|Best Overall||Tekton 3/8 Inch Drive 6-Point Socket and Ratchet Set||Check Price||
This set of SAE and metric sockets with ratchet, extensions, and universal link is an excellent general-purpose option.
|Best Value||Stanley 3/8 Inch Drive, 123-piece Socket Set||Check Price||
This quality comprehensive socket and accessory collection comes at a very competitive price.
|Best Pro||Sunex 3580, 3/8 Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set||Check Price||
These are some tough, impact-ready tools for mechanics and engineers, supplied in a heavy-duty case.
A socket set is invaluable for a host of DIY and professional tasks. Similar to wrenches in that they loosen or tighten fixings, socket sets allow you to work more quickly and use less effort. Socket sets were originally designed for hexagonal nuts and bolts, but now they come in a range of styles to tackle the various fasteners found on vehicles, home appliances, and the like. In fact, because socket sets can vary enormously, this guide addresses the various features and factors to look for when shopping in addition to reviewing the pros and cons of some of the best products currently on the market. Sock it to you? Just read on!
- Best Overall: Tekton 3/8 Inch Drive 6-Point Socket and Ratchet Set
- Best Value: Stanley 3/8 Inch Drive, 123-piece Socket Set
- Best Pro: Sunex 3580, 3/8 Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
- Best Light-Duty: DeWalt Drive Socket Set, SAE/Metric, 1/4-Inch Drive
- Best Heavy-Duty: Neiko 1/2-Inch Drive Deep Impact Socket
The Best Socket Sets: Reviews & Recommendations
Best Overall: Tekton 3/8 Inch Drive 6-Point Socket and Ratchet Set
Why It Made the Cut: This pro-standard set from a highly regarded maker of wrenches and socket sets may be all that many users ever need.
- Number of pieces: 47
- Drive: ⅜ inch
- Sizes: 5/16 inch – ¾ inch, 8mm – 19mm
This Teckton set stands apart from the pack of quality competition as one that will satisfy most users, most of the time. The size range of SAE and metric sockets covers the majority of nuts and bolts that the DIYer or professional will come across on a regular basis.
Sockets are made from chrome vanadium steel to ANSI specifications (see “Standards,” below). All sizes are offered as standard or deep versions, and each has the dimension permanently die-stamped for easy identification. The ratchet has a 90-tooth mechanism, so it only has to move through a 4-degree arc to rotate the socket.
Two extension bars and a universal joint are also included, allowing the user to reach into all kinds of awkward spaces. Everything comes in a well-made, durable case with clear markings for each socket. A minor negative is that these sockets are not recommended for use with an impact driver—which many homeowners and contractors may never use. Pricing is competitive and a lifetime warranty underlines this socket set’s overall value.
Best Value: Stanley 3/8 Inch Drive, 123-piece Socket Set
Why It Made the Cut: A comprehensive selection of sockets and accessories, this wide-ranging set from a trusted brand is a budget-friendly choice for keen hobbyist mechanics and DIYers.
- Number of pieces: 123
- Drive: ⅜ inch and ¼ inch
- Sizes: 5/32 inch – 9/16 inch, 4mm – 19mm
The Stanley socket set comprises 68 different sockets (including one specifically for spark plugs), two different ratchets, two extensions, a spinner (screwdriver handle), 16 Allen wrenches, and an assortment of Philips, Torx and Star drives. The keen amateur mechanic or DIYer will be hard-pressed to find better value for money.
Both SAE and metric sizes are included, with standard and deep sockets. While there is some overlap (some sockets are made with both 3/8” and 1/4” drives), and the range of 3/8” deep sockets is limited, comprehensive coverage is nonetheless provided. Sockets are made from chrome vanadium to ANSI specification, but the markings are a little difficult to read.
Ratchets are 54-tooth, which means a swing of 6.6-degrees. It’s larger than some but unlikely to cause problems for most DIY users. A quick-release button allows for rapid socket changing. Though the carry case is described as “tough,” it’s a relatively lightweight molding unlikely to hold up in the professional auto shop or jobsite environments but probably adequate for most home use.
Why It Made the Cut: Sunex is a market leader preferred by many professionals. These sockets are superb quality, designed for maximum durability in high-use environments.
- Number of pieces: 80
- Drive: ⅜ inch
- Sizes: 5/16 inch – ¾ inch, 8mm – 19mm
Professional mechanics are bound to give this Sunex set an enthusiastic thumbs up. The sockets are made from chrome molybdenum, giving them the extra ductility required for long-term impact wrench use. They are ANSI standard and come in standard, deep and universal styles (universals are designed to be used at a variety of angles). Socket openings have a slight chamfer for easier fit over nuts and bolts—a minor feature sure to keep things moving in a busy body shop or machine shop. Markings are etched and roll-stamped for clarity.
There is also a full range of both internal and external star sockets, a fixing that’s increasingly popular with vehicle makers. A universal joint is included, plus four extension bars, the longest of which is 15 inches. A robust case contains—and completes—this quality set.
While some may see the lack of a ratchet as a sin of omission, this is actually common with professional equipment. Users typically buy the tool separately to suit personal preference for length and number of teeth.
Best Light-Duty: DeWalt Drive Socket Set, SAE/Metric, 1/4-Inch Drive
Why It Made the Cut: Sockets are useful for a wide variety of DIY tasks, but not everyone wants dozens of different sizes. This solid set is ideal for general-purpose home, garage, and yard tasks.
- Number of pieces: 25
- Drive: ¼ inch
- Sizes: 5/32 inch – 9/16 inch, 4mm – 14mm
Perhaps best known for power tools, DeWalt also produces a variety of high-quality socket sets. These are aimed at the homeowner, and while there are fewer pieces than in many competitive offerings, there are enough for a useful range for chores, such as bicycle repair, shelf assembly, and lawn machinery maintenance.
Sockets in this Dewalt set are made of chrome vanadium, to ANSI standards. They incorporate DeWalt’s DirectTorque Technology, which is a fancy term for the chamfered edges that pro tools use for rapid location. The ratchet is a 72-tooth model, requiring just 5-degrees of swing.
A small extension bar is included, plus an adapter that allows the sockets to be used with hand-held drill/drivers. This is the same concept as using an impact wrench for fast assembly or disassembly, though with more modest power. While the well-made case can be stacked with other parts of the DeWalt modular storage system, it’s larger than it needs to be and looks half full. A smaller one would make for easier storage.
Best Heavy-Duty: Neiko 1/2-Inch Drive Deep Impact Socket
Why It Made the Cut: Neiko, which has a reputation for tough tools designed to suit commercial users, created this set for those who need larger-than-average sockets.
- Number of pieces: 35
- Drive: ½ inch
- Sizes: ⅜ inch – 1-¼ inch, 10mm – 32mm
The ½-inch drive of this Neiko socket set is the first indicator of heavy-duty performance. While the range of sockets covers a number of common sizes, it also extends to those that are larger than usual. They fall just short of the 1-1/2” or 33mm lug nuts used on semis, for example, but they do cover all common commercial trucks and van sizes.
Chrome vanadium is the chosen material, drop-forged under extreme pressures to ensure tremendous strength and durability. Radius corners on the hex cutouts prevent fastener damage while allowing for maximum torque application both by hand or use of an impact wrench.
The ratchet is a 72-tooth model, 10 inches long. There are 3 extension bars at 3 inches, 5 inches, and 10 inches. A universal adapter is included to allow for fastening or unfastening at odd angles. Two less common but nevertheless useful accessories are a ½-inch to ⅜-inch reducer to allow the use of other sockets with the Neiko ratchet, and a 3/8” to ½-inch adapter that allows a ⅜-inch ratchet drive to use the Neiko sockets.
I am an engineer by trade who often spends weekends working on a car or motorcycle. I review tools regularly and my experience with socket sets was a great help in putting together the following criteria.
Construction materials: The metals used are a key element in the construction of sockets, which must resist tremendous pressures. The alloys used will be discussed in more detail below, but suffice it to say only tough tools made the cut for this list.
Suitability for task: Not everyone needs high-end pro tools. It’s important to understand what a particular buyer needs from a socket set in order to maximize value.
Storage: Cases must be able to withstand the inevitable knocks of usage in the yard, the garage, and the busy workshop. Another plus is a case with socket sizes clearly marked for quick identification, as it can get frustrating to search endlessly for the right one.
Brand: Most of the socket sets chosen come from highly respected brands known for durability. That said, I looked at several less-known names that met required construction standards and offered good value.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Socket Set
A socket may seem like a fairly basic item, but a surprising amount of engineering goes into its production. Keep in mind these key features when comparing products.
Sockets are almost always made of steel alloy, which is a mix of steel and other components. Hardness is important, but a degree of ductility (slight flex) helps absorb the impact that sockets must endure without cracking.
Chrome Vanadium (CrV) is popular because it is tough and has excellent wear resistance. The other commonly found material is Chrome Molybdenum (Cr-Mo), sometimes shortened Chrome Moly. It has higher ductility but is more expensive. It is often used for sockets that are impact ready (suitable for use with an impact driver). S2 steel is also used. Harder than CrV but not as ductile, it’s better for sockets that are inserted: hex or star sockets, for example.
Chrome alloy steels are naturally resistant to corrosion, but sockets and ratchets are often given a bright chrome plating to make them easy to clean. Some have black oxide or black phosphate coatings, which are more resistant to chipping.
Drive size (the size of the connector between ratchet and socket) gives some indication of intended use. Drive sizes are 1/4” for light-duty, 3/8” for general purpose, and 1/2” for heavy-duty. However, there is often little difference between 3/8” and 1/2”, and depending on the manufacturer both might be of a professional standard.
The ratchet head has forward and reverse options, controlled by a toothed mechanism. The number of teeth ranges from 36 to 120. More teeth mean the ratchet has to move through a smaller arc for the same amount of rotation, which is convenient in confined spaces. However, it also means the teeth are smaller. While problems are rare, smaller teeth can be more prone to wear.
Socket Design and Depth
Sockets vary in depth, so your choice may be affected by where the nuts and bolts you work on are situated. Often they are surface mounted, where standard sockets are fine. Sometimes they are recessed and deep sockets are often provided for this reason.
Some manufacturers make small relief areas at the internal corners, which helps prevent rounding off of fixings. It also spreads the load more evenly across the socket flats. The shoulders of the socket may also be chamfered for easier location on the fixing.
Extension bars are a useful extra, allowing greater reach. A universal joint allows the ratchet to be fixed at an angle to the nut or bolt. Some socket sets aimed at DIY users include a screwdriver handle (also called a spinner) that can use the smaller sockets included. There may also be a set of Allen wrenches.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) sets standards for accuracy of sockets and torque strength. This ensures positive contact, which reduces the chances of damaging the fixing. It also means it’s very unlikely the socket will crack under pressure. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) sets standards for ratchet strength. Teeth must be able to withstand high torque levels in order to qualify. However, the latter is seldom quoted, perhaps because there are costs involved with certification.
Q: What comes in a socket set?
It varies considerably. Specialized sets often only contain sockets. General-purpose socket sets usually have a ratchet handle. Some have extension bars to allow greater reach, and some also include a screwdriver handle (spinner) for light-duty tasks.
Q: What is the difference between a ratchet and a socket?
A socket is the part that attaches to the nut, bolt, or other fixing that requires loosening or tightening. The ratchet is the handle that fits into the socket and provides the necessary leverage.
Q: What does SAE mean?
SAE stands for the Society of Automotive Engineers. It is the term usually used for socket sets that are sized in inches and fractions. It is another name for the imperial measurement system.
The Teckton socket set offers superb quality and a good range of both SAE and metric sizes. These are professional-standard tools within the price range of the enthusiastic amateur mechanic or home engineer. The Stanley socket set offers an enormous selection, and while not quite of the same quality as Teckton, contains everything most DIY users will ever need while remaining very affordable.
Though a crucial part of the pro mechanic’s tool kit, socket sets are also valuable to homeowners, DIYers, and hobbyists who tinker on vehicles for fun. Simply put, sockets allow you to tighten and loosen nuts and bolts, and they come in a host of sizes and styles to fit all different kinds of fasteners—which is why they’re typically sold in sets. If your bike needs a bit of work or you aim to repair that on-the-fritz washing machine yourself, you’re likely to reach for your socket set early in the job. So consider the products described above, all vetted for quality and chosen for their suitability to various users.