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Palm Ratchets

Palm or thumbwheel ratchets came up in casual conversion around the Toolmonger shop recently. Some hold that they’re extremely handy and can be a serious saver when attempting to remove bolts or nuts in constricted areas. Others think they’re little more than bait for tool fanatics with a burning need to stock a toolbox. Here’s what we think: Both can be true.

I have personally reached for thumbwheel ratchets in automotive situations where a ratchet handle just gets in the way and whatever part I’m trying to remove from an engine bay can’t be simply coaxed out. However, to be fair, extensions and universals on the end of a traditional ratchet will normally get the job done as well.

Bright colors and shiny finishes like the ones on the Garrett Wade versions do attract gearheads like crows to a bit of sparkle, but in the end a 1/ 4” – 1/ 2” ratchet that fits in your palm and can be turned without fear of a mechanical lock happening is a powerful bullet to have in the gun.

Were our diet heavily crack-laden, we’d consider Garrett Wades’ pricing of $35 for three such ratchets a good deal. But, since reality is a friend of ours, a little shopping will get you the same functionality starting around $5 from Harbor Freight — we recommend the latter.

[Garrett Wade]
Street Pricing [Google Products]
Thumbwheel Ratchets [Harbor Freight]


17 Responses to Tiny Ratchets Are A Big Help

  1. Bajajoaquin says:

    I’m not sure I agree with the price/quality analysis.

    I bought some HF thumbwheel ratchets for my brother, and they’re fine, I suppose. But then I decided that I’d get a set for my step father while I was at Sears. The Craftsman ratchets worked smoother than the HF, enough so that I bought a second set for my brother, so he didn’t feel left out.

    (If only one of them would remember me on my birthday….)

    The issue is the balance between stiffness and strength. These things are intended for use where the nut is too tight to get off with your fingers, but too loose for a ratchet to be effective, right? But if you make them too loose, presumably, they would be prone to failure. The HF ratchets were too stiff, and I found that they wouldn’t ratchet as well in that middle-ground.

  2. zoomzoomjeff says:

    I think the 1/4″ would be most useful. Those are the bolts I can usually turn by hand. Some of the 3/8″ and especially 1/2″ require a ratchet–(at least for me with mild arthritis in the hands).

    The other thing for me is I’ve looked at them before, but always thought they wouldn’t save me any TIME. I’ve seen them marketed as a way to save time when you only get 45* of ratchet range, you slip these on to remove it quicker. Thing is, again, my hands normally can’t move the fastener any quicker than a ratchet unless it’s really loose. So by the time I disconnect a ratchet, put this thing on, reach back in there, and un-do it, the time saved is a wash.

    Then again for $5, who can go wrong with another tool in the box. Use it once and maybe you’re glad you had it.

  3. ShopMonger says:

    I have used these in lots of scenarios, but yes they still can only apply the force you can exert with your hands. This really speeds things up when you can’t grip the end of your shiny chrome extension. In fact i used to use these a lot on spark plug changes on 4 cyl with deep set plugs. or when i was [under a car with greasy fingers and could no longer grab any bolts, it is also great for starting nuts of bolts fast.


  4. george says:

    the rathcheting ones really don’t work. the ratchetless, cam rollers? work the best.

  5. fred says:

    JH Williams (now Williams-Bahco – a part of SnapOn) use to make a spinner disk that looked a bit like these – but without the ratchet. They were sort of like a stubby drive extension – with a serrated edge disk at the female end. I still have my set. You plug the spinner into your socket – or extension and hand tighten. Then without the need to remove anything – you can attach a ratchet handle or a torque wrench for the final tightening.

    Williams also used to make ratcheting couplers. Sort of a round ratchet head – with a feamle plug on on side and male on the other. Forwrad and reverse was accomplished via an annular ring. These could be used with a speeder.

  6. jesse says:

    Williams may still offer the Palmster ratchet, which was also sold by its parent company Snap-on years ago. Snappy now offers a more ergonomic model.

    The Garrett Wade item seems to be from IPA: http://www.ntxtools.com/network-tool-warehouse/IPA-7903-p-IPA02.html .

  7. IronHerder says:

    The Stanley 89-962 3/8-Inch Drive Rotator Ratchet has uses similar to thumbwheel ratchets, & also solves the problem of too much stiffness in the ratchet (see BajaJoaquin’s comment).

    The rotator feature turns the socket when the handle is twisted. Magically, I think, the socket will only turn one way no matter which way the handle is twisted. (Clockwise vs. CCW is set the usual way.)

    Like the thumbwheel ratchets, it is useful for spinning loose nuts on & off. But for starting fasteners in tight places, it is unequaled by any other tool. The rotator feature will start turning a nut or bolt before there is enough friction to engage the ratchet. This allowed me to replace a clutch master cylinder that was conveniently placed well out of reach in my 1989 Probe.


  8. Steve says:

    I don’t see a need for a ratchet mechanism in a tool like that. They’re round. The square drive could be fixed and you could just turn the whole tool.

  9. browndog77 says:

    I like to have one of these in the mix when changing spark plugs, usually one short extension away from the plug. Then I can break or tighten the plug with the ratchet, and spin out or snug w/ the wheel. Removing the ratchet to do so is optional.

  10. browndog77 says:

    After looking at the G-W site, I see these are not useable in the manner I mentioned. I have a couple of spinners such as the ones Fred mentioned, and it has been so long since I used them I’m not sure if they actually ratchet by themselves or not!

  11. Brau says:

    I don’t have any of these, but can recall a few instances when using one might have been welcome. $35 seems a bit too much for a non-torque item … I’d just grind the handle off a cheap $5 ratchet. Also, I’ve gotten by this long without them so I can understand why some would say they are just golden toolbox acorns.

  12. 99octane says:

    What’s the point in the ratchet?
    I guess anybody can build one of this things brazing a 3/8″ or 1/4″ square stock to an old garden faucet handle like this


  13. jesse says:

    Brau – That’s what the Cornwell palm ratchets look like – they just cut the handle off their standard ratchet.

    Matco has a nice looking one. So does Mac.

  14. ecrusch says:

    I have a set of Harbor Freight ones and they work just fine.
    You can keep all that shiny stuff.

  15. JML says:

    I’ve had one of these S-K 1/4 finger ratchets for years. Works great for the small fasteners.


  16. A.Crush says:

    I bought a Thorsen 3/8″ thumbwheel ratchet for a buck or so years ago, just to have it when I saw it and never could find anything close since the trucks wanted some insane price back then. Never used it much.

    Then when I saw Craftsman had them a year or two ago, I sprang for the 1/4″ and 3/8″ since they were made in USA and smooth operators, just in case I ever did need them and my experience is despite the “lifetime” warranty, Craftsman tools seem to get discontinued pretty often. Good thing too, since the new Craftsman ones are crap, made somewhere else. Still the same crack-smoking $19.99 EACH, though. That’s worse than the GW pricing, $40 and you only get a 1/4″ and a 3/8″.

    I’ve only run into one scenario where these are THE tool to have…the upper transmission housings bolts on many trucks/SUVs…both removing the bolts once you’ve popped ’em lose, and trying to get them back in. A stubby ratchet still doesn’t have the room, and even with clean threads, turning the end of the loooong extension hurts your hands to hold it that tight to make them turn. These are PERFECT..and the ratchet speeds it up over a fixed wheel.

    MAC used to make a fixed driver-like device similar to what the GW handles looked like, but with a 3/8″ attachment. I think it came with one of their flex-head ratchets so you could just detach the ratchet and turn the socket, then reattach and use the ratchet again.

    Craftsman does have something similar in the tiny 1/4″ drive wheels they sell in the point-of-sale boxes, though they get mixed up with the wheels that have inserts for driver bits.

    The HF makes these an easy choice though, 5 bucks is worth it just for when they are the best tool, and these likely won’t ever see enough use where a high quality or precise tool is necessary.

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