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 had both SAE and metric sizes, but for long wear and specialized use, the ratchet and socket quality should be your guiding standards.
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 6 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. GearWrench tools are made in Taiwan which is actually known to produce high-quality tools (unlike China).
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.
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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 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 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 tradeoff 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 laser-etched, 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 if some of the sizes become unreadable.
A more economical choice, the Stanley 92-824 has a minimum turning arc of 7 degrees, only slightly more than the GearWrench set. It also includes proprietary technology to increase torque by as much as 15%, and a low point count on the 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. The black chrome is sharp and doesn’t show dirt or grime, but the socket sizes are laser etched rather than stamped, and that 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 uses, this Stanley socket set might be a great fit for you.