Battery-powered ratchets can take the arm-ache out of most basic spannering jobs. Farmers Weekly compares four of the most popular models.
Is there any tool in the farm workshop that gets used quite as much as the humble ratchet? The toolbox-mainstay allows you to wind a nut in either direction in less than half the time it would take with a spanner.
See also: Six best-selling impact drivers on test
But in the past few years things have got easier still. Several manufacturers are now making battery-powered ratchets that do all the work with a pull of the trigger.
The same basic ratchet rules still apply – these are nut winders rather than tightening tools so if you hang off the end of it then you’ll eventually break the pawl and wreck the mechanism. If you want more torque then you’re better off spending your money on an impact driver that works through 90deg. They are bigger, but far better at rattling off a reluctant nut.
We’ve picked out four of the most popular cordless tools on the market to find out which one, if any, you should have in your farm workshop.
Width at widest point: 61mm
Balance: A bulked-up battery means it’s built like an iceberg with a majority of the weight below the trigger. It’s got a better chance of standing upright but the pure heaviness of the tool will get you sweating after a while – it was more than double the Ingersoll at the weigh-in, and also takes the unenviable tag of being longest and widest.
Trigger type: The only one that isn’t proportional and has a hair-trigger reaction that means it’s far too easy to switch on. Will also start spinning if its sizeable bodyweight is leaning on it as it i4s left on the workbench.
Claimed max torque: 48Nm
Tested max torque: 37Nm
No load speed: 160rpm
Battery: 14.4V nickel-cadmium (Ni-Cd), 1.7Ah
Charge time: 1hour 22mins
Battery life under load: 12mins 45secs
Notes: Slow and steady in the battery life test means it slugged its way to the finish line without turning the wheel anywhere near as many times as the Ingersoll or Snap-on. It’s smooth and comfortable to use though, and also stays cool while the others, particularly the two smaller ones, start to get hot under the collar. There is a small LED, which can be turned on/off by a blister button on the spine of the tool and the rubber handgrip soaks up some of the vibrations.
Verdict: Far too big and cumbersome to be useful for most tasks where a manual ratchet would not suffice, but delivered some comparatively big torque figures. Also happened to be the most comfortable to use and the Ni-Cd battery had a long life, but even Gok Wan would struggle to disguise its bulk.
Price: £189.95 (+VAT)
Best for: Comfort/low vibrations
Width at widest point: 54mm
Balance: A close second to the Ingersoll-Rand in balance terms. Feels slightly heavy at the nose end, but not arm-achingly so. Can be stood on its end without immediately falling over – an impressive feat given its awkward, giraffe-like dimensions.
Trigger type: Operator’s index finger pulls a proportional trigger. It’s well positioned and nicely weighted, so you can’t accidentally pull like you might with the Sealey. Also offers pinpoint control of the drivehead speed.
Claimed max torque: 43Nm
Tested max torque: 24Nm
No load speed: 350rpm
Battery: Lithium-ion (LI-ion), 14.4V. Capacity is 2Ah
Charge time: 1 hour 13 mins
Battery life under load: 10mins 30secs
Notes: Solid build and smaller size makes it an obvious opponent of the Ingersoll. Alone in having a four-stage battery life indicator on the charger and a basic battery-life gauge in the handle, though wrestling the powerpack free can be like pulling teeth. Has an LED that automatically illuminates the drivehead as you pull the trigger.
Verdict: Appeared to struggle on the battery-life test at first glance, but consistently produced the fastest spinning speed right up to its death. A good balance between physical size and usability, though the rapid turning speed meant the motor got hot with frequent use. It is also loud – a result of the high-speed head – and comes with a steep price-tag.
Price: £395 (+VAT)
Best for: Spinning speed
Width at widest point: 49.5mm, but smallest drivehead
Balance: Lightest on the scales, with the trigger positioned centrally to make it naturally well-balanced and it is the best at squeezing in gaps to reach those hard-to-get-to nuts. It can’t stand upright – it is designed to lay flat, which makes sense.
Trigger type: Long, variable speed trigger like the AC Delco, but that’s where the similarities end. It means there is more flexibility in where you hold the tool but, unlike the vulnerable-looking Delco trigger, the Ingersoll’s switch is partly protected by the main body of the tool. No rubber handgrip, though it’s still nice enough to hold.
Claimed max torque: 40Nm
Tested max torque: 26Nm
No load speed: 260rpm
Battery: 12V, 2Ah
Charge time: 1 hour 9 mins
Battery life under load: 13mins
Notes: Despite being the lightest, it feels solidly made and more able to cope with being bashed about in a farm workshop. Small head should manage to get into most tight spots and second only to Snap-on with its 260rpm no-load speed.
Verdict: The best things come in small packages – it’s the lightest and shortest with the narrowest drivehead but can still hold its own when it comes to battery life. Also marginally beat the Snap-on and Delco in the max torque test, which is good going given its paltry proportions.
Best for: Battery power
Want something bigger?
Ingersoll Rand also makes a heavier duty ratchet, still with a 3/8in head but capable of pumping out far more torque. It is a physically bigger tool than the rest in our test, but if you’re serious about winding nuts in and out then it might be worth investing in.
Width at widest point: 53mm
Claimed max torque: 73Nm
Tested max torque: 52Nm
No load speed: 225rpm
Battery: 20V Li-ion, 1.5Ah
Price: £421 (includes one battery)
AC Delco ARW1201
Width at widest point: 46.5mm
Balance: Very top-heavy – will give you forearms like Popeye after extended use. Battery has a flat base so can be left stood up, but topples over with little encouragement. Trigger can be accidentally activated when left on its side.
Trigger type: A long, metal flap looks uncannily similar to a girl’s hairclip and is vulnerable to snapping off in the long term. It provides variable speed control, but we’d prefer a single-finger trigger like the Snap-on. That way you get more control without having to grip the tool at the same time. Easy to get the drivehead to turn very slowly.
Claimed max torque: 78Nm
Tested max torque: 25Nm
No load speed: 160rpm
Battery: 10.8V Li-ion, 1.5Ah
Charge time: 25mins
Battery life under load: 8mins 30secs
Notes: Fast charger really speeds up the process – takes less than half the time of any of the others. Small battery struggles to keep up with the rest of the pack and the slow turning speed is a bit of a let-down.
Verdict: Big, fat drivehead will struggle to get to those hard-to-reach places and monster torque claims couldn’t be fulfilled. Feels heavy duty, charged in just 25mins and was the quietest on test, but the noise of the ratchet goes hand-in-hand with the drivehead spinning speed – slow.
Best for: Charge time
How we tested them
Weight with the battery attached but no socket
Length from end to end, battery included
Width at widest point – beyond the handgrip, and whether it restricts access to awkward nuts and bolts
Balance spread of weight
Trigger type finger-type or hand grip
Claimed max torque maximum tightening torque according to the maker
Max tested torque ability to tighten a nut to a particular torque. Likely to be considerably less than the manufacturer claims, because they are tested under strict conditions where they have the maximum possible power from the battery.
Speed, no load – spinning speed of the drive head load-free
Noise tested under load of a wheel providing constant resistance. The rattling of the ratchet mechanism can make these noisy things to use for long periods, so use ear protection.
Battery type most Li-ion, one Ni-Cd, differing amp hours and voltages
Charge time of each battery from flat. The figures we found are often longer than those claimed by the manufacturers as we get them from new. After a few months the charge time should decrease slightly.
Battery life under load turning a wheel bearing of constant resistance. Total time is the sum of the 15-second stints completed
Price including the tool, two batteries and a carry case.
Best online price shop around on the web and you’ll often find the tools a fair bit cheaper