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 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.
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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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 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.
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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.
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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