Photo: Tony Carrick
Socket wrenches allow you to tighten and loosen fasteners with a speed and ease that isn’t possible with a traditional wrench, making them essential tools for automotive or maintenance work. Choosing the right socket set can be difficult since they vary in price and quality, so we put each product through demanding hands-on testing and summarized our results along with key features of the best socket sets.
Socket wrenches come in a variety of sizes, types, and finishes, but thankfully they usually come in sets. You can also find combination wrenches, which have one open end like a traditional wrench and one socket end that can be equipped with sockets.
The best socket set for DIYers and professionals should include a wide variety of sockets—both in size and purpose. Or, there are also specialty sets, like a spark plug socket set. It’s important to make sure that whatever set you choose is a high-quality product that will last for years. The products below represent some of the top socket and tool sets available in their respective categories based on our testing.
- BEST OVERALL: Milwaukee ⅜-Inch Drive 56-Piece Ratchet & Socket Set
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: WorkPro KW003067A 39-Piece Drive Socket Wrench Set
- UPGRADE PICK: Sunex 3580 ⅜-Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
- BEST FOR SPARK PLUGS: Sunex 8845 ⅜-Inch Drive 7-Piece Spark Plug Socket Set
- BEST FOR LARGE SOCKETS: Neiko 02448A ½-Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set
- BEST TORX BIT SET: Neiko Master Torx Bit and External Torx Socket Set
- BEST COMPLETE SET: Craftsman CMMT12024 3-Drive Mechanics Tool Set
How We Tested the Best Socket Sets
We researched and reviewed each individual product from more than 30 possible choices. We looked for products that stood out based on the number of pieces in the set, durability, versatility, and any special features that distinguished a product from similar options. Each of our selections went through rigorous testing in real-world conditions. We used them to work bolts, spark, plugs, and lug nuts on our test vehicle. During our evaluation, we considered how easy it was to access hard-to-reach bolts, how well the sockets fit on the bolt heads, and how easy it was to remove stubborn bolts.
We also subjected our sockets to high torques to see if they could withstand heavy pressure without cracking to help determine the best socket set. The last component of the selection process was the special features or accessories. Consumers typically preferred socket sets with specialized tools or parts over similar products that lacked these accessories.
Our Top Picks
The top-rated products below are some of the best socket sets on the market based on quality, price, reputation, and rigorous hands-on review. Any of these socket sets would be an excellent addition to your automotive garage or workshop.
One of the best reasons to invest in a socket set is to start completing basic automotive repairs at home, especially when an experienced DIYer can use this high-quality mechanics socket set to work on a vehicle. The set comes with both 8-inch and 12-inch-long ⅜-inch socket wrenches for excellent versatility. The longer wrench allows you to create more torque for stubborn bolts while the shorter one will fit into tighter spaces. Multiple extension bars and a universal joint help users access hard-to-reach fittings.
While this set isn’t particularly large, it includes the sizes you’ll use most often. There are 13 shallow Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) sockets, 11 deep SAE sockets, 14 shallow metric sockets, and 14 deep metric sockets. We liked the fact that these sockets have a four-sided shape versus a round shape, which prevents them from rolling away and allows use with a transitional monkey wrench or crescent wrench to create more torque.
We expect quality with any Milwaukee tool, and this socket set didn’t disappoint. The sockets feel thicker and heavier than other less expensive sets we tested. The ratchets have 90 teeth, making stopping points much closer together than on other ratchets we tested. This design allowed us to loosen bolts even with very little room to turn the ratchet handle. We also liked the oblong handle shape, which made the ratchets comfortable to grip even when applying a lot of force.
We also loved the case design, which includes a tray that removes from the carrying case. This made it easier to keep the entire set right beside us as we worked during testing. The 12-inch ratchet that’s offered through some retailers is a nice extra, but we were disappointed that it doesn’t fit inside the case.
- Pieces: 56
- Finish: Chrome
- Drive size: ⅜ inch
- Flat sides prevent the sockets from rolling away, ensuring ease of use
- 90-tooth ratchets are easier to work with in tight spaces
- Features heavier gauge construction for more durable sockets
- Smaller total number of socket sizes as compared to some sets
- The 12-inch ratchet some retailers include is too long for the included case and won’t fit inside
Get the Milwaukee socket set at Amazon or The Home Depot (with 12-inch ratchet).
This 39-piece socket set from WorkPro includes just enough socket sizes to handle most odd jobs around the house. This makes it an ideal choice for anyone who isn’t looking for a set to work on cars but might need one from time to time.
The set comes with a drive size of ⅜ inch but includes an adapter for use with ¼-inch sockets. There’s also a 3-inch extension bar, a spin disk for quickly removing nuts that have already been loosened, and a socket spinner that is shaped like a screwdriver but adapts to sockets.
The socket set has a rust-resistant chrome finish and includes sockets with drive sizes of ¼ inch and ⅜ inch. The size selection is limited to mainly smaller sockets with this set. Of those included, 28 sockets have a ¼-inch drive size, with 15 being SAE and 13 being metric, and six sockets are a ⅜-inch drive size, separated into three SAE and three metric. The plastic case protects the sockets, and its small size makes it convenient to carry around.
When testing, we liked the sturdy feel and handle length of the ⅜-inch ratchet. However, we will say that the sockets are notably lighter with thinner walls than other full sets we tested. They likely wouldn’t survive intense pressure. That said, they’re more than strong enough to handle the lighter-duty jobs for which this budget pick is suited. They held up to our lag bolt test even when working the ratchet to drive the bolt into wood.
- Pieces: 39
- Finish: Chrome
- Drive size: ¼ inch and ⅜ inch
- This set includes an adapter for ¼-inch sockets
- Includes both metric and SAE sizes for versatility
- Comes with 3-inch drive extension bar for hard-to-reach fasteners
- The included spin disk removes loosened nuts quickly and efficiently
- Unfortunately, this set is not suitable for impact drivers
Get the WorkPro socket set at Amazon or Sears.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more versatile collection of ⅜-inch drive sockets than this set from Sunex. The 80-piece set includes 23 SAE sockets divided into eight standard sockets, six deep sockets, and nine swivel-joint sockets. The kit’s 34 metric sockets include 12 standard, 12 deep, and 10 universal sockets in the most common sizes. There are also nine Torx bits and nine external Torx sockets, ideal for anyone working on motorcycles or car makes that use this bolt style, including BMW, Mercedes, and Ford models.
Working on a car often means working in tight spaces, so we love the fact that this set also includes 16 swivel-joint sockets of varying sizes along with 3-inch, 5-inch, 10-inch, and 15-inch extension bars. This is truly a set designed for serious or professional mechanics. The only thing we wish the set would include is a ⅜-inch driver.
Like other impact driver sets, this Sunex Drive Master socket set is made from forged molybdenum and has a black-oxide finish, which is harder and better able to withstand the torque created by an impact driver than the standard shiny chrome steel of other socket sets.
The sockets and extenders are also noticeably thicker (and heavier) than other sets we tested, giving them a durable feel. At no time did we feel like these sockets would crack under the pressure created by our impact driver. Each socket also fit snugly onto each bolt—we experienced no slipping, and the extenders and joints fit tightly together. All of the sockets fit nicely into a rugged red plastic storage case for easy transport.
- Pieces: 80
- Finish: Black oxide
- Drive size: ⅜ inch
- Durable design has the strength and flexibility for high-torque impact drivers
- Kit contains both SAE and metric sockets in standard, deep, and universal lengths
- Includes 3-inch, 5-inch, 10-inch, and 15-inch extension bars extension bars and a universal joint
- The rubber gasket might not always hold the spark plug
Get the Sunex 3580 socket set at Amazon or The Home Depot.
Excellent build quality and a great mix of socket sizes and lengths make this one of the best spark plug sets we could find. The Sunex ⅜-inch drive set is similar to other sets we reviewed in that the sockets consist of high-quality chrome-vanadium finish. But when we compared the Sunex set with other brands of socket, we found that it uses thicker metal, so this set is less likely to crack or bend while working on stubborn spark plugs. We had no problem removing spark plugs from a lawn mower or car engine.
With seven sockets, this set is more versatile than other sets we tried. There are three standard SAE, with sizes of 9/16 inch, ⅝ inch, and 13/16 inch; one standard 16-millimeter metric socket; and three extra-deep 6-inch-long SAE sockets, with sizes of 9/16 inch, ⅝ inch, and 13/16 inch.
The smaller sizes are ideal for removing spark plugs from lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chainsaws, while the standard ⅝-inch socket will fit most spark plugs found on cars and trucks. Sunex also includes three 6-inch-long deep sockets, which are significantly longer than most spark plug sockets. We were able to reach a spark plug inside a car engine without having to use an extender.
Like other spark plug sockets, each has a rubber retaining ring that fits over the spark plug tip so you can pull the spark plug out after loosening it. The set also comes with a rugged case for safe storage.
- Pieces: 7
- Finish: Chrome vanadium
- Drive size: ⅜ inch
- Includes multiple sizes to fit a broad range of spark plugs
- Works on chainsaws, trimmers, leaf blowers, and cars
- Includes standard lengths and deep sockets for car engines
- Made from thicker chrome-vanadium steel that other sets lack
- Does not come with a wrench
Get the Sunex 8845 socket set at Amazon or The Home Depot.
With its heavy-duty construction and broad range of larger socket sizes, the Neiko 65-piece impact socket set is ideal for those who find themselves working on lug nuts and other large fasteners you’d typically wrestle with on a car. With their thick and heavy construction, these sockets were up to the task when we put them to the test. We didn’t experience any cracking or popping out while removing 22-millimeter lug nuts from a truck rim. We also liked how the sockets, extenders, and ratchets all lock into each other, ensuring they keep their connection even under intense torques. The sockets didn’t threaten to pull off the ratchets or extender even while going full bore with our impact driver.
We loved the fact that the kit comes with both standard and deep sockets for all sizes. Since this is an impact driver set, we weren’t surprised to find the range of sizes to be on the large end. Imperial socket sizes range from ⅜ inch up to 1¼ inches, while metric sizes range from 10 to 24 millimeters. This range suits the sort of bolts you’d typically work on with an impact driver, such as lug nuts and other large bolts. However, if this is your only socket set, you would have to look elsewhere for smaller socket sizes.
In addition to the sockets, Neiko includes a nice range of extenders and joints that make it easier to work bolts located in the deeper recesses of a car engine. We did have a gripe with the amount of black residue that rubbed off the tools and onto our hands while using the sockets, but that’s to be expected to some degree from carbonized steel. Finally, we loved the carrying case. While most socket sets come in a molded case, we liked the fact that these bolts sit in a tray and don’t snap into the case, which makes them much easier to remove and replace.
- Pieces: 65
- Finish: Carbonized vanadium steel
- Drive size: ½ inch
- Thicker carbonized metal takes tremendous pressure without cracking or deforming
- Includes both standard and deep socket options for all included sizes
- Includes rugged carrying case with slots, allowing you to identify and remove sockets easily
- Selection is limited to larger size sockets that work with impact drivers
- Carbonized metal finish leaves a black film on the hands
Get the Neiko 02448A socket set at Amazon or Sears.
If your home mechanics jobs involve working on motorcycles or BMWs, Mercedes, and Ford automobiles, then you’re going to need a good set of Torx sockets to get the job done.
The chrome-plated Torx socket set includes a broad range of sizes, including five ¼-inch, five ⅜-inch, and four ½-inch sockets. Also included in the set are 17 Torx bits with ten ¼-inch, five ⅜-inch, and two ½-inch bits, plus 17 security Torx bits, which are used on Torx screws that have a raised security pin.
The security Torx bits can be broken down into ten ¼-inch, five ⅜-inch, and two ½-inch bits. For high-torque applications, this socket set also includes 12 Torx Plus bits, with seven ¼-inch, four ⅜-inch, and one ½-inch bit. All of these pieces fit neatly into a durable case for organized transportation. In short, this is one of the most impressive collections of Torx socket sizes we could find. The only thing that’s missing are ratchets, though those who have a standard hex socket set probably already have a ¼-inch, ⅜-inch, and ½-inch driver to use with this one.
Most notable about this set, aside from its variety of sizes, is its alloy-steel-chrome construction, which prevents the bit heads from stripping or wearing even under heavy torque. We also liked the heavy feel and thicker steel construction of these sockets, which translates into more power and less chance of cracking while applying a lot of torque.
- Pieces: 60
- Finish: S2 alloy steel chrome
- Drive size: ¼, ⅜, and ½ inch
- This Torx set is well suited for multiple drive sizes
- Designed specifically for a variety of Torx fasteners
- The labeled case helps keep sockets neatly organized
- Does not include a socket wrench, which might be an issue for some users
- This set is only useful for Torx fasteners
Get the Neiko Master Torx socket set at Amazon or Sears.
This Craftsman tool set makes the list for the sheer volume of pieces it includes. As a socket set, it offers an impressive range. Standard imperial sizes run the gamut from 5/32 up to ⅞ inch, while metric sizes range from a tiny 4-millimeter socket up to 22 millimeters. There’s also a nice collection of both metric and SAE deep sockets and two different sizes of spark plug socket. Craftsman throws in three extenders, an adapter, and a joint for good measure. Whereas other sets may only include a ⅜-inch socket, this set comes with three: a ¼-inch, ⅜-inch, and ½-inch socket.
This set also features a few extras not typically found in a socket set, including a bit driver with a nice assortment of screwdriver bits, a set of monkey wrenches, and a full contingent of hex wrenches. We could foresee using this set for all kinds of jobs, not just for those that involve an engine. All of these pieces fit securely in the molded plastic case, Our only gripe was how tight fitting the sockets are. We had a tough time freeing them and returning them to their assigned spot.
Craftsman may no longer be the tool brand of Sears (it’s owned by Stanley Black & Decker now), but it still carries the same reputation for building quality hand tools, and that largely holds true with this set. Though the sockets may not be quite as heavy-duty as some of the top of the line sets we tested, they performed well, whether working a bolt inside a car engine or driving a lag bolt into wood. The oval-shaped handle of the ratchets fit nicely into our hand, and the ratchets have enough splines for removing or tightening bolts even when there’s little room for ratcheting. While it may not be quite up to snuff for a pro, this socket set is a great all-around pick for the weekend DIYer.
- Pieces: 135
- Finish: Chrome
- Drive size: ¼, ⅜, and ½ inch
- Includes a broad range of metric and imperial socket sizes
- Comes with ¼-inch, ⅜-inch, and ½-inch ratchets
- Includes monkey and hex wrenches as well as a bit driver with bits
- Not the same heavy-duty quality as higher-end socket sets
Get the Craftsman socket set at Amazon, Lowe’s, Blain’s Farm & Fleet, or NAPA.
Types of Sockets
It is important to know the type of socket you need for your project before purchasing a socket set. Otherwise, you may get a set that doesn’t have what you need. Common socket types include SAE, metric, Torx bit, impact, driver, pass-through, and spark plug.
SAE sockets are primarily used for work on American-made products. This is because SAE socket sizes are based on the imperial system of measurement, including inches and fractions. SAE sockets are simply a description of a sizing system.
SAE measurements can sometimes be found alongside metric measurements where the two coincide. This applies to regular sockets, impact sockets, pass-through sockets, and spark plug sockets, among others.
Metric sockets are the same as SAE sockets in that they are not a type of socket so much as they are grouped by a measurement system. These sockets use millimeters and are great for working on imported cars that may have bolts that correspond better to a metric socket than an imperial socket. Metric sockets include all the same socket types as SAE sockets.
External Torx sockets are used for 6-pointed star Torx-style fasteners, and Torx bits are specifically designed for use with Torx screws, which have a 6-pointed star- shape impression and may have a raised security pin that requires a security Torx bit. These bits can connect to regular ratchets but give you more torque to tighten or loosen Torx screws.
Torx Plus bits have a thicker wall and are made for high-torque situations. However, if you are not working with Torx screws, these bits are not that useful. Keep this in mind when looking for a socket set.
The first thing you will notice about impact sockets is the color. These sockets have an industrial finish that makes them black instead of the polished chrome that you see with other sockets.
Impact sockets are designed for use with impact drivers that put more torque and power into the bit than a human is capable of producing. Due to this stress, impact bits have thicker walls and a noncorrosive finish so that they can handle the power and vibration.
Driver bits are similar to the Torx bits in that they are not true sockets. Instead, a driver bit will correspond to a screw head type and size, including flat or slotted, Robertson or Phillips. These bits fasten to regular ratchets to provide extra torque when loosening or tightening a screw but will only work in the specific screw they are designed to fit.
Pass-through sockets are handy for removing or fastening bolts or studs that have a very long shaft. A hole in the middle of the socket allows the shaft to pass through the socket and ratchet. This feature makes it easy to thread the shaft through the socket to reach the nut.
When tightening with a pass-through socket, you can continue tightening the bolt as the shaft passes through the socket and ratchet, giving you the ability to tighten the nut completely without needing a wrench. However, to use a pass-through socket you need a pass-through ratchet, so be sure to get a socket set that has both.
Spark plug sockets are for removing or fitting spark plugs. These sockets are much longer than standard sockets because spark plugs, depending on the manufacturer, are often located in difficult-to-access areas in the engine.
These sockets sometimes have a rubber insert to keep the spark plug from being damaged during removal or installation. For automotive professionals, spark plug sockets are necessary tools, but DIYers who enjoy getting under the hood of their car would also benefit from having a set.
What to Consider When Choosing a Socket Set
Before choosing a tool set for your workshop, take a few minutes to educate yourself on the most important shopping considerations to keep in mind.
The drive size of the socket refers to the opening on the top of the socket that attaches to the ratchet. This opening comes in three different drive sizes, including ½ inch, ⅜ inch, and ¼ inch.
- ½-inch drive-size sockets are for high-torque applications like automotive wheel replacement and when you are using a breaker bar. This size of the drive socket isn’t the best for all-purpose jobs because the socket selection is lower with this drive size, but they can be used with any ratchet size if you have an adapter.
- ⅜-inch drive-size sockets are the most common and most available. They are used in many different industries and DIY projects, from assembling a gazebo to working on a bicycle. Due to their common use, sockets with a drive size of ⅜ inch also tend to be more affordable at a higher quality than either the ½-inch or the ¼-inch sizes.
- ¼-inch drive-size sockets are ideal when you are in tight spaces or when you are working with recessed nuts. Where ½-inch sockets give you extra power, ¼-inch sockets are designed for accessibility. However, using a socket with a ¼-inch drive size regularly will make it more difficult to complete projects because you have less power and torque than if you used a ⅜-inch or ½-inch socket.
Shallow vs. Deep Sockets
Standard sockets can come in both shallow and deep versions of the same size to allow you to work with any nut-and-bolt configuration. Both types are usually included in an all-purpose socket set.
- Shallow sockets are for working with nuts that sit less than an inch from the end of the shaft and are the most frequently used for nonautomotive purposes. These sockets can be attached to regular ratchets and make it quick to work with shallow nuts instead of having to line up a deep socket.
- Deep sockets are for reaching nuts that sit farther down the bolt shaft. The sockets are a step away from pass-through sockets, allowing you to use a normal ratchet to reach deeply driven nuts. However, if a deep socket hits the end of the shaft before reaching the nut, a pass-through socket and ratchet will be necessary.
The shape of the socket falls into two main categories: 6-point sockets and 12-point sockets.
- 6-point sockets are sturdier than 12-point sockets because they have thicker walls. These sockets are best for high-torque applications, but they are also the most commonly used of the two types. Six-point sockets apply force to the flat sides of the fastener, making them less likely to slip off of rounded edges.
- 12-point sockets cannot apply the same force to a fastener that a 6-point socket can, making them more suitable for low-torque purposes. However, they are ideal for gripping a nut in any position, making them perfect for working in difficult-to-access areas where you can get the socket onto the nut in only one position. These situations are harder to handle with a 6-point socket.
The surface finish of a socket set will fall into two common categories: chrome plating and black oxide.
- Chrome plating is used on most sockets to provide a smooth, easy-to-clean surface that won’t hold dirt or grime. The chrome plating also helps to protect the socket from moisture exposure and prevents rust buildup. Socket sets with chrome plating tend to be more affordable than those with black-oxide finishes.
- Black oxide is primarily used for impact sockets as an alternative to chrome plating. While chrome plating is equal to black oxide in weatherproofing the socket, it is not capable of withstanding the same forces since flaking off will occur, and this exposes the metal to rusting. Black oxide is a tougher material that is better able to protect impact sockets simply because it doesn’t chip or flake when exposed to high forces, though these sockets often cost more.
The portability of a socket set can be an important factor if you want to use it around the house or on different work sites. Find a socket set that has a sturdy carrying case with a handle that is easy to grip.
You will also need a case that comes with a high-quality interior to ensure that your sockets do not get dislodged in the case during transportation. Interior casing needs to be able to grip the sockets tightly but also have enough give so that they do not impede your work.
Socket sets can include a wide variety of tools that can be used with ratchets to adapt to many different tasks. Popular inclusions are extension bars, swivel joints, and breaker bars.
- Extension bars can be attached between the ratchet and the socket to reach fasteners that are located in tight spaces where you would otherwise be unable to swing a ratchet handle.
- Swivel joints let you deviate from the centerline of the ratchet to engage with bolts that are in tight spaces or at awkward angles. This part is also known as a universal joint. By attaching the swivel joint between the ratchet and the socket, you are able to change the drive angle to suit your needs.
- Breaker bars are long, nonratcheting bars that are used with sockets to break free a seized or incredibly tight fastener by allowing you to generate more torque while applying the same amount of force.
It’s important to know how to use and maintain a socket set in order to ensure that your new tools last as long as possible, so take a look below at the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about socket sets.
Q. What is in a regular socket set?
A traditional socket set will usually have two different ratcheting socket wrenches, one or two extension bars, a variety of basic sockets and specialty sockets for each wrench, and screwdriver bits that fit the smaller of the two wrenches.
Q. Can you use regular sockets with an impact wrench?
You should never use regular sockets with an impact wrench because regular sockets have a thinner wall that is susceptible to shattering when used with an impact wrench.
Q. What is the difference between black and chrome sockets?
Chrome sockets tend to be regular sockets that should be used with a standard socket wrench, while black sockets are usually made for impact wrenches. However, even if the socket is black, you should always check the product information or manufacturer’s information to ensure that it is rated for use with an impact wrench. Sockets that are not made for impact wrenches may shatter while in use.
Q. Do sockets rust?
Even quality tools will rust if they aren’t properly stored in a tool kit, and sockets are not an exception. That’s why it’s a good idea to look for socket sets that come in water-resistant plastic cases that can help to prevent the tools from getting damaged, even if you get caught in the rain.
Why Trust Bob Vila
Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.
Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.
Meet the Tester
Tony Carrick is a freelance writer specializing in home improvement, landscaping, technology, home security, and design. His articles have been featured on such sites as Angi, Popular Mechanics, Futurism, 360 Reviews by U.S. News & World Report, Switchful, and more. Tony has conducted rigorous product testing on everything from power tools to home security systems to backyard grills. With each review, his goal is to help readers determine whether a product meets their needs and if it is or isn’t worth its price tag.
Additional research provided by Timothy Dale.