Compared to most mechanics tools, ratcheting combination wrenches are relatively new to the market. Despite their short existence, they have firmly established their place as a staple in toolboxes everywhere, so much so that some mechanics and DIY'ers have phased out traditional combos altogether. I'm something of a traditionalist when it comes to hand tools and while I love the functionality and convenience ratcheting combos provide, when it comes down to busting that old, rusty, corroded, fastener, I instinctively reach for the traditional combo. I've used models from I couldn't tell you how many manufacturers, but none of them ever impressed me to the point that I felt I could reach for them every time. In the words of ex-wives everywhere, sometimes feelings change.
When I heard back in December that Proto was revamping their line of ratcheting combos, my interest was instantly peaked. Proto has been around since forever (1907 to be exact), and their tools quite literally helped build America. They were a brand of choice in the early days of the auto industry, FDR's “New Deal” initiative, and virtually every US Military vehicle from WWII on has been outfitted with a set of Proto tools. Even today Proto is the “go to” tool for the Government, Military, even NASA, and if you know anything about the crazy specs on these jobs, especially the space shuttles, that's saying something. Even being the Proto fan that I am, the previous generation of ratcheting combos never really impressed me. They were nice quality and all, but they were only available in black finish, which I'm not that crazy about, they were made in Taiwan, and they just generally failed to wow me in any way. Nothing about them gave me any real justification for paying Proto prices for a slightly different version of something I could get from Gearwrench or Craftsman for less money.
When Proto said they were sending me a couple of their new wrenches to try out, I have to admit I was excited, but that really isn't saying much as I'm one of those guys that frequently gets excited about tools. When the box arrived I tore it open, took out the wrenches, and stared in awe. I know enough about tools to know something special when I see it, and these were clearly something special. These weren't a simple update of the previous models, these were a completely new design entirely.
The first thing that caught my attention was the beam of the wrench, which has two valleys cut into each side. These valleys serve two purposes, they obviously reduce the weight of the wrench, but they provide a fantastic grip as well.
Proto combos come in a “long pattern” as a standard length. It?s a matter of preference, but I prefer the added leverage of the long pattern personally. The 9/16″ model comes in at 8 3?4″, a full 1-1?4″ longer than a standard Gearwrench of the same size.
One of the most important factors when I'm considering a tool is how it feels in my hand. I noticed instantly that these wrenches were very comfortable to use. The aforementioned beam design feels nice, but it's the width of the beam that really puts these wrenches ahead of the game. Most designs are pretty standard in this department. A typical ratcheting combo measures around 1?8″ wide at the contact point as is the case with this Gearwrench model
Proto comes to the table with a beam width of nearly 1?4″, which for those of you who are as terrible at math as I am, is twice as wide, and twice as easy on your palm in a high torque situation.
As with all Proto combos since 2001, the open end of the wrench incorporates Proto's “Anti-Slip Design”. If you read my review of Proto's traditional ASD combos back in March (Read it HERE), you are already familiar with this technology. For those of you who didn't read my previous review and are too lazy to follow the link provided, It's a special set of notches designed to reduce slipping through off corner engagement of the fastener. While ASD is a 12 year old technology, there is something entirely new about the open end on these as well. Proto has utilized a new offset pattern that allows an additional swing arc of up to 13 degrees giving the wrench a little more versatility in situations where you working with 2 fasteners in close proximity to one another.
As with the previous models, these combos are reversible and incorporate a spline drive design. Spline or “universal” drive, has been around awhile. Unlike traditional 6 or 12 point designs, spline drive tools work on just about any style fastener design you'll find, 6, 8, and 12 point, square, external torx, spline, and probably some others I'm leaving out. It's also advantageous when dealing with partially rounded fasteners. I was skeptical of the spline drive at one time, but now that I've used it awhile, I'm hooked. I'd convert every drive tool I have to spline if I could afford to do it. These wrenches are a butter smooth, 72 tooth design, which is pretty much the industry standard for ratcheting combos.
In addition to being available in a full polish finish (currently the only finish available), there is one other detail about these wrenches that's definitely worth mentioning. As I stated earlier, the previous generation wrenches were made it Taiwan. Taiwan has churned out some nice quality stuff in recent years, and with companies like Craftsman, Klein, and even some truck brand tools shipping production overseas to varying degrees, it's easy for other manufacturers to justify following suit. It's gotten to the point that you almost find yourself expecting your tools to be Asian sourced and many have given up trying to maintain a USA made requirement to make it into their box. Proto bucked that trend.
The vast majority of the Proto line is made in the USA, but to meet the quality demands of their extremely demanding customer base, they've brought ratcheting combo production back to the USA as well. Made at Proto's Dallas, TX plant by American's who take pride in the tools they make, these wrenches have the distinction on being the only reversible, ratcheting, spline drive, wrenches made in America and meet the requirements of the Berry Amendment which qualifies them for preference by the Department of Defense for use on their contracts.
I try to find some fault in all the tools I review. It's hard to find a perfect tool, but this is about a close as it gets as far as I'm concerned. The only negative thing I can say about them is that I don't have more of them. The overall quality and performance is 1st class. Like all industrial brands, Proto sometimes lacks a bit in the cosmetics department, but these wrenches are flawless in that respect. The current offering ranges from 1?4″ to 1-1?4″ in SAE, and 6-32mm in metric and are available in various sized sets. These wrenches don't come cheap, they are professional quality tools at a professional quality price, and while the cost may deter the DIY/Hobbyist crowd, they're a bargain compared to many truck brand prices. If you're looking for a top shelf wrench that will last a lifetime or more, you needn't look any further. Proto really did a fantastic job on these, and I have no trouble saying these are the finest ratcheting combos I've ever had in my hands.