One question that is often asked of us is whether a normal socket can be used with an impact wrench? The short answer is no, you should not use a standard socket with an impact wrench. Below, we will explain further why this is not a good idea.
The main differences between a standard socket and an impact socket are wall thickness and material hardness. Both types are typically made from similar steel, however impact sockets are typically heat treated to a lower hardness than normal sockets. The reason for this is that lower hardness sockets are more ductile and thus can both reduce wear on your impact wrench as well as better dissipate the forces imparted by the impact wrench. This makes impact sockets less likely to catastrophically fail. To compensate for the lower hardness, the outer diameter is typically slightly larger for an impact socket in order to increase the wall thickness to mitigate the higher stresses imparted on the socket during use with an impact wrench.
Now that you know what the differences are, let’s talk about the most important reason why: the safety of the end user. A normal socket will crack or break when used on an impact tool due to how brittle the material is. Contrary to common belief, it’s not the torque applied to the socket that causes the biggest issue. Instead, it’s the momentary shock of each impact that the tool imparts on the socket that does the most damage. The location of most socket failures is at the location of minimum thickness (where the socket is the weakest), which is at the corners of the socket.
If a crack or break occurs, a few things can happen. If you have the socket inside a contained space, such as a wheel opening for a lug bolt, the wheel may take most of the damage if the socket breaks apart. In the event that there is nothing to contain the socket when it comes apart, it becomes a series of flying projectiles which can pretty much go anywhere. Unfortunately, this means that the user (aka you) can become the target of a socket that has effectively become flying shrapnel. These flying pieces can cause serious injury or worse to a user.
With that in mind, the simple answer to the original question of whether you can use a normal socket on an impact wrench is a resounding no. If you’re using an impact wrench, stay safe and stick with a set of impact sockets (which you can use with hand wrenches if you so choose).