Tools & Equipment

The UK’s Best Socket Sets For Loosening & Tightening

close up of wrench socket set

Socket sets, comprising of a ratchet or two and an assortment of sockets, make loosening and tightening nuts and bolts as easy as pie. The socket set is virtually an informal rite of passage for teenaged males in some regions of America. Shouldn’t it be everywhere?

Why bother with individual spanners or even wrenches when a socket set not only lays out a variety of interchangeable sockets but utilises the principles of leverage and ratcheting to make tightening and loosening nuts and bolts a breeze.

Moreover, socket sets themselves are available in an astonishing variety, ranging from cheap, modest, entry-level kits with 20 to 30 pieces, to expensive, comprehensive and even deluxe sets with 300 pieces that contain ratchets in different points, sizes, and shapes, series of sockets of different types, multiple extension bars, a set of deep (or long) sockets, adaptors, screw bits, hex keys (also called Allen keys) and related tools thrown in, usually forged in a hard metal like chrome vanadium alloy.

The size in diameter of the socket itself – not the size or diameter of the bolt or nut it is meant to handle – is always denoted in inches and it is called the ‘drive’ of the socket and its corresponding ratchet. Mainly these drive sizes are 1/4”, 3/8”, 1/2”, and 3/4”. This is the reason that socket sets other than basic, entry-level ones have two or more ratchets.

The size of the socket is actually the size of its opening or cavity that cups over the nut or bolt. This size is denoted in millimetres for metric sockets and in fractional inches for imperial or ‘SAE’-standards sockets (SAE stands for Society of Automotive Engineers.)

Though socket sets are usually associated with automotive work and mechanics’ shops, they are essential for home DIY – if you want to remove a garage door, you need a socket set; if you want to assemble workout equipment, you need a socket set.

Underneath we take you through five very diverse hexagonal (or ‘hex’ or ‘6-point’) socket sets that have different parameters on all criteria. You’ll find:

• an expensive, high-end, fairly extensive pro set
• a budget-price, intermediate socket-focussed set
• a mid-price intermediate socket-and-screw bit set
• an inexpensive high-quality ‘essentials only’ set, and
• a budget-price, very extensive screw bits set with some sockets.

Yes, choices, choices…

Our #1 Top Pick
Bahco S138 Metric and Imperial Square Drive Socket Set
Number Of Pieces
138
Carry Case
Yes
Price
£169.00
Value Pick
AmazonBasics Socket Set (85 Piece)
Number Of Pieces
85
Carry Case
Yes
Price
£31.14

Last update on 2020-10-27 / Affiliate links / Images / Pricing from Amazon Product Advertising API

Now for our top pick –

Best Pick: Bahco S138 Metric & Imperial Square Drive Set

Though on the expensive side, Bahco’s S138 is as good as it gets in terms of both quality and quantity with over 130 superbly-machined pro-level pieces.

This fairly extensive 138-piece set is high priced but is even more high-end. It has a good mix of 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2” sockets, imperial and metric sockets, and regular sockets and deep sockets.

More particularly, the kit contains 12 1/4” metric sockets, 10 1/4” metric deep sockets, 16 3/8” metric sockets, 9 1/2” imperial sockets, 18 1/2” metric sockets, and 3 3/8” spark plug sockets of different lengths. It contains 3 60-teeth ratchets and 3 universal joints, one for each of the drive sizes. The 1/4” drive ratchet is 150 millimetres, the 3/8” one is 200 millimetres, and the 1/2” is 250 millimetres. Next, it has 2 sliding T-bars, 6 regulation extension bars – 2 for each of the drive sizes – and a flexible extension bar.

It also has 13 combination spanners, 8 crow-foot wrenches, 3 hex keys. Finally, there’s a spinner or screwdriver, a square-drive bit adaptor, a bit holder, a bit ratchet, and 27 bits of slot, Phillips, torx, pozi and insert types. (Whew!)

Bahco’s high-quality set is made of ‘matt-chromed high-quality steel.’ It lives up to its billing as the machining and finishing are top-class and the set is durable and rust-resistant.

Attachments have virtually no play, the ratchets’ lateral movement is immeasurable, and everything feels tight and solid in hand. Sockets are held very securely and precision-engineered sockets maximise contact with bolts’ edges and corners to, in turn, maximise delivery of torque. The spanners’ ring heads have a just-right angle. The ratchets’ rubber grips make usage comfortable.

The ‘high-density moulded polythene case’ is also of high quality and is very sturdy.

Bahco’s S138 is a winner of such top quality and without discernible flaws that even at its high price it can be deemed an excellent value for money.

Perfect for automotive professionals and intermediate-level pros in any industry who want a set that covers all the bases or for the advanced hobbyist ready to get his first (and quite possibly only) ‘serious’ set.

Pros

  • Machining, durability, play, solidity – on every criteria, the quality is just top.
  • Bahco’s selection and assortment of sockets is just unbeatable.
  • Buy it, and it may be the only set you’ll need for the rest of your life.

Cons

  • N/A
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Value Pick: AmazonBasics Socket Set (85 Piece)

AmazonBasics 85-piece DIY kit is of admirably decent quality, has a perfect assortment of all kinds and types of pieces yet is so easy on the pocket.

AmazonBasics’ Socket Sets are available with 40, 85, 123, and 201 pieces. All of them are good value for money but the 85-piece set covers all the most commonly-used sockets and also contains a set of regulation screw bits yet is available at a very affordable, indeed an attractive, price, making this set a superb value for money. The ‘elder brother’ 123-piece set includes a further 9 3/8” deep sockets, a set of hex keys, plus some more sockets and it too is a sharp value for money.

This set contains 13 1/4” metric sockets, 11 1/4” imperial sockets, 10 1/4” metric deep sockets, 10 1/4” imperial deep sockets, 12 3/8” metric sockets, and 8 3/8” imperial sockets. It also has 15 total bits covering slot, Phillips, hex, and square. There are 2 ratchets, one of each drive, a spinner or screwdriver, 2 extension bars, and an adaptor. The 3/8” ratchet is 160 millimetres and the 1/2” one is 190 millimetres.

For an 85-piece budget-priced set, this one is assorted very intelligently, combining in just the right balance 1/4” and 3/8” sockets, regular sockets and deep sockets, imperial sockets and metric sockets, not forgetting the tidy selection of screw bits.

The ‘chrome-vanadium steel’ is of admirably decent quality, and at the price the set’s overall quality is really amazing. Though not meant for heavy-duty professional work, it is an excellent set for medium-duty work and day-to-day tasks in auto garages. The only downside is that the screw bits are not the hardest or most robust. However, on the socket side, the ratcheting action is noticeably smooth but firm.

The plastic case is sufficiently sturdy and robust but the interior moulding is not up to the task of holding all the pieces in place. If you move the carry case around and it takes a jolt or two – as it will! – when you open it, two or three pieces will usually come rattling out.

All said, this set is a perfect compromise between comprehensiveness, quality, and price.

AmazonBasics 85-piece set is perfect for the part-time semi-pro, the apprentice mechanic, or the budding DIYer who wants an excellent range of sockets in one swoop at a budget, can’t-beat, price.

Pros

  • A very cleverly-varied selection of 1/4” and 3/8”, imperial and metric, and regular and deep sockets plus a good set of bits.
  • For such a low-priced set, the quality is really very decent.
  • Unbeatable, simply awesome, value for money.

Cons

  • The bits are the weak link in this set, not being very hard or robust.
  • Interior moulding of the case is not good enough to keep all pieces securely in place when being transported.
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WORKPRO 108 Piece Set With Ratchet Wrench

Well balanced between sockets and bits, having hard and robust pieces, and fairly priced, WORKPRO’s all-metric set is the ‘go-to’ kit for mechanics.

WORKPRO’s 108-piece set is an all metric one, but its balance lies elsewhere: with a total of 58 metric sockets and 35 screw bits, this set has an excellent balance between sockets and bits. It is also well balanced between 1/4” and 1/2” drive sizes.

It contains 13 1/4” metric sockets, 8 1/4” metric deep sockets, 5 1/4” E type sockets, 2 1/4” extension bars, a 1/4” universal joint, and a 1/4” bit holder. Moving on to 1/2” drive, it has 17 1/2” metric sockets, 5 1/2” metric deep sockets, 8 1/2” E type sockets, 2 1/2” spark plug sockets, 2 1/2” extension bars, a 1/2” universal joint, a 1/2” T-sliding handle, and a 1/2” elastic sleeve.

It has 2 45-teeth ratchets, one for each drive.

Finally, it contains 18 1/4” and 17 5/16” screw bits in slot, Phillips, hex, pozi, and torx, and a spinner or screwdriver, plus 2 hex keys.

The E type sockets, spark plug sockets, and the T bar make this set especially useful for automotive work, and identify it as a shop mechanic-oriented set. The T bar is especially useful when you want to apply two-handed torque.

The pieces are made of ‘high-quality chrome vanadium steel for strength and durability.’ While they are not of the finest quality, they are quite hard, heavy and robust, making this kit a good value for money.

The ratchets’ ergonomic rubbery handle is very comfortable and allows a solid grip.

The blow-moulded case is quite rugged and has a sponge separator. It is also space-efficient as the smartly designed interior houses 108 pieces in a relatively small space.

WORKPRO’s 108-piece set is perfect for the auto enthusiast (but not for vintage or classic cars), the garage worker, or the advanced hobbyist who wants a wide range of both the most common metric sockets and most common screw bits at a fair price.

Pros

  • All-metric set has an excellent balance between 1/4” and 1/2” drive sockets, and between sockets and bits, and even has special automotive pieces.
  • All pieces are of quite good quality, being quite strong and durable
  • Smartly oriented for all things auto, and the go-to kit for auto enthusiasts.

Cons

  • Set should have a couple less 1/4” sockets and a few less 1/2” sockets to make room for some 3/8” drive sockets with corresponding ratchet.
  • Ratchets are of 45 teeth.
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Bahco SL25 Socket Set

Small enough for your pocket, Bahco’s 1/4” set equates to 25 pieces of very high quality at a very low price; it is ideal as a starter set to build on.

Little but luxe describes Bahco’s low-priced 25-piece set, which has a high cost-per-piece to match its high quality.

Baby Bahco, the littlest member of the Bahco Socket-Set Family, has 12 1/4” metric sockets, a 60-teeth ratchet, 10 hex, Phillips, and Torx bits, a 1/4” bit holder, a 1/4” female square, and a ‘wobble’ extension bar. At only 125 millimetres, the ratchet is as miniature as this little set and is ideal for pushing into constrained spaces. The extension bar is not a standard extension bar but one that has in a small degree of built-in movement to get a small but invaluable angle or tilt (at the cost of perhaps giving you a nervous feeling that something will fall off!).

Just like big brother at the top of our reviews, attachments have virtually no play, the ratchets’ lateral movement is immeasurable, and everything feels tight and solid in hand. Sockets are held very securely and precision-engineered sockets fit bolts’ edges and corners to maximise delivery of torque. Here too the machining and finishing of the ‘high-performance alloy steel’ pieces is top-class and the pieces are durable and rust-resistant.

Like other Bahco sets, this set too has a high cost-per-piece but the quality is so very high that this kit is a super value for money.

The ‘high-density polythene case’ is sufficiently tough but not everyone will like the springy, has-a-mind-of-its-own, lid. The halves are separated by a foam liner.

At 35 x 165 x 85 millimetres this set is so ultra-compact and portable you can literally keep it on you. If you liked dinky cars as a kid, you’ll love this dinky set!

Perfect for maintaining all kinds of bikes and scooters, and the best choice for the beginning DIYer who wants a limited number of 1/4” pieces of top quality so as to build a full set over time.

Pros

  • Machining, durability, play, solidity – on every criteria, the quality is top.
  • Dinky-sized Baby Bahco may look cute but it means – and does – serious business.
  • Buy it as a starter set to build on, buying other drive sockets and ratchets as you go along.

Cons

  • For a small starter set, it probably should have had a regular extension bar rather than the wobble one.
  • The mischief-making of the carry case’s unruly lid may be off-putting to some.
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Mannesmann Socket & Bit Set (130 Pieces)

Mannesmann’s medium-duty 130-piece set’s claim to fame is a comprehensive layout of over 86 ‘ratchetable’ bits with various other pieces at a low price.

Mannesmann’s inexpensive 130-piece set is the joker in our pack because it is more of a screw bit set than a socket set, containing a total of 86 bits with 13 sockets and 7 hex keys thrown in. Of course, it has other pieces too.

It contains 10 Phillips bits, 10 Pozi bits, 10 torx bits, 10 imperial hex bits, 8 metric hex bits, 9 slot bits, 4 square bits, 3 triple-square bits, 4 pig nose bits, 4 tri-point bits, 3 clutch bits, 2 long Phillips bits, 2 long slot bits, and 9 security torx bits. All the bits you’ll ever need – and then some! It has a 1/4” bit adaptor and a spinner or screwdriver.

It has 13 1/4” metric sockets and a 72-teeth ratchet. Rounding up the set are a T handle, a hook wrench, and 7 hex keys. The T handle is very welcome to apply additional torque with.

It’s not as if you’re going to use the ratchet only for the 7 sockets – the 1/4” bit adaptor also converts the ratchet into a bit holder so that you can use the ratchet and its action for any and all of the 80-plus screw bits. Of course, you can use the screw bits with the regulation spinner/screwdriver as well. Both the ratchet and screwdriver have a composite comfort handle that enhances your grip.

The set is of chrome vanadium but it’s not very hard or strong and should not be used (or abused!) for heavy-duty work because if you over-torque you may bend or break something. The bits will start to wear if they are abused. However it is a good quality set and at the price it cannot be faulted; in fact, it is an outstanding value for money and is great for light-duty and medium-duty work.

Keep it away from damp and humidity or apply rust-protectant on the pieces because they are not rust-resistant.

The plastic case is quite sturdy. A distinctive plus is that the cavities for the bits are labelled in a clear and contrasting fashion.

Mannesmann’s 130-piece set is really compact; more so than you may think, and very portable. It is perfect for the budget-conscious tradesman or hobbyist who works on laptops, consoles, electronics, printers, scanners, fittings, and model-work.

Mannesmann provides a 10-year warranty.

Pros

  • This screw bits oriented set contains all the bits a DIYer will ever need – and even not need (including security torx)
  • This single set covers the ground for all kinds of laptops, electronics, consoles, model-work, etc.
  • All things considered, this set is an outstanding value for money.

Cons

  • Pieces are not the hardest or strongest as this set is not meant for heavy-duty work.
  • Exposure to damp or humidity may causes pieces to rust.
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Is A Socket Set The Same As A Ratchet Set?

Yes, it is, with the ‘difference’ between the two being the same as that between ‘torch’ and ‘flashlight:’ persons of a few countries tend to say ‘socket set’ while those of others use the term ‘ratchet set’ to mean one and the same thing.

The words ‘socket’ and ‘ratchet’ refer to two aspects of the toolkit. ‘Socket’ refers to a component, this being each of the many hollowed attachments, while the word ‘ratchet’ also refers to a component, this being the ratcheting ‘handle,’ but also refers to the principle by which the tool works.

How To Use A Socket Set

Using a socket set is actually quite easy.

  • First, choose the right socket. (Sockets themselves are labelled and so is each cavity in a socket set box or socket holder.)
  • You can simply cup a few sockets over the bolt or nut you want to attack, and check that the fit is snug to tight.
  • Then slide the socket into the head of the ratchet over the male holder plug, pushing it in so that it locks and ‘sits’ in the head. If it does not go in smoothly, then your ratchet’s design requires you to depress and keep pressed the button which is at the front or the rear of the head of the ratchet, and then do the needful.
  • Depending on whether you want to tighten or loosen, put the directional switch on the ratchet’s head to the correct position. If you don’t know what the correct position is, worry not for you will find out in double-quick time.
  • Holding the ratchet by the handle, again cup the socket over the bolt or nut. If you want to loosen turn anti-clockwise using the ratchet’s handle as a lever; if you want to tighten, clockwise.
  • If the tool harmlessly turns around without any resistance while making a soft buzzing or clicking sound, you have the switch the wrong way. Simply flick it to the other side, and go again.
  • You can keep moving the ratchet in a continuous circling motion or – and here’s where the ratcheting comes in – if you are obstructed from doing so, such as by a floor, abutment, engine equipment, or it is simply not comfortable when you’re dealing with a tight or very sticky bolt or nut, just swing the ratchet in a semi-circle or even a short arc, then move it – harmlessly clicking and buzzing – in the opposite direction, and bear down again.

What Is A Spin Disc For In A Socket Set?

It is used to quickly get bolts or nuts ‘going’ when you are tightening them or to finish the job equally quickly when you are loosening them, especially when nuts or bolts’ threads are loose or ‘runned out’ and they can be ’spun,’ and when, for the same reason, the ratcheting action may well not work.

A spin disk is clipped in between the socket and ratchet over the same male plug that the socket is clipped to. Now you can put the socket, using the ratchet itself, over the bolt or nut but instead of swinging the ratchet around you simply use the fingers of your free hand to ‘spin’ the disk, which will quickly and more efficiently rotate a loose or loosened bolt or nut.

About the author

Kersasp 'Kersie' Shekhdar

Kersie learnt the basics of gardening as a toddler, courtesy of his grandfather. In his youth he was an active gardener with a preference for flowering plants. He is a professional and vocational writer and his freelance projects have spanned various kinds of writing.

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