If you’ve used hand tools at all, you know why a set of sockets are an indispensable part of any automotive toolchest. The ability to put the wrench on the fastener once and then move it back and forth in a ratcheting motion allows you to quickly loosen or tighten a fastener that might take far longer if you used a basic wrench. There are a few limitations to sockets, however. The standard and even the deep sockets are limited in depth, so if you’re dealing with a long bolt or piece of threaded rod, you might not be able to get a socket all the way to the base. Similarly, sockets require at least 2 to 3 inches of clearance above the fastener to get the wrench on and off the fastener.
What was needed was a tool that combined the ratcheting action of a socket with the small-space accessibility and bolt pass-through nature of a box-end wrench. Various makers have offered versions of this functionality for decades, but GearWrench has advanced the state of the art in ratcheting wrenches, and they are a leading supplier today.
Price: $80 (£65) for a 10-piece wrench set in common SAE and Metric sizes, buy now.
How I tested the GearWrench 72-point ratcheting wrench set
Tested as part of a group test, the GearWrench 72-point ratcheting wrench set was subjected to a slip-test and a visual flex test. First, however, I tested their fit on standard nut and bolt heads by using a feeler gauge. I then tightened each standard SAE fastener to the recommended torque and slightly above to mirror real-world conditions when testing.
For the slip-test, I overtightened the fasteners to 25% above the recommended torque figure. I then leant on the wrench to loosen the fastener and checked for slip. I repeated the process and this time checked for flex.
Testing the GearWrench 72-point wrench set
The most affordable sets of GearWrenches are what’s called the 72-tooth design. As you might expect, this means the gears that allow the wrenches to ratchet and hold have 72 teeth. This allows the wrench to swing just 5 degrees before the gear clicks at least one tooth and you can make progress on your fastener in a tight space. On these basic GearWrenches, the ratcheting mechanism works in only one direction. This is not a problem – you can flip the wrench over to tighten or loosen a fastener as necessary. One nice feature is that the wrench set we tested comes with its own plastic storage tray, which will fit nicely in your toolchest’s wrench drawer.
The open-end wrench end of a GearWrench is just a wrench. There’s no mechanism there. On the basic 72-tooth models, the open-end offers smooth jaws, and a comparatively large clearance of 0.013 inches (1/3 of a millimeter – we’re not talking about a lot of space) when measured on a standard size nut or bolt head. The open-end is a decent wrench, but does not inspire great confidence, especially on worn or previously rounded fasteners. That’s where the extra gap will lead to slipping.
Similarly, the ratcheting box end of a 72-tooth GearWrench is useful for light duty but did not perform well on our torque test. If you really press hard on a 72-tooth GearWrench, the ratcheting mechanism will stick just a little. If you flip the wrench and apply pressure in the opposite direction, it quickly releases. It’s not clear how long the wrench will last if you routinely subject it to overtightened or rusty fasteners that don’t want to release easily. The ratcheting mechanism also feels a little loose on these, with more wobble than we’d like.
At $8 or £6.50 per wrench, the GearWrench 72-tooth set is not a bad choice for light household use such as assembling or tightening furniture, but we wouldn’t use it in an automotive setting where wrenches are subject to harder use. Luckily, GearWrench also offers better models for just a little more money, and we have reviewed those as well.
- Open-end fastener gap: 0.013 inches/0.33mm
- Single direction ratcheting box end and open end wrench set
- Standard length
- Lifetime warranty
- Polished finish, no color/highlight
- RRP: $80 (£65), buy now.