Air Ratchet VS Impact Wrench

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  March 12, 2022
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Ratchet and wrench are two common names in terms of nuts or bolts-related jobs. This is because both of these tools are used for the same purpose. And, their common task is to remove or fasten the nuts or bolts. However, they also have some differences and are mainly suitable for separate tasks.

For this reason, you should be aware of the differences between an air ratchet and an impact wrench if you are going to use them. To help you understand the proper use of them, we will differentiate them in general in this article.


What Is An Air Ratchet?

Specifically, an air ratchet is a type of ratchet which is powered by an air compressor. Then, what is a ratchet? A ratchet is a long little tool that helps to remove or fasten the nuts or bolts.

Usually, you will find two types of ratchets where one is a cordless ratchet, and another one is an air ratchet. However, an unpopular type of ratchet is also available called electric ratchet, which runs using direct electricity. Most people don’t like it as better electric tools are available for the same use.

As a matter of fact, you can use the air ratchet to tighten and remove small nuts and bolts. Because, this power tool cannot deliver high force and is not suitable for heavy use.

What Is An Impact Wrench?

An impact wrench is actually an advanced version of the ratchet. And, it can handle heavy tasks as well. Not to mention, the impact wrench comes in three types: electric corded, cordless, and air or pneumatic.

The impact wrench is designed to fit in big nuts and bolts. Therefore, you will see this tool in most mechanics’ tool chests as they always have to work with that type of nut. To add more, the impact wrench has a hammering system inside, and activating it will create a high torque on the wrench head.

Differences Between Air ratchet And Impact Wrench

While you will see many similarities among these power tools, they also have many important differences because of their unique characteristics. Though we’ve already said that they are not capable of doing the same jobs due to power differences, there is more left to talk about, which will be discussed below.

Design and Build

If you have ever used an electric drill machine, the structure of the impact wrench will be familiar to you. Because both tools come with similar external designs and structures. However, the cordless version doesn’t have any wire attached to the impact wrench. In any case, the impact wrench comes with a push trigger, and pulling this trigger activates the wrench head to provide rotational force.

Unlike the impact wrench, the air ratchet comes with a long pipe-looking design that has an attached line to get the airflow from the air compressor. Identically, the air ratchet is a type of ratchet you can use only with an air compressor. And, most air compressors can provide enough power to run an air ratchet because the air ratchet has a small requirement of power.

You will get a trigger button on one part of the air ratchet. And, another part of the ratchet holds the shaft head that is used to remove a nut. The overall structure almost looks like a thick stick.

Power Source

The name denotes the power source of the air ratchet. Yeah, it gets power from the air compressor, just like we’ve already mentioned. So, you cannot run it using any other power source. When the air compressor starts flowing air pressure into the ratchet, you can easily remove a small nut because of the rotational force of the ratchet head.

When we are talking about the power source of an impact wrench, we are not mentioning specifically one type. And, it’s good to know, impact wrenches come in a variety. So, the power sources of these impact wrenches can also be different. Usually, electric impact wrenches are powered by electricity or batteries. And, the air impact wrench runs similarly using an air compressor like the air ratchet. Not to mention, there is also another type called hydraulic impact wrench, which runs using the pressure caused by hydraulic liquid.

Power & Precision

If we talk about power, the impact wrench is always the winner. Because the air ratchet runs with a very low output force. To be specific, the output torque of an air ratchet can only create an impact of 35 ft-pounds to 80 ft-pounds, whereas you can get up to 1800 ft-pounds impact from the torque of an impact wrench. So, there is really a huge power gap between these two.

Nevertheless, we cannot keep the impact wrench in a better position when considering precision. Because the air ratchet can provide good accuracy due to its smooth and lower torque. Simply, we can say that the air ratchet is very easy to control as its speed is low and it runs using the air compressor. But, ensuring a stable precision is very tough because of the high torque, and sometimes it can turn for more rounds within a second.


Mostly, you will find the air ratchet in garages, or automotive shops, and the mechanics use it for fastening or loosening small nuts. Most of the time, people choose it for its better accuracy and usability in narrow places. Certainly, the air ratchet fits in very tight conditions because of its long structure.

Different from the air ratchet, you won’t be able to use the impact wrench in tight places. Plus, the impact wrench won’t provide so much precision as an air ratchet. People usually choose it for heavier conditions.


To sum up, you are now aware of all the distinguishing characteristics of these two power tools. Despite their similar purpose, their applications and structures are totally different. So, we suggest you use an impact wrench when you are a heavy user and work on tough jobs. On the other hand, the air ratchet is suggested if you work in tighter places frequently and need higher accuracy.

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Tools Doctor, content marketer, and dad. I love trying out new equipment, and together with my team I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with tools & crafting tips.