When it comes to using an impact wrench, it is absolutely imperative that you select the right kind of sockets for the job. Using normal old sockets from your socket wrench set is a good way to have a bad time. Not only is it a good way to damage your tools, but it can also occasionally cause small fragments of metal to go flying, which can be disastrous if you are not wearing safety glasses. Fortunately, there are sockets available in all sorts of sizes and lengths that are designed specifically for use with your impact wrench.
Why Do You Need Impact Sockets?
Impact sockets are specifically designed to withstand the rigors of the high torque and repeated banging that an impact wrench imparts. A normal socket from your ratchet set is made from steel that has been heat treated to make it very hard and resistant to deformation (we’ll spare you the dissertation on yield strength and ultimate strength of metals). Unfortunately, hard also means brittle in this case. An impact wrench works by constantly striking a rotating hammer against an anvil to provide torque and because normal sockets are brittle, they won’t withstand this constant momentary hammering. Instead they will chip and crack, eventually rendering them unusable.
Impact sockets on the other hand are made using steel that is softer and more ductile. While the benefits of this may sound counterintuitive at first, softer steel is tougher (meaning less likely to fracture) and can far more easily sustain the repeated banging of an impact gun. To make up for the softer steel, these sockets are also reinforced with extra material relative to normal sockets to provide added strength.
What to Look For in Good Impact Sockets?
When it comes to picking high quality impact sockets, there are some desirable features that are easy to distinguish and some that aren’t. First, you have to decide whether you want deep sockets or shallow sockets. If you aren’t sure, we suggest starting with deep sockets, as they are more versatile. Next, you have to decide between 6-point and 12-point. 12-point have the advantage of allowing more angles at which you can get your socket on a bolt, but at the cost of decreased durability due to less point contact, meaning they are more prone to stripping and rounding bolt heads. 6-point tend to be more robust because they better spread the load on the bolt head and tend to strip bolts less, but can be a little more cumbersome to situate on a bolt head. If you aren’t sure, we recommend getting into a 6-point set to start.
When it comes to steel quality, this is hard to evaluate just by looking (in reality, you’d need a metallurgical composition analysis to determine steel alloy and a Rockwell hardness test which most people don’t have the capability to perform in their garage). The good news is that typically sticking with a reputable brand is a good way to ensure decent steel quality. You’ll also want to find a set with nice markings/engravings that are large and easy to read. In addition, you’ll want to inspect the coating for any chips or cracks, as the presence of these is an indicator of low quality that could result in eventual surface rust. Finally, you’ll want to make sure that they have the correct drive size to match your impact wrench.
Best Impact Socket Sets
When it comes to choosing the best set, it’s a matter of weighing quality versus cost. Fortunately we have done the legwork for you and have picked a couple of our favorites.
Tekton 4888 3/8″ and 1/2″ Drive Impact Sockets
Tekton has been one of our recent favorites lately for some other tools, such as their torque wrenches. It therefore comes without surprise that their impact sockets would also be excellent. We really like the 4888 kit for a few reasons. First, it is a pretty extensive kit. It has SAE sockets ranging from 3/8″ to 1-1/4″, and metric sockets ranging from 8mm to 32mm. The quality is extremely high, with forged Cr-V steel (chrome vanadium) that has been heat treated to balance toughness and strength. The electroplated finish is evenly applied and makes these sockets very resistant to corrosion. They are finished in black, with laser etched markings in silver which are both large and clearly visible.
The set consists of 3/8 inch drive sockets as well as 1/2 inch drive. This set is best suited for a 1/2″ drive impact wrench, because it also includes an adapter to adapt a 1/2″ drive wrench to fit the 3/8″ drive sockets. The set also includes a 3 inch extension bar to help you reach bolts deep down in your engine bay. All of these sockets and accessories fit neatly into the included plastic carrying case and additionally meet ANSI spec, which is yet another mark of their quality.
In general, Tekton stands behind their products and offers support in the event of any mishaps, although we don’t expect that you will experience any with this set. Finally, the price is awesome especially for a set this extensive, which is why this is our favorite set available these days. It is extremely high value and we think you will be more than satisfied.
GearWrench 84916N SAE/Metric 3/8″ Drive Impact Socket Set
If you are looking for a really nice set and are willing to pay a little bit more than the Tektons above, look no further than GearWrench. GearWrench makes great tools and we have had outstanding success with their tools in the past. This set pretty much covers all your bases with both shallow and deep sockets with metric sizes ranging from 8mm to 19mm and standard sizes ranging from 5/16″ to 3/4″. The kit also includes a couple of extensions to help you access hard to reach places underneath your car’s hood.
The steel is a Cr-Mo that has been heat treated for robustness. The coating is quite nice and pretty hard (meaning resistant to flaking and scratches!) and contrasts nicely with the generously sized and highly visible laser etched markings. Some of the smaller sockets neck down to allow access to bolts that are in areas with limited space, saving you the trouble of having to finagle huge diameter sockets into small spaces.
The carrying case is super legit with two large hinges and a comfortably sized handle at the top. Overall this is a great set if you are looking for a 3/8″ drive set (although GearWrench also makes 1/2″ drive sets). GearWrench is also pretty well known for having a good warranty and is attentive to customers who try to make warranty claims, so you will be in good hands in the unlikely event that something should go wrong. All in all, we think that this set will last you forever and we highly recommend it!
So there are our recommendations for the best impact socket set. We are confident that if you should take one of our recommendations, you will be ready to tackle pretty much any automotive related project in your garage. That said, there are many great sets of impact sockets out there. If neither of these two strike you fancy, feel free to have a look at other sets that are available on the market. Happy wrenching!