ManMade Essential Toolbox: The Almighty Socket Wrench Set
Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day.
An adjustable wrench is great for quickly tightening a loose bolt or taking a hex head measurement, but if you’ve got a lot of hardware to fasten and would prefer not to smash, scrape, and bang your hands and knuckles, only the ratcheting socket wrench will do.
What’s a Socket Wrench?
The socket is, well, a socket, that fits flush around the head of a fastener. Most modern hardware that requires a wrench (all manner of bolts, hex-headed screws) have a hexagonal head, and most modern sockets have points to match and grip the fastener tightly for lots of torque.
The socket is attached to a socket wrench via a snap on drive fitting. With the ratcheting drive mechanism engaged, the socket wrench will tighten or loosen the hardware when turned in the proper direction. When pushed or pulled in the opposite direction (counter-clockwise in tightening mode) the handle does not loosen the bolt but allows it to be repositioned for additional turns. The tell-tale “ratcheting” sound indicates that the ratcheting device (the thing that allows the handle to move in both directions while only engaging in one) is working via its gear and pawl mechanism.
Of course, the ability to drive hardware with less effort and in much tighter spaces without having to reposition the wrench is obvious.
Great. I already knew what a socket wrench does. Now what?
Cool. Me, too. Now let’s get what we need so that we can have the right tools on hand, aaaaaaaaaand know where they are. Because it is the sockets, more than any other tool I own, that I struggle to keep organized so that I can easily find the right driver when I need it. Which means it not only takes forever to find the right tool, it takes that same length of time to find the next size down because you guessed wrong the first time. And unless you’re an established mechanic, I suspect the same is true in your workshop.
So, first, if you don’t already have one, you’re going to want a full set in both standard (SAE) and metric drivers. The reason is: the hardware you buy at the store for new projects is most likely going to be standard sizes, but the items you own and work on will most often be in metric. So, a set of each. And don’t get these one by one. Just save up to get the standard full-sized set at once. You’ll save a lot of money over buying individual sockets.
Then, start gathering your accessories. There are a variety of wrenches, such as breaker bars and swivel headed ratchet wrenches, that will help reach hard to access or very tight fasteners. There are adapters to go from the standard 1/2″ square ball-indent heads to the smaller 1/4″, swiveling adapters to change drive angles, and special tools such as the spark plug wrench, which is hexagonal on both sides and turned via a T-wrench.
Oh, and a 1/2″ extender bar is an absolute must. It helps you get the clearance you need and saves much headaches and bloody knuckles.
Now… to keep things organized. There are variety of methods, from removable rails, to custom foam inserts to special trays that fit inside a rolling tool chest. The best solution for you will depend on your setup. If you have a classic standing mechanics toolbox with its pull out shelves, then an organizing tray made for those standard drawers will work best. If you throw yours in a box, a drawer, or portable tool box, a spring loaded clip holder is a good option to keep them ordered. If you store your tools on pegboard, a set of sized storage trays and a custom shelf would be great.
Or, if you buy a new set, just get one that comes with a molded case and a spot for each size. Built-in organization. Done.
- Stanley STMT71654 201-Piece Mechanics Tool Set – $60
- Husky H111MTS 111-Piece Mechanics Tool Set – $50
- Kobalt 85179 93-Piece Mechanic’s Tool Set with Hard Case – $50
- Crescent CTK170CMP2 Mechanics Tool Set, 170-Piece – $100
- Tekton 3-piece socket organizer set – $21
- Ernst 8451 Socket Boss 3-Rail Universal Socket Tray – $27
- Northern Tool and Equipment Toolbox Socket Organizer – $14