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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best universal socket wrenches

One problem with tools is that you need to have so many on hand “just in case.” Even the simple act of loosening a nut or bolt requires having an arsenal of wrenches in both Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and metric sizes, because the two units of measurement are not interchangeable. If you choose the wrong wrench, you could damage the nut or bolt, making it extremely difficult to unfasten. Your solution is to get a universal socket wrench.

A universal socket wrench is a versatile tool that can save you time and money for lighter-duty jobs. This device fits securely over whatever it is that you need to twist off. It doesn't matter if it’s a 1/2-inch square bolt or a 12-millimeter hex bolt, you can use the same tool.

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Some universal socket wrenches are so adaptable they can even grip a stripped or rusted bolt.

Key considerations

Types

There are two main types of universal socket wrenches: self-adjusting (pins) and rotating head.

Self-adjusting (pins): A self-adjusting socket wrench features a number of durable pins, usually made of steel, that are very similar to 3D pin art toys. Basically, you place the tool over virtually any nut or bolt and it automatically conforms to the shape, allowing you to begin work without fussing over selecting the right size socket.

On the downside, these types of socket wrenches may slip and round off a nut or bolt, and they aren’t able to work on anything too deep or too shallow.

Rotating head: This type of socket wrench features a rotating head with four different sockets on each end. The sockets are designed to fit over a number of shapes. The average rotating head model can tighten or loosen up to 48 different nut or bolt heads.

On the downside, while the angle of these tools is adjustable, the heads are bulky and they don’t tend to feature a ratcheting mechanism.

expert Tip
Read directions. Some of these tools are not rated for use with impact drivers, impact wrenches, or air-powered tools.
BestReviews Home Improvement and DIY Expert

To zero in on the tool you need, answer these three questions

  1. Do you need a handle or an adapter? A self-adjusting universal socket wrench can be used manually with a handle, or it can be attached to an electric drill. The socket itself can be attached to either, but if you don’t own a socket set, you won’t have a handle unless the model you’re getting comes with one. Likewise, if you don’t already have an adapter for an electric drill, you’ll need to get one.

  2. What size drive do you need? All socket wrenches attach to the handle or adapter in the same manner. However, the part it attaches to — the drive — comes in different sizes. If you’re getting a universal socket wrench that needs to fit a part that you already have, you must match sizes. The most common options are a 1/4-inch, 3/8-inch, or 1/2-inch drive.

  3. Do you want a ratcheting mechanism? Yes, you do, because this allows you to tighten or loosen without removing the tool from the nut or bolt. Luckily, this feature is standard on self-adjusting universal socket wrenches. If you choose a model with a rotating head, however, you’ll likely forfeit this handy feature. Also, it’s important to note that different ratchets feature different tooth counts. The higher the tooth count, the less room you need to operate the tool.

Features

After determining the type of universal socket wrench you prefer, there are only a few other factors you need to consider before choosing your ideal universal socket wrench.

Handle

If you’re using your universal socket wrench manually, an ergonomic handle that’s coated for a comfortable, nonslip grip is best.

Number of pins

Most self-adjusting universal socket wrenches have somewhere around 54 pins. As a very general guideline, more pins tend to mean greater adaptability but less strength. Some models feature fewer pins of thicker diameter, which allows you to apply more torque, but in most instances, this may not be an appreciable difference.

Range

Typically, universal socket wrenches have a range that fits nuts and bolts of 1/4 to 3/4 inch or 7 to 19 millimeters. If you have nuts or bolts outside of those ranges, be certain the model that you’re considering will meet those needs.

Angle

Most self-adjusting universal socket wrenches only work straight on with an electric drill or at a 90° angle with a handle. If you need to work at an angle, you may need to select an adapter that allows you to do this or use a model with a rotating head.

Depth

The taller the socket, the deeper the pins can retract. Still, most only retract less than half an inch. If you have a unique situation, be sure the model you get will work for you. A model with a rotating head design, for instance, typically has a pass-through socket that allows the tool to be slipped over a longer bolt.

Color

Some universal socket wrenches are colored so they are more easily identifiable in a crowded toolbox. If this sounds desirable, look for a colored model.

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Expert Tip
Keep your universal socket wrench clean to protect the spring loaded pins that are the mainstay of its work. Store it in the enclosed box, zipper bag, or small plastic container that it comes with.
BestReviews Home Improvement and DIY Expert

Universal socket wrench prices

Inexpensive

The universal socket wrenches that cost less than $15 are mostly honeycomb sockets with an adapter so the tool can be attached to an electric drill. There are a few light-duty, bargain models that feature a handle in this range as well, but those might not offer the durability you desire.

Mid-range

From $15 to $20 is the best range for most users. At this price, you can find four-piece sets of two sockets and two adapters, a universal socket wrench with a handle, or a universal socket wrench that features a rotating head (instead of the more common honeycomb design). The average homeowner will most likely be happy with the products in or around this price range.

Expensive

For the most part, universal socket wrenches top out between $20 and $30. Unless you need a larger socket, you shouldn’t need to pay this much.

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Expert Tip
Consider lubricating any nut before attempting to remove it. This helps the tool do its job and may keep it working better for longer.
BestReviews Home Improvement and DIY Expert

Tips

  • Use the right socket. If you have a universal socket wrench with rotating heads, you must still be careful to select the right socket; otherwise, you could strip the nut or bolt that you’re working on.
  • Center the nut or bolt in the wrench. When using a honeycomb universal socket wrench, do your best to get the nut or bolt in the center of the honeycomb, especially if you’re using an attachment for a power tool.
  • Take care using power tools with the socket wrench. Repeated use of a honeycomb universal socket wrench on the same nut or bolt can gradually round off the nut or bolt making it hard to fasten. This is more of a concern with power tool usage.
  • Keep your socket wrench clean. Occasionally, the springs in the rods of a honeycomb universal wrench may get stuck. This won't usually drastically affect the tool's functionality, but it’s best to keep all of your tools as clean and grease-free as possible.
  • Check the direction. Don't forget that a universal socket wrench is a directional tool. Make sure you set the switch in the proper position, so the tool functions as expected (tightens or loosens).
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Expert Tip
A universal socket wrench with a honeycomb design can be used to tighten or loosen items with less conventional shapes, such as a screw-in hook.
STAFF
BestReviews
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Because of its design, a universal socket wrench with a honeycomb design won’t work in a situation that requires a pass-through socket. A model with a rotating head, however, will allow the tool to be slipped over a longer bolt.

FAQ

Q. Why would I want a universal socket wrench?

A. The biggest benefit is convenience. When you’re working on a job that has nuts and bolts of different sizes, using a universal socket wrench means you won’t need to keep switching out your tools for a proper fit. Additionally, when packing the tools you anticipate using for a job, you only need to bring one universal socket wrench, not a handful (or more) of wrenches. Last, a universal socket wrench features a ratcheting mechanism that allows you to tighten or loosen without the need to remove and refit the head of the tool with every turn.

Q. Are there any downsides to using a universal socket wrench?

A. Unfortunately, there are a few. But fortunately, in most instances, they aren’t deal breakers. The biggest drawback to using a universal socket wrench (honeycomb style) is that there is considerably less contact between the tool and the nut or bolt. This means the tool won’t feel quite as sturdy in your hand, it can slip and round out the corners of a nut or bolt, and it isn’t reliable for heavy-duty jobs such as automobile work.

Additionally, the moving parts can make it wear more than a basic wrench, and it isn’t designed for special use situations, such as spark plugs or oxygen sensor removal/installation. However, a universal socket wrench excels in lighter-duty tasks, making it much easier for the average handyperson to get the job done. In short, like any tool, as long as you’re using it for the purpose for which it was intended, you won’t be disappointed.

Q. What happens if I accidentally round off the corners of the nut or bolt that I’m working on? Can it still be removed?

A. Yes. There are a number of techniques you can use to manually remove a rounded nut or bolt. The best technique for a universal socket wrench is to use a metal file to make the sides flat again, so your universal socket wrench has something to grab onto.

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