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.

The faster air ratchets can lead to large cumaltive time savings when working with lengthier screws, but for short screws, significant differences in RPM may not be as important.

Drive Size

Air ratchets come in a few different sizes, known as drives, and the drive you need will generally depend on the project you are working on. Typically, you find air ratchets 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 any other confined workspaces.

However, the larger drives provide more torque. Although most mechanics find that the 1/2” drive ratchet is only necessary for industrial projects.

Length and Weight

The length and weight of a ratchet is also important to consider, since they directly affect its usability in certain spaces. It will be easier to use a shorter ratchet in a compact workspace like a car engine. However, one thing is that 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 project through the day.


A maybe not so important consideration when choosing an air ratchet but still something worth considering is how much noise the ratchet produces when engaged. Some ratchets are designed to be operate relatively quiet, producing about the same amount of sound as a power drill.

Whereas others can be loud enough to warrant the need for ear protection to be worn. Especially consider noise if you plan to work in an environment that is quiet, for example in your home or garage at night time.


Air ratchets can be built out of a variety of different materials, which directly affects their comfort to hold and of course the 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 when handling.

Cheaper ratchets may have plastic bodies, which are often not so durable, or full metal bodies, which are far less comfortable to hold but extremely durable. You must consider how frequently you will be using the air ratchet tool when determining how important durability and hand comfort are to you.


Although most air ratchets are typically designed with durability at the forefront, having a good manufacturer’s warranty is always important for new purchases, regardless of the tool. Most air ratchets come with a one-year limited warranty, but some manufacturers offer longer warranties up to five years in length.

If a company offers longer warranty it’s also a good indication that they back their products longevity. Also consider the company’s past record of customer service, since this will directly impact their likelihood of honoring the intention of the warranty rather than its exact wording.

Air Ratchet Readily Available on Amazon

I have picked out some of the best air ratchet readily available on Amazon. The first is this Craftsman 3/8 air ratchet. This Craftsman air ratchet is easy to use and delivers up to 50 ft-lbs of torque to loosen fasteners.

The Craftsman air ratchet 3 8 requires an average air consumption of 4.4 SCFM @ 90 PSI. With excellent reviews from users, this Craftsman 3 8 air ratchet is an Amazon choice. If you’re wondering what SCFM is, visit our SCFM vs CFM guide for more information!

This Ingersoll Rand 3 8 air ratchet is another excellent option and is capable of providing 70ft-lbs of maximum torque.

This Ingersoll Rand air ratchet is one of the best 3/8 air ratchet, with a 360° adjustable exhaust that directs air away from the operator and the work.

This Campbell Hausfeld 3 8 air ratchet is another great option that boasts terrific reviews and only requires 1.9 CFM @ 90 PSI.

This Astro 1/4 air ratchet is an Amazon choice for 1 4 air ratchet and boasts great reviews from its users.

How To Use An Air Ratchet

In this quick video you’ll get a brief introduction into how to use an air ratchet correctly. Note the mention of using an air ratchet to thread bolts, but the need to torque bolts to a specific level depending on your application.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is an air ratchet used for?

An air ratchet, also known as an air ratchet wrench, is a very popular and useful tool for tightening and loosening bolts. They’re small tools that are widely used in the automotive industry to fit into tighter spots.

What’s the difference between air ratchet and impact wrench?

The key difference between an air ratchet and an impact wrench is the torque output. Impact wrenches generally offer well over double the amount of torque when compared with air ratchets, enabling them to be used for more difficult tasks like removing vehicle wheel lug nuts.

Is an air ratchet less powerful than an impact wrench?

Air ratchets are generally far less powerful than impact wrenches. Air ratchets may be able to reach a maximum torque output of 70ft-lbs while an impact wrench can reach up to around 180ft-lbs.

What size air ratchet do I need?

The size air ratchet you need will depend on the size of your task or tasks. Determine the size of the bolts you require to loosen/tighten and ensure you purchase an air ratchet with a high enough torque and speed to comfortably carry out your tasks.

How does an air ratchet work?

Air ratchets derive power by utilizing the pressure difference between atmospheric pressure outside the ratchet and compressed air entering the ratchet. As the pressure difference forces the compressed air to try to exit the ratchet, it spins a built-in turbine to create torque power which is capable of then tightening or loosing bolts. The one-way action of the ratchet is created by a set of gears with directional teeth inside the casing. These teeth catch a set of gears attached to the turbine only when they are moving in the desired direction to initiate action.

If you’re wondering how to plumb an air compressor setup, visit our guide!

If you have any questions regarding air ratchets, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

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