How to Use a Ratchet

by Cassandra Tribe
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Wharton Impact

Ratchet wrenches are a staple of all mechanics. With a good set of sockets, you can handle any bolt or nut on any vehicle. When you use a ratchet, you are able to tighten or loosen a bolt with minimal effort and often in a tight space where a regular wrench would have to be removed and replaced many times to get the same effect as a few swings of the ratchet handle. As long as your ratchet is in good working order, you'll be able to do the job quickly.

Step 1

Select the right size socket for the bolt you are trying to work on. The socket should fit the bolt snugly and not slip when you try to turn it with your hand.

Step 2

Match the protruding square end of the ratchet wrench to the square hole of the socket you selected. Ratchets come in a variety of sizes determined by the size of the square end protrusion: 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch or even 1 inch.

Step 3

Snap the socket onto the ratchet wrench. Do this by placing the square end of ratchet into the square hole of the socket. Make sure that the small "ball" in the square end of the ratchet is aligned with the track inside the square hole of the socket. This ball bearing is what will lock the 2 pieces together when they are connected.

Step 4

Turn the small key or lever on the back of the ratchet (it will vary, depending on the brand of the wrench) in the direction you want to go. Turn it to your right to tighten the bolt or to your left to loosen it. If your wrench only has a half key (like a 2nd hand on a clock) flip the key in the opposite direction of the turn you want to make. So, if you want to go clockwise to tighten, make sure your half key is pointed to the left.

Step 5

Place the socket on the bolt. Grasp the handle of the ratchet and pull it in a smooth arc in the opposite direction of how you want to turn the bolt. You will hear a "ratcheting" sound, when you reach the end of arc, push the handle in the direction you need to turn the bolt. Generally, the room you have to work in will determine the length of the movement you can make with the handle in either direction. Keep the socket on the bolt and keep moving the handle back and forth, ratcheting back and then pushing in the direction you need the bolt to turn until the bolt is removed or tightened completely.

Step 6

Press the button on the back of the head of the ratchet to retract the ball bearing lock and remove the socket from the handle.

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