Why You Need a Quarter-Inch Ratcheting Box End

Tools (Recommended):
TEKTON WRN57004 Flex-Head Ratcheting Combination Wrench, 1/4-Inch ($11)

Hi, I’m Sean Michael Ragan, and you’re watching Cool Tools.

Box-end wrenches with a built-in ratchet are pretty ubiquitous nowadays; this is an older set we’ve had in the toolbox for years. They’re quicker to deploy than a conventional socket wrench since you don’t have to assemble the socket and driver before you get to work, and they don’t need nearly so much overhead clearance as a socket driver, so you can get them into places where you’d otherwise be stuck using a regular spanner, which is of course a lot slower.

Because they’ve got a flat profile and the opening goes all the way through, there’s no reason to bother with making the ratchet mechanism reversible, because just flipping the tool over has the effect of reversing its rotational bias. So there’s no switch, like on a standard socket driver, and one side is labelled ON while the other is labelled OFF. Which works great until you come up against a reverse-threaded bolt, but in fairness those are pretty rare.

Anyway, these things are cool, and while I enjoy the convenience of having them around, if I ever need to make space in the spanner drawer these will probably be the first things to go. My sockets are pretty well-organized, so the amount of time I save by not having to find the right one and snap it onto the driver is not very significant and not worth sacrificing much space for, in my opinion.

However, I did recently buy this single 1/4″ ratcheting box-end, because I ran up against a situation which made me realize that even if you don’t feel like you need a whole set of these, the 1/4″ size in particular might be worth keeping around.

Here’s the situation I was talking about. Replacing the footing around the bottom of this post, I’m trying to secure this board to the post with a pair of wood screws. The holes for the screws are already drilled and countersunk in the board and the only problem I have is driving them into the post with this air conditioner in the way. I’ve got barely enough clearance here to get the screws positioned in the holes, which leaves me with less than an inch of headspace, which isn’t nearly enough room to get my cordless drill in there even if I use the right angle attachment.

After exhausting all other options, I ended up taking the hex bit out of the drill, indexing it with the screw head, and then turning it in with a 1/4″ open-end spanner, which was extremely tedious but did get the job done.

But if you’ve got a 1/4″ ratcheting box-end, you can just do this. The upshot is that if you have an inventory of hex bits, the 1/4″ ratcheting box end becomes a kind of all-purpose offset screwdriver. And because this wrench in particular has what they call a flex head on it, you can get it into places where you might not have enough clearance to swing the full length of the handle. Or you can rotate it all the way around to 90 degrees and use it
pretty much just like a straight ratcheting multi-driver. And if you have some of these hex-drive sockets it can even function, kind of ironically, as a lightweight socket set.

So it’s potentially a very versatile tool. This model costs just ten bucks, measures just 5 inches long, and weighs only 50 grams, which makes it cheap to buy, store, and carry. Which is why I’ll probably be keeping this little guy in the drawer with the hex bits, even if I don’t end up keeping
any larger sizes down with the spanners.

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