saibiker, you have the friction shifters. The ratcheting sound is the Power Ratchet which makes friction shifting tolerable. Without either a ratchet, or the clutch design used by old Simplex retrofriction and later Shimano shifters, friction is a PITA because it tends to slip while shifting against the spring. The suntour friction barcons, on the other hand, work extremely well because the ratchet prevents this slipping while shifting against the spring. Clutch shifters accomplish the same goal but are smoother.
Friction shifters will work with any number of speeds, and with any rear derailleur you can find. The precision of friction shifting is primarily determined by the amount of slop and resistance in the system. So if you're going to use your barcons with an 8 speed cluster, you would do well to consider splurging on a high quality teflon/sealed/etc. cable and housing system. A snappy rear derailleur with minimum slop also helps a lot.