The Best Impact Sockets (Review & Buying Guide) 2021
Stop abusing your chrome—it’s time to get some impact sockets
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BY Hank O'Hop / LAST UPDATED ON November 22, 2020
There's no doubt that you need an impact gun in your life. Let's face it: disassembly can be a real drag with standard hand tools. From zipping things apart in a moment's time to busting stubborn bolts free, they'll save you a significant amount of effort. But, as if paying for a good impact wasn't enough, you're going to need to cough up some more cash for a decent set of impact sockets. No, you're not going to want to use those chrome sockets for the application. In short, they just aren't made for it. And like all other tools, you don't just want to get the cheapest set available to you.
You can take a breath of relief knowing that some excellent affordable impact socket sets are available to you. Obviously, the more you spend, the better the quality will be, but there are ways to gauge what exactly you should be looking for. The good news is that you're not on your own. We're here to help you find the best set of impact sockets on the market.
This 27-Piece deep SAE and Metric sockets are for use with 1/2-inch drive tools. They are a fair price and come in a range of sizes—perfect for beginners and professionals.
- Respectable quality and price point
- Includes a wide range of common socket sizes
- Comes with storage case
- 27 sockets might not be enough for pros
The 11-piece deep SAE sockets are compatible with 1/2-inch drive tools. They are at an exceptionally low price, making it an excellent option for beginners or to use in a pinch.
- Very low price point
- Includes a decent selection of socket sizes
- Limited usefulness
- Low durability
The 43-Piece SAE impact socket set is for 1/2-inch drive tools. They use premium materials and are of quality construction, making this a set worth the extra money.
- Includes deep and shallow sockets
- Premium materials resist wear
- Radius edges protect hardware
- High price point
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All of our reviews are based on market research, expert input, or practical experience with most products we include. This way, we offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Impact Sockets
- Use with impacts. The most significant benefit of impact sockets is that they allow you to use impact tools. That is because the metal they use can absorb the force of an impact tool without cracking.
- Can use them as regular sockets. Despite their intent to function with impact tools, you can use them on regular ratchets and socket wrenches. Retention may be an issue, but a good ratchet can hold them in place.
- More affordable than chrome. Impact sockets are almost always cheaper than the chrome sockets offered by the same supplier. This aspect, combined with the fact that they are more affordable than chrome, is why many professionals begin by purchasing a set of impact sockets before chrome.
Types of Impact Sockets
Deep vs. Shallow
Impact sockets in themselves are a type of sockets in general. That means that they are a purpose-built tool, but that doesn't mean there aren't small variations. Variations in wall thickness and the materials they use contribute to how an impact socket performs, but what we care most about is the socket's depth.
Deep sockets are more versatile and allow you to reach over the top of the threads of bolts and engage the nut. Short sockets are often better for use in tight spaces and for shorter bolt heads because they are less likely to slip off.
Sunex set up in 1977 intending to build the best impact sockets on the market. With a headquarters in South Carolina and 40 years of experience, it remains a leading force in impact tools and sockets.
Since 1996, Maryland-based Gearwrench has been developing tools that make life better. Ratcheting wrenches may be their claim to fame, but today they produce all kinds of quality tools for tradespeople and retain an affordable price point.
Neiko is a definite favorite among hobbyists and professionals who need affordable tools. While production is in China, they still seem to develop exceptional quality tools concerning the price point. The Neiko 65-Piece Master Impact Socket Set is a great option on our list.
Impact Socket Pricing
- Up to $50: Budget entry socket sets, single sockets, or small sets offered by premium names list within this price range.
- $50-$100: More extensive sets offered by budget-oriented brands and premium names can be found in this price range.
- $100 and up: Sets that list for more than $100 are typically master sets that include a range of sizes commonly used in professional fields.
The most important thing to look out for is the size of the socket. For this, we’re referring to the size hardware the socket is compatible with. You want to make sure that the socket is of the proper SAE or metric size first because this tells us if it is even usable for an application.
You must make sure that you select the proper depth of your impact socket. If you’re not sure, it is usually safer to go with a deeper socket because it can still be used for regular bolts and nuts. Nevertheless, you want shallow sockets for use in tight spaces where a deep socket won’t fit. You will also likely have a better experience using short sockets on bolt heads because they are less likely to slip.
Always double-check that the socket has the correct drive compatibility. Most impacts have a 1/2-inch drive, but there are plenty with 3/8-inch and 1/4-inch drives out there. Therefore, you will need to make sure the socket or socket set you are purchasing is compatible with your tool, such as an air impact wrench.
Materials Used and Wall Thickness
The quality of the materials used and how thick the walls are concerning their strength is critical. You subject these sockets to serious force with an impact gun. Therefore, the socket itself must be able to stand up to the test. Many consider this to be the most crucial characteristic because poorly made sockets will crack or shatter if exposed to too much power.
- Set Size Range. As you see in the list below, we discuss socket sets and not individual sockets. That is because you are far better off purchasing a set rather than separate sockets. They offer better value, include sizes you don’t expect to need, and prevent you from having to make multiple small purchases. But you should always pay attention to what the set includes in terms of sizes, accessories, and so on to make sure it best matches your current and future intentions.
- Warranty. A good warranty is important because you will eventually wear out or break your impact sockets. If you’re a hobbyist or only use impacts on rare occasions, you can overlook this. However, if you use sockets daily, we highly recommend investing your money in a tool that you can replace when you need to.
Best Impact Sockets Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- Use a breaker bar first. Yes, impact tools do speed things up. But you are better off lessening the amount of force you subject anything to, especially if it’s old and rusty. Start with a breaker bar and then move to an impact if you can’t get it loose with elbow grease.
- Treat your sockets with respect. It may seem condescending to mention this but show your impacts love. We only say it because they seem invincible, but they aren’t. Taking good care of them is the only way to get a long life out of them.
- Don’t use impacts for assembly. Using an impact to tighten things is a recipe for disaster—ask me how I know. Take the time to reassemble anything with hand tools to prevent causing damage. If you need a good set of hand tools, consider reading our buying guide for Mechanic’s Tool Sets.
- Invest in good tools. It’s understandable if you invest in low-cost tools when you’re on a budget. But you are better off sinking your money into good tools now because they need replacing less frequently, making them cheaper in the long run.
Best Impact Sockets FAQ:
Q: Can impact sockets be used as regular sockets?
Yes, but the thicker walls may prove cumbersome to use in tight spots.
Q: Why is it bad to use chrome sockets on an impact?
Chrome sockets are more brittle and will crack under high load. They also feature a different retention design that can get caught on, and even break, your impact’s hog ring or pin detent.
Q: Are Snap-On impact sockets worth it?
If you are a professional, there is no substitute for premium tools. Quality is superior, and Snap-On impact sockets, in particular, offer an excellent warranty.
Q: Are all impact sockets black?
In most cases, impact sockets are black. That is because of the carbonized surface that is used to harden them.
While GearWrench 27-Piece Deep Impact Socket Set is our top pick, we think that the EPAuto 1/2-Inch Drive SAE Deep Impact Socket Set is a quality choice if you need to pinch pennies. However, any of the impact sockets mentioned above would make a great addition to your toolbox.