Whether you’re working on a car, installing a doorknob, or driving a screw by hand into a piece of dense wood, the a ratcheting screwdriver can help. This type of tool is specially designed to help you maintain contact with stubborn screws, nuts, and bolts when you need to apply a bit of extra torque—without having to reset your grip between twists. Continue now for our top tips on choosing the best ratcheting screwdriver for your needs and budget—and don’t miss all the details on our top-favorite picks, listed below!
- BEST OVERALL: Wera 5073661002 Kraftform Kompakt 27 RA Screwdriver
- RUNNER-UP: Megapro Marketing USA NC 211R2C36RD Screwdriver
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Milwaukee 48-22-2302 Multi Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver
- BEST HEAVY DUTY: Klein Tools 32558 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver
- BEST FOR SMALL JOBS: Klein Tools 32593 Multi-bit Ratcheting Screwdriver
- MOST VERSATILE: Makita B-50289 Ratchet and Bit Set
Types of Ratcheting Screwdrivers
There are a handful of different styles of ratcheting screwdrivers, so you should familiarize yourself with what’s out there before you start shopping. The main difference in style is how each screwdriver stores its interchangeable bits. There are benefits to each style, so it’s worth giving some consideration.
Bits in the Handle
The most common style of ratcheting screwdriver stores its bits inside of the grip. Often, there is a cap that threads on and off or pops out of the handle, providing access to your driver bits. Multiple bits clip to a removable ring, allowing you to choose the appropriate bit or store it away securely. Other models have bit-clips built into the cap.
The benefit of storing your bits in your handle is that it’s harder to lose them. As long as the cap stays shut, the bits are secure, even if they pop out of their clips. The downside is that switching between bits stored in the handle does create some downtime. Also, these bits are often smaller and harder to grip.
Bits on the Handle
As opposed to storing your bits inside the handle, several models come with storage on the handle. These models have slots or holes for holding the bits right in the grip. They either clip into place or slide in from the bottom of the handle.
The benefit of these screwdrivers is that, many times, the bits are long. You can get a good grip on them when storing or swapping bits. The downside is that these screwdrivers are often heavier, and bits often fall or slide out of lower-end models when you aren’t looking.
Occasionally, you can get a ratcheting screwdriver in a comprehensive kit of driver bits and attachments. They come in their own boxes or cases, with slots for storing driver bits, sockets, and nut drivers.
Some of the benefits of these screwdrivers are that they’re usually lighter and come with more bits. You can see all your bits at once, so you can grab one quickly, knowing easily if something’s missing. The downside is that you might have to keep a bulky case nearby if you’re frequently swapping bits.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Ratcheting Screwdriver
There are other things worth considering when shopping for the best ratcheting screwdriver beyond just the style of bit storage. Consider the length, the grip, and other built-in features you might find with certain models. Keep the following points in mind while shopping so you’re sure to get the best ratcheting screwdriver for your needs.
Kit vs. Single Screwdriver
When shopping for the best ratcheting screwdriver, you may need to choose between a kit or a single screwdriver.
The overwhelming benefit of purchasing a kit is that they’re usually fairly comprehensive. Phillips, slotted, square drive, and even Torx bits can be found in these kits. You can find nut drivers and socket attachments as well, which can be a big help on a variety of projects. The problem is that you can’t store all these bits in or on your handle, so be sure to keep the case nearby.
A single screwdriver is a far more streamlined tool than a ratcheting screwdriver kit. The bits all fit inside or on the handle, allowing you to keep everything with you. The issue is that you simply won’t get as many bits as you would with a kit. Also, when storing all of those bits on board, single ratcheting screwdrivers tend to be heavier.
Ratcheting screwdrivers aren’t new technology. One of the first popular models was the “Yankee,” manufactured by North Bros and first marketed in 1895. Not much has changed in the ratcheting function since then.
Most ratcheting screwdrivers use a gear-and-pawl system. Depending on the direction you set the screwdriver to, the pawl will engage with the gear, forcing the tip to rotate with the handle. When you twist the screwdriver in the other direction, the pawl skips over the gear’s teeth, rotating the grip independently of the tip.
While this mechanism is rather universal, engaging it and switching between directions does vary a bit from screwdriver to screwdriver. Older models have switches in the shaft that allow you to toggle between clockwise, counterclockwise, and completely locked. More modern variations have collars that you twist to change directions.
The benefit of ratcheting screwdrivers is that you can get a firm grip on their handle and apply plenty of torque repetitively without adjusting your grip. Not all screwdrivers handle torque as well as others, so try to find a robust, durable model.
Not all screwdrivers will have their torque rating clearly displayed, but durable models can handle around 50 newton meters (nm) or about 36 foot-pounds of torque. Taking a screwdriver beyond its torque capacity will usually break the pawl or shave teeth off the ratcheting gear, making the screwdriver useless.
When looking for the best ratcheting screwdriver, notice they come in different lengths. Standard-length models are around 7 or 8 inches. Stubby models are under 3 or 4 inches. You can also find longer models, with long shafts and handles, over 9-inches long.
There are benefits to each. Stubby screwdrivers fit in tight places, and they’re easy to line up with the fastener. Longer screwdrivers provide plenty of grip, and they allow you to see the workpiece without blocking it with your hand or grip. Mid-length screwdrivers do a bit of both.
However, they have their downsides as well. Maintaining a solid grip with a stubby screwdriver can be challenging. Small variations in your grip can change the angle of the tip quite a bit, leading to stripped screws and scuffed knuckles. Conversely, longer screwdrivers are hard to line up with a fastener one-handed, but contact is easy to maintain.
Grip shapes and styles vary from screwdriver to screwdriver. Some brands have one handle design that they use on all of their products, and some tradespeople have come to prefer them. Other models use tapered grips, allowing for several hand or grip positions.
Primarily, the “right” grip comes down to personal preference and how the screwdriver fits in your hand. For the most torque, however, a thicker grip with plenty of surface area is best. For the best dexterity, you may want something thinner with a tapered design.
If you’d like a little more function out of your ratcheting screwdriver, there are several models available with additional capabilities. Some features are rather trade-specific. For instance, you can find screwdrivers with wire strippers, benders, and wire nut sockets for electricians.
Beyond the added features, ratcheting screwdriver kits tend to be the most versatile. They include tons of bits and attachments for tackling a wide range of projects like renovations, automotive work, and routine home maintenance.
Our Top Picks
The following section includes our top favorites among the best ratcheting screwdriver options currently available.
If you’re looking for a heavy-duty ratcheting screwdriver capable of professional use, the Wera 5073661002 Kraftform Kompakt 27 RA ratcheting screwdriver might tick all the boxes for you. This ratcheting screwdriver has secure in-handle storage for your bits. It also has an ergonomically designed grip for comfortable use and plenty of torque.
The 5073661002 comes with six bits: #1 and #2 Phillips, #1 and #2 square drive, and two slotted drivers. The shaft also doubles as a 1/4-inch nut driver. The bits store in the handle, popping out of the grip with a spring-loaded push-button release.
The Wera also has a super smooth ratcheting mechanism with strong but fine-toothed gears, meaning you won’t have to twist the handle back as much to engage the ratchet and twist it forward again.
When you really want to crank down on a fastener, consider opting for the Megapro Marketing USA NC 211R2C36RD ratcheting screwdriver. This tool’s shaft doubles as a 1/4-inch nut driver, and it comes with 12 bits, including four Phillips bits, two square drive bits, two slotted bits, and four Torx bits.
These all store in a pull-out cartridge within the tool’s handle. The cartridge’s cap rotates freely at the end of the handle, so you can use one hand to apply downward force on the cap while the other twists the handle for maximum torque and control.
Also of note is that the handle is rubber-coated, providing plenty of gripping surface area. Switching from tightening to loosening is easy with the Megapro’s collar mechanism.
If you’re looking for a quality ratcheting screwdriver with a few extra features, check out the Milwaukee 48-22-2302 Multi Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver. This screwdriver comes with six 3.5-inch driver bits, including three square drive bits, two Phillips bits, and two slotted bits. The longer bits are easy to manipulate, and they store on the handle in secure slots so there’s little risk of them falling out.
The 48-22-2302 screwdriver also features some handy extras. It has a wire stripper built into the handle, as well as a wire loop bender, which can enable you to make fast, accurate, and consistent bends when wiring outlets and switches. Also, without the bit, the handle functions as a 1/4-inch nut driver in and of itself.
As far as ratcheting goes, the Milwaukee has a collar to switch directions or lock the shaft in place. Although the bits do take up a bit of space on the handle, there is plenty of gripping area for applying lots of torque.
This option from Klein Tools is a prime example of a multi-bit ratcheting screwdriver. This tool features six universal tips (#1 and #2 Phillips, #1 and #2 square drive, and 3/8-inch and 1/4-inch slotted), along with three different nut drivers (5/16, 3/8, and 1/4-inch). All store in the shaft and taken altogether, they give this Klein Tools screwdriver a great deal of extra functionality.
While the traditional rubber-covered grip provides plenty of gripping area for twisting stubborn screws and hex-headed fasteners, the robust ratcheting mechanism make it possible to handle heavy-duty work.
If you’re looking for a stubby screwdriver with many of the capabilities of its larger contemporaries, the Klein Tools 32593 Multi-Bit Ratcheting Screwdriver is worth a look. This compact screwdriver features four driver bits; #1 and #2 Phillips, as well as two slotted driver bits. It also has two nut drivers; 1/4-inch and 5/16-inch. The bits store in the shaft.
Switching between clockwise, counterclockwise, and locked ratcheting modes is easy with the rotating collar mechanism. Its small size makes it even more versatile, allowing it to fit in tight spots, though it does make it difficult to apply a ton of torque.
The Makita B-50289 is worth checking out if you’re looking for a ratcheting screwdriver that comes with a comprehensive set of bits and sockets. This 49-piece kit comes with a screwdriver, 11 Phillips bits, eight Torx bits, and four slotted bits. It also comes with seven sockets and several square and hex-drive bits.
The screwdriver’s handle has plenty of grip, with its rubber overmold and nicely tapered design. It has a collar direction adjustment, as well as a lanyard hole for a wrist strap or hanging cord. However, it doesn’t have any onboard storage, so you should keep the case on hand for easy access to bits.
FAQs About Your New Ratcheting Screwdriver
If you’re still a little twisted up about buying the best ratcheting screwdriver, the following section will help. It includes some of the most frequently asked questions and answers about ratcheting screwdrivers.
Q. How does a ratcheting screwdriver work?
Ratcheting screwdrivers use a gear and a pawl to allow the shaft to rotate independently on the backstroke and engage the shaft on the forward twist. As the handle rotates backward, the pawl skips over the teeth, allowing the shaft to remain still. As the handle rotates forward, the pawl grabs the gear, engaging the shaft and rotating it with the handle.
Q. What is the difference between a ratchet screwdriver and a standard screwdriver?
Standard screwdriver shafts are permanently fixed to the handle, so every twist of the handle twists the tip. Ratcheting screwdrivers engage and disengage from the shaft, allowing you to twist the handle back and forth, while only driving the fastener in one direction.
Q. How do you remove a bit from a ratchet screwdriver?
Most ratchet screwdrivers use ball detents or magnets to hold their bits in place. In either case, removing the bit simply requires pulling the bit straight out of the shaft.