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What should I look for in an impact socket?

When selecting an impact socket, there are a few key factors to consider in order to choose the right one for your needs. Impact sockets are specially designed to withstand the higher torque and impact forces generated by impact wrenches and drivers. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the most important features to look for when buying impact sockets.

Drive Size

The first thing to consider is the drive size of the impact socket set. Drive size refers to the shaped protrusion on the impact socket that fits into the matching anvil of an impact wrench or driver. The most common drive sizes for impact sockets are:

  • 1/4” drive – For light duty tasks
  • 3/8” drive – For general automotive repair jobs
  • 1/2” drive – For truck and heavy equipment repair
  • 3/4” drive – For the largest fasteners in heavy equipment

Larger drive sizes allow you to exert more torque on a fastener. Most individual mechanic’s socket sets will be 1/4” or 3/8” drive, while larger sets aimed at garage and shop use will include 1/2” drive sockets. Make sure to match the drive on your sockets to the anvil size of your impact wrench or driver.

Socket Sizes

The next consideration is the range of socket sizes you need. Impact socket sets are available in standard and metric sizes and come in a variety of configurations:

  • Individual impact sockets – Sold individually to build a custom set
  • Short socket sets – Cover common sizes like 10mm-19mm
  • Long socket sets – Include less common sizes and accessories
  • Universal/Master sets – Include every standard and metric socket size

Most socket sets will include the most frequently used socket sizes like 10mm, 12mm, 14mm, 17mm, 19mm in metric and 1/4″, 3/8″, 7/16″, 1/2″ in standard. If you need a large range of metric and standard sizes, a universal or master set is convenient, but costs more upfront. Individual sockets allow you to customize just the sizes you need.


Socket depth refers to how deep the socket sits on the fastener. The three main depth options are:

  • Standard depth – For most bolts and nuts
  • Deep sockets – For fasteners with longer threads
  • Extra deep sockets – For the longest threaded bolts

Most socket sets will include a range of standard, deep, and extra deep sockets to allow access to different fasteners. Deep and extra deep sockets typically cost more than standard sockets. Make sure to choose depths suited to your application – for example, automotive repair may only require standard depth in most cases.

Drive Types

The drive type refers to the shape of the protruding drive on the socket. There are two main options:

  • Square drive – The most common drive for impact sockets
  • Hex drive – Used some impact socket sets

Square drive is the predominant drive style used by major power tool brands and allows greater torque transfer and resistance to rounding off. Hex drives can sometimes slip out of the socket under high torque.


Impact socket sets are typically made from chromoly steel or chrome vanadium steel. These ultra-strong chrome alloys provide durability and resistance to shearing under high torque. Other factors to consider include:

  • Thickness – Thicker walled sockets resist cracking and splitting better
  • Heat treating – Impact sockets should be heat treated to improve strength
  • Finishes – Black oxide or chrome finishes deter rust and corrosion

Quality impact sockets will advertise the chrome alloy used and features like wall thickness and heat treating. Look for a warranty from the manufacturer to guarantee construction quality.

Specialty Sockets

Many impact socket sets include specialty sockets that allow access to fasteners in constrained spaces:

  • Deep well – For socket wrench access in deep recesses
  • Universal – Fit various fastener sizes and shapes
  • Hex bit sockets – Fit hex screw heads
  • Spark plug sockets – Allow spark plug removal

These specialty sockets provide flexibility to tackle a wider range of fastening and repair situations. Look for socket sets that include them as bonuses on top of the standard socket range.

Brand Reputation

Established tool brands like Snap-On, Craftsman, Gearwrench, Sunex, and Stanley are known for making quality impact socket sets. Some factors to look at include:

  • Brand experience and history
  • Reputation for performance and durability
  • Ratings from professional mechanics
  • Warranty periods (lifetime, 1 year, etc)

While you pay more for big brands, the quality and warranty support is typically worth it for frequently used tools like impact sockets. Lesser known brands can offer good value but read reviews carefully when assessing quality.


Impact socket set prices vary based on factors like:

  • Individual sockets vs sets
  • Number of socket sizes included
  • Build quality and materials
  • Brand name
  • Standard vs deep sockets

Here are some example price ranges for common configurations:

Type Price Range
Individual impact socket $5 – $20
15-20 pc short set $50 – $150
38-100 pc master set $150 – $600
Specialty socket set $40 – $100

You can save money by buying individual sockets or small sets. But larger sets provide more coverage if you need a wide range of sizes. High quality specialty sets from leading brands also command higher prices but deliver value through performance and durability.


Look for an impact socket set that comes with a storage case to keep sockets protected and organized. Storage options include:

  • Plastic cases – Affordable but less durable
  • Blow mold cases – Offer more protection
  • Metal carry cases – Most durable, stackable storage

Some sets include foam or rubber inserts that hold each socket in place while others just have empty storage cases. Sets with foam inserts prevent rattling in the case and make it easier to inventory sockets.

Other Features

Some other features to look for in an impact socket set include:

  • Knurled edges – Allow better grip when installing/removing sockets
  • Size markings – Allow for easy socket identification
  • Detent pins – Help retain sockets on anvil
  • Ratchets – Convenient handle for manual torque

Higher end sets offer more convenience through markings, knurling, and accessory inclusions. But the basics like strong construction and a durable case are most important.


When choosing an impact socket set, prioritize drive size, socket sizes/depths, materials, and brand reputation above all else. Consider specialty sockets if needed but don’t overpay for unnecessary sizes or accessories. Quality storage cases and size markings also improve experience and organization. Buying individual sockets vs a large set can save money if you only need certain specific sizes. With some research into the above factors, you can find the ideal impact socket set to suit your budget and needs.