Impact sockets contain chromium-molybdenum alloy steel that will last through many uses. Contains both shallow and deep sockets for reaching fasteners in tight spots. Socket's design prevents wear on the fastener. Trustworthy brand name. Socket's weight is comfortable to use.
Price point comes in higher than some others. Case could be of a higher quality to keep sockets organized.
Chrome vanadium steel sockets will last for many uses. Precise size construction on the bits. Nice carrying case will keep the sockets well organized. Lower price than many other sets, while still nice quality. Handy starter set for people who only occasionally need sockets.
Not a set for users needing precise quality, as some common larger sizes of sockets are not included.
Collection includes 10-inch extension that's not found in every socket set. Chrome plated finish on the sockets prevents corrosion. Carrying case keeps large number of sockets organized. Impressive 83 pieces. Socket's design prevents wearing of the corners of the fastener.
High price point. Ratchet may fail to work properly over time, falling out of its selected position and causing errors.
Offers full protection from corrosion with polished chrome finish. Comprehensive set with pieces that come organized well inside the case. Uses proprietary technology to prevent slippage on stuck fasteners. Provides almost any type of socket you'll need.
Questionable longevity for the socket. Some pieces fit too tightly in the case and are tough to remove.
Small collection of sockets, but includes most commonly used metric sizes. Flex design works great for certain types of jobs. Good build quality for the price, other than loose screws in elbow area. Once you have screws locked in, sockets will stand up to frequent usage patterns.
Tiny screws included as wrist pins may pop loose over time, causing problems with functionality and use.
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Wrenches are great, but there are plenty of places they can't reach. A socket set is indispensable around the home, garage, and workshop. Combined with a turning tool like a ratchet or wrench, you can use a socket to loosen or tighten the nuts and bolts in the vehicle you’re working on.
But choosing the right socket set can be confusing. The number of pieces in the set, the material with which they’re made, and sizes of the sockets all impact your decision.
Helping you get it right is why BestReviews was created. The socket sets we recommend offer a terrific blend of value and performance. The following shopping guide explains what you should look for when buying a socket set.
There are four main features to think about when you’re looking to buy a socket set.
Sockets are subject to extreme forces, so they need to be able to handle a lot of punishment. Ordinary carbon steel isn't up to the task. The vast majority of sockets are made from either a chrome vanadium (CVS) steel alloy or a chrome molybdenum (cro-mo or chrome moly) steel alloy. The best sockets are forged – shaped by hammering – or formed in a mold under great pressure. This adds ductile strength, or resistance to breakage.
Is used in most socket sets
Can be brittle, leading to cracking in cheap sockets
Offers superior strength and durability
Budget socket sets sometimes use steel for the bit (the part that goes in the ratchet handle) and CVS for the socket. These sets offer great value to those who want sockets for occasional use, but they aren’t the choice of professionals.
You don’t always know the size of the bolt you want to undo, but you must ensure the socket you use is a snug fit. If it’s loose, it will slip. Not only can you skin your knuckles, but you will round off the corners of the bolt, damaging it and making it very difficult to loosen.
Most people recognize a standard hex socket. Some sets have 12-point versions. There’s little practical difference, though the latter are marginally faster to fit. Both come in several different lengths, referred to as "shallow," "standard," or "deep," though the dimensions vary.
There are other, more specialized types of sockets which might suit your needs better.
Flex sockets: The joint in the middle allows you to reach into awkward spaces.
Pass-through sockets: These sockets have no top, so they can be used on long bolts, where the nut is set further down. A ratchet handle with a corresponding hole is required.
Insulated sockets: A special coating makes these sockets safe to use with live AC or DC current.
Impact sockets: These particularly tough sockets are designed to work with electrical or air-powered impact drivers.
Many spark plugs require special longer sockets. Some, but not all, general-purpose sets include these sockets.
Almost all socket sets made in the U.S. use imperial fasteners (inches). Many European and Asian products use metric (mm). Sockets made for one will not fit the other. Make sure you know which type you need before you buy.
Small, cheap DIY socket sets often have a one-quarter-inch drive. There's nothing wrong with that, but larger drives give you more mating surface between the drive and socket, allowing you to transmit more power. Three-eighths-inch drives are the next step up, and one-half-inch drives are the largest in common use. The latter are the professional standard, often found on high-quality impact sockets that can withstand extreme forces. It's common for larger, general-purpose socket sets to offer a choice of drives.
Drive adapters are also available. If you only have a one-half-inch drive, for example, you can get adapters that will allow you to use three-eighths-inch or one-quarter-inch drives. Stop-down (reduction) adapters are okay. We generally advise against step-up adapters because a one-quarter-inch ratchet probably doesn’t have sufficient leverage for use on one-half-inch sockets.
If you need a ratchet handle, make sure one is included in the set. Many professional socket sets are designed to be used with air tools, so a handle would be extra.
When it comes to the contents of your socket set, the choice is enormous. Sets aimed at professionals often only contain sockets. Others of this standard might include the following.
Various extension bars
Universal joint (adapter for using sockets at an angle)
Breaker bar (longer handle, without a ratchet, designed for extra leverage)
General-purpose socket sets might have some or all of the above, as well as the following.
One or more pear ratchet handles with different drive sizes ("pear" describes the shape)
Screwdriver-type handle; interchangeable screwdriver bits
The number of sockets in a set also varies. Specialist sets might have as few as eight or ten, while others might have 40 or 50, giving you almost endless choices. Big sets offering hundreds of components can be tempting, but it's more important to focus on quality and getting the pieces you really need rather than extras that would probably never leave the case.
Q. What does SAE mean on a socket set description?
A. SAE stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers. The set will be imperial (inches) rather than metric.
Q. Some socket sets have a chrome finish and some are black. What's the difference?
A. It's just the final coating. Some people like shiny and others think black is more professional looking. What's important is the material the socket is made of, as discussed above.
Q. Should I look for ANSI on socket sets? Is it important?
A. Tools certified by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) have to meet certain criteria, which sounds great, but the professionals we consulted suggested that ANSI requirements weren't particularly stringent. The certification didn't impact their buying decisions.
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