Best Impact Sockets: Get the Toughest Sockets for Your Tools
Stop abusing your chrome—it’s time to get some impact sockets.
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BY Heather Fishel / LAST UPDATED ON October 13, 2021
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
This 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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Our reviews are driven by a combination of hands-on testing, expert input, “wisdom of the crowd” assessments from actual buyers, and our own expertise. We always aim to offer genuine, accurate guides to help you find the best picks.
Benefits of Impact Sockets
- Made for impacts. Impact sockets have one big benefit in their name and design. Unlike other kinds of sockets, these can be used with impact tools. That means they can stand up to the force of an impact tool without buckling (or becoming damaging) in the process. If you frequently work with impact wrenches, impact sockets are the perfect, highly reliable choice.
- Highly durable. Impact sockets are designed for impacts, which means they’re built to handle more force as well as more wear and tear. Made out of either chrome-molybdenum or impact-grade chrome vanadium, they’re far hardier than your basic chrome vanadium sockets. These materials are able to withstand a whole lot thanks to the addition of carbonizing, which provides increased durability along with a sleek black color.
- Versatile. Impact sockets are meant for impact tools, but that doesn’t mean that’s their only purpose or use. You can use these sockets in either impact wrenches or impact drivers as well as ratchet wrenches, regular socket wrenches, and other applications. Your impact sockets can become a key part of your everyday toolkit.
- Secure. Worried that impact sockets might pose problems or not be as secure as anticipated? These particular sockets feature locking pins that’ll keep them safely in place. A flank drive design also helps eliminate cracking, which ensures even better secureness with a low risk of loosening.
- Affordable. Think tougher materials mean a higher price? Not with impact sockets. These hardier, non-chrome sockets are typically cheaper than chrome sockets. That means you can stock up on an array of impact sockets without making a significant investment.
Types of Impact Sockets
Shallow Impact Sockets
Shallow impact sockets are the most common kind of socket available. In fact, they’re actually considered the “basic” or “standard” type of impact socket. They’re used for nuts that sit no more than one inch away from the end of the bolt shaft, and they can easily get into tight spaces. With a strong, secure hold, a shallow socket is easy to work with and can help you deal with tough fasteners, too. Highly versatile and a must-have in any tool box, shallow impact sockets can be used for a wide array of different tasks and types of fasteners.
However, shallow sockets do have limitations. They only work with exposed threads up to a certain length, which can be frustrating if you’re frequently finding extra-long threads in your line of work.
Deep Impact Sockets
Deep impact sockets, or deep sockets, are designed to reach nuts that your basic (or shallow) impact sockets cannot. These sockets can tackle nuts fastened onto bolts with exposed threads. Typically up to at least one inch long, deep sockets can slide over those exposed threads without bottoming out. They’re especially handy if you’re loosening or tightening lug nuts. You can also use this type of impact socket with a socket extension bar for extended reach.
There are two disadvantages to deep impact sockets, though. They’re typically more expensive than shallow impact sockets. Deep sockets also don’t get as tight of a hold onto the nut or bolt head, which can make them a little more slippery to work with.
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. When it comes to impact sockets, Sunex offers a selection of strong contenders—just take a look at the Sunex 2568 1/2-Inch Drive Master Impact Socket Set, a premium option that’ll last you a long time, and the Sunex Master Impact Socket Set that’s designed to cover every one of your small impact socket needs.
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. Gearwrench offers some of the best impact socket sets you’ll find today. Our top pick, the GearWrench 27-Piece Deep Impact Socket Set, is a prime example. You can also find top-quality choices like the Gearwrench 39-Piece 1/2" Drive 6 Pt. Impact Socket Set that are outstanding for auto work.
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 to $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.
- Portability. If you’ve chosen a sizable deep impact socket set, you want to be able to easily bring all of your sockets along with you when you’re working. Whether you’re traveling to different job sites or working around your own garage, portability is key. Look at how different deep impact socket sets are packaged. Do they include a carrying case that’s secure and well-organized? Or do you have to purchase your own separate storage solution? An all-in-one set will offer you more convenience.
- Socket Finish. Deep impact sockets aren’t typically all chrome, but a mix of materials (most commonly chrome-molybdenum or impact-grade chrome vanadium). However, it’s still important to consider the finish even if sparkling, shining chrome isn’t what you’re considering. To increase their durability, you want deep impact sockets that have a dark black finish or a carbonized exterior. The addition of carbon finishing helps increase their durability and better protects your sockets against wear and tear, which will secure your investment throughout all kinds of use.
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. 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.
Q: Can I use impact sockets for everything?
Impact sockets certainly are versatile. Though they’re really made for the extra-tough jobs that require impact tools, they can also work with regular ratchets and as regular sockets. But you might not want to reach for your impact sockets for every single job. While these sockets are durable and tough, you may wear them down faster by using them so frequently. They are softer than your traditional non-impact sockets, and that plays an important role in how often they should be used.
Q: What happens if you use a regular socket instead of an impact socket?
If a job requires an impact socket, you should absolutely not use a regular socket instead. Doing this can seriously damage or destroy your regular sockets. Using a standard socket with an impact wrench can cause the socket to crack or completely break under the force of the impact itself. It’s not necessarily the torque alone that’ll cause this damage, though. Regular sockets are typically made out of chrome, which is more brittle than the materials used to make impact sockets. As a result, your regular sockets can simply crumble when used improperly.
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.