How to Use Socket Ratchets

Written by tom lutzenberger
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How to Use Socket Ratchets
Socket wrenches and sockets are basic auto mechanic tools. (socket wrench image by Jim Mills from

A socket ratchet or socket wrench allows a user to turn a bolt or nut repeatedly without having to reposition the wrench every time. An internal ratchet keeps the socket in place while the handle is repositioned. This cuts down on hand-arm exhaustion and the risk of slipping and damage, and it makes the fastening work easier. Using a socket wrench involves a very basic understanding of tools. Once you've tried one it's hard to go back to old pliers or adjustable wrenches due to the convenience.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Mechanic gloves (optional)
  • Nuts and bolts

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  1. 1

    Put on a pair of mechanic's gloves if you want to protect your hands or rings from friction while using the socket wrench. Take a socket that matches the nut or bolt that you wish to tighten and insert the nub end of the socket wrench into the rear of a socket (the square cavity in the socket matches the square nub of the wrench head).

  2. 2

    Turn the dial on the back of the socket ratchet wrench head to the right to make sure the socket turns clockwise. Do it in the opposite direction if you want the socket to loosen counterclockwise.

  3. 3

    Place the attached socket and socket ratchet on the bolt or nut to be tightened. Confirm the socket is seated properly and fits the bolt head or nut snugly. Replace it with a smaller one if there is slack or too much room. Use a bigger socket if the socket you have doesn't fit.

  4. 4

    Keep one hand on the head of the socket ratchet wrench to keep it in place. With your second hand, twist the socket ratchet wrench slowly but firmly in a clockwise half-circle around the nut or bolt. Pull it back and listen for the clicking as the ratchet resets inside the wrench. Perform the twist again and pull back after a half circle. Continue the process until the nut or bolt is tightened as desired.

  5. 5

    Pull the socket ratchet wrench and socket off the bolt or nut. Separate the socket from the wrench and put both tools back in their containers for safekeeping.

Tips and warnings

  • Use a socket extension arm rod to put distance between your socket and socket ratchet wrench if the nut or bolt to be tightened sits in an inaccessible location up close. This allows you to still use the ratchet feature without hitting anything up close.
  • Do not bang on the end of a socket ratchet wrench with a hammer if the nut or bolt is really tight. Doing so will break the wrench ratchet mechanism. Use some WD-40 or similar penetrating lubricant to loosen the fastener and try again after a few minutes. If still tight, use a hammer and a fixed crescent wrench to loosen instead.

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