Stop Assembling IKEA Furniture With An Allen Wrench - There's Something Way Better

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Allen wrenches are ingenious little devices. They're so cheap that you probably have a drawer full of them without ever having bought a single one, yet they're also incredibly effective. Allen wrenches (also widely known as hex keys) rose to popularity after World War II and are now practically ubiquitous. If you've assembled flat-packed furniture from IKEA, you know the promise and pain of the Allen wrench. It's great at getting into small spaces, but once there you often find that you can barely move the thing and have to keep removing, rotating, and reinserting it to keep things going. Hmm ... "removing, rotating, and reinserting" sounds awfully similar to what you do with a ratchet. And behold! Harbor Freight offers a fully featured ¼-inch ratchet designed specifically to use hex-shank bits ... including the many sizes of Allen keys.

IKEA is now the worst offender when it comes to making Allen wrenches a pain to use and, in fact, the company relies on customers' sense of accomplishment as one of the key reasons IKEA makes you assemble your furniture. But Allen screws are the go-to in other areas too, such as repairing bicycles. WWII Gear has a 3mm wrench designed to tune Turkish and Egyptian tambourines, and HowStuffWorks says they make lock-picking a breeze. Whatever you've tuned or broken into, at some point you've probably gotten a hand cramp from twisting the things, because they're designed to manipulate hex screws very well, but aren't well-designed to work with the human hand. Until now.

What the ICON bit-ratchet can do for you

The ICON Locking Flex-Head Ratchet and 35-Piece Bit Set is $39.99, and you might stumble on that price point a little if you're thinking of this as a simple Allen wrench alternative. ICON is Harbor Freight's premium in-house brand, and ICON products have a strong reputation as professional-grade tools with a lifetime warranty. While other ratchets have a male square drive gear in one of a few sizes (the most common are ¼-, ⅜-, and ½-inch), the ICON instead has a female ¼-inch recess for standard ¼-inch hex-shank bits, which you probably already have dozens (or hundreds) of. The head that accepts hex bits flexes forward and back to help with awkward angles, a common feature on high-end ratchets.

But here's where the ICON ratchet goes from handy to brilliant. The ratchet is small and, therefore, great for tight spaces, but it comes with a four-inch extension that elongates the handle for more torque. However, the extension itself has a ⅓-inch hex shaft and you can insert it through the ratchet's recess to create a T-handle tool reminiscent of small threading tap. This works because the butt end of the basic ratchet also accepts ¼-inch hex bits. But while the extension will go all the way through the ratchet's recess, bits won't, thanks to some design genius. The extension can also be used to extend the ratchet head perpendicular to the handle, like most ratchet extensions.

A universe of bits, and two-bit imitators

The ICON ratchet comes with 35 bits, including nine metric Allen keys from 1.5 to 8mm and four SAE sizes from ⅛-inch to ¼-inch. The 3- and 5-mm keys most often required to assemble IKEA furniture are included (the kit also includes Torx (star drive), Torx tamper-proof, slotted, Phillips, and Pozidriv bits). But those aren't your only options, because many hex key sizes are available as ¼-inch hex-shank bits. Harbor Freight's own 100-piece security bit set and Hercules impact-ready security bit set both include nine metric and 10 SAE Allen bits, as well as 12 bits for tamper-resistant hex screws.

You can get an even wider variety of bit sizes from other manufacturers, including longer-than-standard bits for hard-to-reach spaces. Similar ¼-inch hex drive ratchets are available, like this 37-piece kit from GreaTalent ($17.99). None of these has the flexibility of the ICON ratchet, or its warranty (which, incidentally, means that they'll replace any of the included 35 bits if you break one, forever). Of course, if you really want to save a buck, you can grab your hacksaw and use TikTok's genius hack that makes assembling IKEA furniture quick and easy. Whichever path you travel, having a reliable Allen key set on hand is critical for assembling IKEA furniture and a thousand other tasks, from changing bicycle pedals to fixing a loose handle on a refrigerator door.