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Tool Time Savers: 8 Tools for Dealing with Hard-to-Reach Fasteners

Everyone has a car with at least one impossible to reach bolt or other fastener. In some cases, there could be a dozen or more of those cuss-word bolts. 

We’ve all been there (band-aids, cuss-words and all). 

Fortunately, there are some good solutions (actually a whole bunch of them) when it comes to dealing with impossible to reach fasteners. Here are a few solutions right out of my own tool cabinets:

Flex Head Ratchet:  Flex head ratchets have been around for a long time. I have four of them in my tool collection. The 3/8-inch drive shown in the accompanying photo can be adjusted three ways in each direction (from straight). Couple this with an assortment of universal joints and specialty sockets, and it goes a long way toward reaching a grumpy nut or bolt.

Palm Drive Ratchet:  Palm drive (also known as “finger” or “thumbwheel”) ratchets are pretty cool. You can’t really place a lot of torque on them, but they’re sure convenient for working fasteners in tight spots. The SK tools example shown in the photos is pretty conventional, but they’re also available with a gimble handle. That setup, which pivots on two planes, offers even more flexibility.  You can get them in all sorts of drives.

Universal Joint Adapters:  Universal adapters are relatively common. I have handful of them in various drives (1/4-3/8-1/2-inch). They allow you to rotate a socket to almost 90-degrees. Sometimes this allows you to get the socket on the fastener. Then you can take some “tilt” out of the mix so that it is possible to actually spin the nut or bolt with a ratchet. Over time, universal joints tend to loosen. Some will actually flop around. If that becomes a frustration for a specific situation, simply wrap the joint with a bit of tape. That’ll take some flex out of it.

Flex Head Sockets: You can get these in quite a few different configurations. Basically, flex head sockets are quite a bit shorter than a combination of a universal joint and a socket combination. Because of this, you can get them into a tighter spot. 

Wobble Extensions:  Some socket extensions are available with a wobble end. This allows a few degrees of offset on the socket at the extension.  They’re available in all sorts of different lengths and sizes.

Knurled Extensions:  Another cool extension that’s out there is the knurled model. Here, the socket extension has a large knurl on the body and another on the female end. This allows you to hand tighten a fastener without the ratchet or other handle attached. They too are available in a sorts of sizes and lengths.

Nut Drivers:  Most everyone has a nut driver set, but for the few that don’t, they’re still important. It’s not a bad idea to add a socket driver handle, because they can give you a bit more versatility than a nut driver. As an example, you can use them to hand-turn something like a fIex head socket. 

Ratcheting Box Wrenches:  Racheting box ends work really well in tight quarters. They’re available in all sorts of configurations – flat, shallow offset, deep offset, with or without an open combination end, with or without flex heads, and so on. You can get them in different lengths and in all sorts of sizes. 

In the end, the above is just a glimpse of what is available for time-saving tools – especially those that allow you to work on those impossible nuts and bolts. There are all sorts of other solutions found in the Summit Racing catalog. For a closer look at a few of them, check out the accompanying photos.

This has to be everyone’s go-to tool for impossible fasteners. It’s a “Spinflex” ratchet, but there are several different examples listed in the Summit Racing catalog. Image/Wayne Scraba
Palm drive (or “finger drive” or “thumbwheel”) ratchets are pretty cool. This little ¼-inch drive SK job gets all sorts of use by me. And this is a simple example. As noted in the text, you can even get them with a gimble on the outside to add even more versatility. Image/Wayne Scraba
“Wobble” extensions allow you to access a fastener that might be a few degrees off from straight. They’re great in places where you can’t use a universal joint too (for example where you need some serious torque). They’re typically available in ¼ and 3/8-inch drives. Image/Wayne Scraba
Need a finger drive to start a bolt or nut but you can’t use a nut driver or a socket driver handle? Then you need to a set or two of these. Note the knurling on the female end along with a knurl on the body. That’s what makes them slick to use by hand. Image/Wayne Scraba
Everyone must at least one of these in a tool collection – preferably a few of them. You can get universal joints for ¼, 3/8 and ½-inch drives. There are all sorts of different configurations available and you can even get them for impact guns. See the Summit Racing catalog for more info. Image/Wayne Scraba
As pointed out in the text, there are many different configurations of flex head sockets (sockets with an integral universal joint). I prefer the shallow examples, because they take up little room. If I need a deep socket and there’s sufficient room to swing it, I just add a conventional or deep socket to a universal joint. Image/Wayne Scraba
Nut drivers and socket driver handles are common tools. In some places though, you might need to add a universal joint to gain access to the nut or bolt. That’s where a socket drive handle comes in handy. They’re not expensive and they’re a worthwhile addition to any tool box. Image/Wayne Scraba
Another go-to tool when it comes to tough to reach fasteners in the ratcheting box wrench. There are a large number of configurations available and this type only scratches the surface. Keep in mind these tools may be limited to the amount of torque you can apply. Image/Wayne Scraba


  1. Pingback: Tool Time Savers: 8 Tools for Dealing with Hard-to-Reach Fasteners

  2. Ty Gross. {AKA} Tystyx says:

    Great article….but what about the “homemade” tools that you can’t find in Normal Tool Catalogs? I had quite a few in my Toolbox.(should of Patented them) Also the one you listed, I’ve owned all of them and used them in a series of combinations talk about knuckle-busters! Got the job done.

  3. Paul Kennedy says:

    Hi Wayne Scraba, I’m writing you from Sudbury, Ontario canada. I have a problem you might solve for me. I rebuilding a 66 Dodge 500 series truck. It is the cab forward model. About a three ton truck, from your midwest. I have a clutch problem. I have replaced the master cylinder and the slave cylinder and the lines, but I cannot get enough stroke to move the fork forward, to press the fingers on the pressure plate. I don’t know what to do. One thing I figured out is I replaced the lines with 5/16 lines, when the original is 3/16. Also I used a flexible hose at the slave cylinder. (3/8) Would this make a difference? Also the master is a very small, single chamber cylinder. Your views would be appreciated. Thank you, Paul Kennedy

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