A socket wrench is a helpful addition to any toolbox. This type of wrench, sometimes referred to as a ratchet wrench, uses separate and removable sockets to help tighten many different sizes of nuts and bolts. A socket wrench is a tightening tool that looks like a short pipe with a removable or integral handle and either a square of hexagonal shaped hole.
Speed is the primary advantage of using a socket wrench, especially in repetitive bolt-off or bolt-on work. Socket wrenches are also useful tools because they can be used at almost any angle. Some socket wrenches even have a ratchet handle that makes it possible to reverse the tightening tool in cramped spaces.
If you choose a quality set of socket wrenches, you will be able to use your purchase for many years. Generally, a top quality socket wrench should be hardened and tempered for long life. The wrench should also be forged from fine-grade tool steel and machined to close tolerances. Some of the high-end manufacturers, such as Snap-on or Mac Tools, may provide "semi-deep" sockets for cases in which a slight depth is desirable.
The most important factor to consider when looking for a socket wrench is size. Choosing the proper size wrench for the job at hand is crucial, since using a socket wrench with too large a reach will damage the points of the tool. Socket wrenches are sold in four common sizes or drives: 1/4 inch, 3/8 inch, 1/2 inch, and 3/4 inch. When looking for American socket wrenches, remember that the 8 point sockets fit only square heads while 12 point sockets fit both hexagonal and square heads. Wrenches with 6 point sockets are the most secure, but these are typically the choice of professional mechanics.
When looking for a socket wrench, there are also different accessories you may wish to purchase to make your project easier to complete. For example, extensions allow access to nuts that would be otherwise hard to reach. This is a very helpful feature to have when working on automotive applications. Adapters that make it possible to use sockets of one drive size with wrenches of another drive size are also quite popular. Adapters consist of a male drive fitting of one size that is attached to a female drive fitting of the second size, such as a 1/4 inch to 3/8 inch adapter that makes it possible to use sockets with 1/4 inch drive holes attached to 3/8 inch wrenches.