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When it comes to tightening or loosening nuts and bolts, you could use a traditional wrench, but a ratchet with its accompanying socket set makes the job a whole lot easier, especially if you often work on cars, lawnmowers, or other machinery. A ratchet—also called a socket wrench—does not have a fixed end. Instead, it’s designed to accept interchangeable sockets in various sizes that match common sizes of bolts and other fasteners.
When a lot more power is needed than your own muscles can provide, an impact wrench with a set of impact sockets is the answer. Impact wrenches are power tools that add extra "oomph" in the form of an extra burst of torque to turn the most stubborn nuts and bolts. These wrenches use sockets designed to handle the extra force of a power tool.
Unlike a traditional wrench, a socket fits around the entire fastener, making it much less likely to slip. Plus, there’s no need to remove and reposition your ratchet when working in a tight spot, as is typically required with a traditional wrench. That lets you work faster and with much less frustration.
Sockets are normally sold in sets that contain a wide range of sizes, as well as attachments for specialized purposes. We researched the many socket sets on the market and whittled the choices down to the best sets for most DIYers purposes.
Here are the best socket sets you can buy.
Best Overall: Sunex Tools 3342 3/8-Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
If the name “Sunex” doesn’t immediately spring to mind at the thought of high-quality tools, then that’s about to change. This excellent collection of 42 sockets, each crafted from Chromium-Molybdenum Alloy Steel, marries a wide range of metric, deep metric, SAE, and deep-SAE sockets with affordability and top quality performance that you can trust.
This set is perfect for the DIY auto mechanic looking for an upgrade—or the professional automotive technician seeking out an addition to their beloved but likely well-worn tools. With metric and deep metric sockets ranging from 10 mm to 19 mm each, and with SAE and deep SAE sockets ranging from 5/16-inch to 3/4-inch, Sunex is confident that you’ll have the right tools for the job with their impact sockets—especially when you attach their complimentary 3-inch extension for those awkward, hard-to-reach jobs.
Sunex’s versatile impact sockets, which boast radius corner design for enhanced torque, come in their own heavy-duty case for stylish, safe, and convenient storage.
Best Budget: Stanley 92-804 30 Piece Socket Set
If you’re a hobbyist, chances are you don’t need a high-end socket set—a budget-friendly set will meet most of your needs, and then some. Stanley is a brand synonymous with over a century’s worth of hardware aficionado satisfaction, so when they release a 30-piece socket set for under $30, you know you’re in for tools that don’t sacrifice quality for affordability.
This set includes seven 12-point metric sockets (6 mm to 12 mm), three 12-point SAE sockets (3/8-inch to 1/2-inch), seven 6-point metric sockets (6 mm to 12 mm), and ten 6-point SAE sockets (3/16-inch to 9/16-inch), and it rounds off a surprisingly wide selection with a drive universal joint, a drive extension bar, and a pear head ratchet.
This affordable set of sockets is a great addition to your home toolbox, with more than enough variety and durability to take on everyday household jobs. All in all, Stanley’s 30-piece socket set is a compact, complete, and competitively-priced addition to any amateur handyperson’s collection.
Best Torx Bit: Neiko 10083A Master Torx Bit Socket and External Torx Socket Set
Different types of fasteners require specific sockets, and Torx screws, which feature a six-point star pattern, are no exception to this rule. This kind of screw requires a special screwdriver—the aptly named Torx screwdriver—or a socket called a Torx bit socket. For the mechanic who wants access to a comprehensive selection of Torx bit sockets without taking his or her workplace tools home, Neiko’s 10083A Master Torx Bit Socket and External Torx Socket Set is a midrange set that provides near-professional grade quality without all the bells and whistles that come with pricier, high-end assortments.
Neiko’s Torx bit socket set includes 17 Torx star bit sockets ranging from T6 to T70, 17 tamper-proof Torx bit sockets ranging from TT6 to TT70, 12 Torx Plus bit sockets ranging from TP8 to TP60, and 14 external Torx sockets ranging from E4 to E24. Whether you’re a computer technician or you dabble in bicycle repair, you’re bound to run into a Torx screw. And while this collection isn’t meant to replace your traditional socket set, it’s an important addition to your toolbox—if only because you’d be hard-pressed to jury-rig an alternative method of removing one of these pesky fasteners.
Best Portable: Stalwart 75-HT4023B Ratchet, Metric Socket and Bit Set
Technology advances quickly, which makes it likely that something that worked yesterday will require repairs today. As any handyperson can attest, tools that are both compact and portable are necessary for tackling unexpected day-to-day repair jobs. Stalwart’s 75-HT4023B Ratchet, Metric Socket and Bit Set just so happens to fit your everyday needs to a T.
This budget-friendly set boasts big value in a small case, packing a ratchet wrench alongside a collection of eight metric sockets (5 mm to 12 mm) and 12 screwdriver bits of various sizes (three Phillips, three flat, three Pozi, and three Torx). That means you’ll never be without the right gear for any minor household or automotive repair.
While it might be true that this set leans a little on the small side, it’s great for jobs where limited space would otherwise impede larger tools. Plus, its smaller size makes it a perfect fit for your glove compartment or kitchen drawer.
Best Complete Package: Stanley STMT71652 123-Piece Socket Set
For the hardware handler who wants it all, there’s only one set out there that combines the variety and quality of a higher-end collection with the affordability of a midrange set: the Stanley STMT71652 123-Piece Socket Set. This crowd-pleaser comes loaded with 123 of the most useful tools, including over 70 sockets, more than 20 screwdriver bits, 2 ratchets, and a spinner handle.
This set is a great investment for beginners looking for an entry-level socket set or semi-pros seeking a backup toolbox of bits. It pulls no punches in providing buyers with all the right tools for their next minor automotive or household repair project.
Best Professional Grade: Sunex Tools 3580 3/8-Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
The old saying, "You get what you pay for" isn't always true, but it is in this case. The Sunex 3580 3/8-Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set is truly a behemoth of a socket set, sporting 80 pieces including metric, deep, universal, and external star sockets, along with a variety of extensions.
Crafted from chromium-molybdenum alloy steel—a testament to their durability—these sockets are built to last for years, with deep sockets that are ideal for removing lug nuts and a universal joint that pivots up to 22 degrees, so reaching tough-to-manage fasteners is a cinch.
This multifaceted selection of the most common sizes truly stands out amongst the competition. While it carries a price tag worthy of such a comprehensive selection, these sockets are likely to replace your favorite former go-to tools.
Best for Spark Plugs: Sunex Spark Plug Socket Set 8845
If you spend much time working on cars or other gas-powered engines, either
as a hobby or professionally, then you know the value of a good set of socket
wrenches specifically designed for accessing and turning spark plugs, whether
they be inside your automobile, motorcycle, lawn mower, chainsaw, trimmer, or
truck. And the Sunex 8845 3/8-Inch Spark Plug Socket Set definitely qualifies as
a top-choice set for this task.
The Sunex set includes seven sockets, all made of CR-V alloy steel for
maximum strength: three standard 2.5-inch-long sockets in common sizes 9/16, 5/8,
and 13/16 inch; one 2.5-inch-long thin-wall 16 mm socket; and three 6-inch-long
sockets in sizes 9/16, 5/8, and 13/16 inch. Between them all, you’ll be able to
grab and turn any spark plug. Plus, the set includes a heavy-duty plastic box
to store the sockets when not in use.
Whether you’re an amateur or a professional auto mechanic, you’ll appreciate the quality and the completeness of the Sunex Tools Socket Set (view at Amazon). It has everything you need for auto repairs both big and small. But if budget is a concern, the Stanley Socket Set (view at Amazon) might be slightly lower quality, but it’s still a dependable and versatile choice for DIY auto repairs.
What to Look for in a Socket Set
There are two basic measurement systems used for the socket head, which is the part of the socket that fits over the fastener: SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers), which measures in fractions of inches, and metric, which measures in millimeters. While metric is far more common today, even for American cars, it’s worth your while to have SAE sockets as well if you do much work on older American cars, motorcycles, or other types of motors.
Many socket sets simplify the issue by including sockets in both measurement systems. The best color-code the sockets so you can find what you need at a glance.
The drive of a socket is the hole—typically square—that fits onto the ratchet to hold the socket in place.
Confusingly, whether the socket head is metric or SAE, the drive size is always measured in fractions of an inch. There are three common drive sizes:
- 3/8-inch, which is the most versatile
- ¼-inch, which is useful if you do a lot of work on small motors or other items with small nuts and bolts
- ½-inch, which is useful for large motors or other large fasteners
Many socket sets contain sockets in all three sizes. Others provide an adapter that lets you fit different sized sockets onto the same ratchet.
Look into the socket head, and you’ll typically see the opening is somewhat star-shaped with either six or 12 points. There are also sockets with 8 points, but these are less common. As a general rule, 6-point sockets are stronger and tolerate more torque without slipping, while 12-point sockets are easier to line up with the fastener you’re trying to place or remove. Once again, many socket sets provide both types of socket.
There are two common lengths of sockets: shallow and deep. While there is no industry standard, as a rough guideline, shallow—which are the most common—are around ½-inch long, while deep sockets are around 1 inch in length, allowing you to reach fasteners that are further into the motor. Many socket sets include a few deep sockets along with a larger selection of shallow sockets. Spark plug socket sets contain mostly deep sockets, however.
What's the difference between impact sockets and regular sockets?
Regular sockets are designed for use with a ratchet, which is a handheld tool powered only by your own exertions. Impact sockets, however, are designed for use on an impact wrench, which is a handheld power tool that accomplishes the same thing as a ratchet, only with much more torque.
While you generally can use an impact socket on a regular ratchet, you cannot use a regular socket on an impact wrench. Impact sockets are specifically designed to tolerate the stress of rapid, high impact without cracking or shattering. Your regular socket is unlikely to survive the stresses of an impact wrench, and you could potentially be injured should the socket break apart during use.
Why do socket sets skip some sizes?
It’s fairly common to find that your socket set isn’t entirely complete—it skips one or more sizes. There are two main reasons for this. One is that the missing sockets aren’t commonly used sizes, so by omitting them, the manufacturer can keep the price down a bit while still offering a fairly complete set of tools. The other reason for this common practice is more of a marketing ploy; there’s a good chance you’ll buy the missing sockets individually to complete the set, thus greatly increasing the profits for the manufacturer.
Why are some socket sets black and some chrome?
As a general rule, regular sockets are chrome and impact sockets are black. Chrome sockets are actually made from harder steel than impact sockets; the slightly softer steel of an impact socket absorbs the forceful impacts of the tool without shattering the way harder chrome sockets would if misused on an impact wrench.