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Air Ratchet vs. Impact Wrench

Whether you're a professional mechanic by trade or spending weekends working on old cars, chances are you frequently use an air ratchet or impact wrench for a wide array of projects. While both are great at tightening and loosening bolts on heavy machinery, each has their own unique traits. Here are some pros and cons to weigh before deciding between an impact wrench or air ratchet.

Air Ratchets Impact Wrenches


Lower torqueHigher torque


ControlledLess controlled






More affordableLess affordable

Air Ratchets

Advantages of air ratchets

  • Controlled Motion – An air ratchet's low output of power can create a more controlled motion. The controlled power level helps provide optimal precision when tightening or loosing fasteners.
  • Convenience – This tool's small size makes it simple to operate in hard-to-reach areas. An air ratchet also tends to be light, which is easy to haul around and use for long periods of time.
  • Softer noise – In comparison to an impact wrench or other pneumatic tools, this device creates less noise.
craftsman air ratchet

Limitations of air ratchets

  • Low Power – While it has a precise motion, an air ratchet can lack the heavy torque needed for removing extremely tight nuts and bolts. Its limited power can also lower the operating speed, meaning more time is spent on simple tasks. 
  • Restricted Power Sources – Some models run on an air compressor only, limiting portability.
air ratchets

Impact Wrenches

Advantages of impact wrenches

  • High Power – The high torque an impact wrench yields can handle rusted or stubborn nuts and bolts better than some of its counterparts. This extra power also helps tighten or remove fasteners quickly.
  • Versatility – An impact wrench with adjustable torque settings helps apply the right amount of force for any project.
impact wrench

Limitations of impact wrenches

  • Reduced Accuracy – High torque can decrease precision, meaning an impact wrench can over tighten or strip bolts in some cases.
  • Noisy – Since this device packs substantial power, it can be noisy during the course of a project.
  • Size – Its large size makes it difficult to operate in tight spaces. An impact wrench is also heavier than an air ratchet, making it hard to use for long periods of time.
impact wrench