This review is written by contributor Stephen K.
I have been keeping my eyes open for a long-pattern flex ratchet for a while. I’m just a DIY’er, so I cannot justify spending big bucks for a brand like Snap-On or MATCO, but I still wanted something USA-made and good quality. I picked up this Armstrong Maxx 11-994 ⅜”-drive ratchet because it appeared to have the specs I was looking for. Plus, it was priced at around $60 (via Harry Epstein), placing it within my budget.
The first thing that struck me about this ratchet is its length; the ratchet is quite long at 11.5 inches.
Taking closer look at the ratchet head, you can see that the joint is held together with an adjustable machine screw. Some people prefer a screw to a pressed pin, as it allows you to tighten the joint if it starts to loosen up. You can also see the locking lever in this picture. You can lock the ratchet head in a total of nine different positions.
The handle has an hourglass shape that fits the contour of your hand. I found it to be quite comfortable.
This ratchet has a 60-tooth mechanism that is held in place with a snap ring. The ratchet head also has a seal around the gear which helps prevent dirt from entering the ratchet.
The mechanism features a single pawl that engages 11 teeth at a time. This is one of the designs used by Apex Tool Group, the parent company of Armstrong. You’ll find a nearly identical design used in other ratchets made by Apex, such as the Craftsman thin-profile ratchets and certain GearWrench ratchets.
The head of the Armstrong ratchet is pretty thin (left), especially compared to another one of my favorite ratchets, the Wright 3490 (right). The Armstrong is about 1 inch thick. At ~1.33 inches tall, the Wright is considerably thicker.
The longer length of the Armstrong ratchet provides extra leverage that allows you to apply a lot of torque when needed. I had no problem removing the lug nuts on my truck, which are torqued to 100 ft-lbs.
The flex-head mechanism comes in handy when you need to access fasteners in tight spaces. I’m not a huge fan of normal flex ratchets without locking mechanisms. I find such ratchets to be too hard to control when I’m really pulling on the handle – a sure recipe for busted knuckles. The locking mechanism on the Armstrong completely fixes that issue. It securely holds the head at the set angle, so you don’t have to worry about the ratchet flexing and slipping when you don’t want it to. You can also unlock the mechanism and use the ratchet like a standard free-flexing head if you prefer it that way.
I used the ratchet while replacing the serpentine belt tensioner on my girlfriend’s VW Beetle. The tensioner is located in a very cramped area in the engine bay of this vehicle, exactly the type of use I bought the ratchet for. The locking flex mechanism made it easy to remove the bolts holding the tensioner to the engine.
The locking mechanism seems quite strong. I was not able to overpower it and slip the joint to the next angle position. A few times I did bump the locking lever on something and unlock the head unexpectedly, but this was a pretty rare occurrence.
The locking mechanism does allow for a small amount of movement back and forth. I made a video to show the movement in the flex mechanism when it’s locked.
At around $60, this is the most expensive ratchet I’ve purchased to date. It has some impressive qualities, including a 60-tooth design, and a sturdy locking mechanism. I think the Armstrong offers a lot of value. From what I can tell, you’ll likely have to spend considerably more money to find the same quality and features in another brand.
Comparable locking flex head ratchets
Note: We searched for but couldn’t find locking flex head ratchets by Blackhawk, Cornwell, Proto, Wright, or Williams.
Ed. Note: Stephen noticed is a bit of play in the flex head, even when locked. We asked Armstrong about this, and they told us that the grooves are machined and that a bit of play is normal. There is a brief discussion about the movements, measurements included, over at the Garage Gazette forum, and it looks like some copies of the ratchet have less play in the joint than the one reviewed. Does a bit of play detract the quality or performance of the ratchet? In our opinion, absolutely not.