The Best Socket Set for the Money in 2018

A good socket set will be one of the most important things to have in your tool collection. While you can get away skimping on some tools, this shouldn’t be one of them. There are a few common factors that make the top rated socket set stand apart from the rest.

One of those factors is the number of gear teeth in the ratchet, where a higher number of teeth translates into a shorter required turning radius. Another factor is the number of “points” or corners inside the sockets themselves, with 6 providing the best grip in most situations and higher numbers allow more rounding of the fastener head. There are other factors, including the number of sockets and whether the set includes both SAE and metric sizes, but for long wear and specialized use, the ratchet and socket quality should be your guiding standards.

TIP: Once you’ve decided on the best ratchet set for your shop or garage, be sure to keep everything in its place with a socket organizer if you plan on storing them in your tool chest or on top of your workbench.


GearWrench 80550 57-Piece 3/8-inch Socket Set

GearWrench ratchets are known for having the shortest turning radius in the industry, producing the best socket set for work in close quarters because of the ratchet’s 84 tooth count gear mechanism. Since you can remove stubborn bolts with a minimum turning arc of 4.3 degrees, the set is indispensable for those who perform mechanical work in tight spaces.

Socket sizes are stamped rather than laser-etched, so they will stand up to heavy use without losing their clear identification. This 57 piece set includes most of the sizes needed for anything other than the occasional specialized job. Sizes included are 1/4-inch to 1-inch standard sockets, 1/4-inch to 7/8-inch deep sockets, and 6mm to 19mm standard and deep sockets. Lacking the grip of a six-point socket, GearWrench has developed their patented Surface Drive technology to promote easier removal without rounding the heads of nuts or bolts.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Some users note that the ratchets seems to have a “loose” feel, but this is related more to the precision of the high tooth count than to a defect in manufacturing, and GearWrench can stand up to heavy use under harsh conditions without stripping the mechanism or rounding fasteners.

Another small nitpicky item is that there is no quick-release button for the sockets. It would have been nice but we assume GearWrench didn’t want to add to the thickness of the ratchets. Also, while the case is a decent quality, it does not have a handle. While not perfect, the GearWrench 80550 is currently our pick for best 3/8″ ratchet set for the money.

Note: Since GearWrench has become a brand of the Apex Tool Group, production of many of their newer tools has moved from Taiwan to China which is not for the better. As of right now, most socket sets (except the ratcheting type) are still being manufactured in Taiwan.

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SK 94549 49-Piece 3/8-inch Socket Set

If you don’t consider price, this SK socket set may actually be slightly better than the GearWrench set but because it’s about double the price, it may be overkill for the typical home mechanic. If you have the money and consider yourself a medium to heavy user, this SK set should be number one on your list.

Made in the USA, the set includes high quality ratchets as well as a handy thumbwheel ratchet. Because the SK ratchets don’t have as many teeth as other top-ranked ratchets, it may not be the best choice if you plan on doing a lot of work in tight quarters. On the other hand, the 6-point Sure-Grip sockets will grip fasteners more tightly than the competition, resulting in easier removal without slipping or rounding or the fastener or the points of the sockets.

sk-socket-set-reviewSK tools are professional grade, and will be suitable for any job you apply them to. It would be nice to have a shorter wing arc, but the trade-off is a heavier ratchet that can stand up to having a tremendous amount of torque applied with stripping the internal gear system. The size markings are engraved, and chrome coating could be more durable, but the set should outlast most others if you handle them as they are intended, and the limited lifetime warranty will cover replacement in most cases.

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Stanley 92-839 99-Piece 3/8-inch Socket Set

Possibly the best ratchet set for the money, the Stanley 92-839’s slim, pear-head ratchets have a minimum turning arc of 7 degrees, only slightly more than the GearWrench set. They also includes proprietary technology to increase torque by as much as 15%, and 6 points on all sockets to reduce rounding.

Including the most common sockets for both SAE and Metric uses makes this set more widely applicable than only offering one size standard. While this set is perfectly fine for most jobs, for higher torque applications such as with impact wrenches, you’ll want to use impact sockets instead.

The black chrome is sharp, doesn’t show dirt or grime, and offers better corrosion resistance than regular chrome, but the socket sizes are laser etched rather than stamped. This means that heavy use could wear the labeling off and make it hard to identify individual sizes. If you need a socket set for light or medium duty use, this Stanley set might be a great fit for you.

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10 thoughts on “The Best Socket Set for the Money in 2018

  1. Minimum arc for GearWrench ratchet is incorrectly stated as 6 degrees. If the number of teeth in the ratchet gear is 84, the correct minimum arc is 4.3 degrees (rounded up to 1st decimal) calculated by dividing 84 into 360 degrees (a complete circle). Many good ratchet wrenches use gears with 72 teeth, a number which divides evenly into 360 degrees, and gives a minimum arc of 5 degrees (360 divided by 72 = 5). A ratchet that actually had a minimum arc of 6 degrees would have 60 teeth (360 divided by 60 = 6).

    • Thanks Robert. You’re absolutely correct and I’ve made the correction. It appears that a few years ago, Gearwrench included a 60-tooth ratchet in this set which was later updated to the current 84-tooth model. I inadvertently used the old specs.

  2. I know this is just an affiliate site (and I applaud that it’s disclosed at the bottom). But I need to comment that the vast majority of GearWrench products are now produced in China–somewhat puzzling since Apex is positioning GW as their premium line (since they killed off Armstrong, Allen, and Matco was part of a spin-off). By the statement in the description of the GW set, tools produced in China are not high quality. It would be nice if there were some high quality Chinese-produced tools to dispute the claim, but it’s noticeable that GW quality has decreased after the move of production.

    • Thanks for the comment. As far as I know, GearWrench sockets (except the ratcheting type) are still made in Taiwan. But you’re correct, more and more of their products are now being made in China and it’s probably a matter of time until their entirely lineup is (I hope I’m wrong). I remember when GW tools were still made in the US. Unfortunately, it seems like Apex is swallowing up companies left and right and moving production to where I assume is the cheapest to manufacture. If they’re not careful, GearWrench will just become the next Craftsman. For now, I stand by the top pick above as I still think it’s an great set but if they do switch production to China, I’ll update the article as necessary.

  3. You should make a correction about the SK set. The chrome sockets are not laser etched. They sizing is engraved in the socket. The impacts are laser etched and engraved.

  4. GearWrench chrome sockets are still made in Taiwan but their CR-MO impact sockets are made in China. The 1/2″ drive CR-MO impact extension set I recently purchased was made in Taiwan.

    There are etailers, and come to mind, that list the country of origin but the country of origin is always subject to change. BTW GearWrench CR-MO impact sockets are excellent sockets and the sets come in great cases.

    I tend to try to avoid tools from China as well as from other communist countries due to political reasons but price and availability are also part my my purchasing decisions. so as far as impact sockets go I generally buy Sunex or Grey Pneumatic over Bain Capital’s Apex tool brands such as GearWrench. As far as quality goes GearWrench chrome and CR-MO impact sockets are great.

    Warranty isn’t much of a concern to me, the only mid to high quality tools that I’ve broken in the last 50 plus years were the ones I abused. I’ve replaced many more lost/stolen tools than broken ones.

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