Ratchet (device)

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A ratchet featuring a gear (1) and pawl (2) mounted on a base (3) Ratchet Drawing.svg
A ratchet featuring a gear (1) and pawl (2) mounted on a base (3)

A ratchet is a mechanical device that allows continuous linear or rotary motion in only one direction while preventing motion in the opposite direction. Ratchets are widely used in machinery and tools. The word ratchet is also used informally to refer to a ratcheting socket wrench.

Socket wrench

A socket wrench is a type of wrench or spanner that has a socket attached at one end, usually used to turn a fastener.


Theory of operation

A ratchet moving in its "forward" direction Ratchet example.gif
A ratchet moving in its "forward" direction

A rachet consists of a round gear or a linear rack with teeth, and a pivoting, spring-loaded finger called a pawl (or click, in clocks and watches [1] [2] ) that engages the teeth. The teeth are uniform but asymmetrical, with each tooth having a moderate slope on one edge and a much steeper slope on the other edge.

Gear rotating machine

A gear or cogwheel is a rotating machine part having cut teeth or, in the case of a cogwheel, inserted teeth, which mesh with another toothed part to transmit torque. Geared devices can change the speed, torque, and direction of a power source. Gears almost always produce a change in torque, creating a mechanical advantage, through their gear ratio, and thus may be considered a simple machine. The teeth on the two meshing gears all have the same shape. Two or more meshing gears, working in a sequence, are called a gear train or a transmission. A gear can mesh with a linear toothed part, called a rack, producing translation instead of rotation.

Rack and pinion machine element

A rack and pinion is a type of linear actuator that comprises a circular gear engaging a linear gear, which operate to translate rotational motion into linear motion. Driving the pinion into rotation causes the rack to be driven linearly. Driving the rack linearly will cause the pinion to be driven into a rotation.


A pawl is a mechanical component that engages with another component to prevent movement in one direction, or prevent movement altogether. It is a type of latch. It consists of a spring-loaded solid part that is pivoted at one end and engages the other component at a steep angle at the other end. Pawls are often tapered, being wide at the pivoting end and narrow at the engaging end.

When the teeth are moving in the unrestricted (i.e. forward) direction, the pawl easily slides up and over the gently sloped edges of the teeth, with a spring forcing it (often with an audible 'click') into the depression between the teeth as it passes the tip of each tooth. When the teeth move in the opposite (backward) direction, however, the pawl will catch against the steeply sloped edge of the first tooth it encounters, thereby locking it against the tooth and preventing any further motion in that direction.


Because the ratchet can only stop backward motion at discrete points (i.e., at tooth boundaries), a ratchet does allow a limited amount of backward motion. This backward motion—which is limited to a maximum distance equal to the spacing between the teeth—is called backlash. In cases where backlash must be minimized, a smooth, toothless ratchet with a high friction surface such as rubber is sometimes used. The pawl bears against the surface at an angle so that any backward motion will cause the pawl to jam against the surface and thus prevent any further backward motion. Since the backward travel distance is primarily a function of the compressibility of the high friction surface, this mechanism can result in significantly reduced backlash.

Backlash (engineering) clearance between mating components

In mechanical engineering, backlash, sometimes called lash or play, is a clearance or lost motion in a mechanism caused by gaps between the parts. It can be defined as "the maximum distance or angle through which any part of a mechanical system may be moved in one direction without applying appreciable force or motion to the next part in mechanical sequence".p. 1-8 An example, in the context of gears and gear trains, is the amount of clearance between mated gear teeth. It can be seen when the direction of movement is reversed and the slack or lost motion is taken up before the reversal of motion is complete. It can be heard from the railway couplings when a train reverses direction. Another example is in a valve train with mechanical tappets, where a certain range of lash is necessary for the valves to work properly.


Ratchet mechanisms are used in a wide variety of applications, including these:

Cable tie fastener for electrical cable

A cable tie is a type of fastener, for holding items together, primarily electrical cables or wires. Because of their low cost and ease of use, cable ties are ubiquitous, finding use in a wide range of other applications. Stainless steel versions, either naked or coated with a rugged plastic, cater for exterior applications and hazardous environments.

Capstan (nautical) rotating machine used to control or apply force to another element

A capstan is a vertical-axled rotating machine developed for use on sailing ships to multiply the pulling force of seamen when hauling ropes, cables, and hawsers. The principle is similar to that of the windlass, which has a horizontal axle.

Clock Instrument for measuring, keeping or indicating time.

A clock is an instrument used to measure, keep, and indicate time. The clock is one of the oldest human inventions, meeting the need to measure intervals of time shorter than the natural units: the day, the lunar month, and the year. Devices operating on several physical processes have been used over the millennia.

See also

Brownian ratchet

In the philosophy of thermal and statistical physics, the Brownian ratchet or Feynman–Smoluchowski ratchet is an apparent perpetual motion machine first analysed in 1912 as a thought experiment by Polish physicist Marian Smoluchowski and popularised by American Nobel laureate physicist Richard Feynman in a physics lecture at the California Institute of Technology on May 11, 1962, during his Messenger Lectures series The Character of Physical Law in Cornell University in 1964 and in his text The Feynman Lectures on Physics as an illustration of the laws of thermodynamics. The simple machine, consisting of a tiny paddle wheel and a ratchet, appears to be an example of a Maxwell's demon, able to extract useful work from random fluctuations (heat) in a system at thermal equilibrium in violation of the second law of thermodynamics. Detailed analysis by Feynman and others showed why it cannot actually do this.


In mechanical or automotive engineering, a freewheel or overrunning clutch is a device in a transmission that disengages the driveshaft from the driven shaft when the driven shaft rotates faster than the driveshaft. An overdrive is sometimes mistakenly called a freewheel, but is otherwise unrelated.

Sprag clutch

A sprag clutch is a one-way freewheel clutch. It resembles a roller bearing but, instead of cylindrical rollers, non-revolving asymmetric figure-eight shaped sprags are used. When the unit rotates in one direction the rollers slip or free-wheel, but when a torque is applied in the opposite direction, the rollers tilt slightly, producing a wedging action and binding because of friction. The sprags are spring-loaded so that they lock with very little backlash.

Related Research Articles

Clutch machine element for rigid, elastic, movable or releasable connection of two shafts

A clutch is a mechanical device which engages and disengages power transmission especially from driving shaft to driven shaft.


A shaper is a type of machine tool that uses linear relative motion between the workpiece and a single-point cutting tool to machine a linear toolpath. Its cut is analogous to that of a lathe, except that it is (archetypally) linear instead of helical.

A continuously variable transmission (CVT), also known as a shiftless transmission, single-speed transmission, stepless transmission, pulley transmission, or, in case of motorcycles, a 'twist-and-go', is an automatic transmission that can change seamlessly through a continuous range of effective gear ratios. This contrasts with other mechanical transmissions that offer a fixed number of gear ratios. The flexibility of a CVT with suitable control may allow the input shaft to maintain a constant angular velocity even as the output speed varies.

Escapement Mechanism for regulating the speed of clocks

An escapement is a mechanical linkage in mechanical watches and clocks that gives impulses to the timekeeping element and periodically releases the gear train to move forward, advancing the clock's hands. The impulse action transfers energy to the clock's timekeeping element to replace the energy lost to friction during its cycle and keep the timekeeper oscillating. The escapement is driven by force from a coiled spring or a suspended weight, transmitted through the timepiece's gear train. Each swing of the pendulum or balance wheel releases a tooth of the escapement's escape wheel, allowing the clock's gear train to advance or "escape" by a fixed amount. This regular periodic advancement moves the clock's hands forward at a steady rate. At the same time the tooth gives the timekeeping element a push, before another tooth catches on the escapement's pallet, returning the escapement to its "locked" state. The sudden stopping of the escapement's tooth is what generates the characteristic "ticking" sound heard in operating mechanical clocks and watches. The first mechanical escapement, the verge escapement, was invented in medieval Europe during the 13th century, and was the crucial innovation which lead to the development of the mechanical clock. The design of the escapement has a large effect on a timepiece's accuracy, and improvements in escapement design drove improvements in time measurement during the era of mechanical timekeeping from the 13th through the 19th century.

Parking pawl

A parking pawl is a device fitted to a motor vehicle's automatic transmission in order for it to lock up the transmission. It is engaged when the transmission shift lever selector is placed in the Park position, which is always the first position in all cars sold in the United States since 1965 through SAE J915, and in most other vehicles worldwide.


A mainspring is a spiral torsion spring of metal ribbon—commonly spring steel—used as a power source in mechanical watches, some clocks, and other clockwork mechanisms. Winding the timepiece, by turning a knob or key, stores energy in the mainspring by twisting the spiral tighter. The force of the mainspring then turns the clock's wheels as it unwinds, until the next winding is needed. The adjectives wind-up and spring-powered refer to mechanisms powered by mainsprings, which also include kitchen timers, music boxes, wind-up toys and clockwork radios.

Anchor escapement

In horology, the anchor escapement is a type of escapement used in pendulum clocks. The escapement is a mechanism in a mechanical clock that maintains the swing of the pendulum by giving it a small push each swing, and allows the clock's wheels to advance a fixed amount with each swing, moving the clock's hands forward. The anchor escapement was so named because one of its principal parts is shaped vaguely like a ship's anchor.

In horology, a maintaining power is a mechanism for keeping a clock or watch going while it is being wound.

Impact wrench

An impact wrench is a socket wrench power tool designed to deliver high torque output with minimal exertion by the user, by storing energy in a rotating mass, then delivering it suddenly to the output shaft.

In engineering, a dog is a tool or part of a tool that prevents movement or imparts movement by offering physical obstruction or engagement of some kind. It may hold another object in place by blocking it, clamping it, or otherwise obstructing its movement. Or it may couple various parts together so that they move in unison – the primary example of this being a flexible drive to mate two shafts in order to transmit torque. Some devices use dog clutches to lock together two spinning components. In a manual transmission, the dog clutches, or "dogs" lock the selected gear to the shaft it rotates on. Unless the dog is engaged, the gear will simply freewheel on the shaft.

In horology, a wheel train is the gear train of a mechanical watch or clock. Although the term is used for other types of gear trains, the long history of mechanical timepieces has created a traditional terminology for their gear trains which is not used in other applications of gears.

New Britain Machine Company former tool company in Connecticut, USA

New Britain Machine Company was a tool company that was headquartered in New Britain, Connecticut. The company started to sell sockets and drive tools. New Britain was the main supplier for NAPA tools until its closure in 1990. New Britain Machine owned Husky and Blackhawk tools as well as making its own economy-grade tools under the None Better and Mustang names. New Britain Machine was then acquired by the Litton Tool Company on December 22, 1972.


  1. hautehorlogerie.org
  2. "Know your terminology – Clocks". Hints and Tips. British Horological Institute. Archived from the original on 2008-06-07. Retrieved 2008-05-15.