Socket & Ratchet Buying Guide: Presented by Jet
Some maintenance and repair tasks require hand tools and others power tools, and sometimes you need the ability to use both. For mechanics and do-it-yourselfer's, a complete line of sockets and ratchets are essential items in the garage or workshop. Various sockets and ratchets are suited for light-duty to more complex tasks, including a handful of accessories that make these jobs easier.
THIS SOCKET AND RATCHET GUIDE WILL HELP YOU KNOW WHAT PRODUCT BEST SUITS THE NEEDS OF YOUR JOB OR WHAT COULD BE THE NEXT BEST GIFT FOR A FRIEND OR FAMILY MEMBER.
Sockets and Ratchets come in several drive sizes: 1/4", 3/8", 1/2", 3/4", and 1" and range from light-duty to heavy-duty usage.
To combat most tasks, 3/8" is the perfect size for the majority of sockets. Smaller sockets use a smaller drive size and are helpful for small nuts and bolts in tight spots. Larger sockets require a bigger drive to handle the extra torque needed to move larger nuts and bolts.
Gear or Gearless
Most ratchets operate with a geared drive. The higher the tooth count on the gear, the smaller the swinging motion needed to turn the tool; this is especially helpful when there is little room to swing the handle. Gearless drives use a roller bearing and require less movement to turn a fastener than a geared drive.
Flex Head or Oval Head
Flex or jointed head ratchets allow you to position the handle in various angles and make it easier to reach a fastener while working in tighter areas. Oval head ratchets give superior strength and rigidity for applying significant amounts of torque. Most heads have a locking mechanism that secures the socket to the ratchet, so it does not fall off during use.
Metric or SAE
Metric sockets use millimeters and are the most common type of socket used on modern vehicles. SAE or standard-sized sockets use inches and are typically used on older domestic vehicles. For construction projects, SAE is the standard go-to. To make sure you have the right tools for the job, a mixture of both is always handy to have.
Regular vs. Deep
In some instances, a nut sits more than an inch below the end of a bolt. A regular (also called a shallow) socket won't reach the nut, so deep sockets are perfect to have in this situation. Regular sockets take up less room and can get into tight spaces easier than deep sockets.
6-Point vs. 12-Point
When you look at the inside of a socket, it can be shaped like a hexagon with 6-points or a star with 12-points.
To prevent slipping off a nut or bolt, the 6-point is the more robust choice as it sits flush on all sides of a nut or bolt. A 12-point socket is great for light work as it is more convenient to line up on hardware. These sockets can also round off the fastener points so it is best to use them in light-duty situations.
Note: 12-point sockets are not suitable for projects demanding extreme torque.
Chrome or Impact
Chrome sockets are perfect for use with a wrench and hand power only. These sockets are not built to handle the torque that comes with the use of power tools. Impact sockets are black to indicate their difference and because the surface is carbonized, which happens after being drop-forged to harden the surface. These sockets have been made with more rigid construction to withstand the impact forces of pneumatic, electric, or battery-operated impact wrenches.
Spark Plug Socket
Spark Plug sockets are a type of deep socket but have an included rubber insert that helps grip the spark plug, making it easier to pull out when loosened and also put back in.
Socket/Ratchet Extension Bars
These extensions increase the reach capabilities of a socket and can make it easier to turn the ratchet handle when there are things in the way. They can come in various lengths and can have a locking head to prevent the socket from popping off.
This type of socket allows you to tighten or loosen fasteners with Phillips, flathead, hex, or Torx head screws using a ratchet. Using a ratchet with driver sockets will enable you to produce more torque and makes it possible to fasten from the side rather than straight-on.
Drive adapters allow you to use a socket with a different drive size to the ratchet. This way, you only need one size ratchet for multiple-sized socket drives.
Hex-shank adapters allow you to use a socket with an impact driver or drill/driver.
This type of adapter turns a fixed head ratchet into a joint style because the socket itself can be used at different angles. This can be helpful, especially in tight work areas.
A torque wrench turns a socket to a specified amount of torque. This prevents over and under-tightening of a nut and can come as either manual or digital.
These turn sockets to loosen and tighten nuts but do not have a ratcheting mechanism. The head can be fixed or jointed to help get access to the fasteners. The most common use of these tools is to break free tight or stuck nuts and bolts because you can use greater torque on these tools; then, a ratchet is used to remove the nut or bolt altogether.
Socket & Mechanics Sets
Sets make it easy to store sockets and ratchets and provide a wide variety of options. Some kits can even contain accessories to make turning fasteners even easier. This is a great way to begin building your socket collection and ensure you have all the sizes needed to complete a job.