Everyone needs a socket set. Next to a screwdriver set, a good socket set will do more than just about any other tools you can by. Without one, auto mechanics are impossible. Lots of things are easily fixed, with a socket set.

A basic socket set is nothing more than a rachet arm and a set of sockets, each corresponding to a known size from small to large, and fit over bolts and screws which are always hexagonal in shape. On one side the socket will itself have a hexagonal or twelve sided opening, the other will be square and is the drive opening. That will correspond to a square drive on the rachet. In the US, sockets have 1/4", 3/8" and 1/2" drives, with larger drives being available for heavy machinery work. For an auto mechanic, 1/2" drives are plenty big enough. The rachet will supply torque in the direction chosen using a mechanism on the rachet, and release in the other, which allows for quicker work. A basic socket set can be purchased for a little as $20, and they are fine for very occasional work. Anyone expecting to use the set regularly needs to spend more money.

What matters most in a socket set is the sockets. They must fit precisely, or risk rounding off the bolts. In the US I own a set of both English standard and metric sockets because I encounter both sizes regularly. A basic set will have only shallow sockets, which are large enough to admit the desired bolt head but, little else. Deep well sockets are required if you wish to thead nuts on a stud, and are often more convenient in hard to reach spots. Hard to reach spots also may require a socket extension, which simply attach between the rachet arms drive and the drive slot of the socket, moving the rachet arm further back. They come in various lengths, and some will swivel for odd angle work. The rachet arm, too, may swivel. A universal permits even odder angles. There are sockets that are hex, or allen wrenches and sockets that have an open end wrench.

By now you may have realized that there is no limit to the amount of pieces and parts that you can have in your socket set. Those big mechanic's tool boxes are no accident. Neither is the daily trip of the Snap-on or MacTools truck to your local mechanic's shop. A torque wrench fits on the sockets to control applied torque. A long breaker bar can be used to remove recalcitrant bolts. A speed bar uses a winding mechanism to quickly screw in large bolts. All of these pieces are useful, and potentially essential in the right situation. There is no substitute for the right tool. The wrong tool can break things, or round off bolt heads or nuts.

Obviously this tool cornucopia must have limits. But there are benefits, good tools generally carry a lifetime waranty. If you take a crapped out twenty year old Craftsman rachet into your local Sears, they will quickly hand you a brand new one, for free. You should have to buy only one socket set per lifetime, if you buy good tools.

The way to buy a socket set for the average joe is on sale, at Sears. They run big sales around Christmas for people who want to buy something testosterone laden for their signficant male. But there are other sales. A Craftsman 250 piece kit can be had for between $100 to US$150 on sale. It isn't all sockets, you'll get some open end wrenches, a set of allen keys and a screwdriver with multiple tips to get to the magic 250 number, but they're all useful, well-made tools. A set that size will give rachets in all three drive sizes, an extension (you'll want more in time) in all three sizes, and metric and english deep well and standard sockets. You can do a lot of damage with a tool kit like that. But you will need to buy a separate tool box, which start at about $30. A smaller, 100 piece set may come with it's own case, for somewhat less money. Most leave out the 1/2" drive, which is really needed for heavy work. The larger the job, the larger the drive. Just remember to use that 1/4" drive for small nuts and bolts as they won't take the torque that bigger parts will.

Of course, there are other quality tools available. Snap on and MacTools can be had, and many think their quality better. But Sears is everywhere. The Mac tools truck doesn't drop by unless you are a professional. Look for a lifetime waranty, that means they think the tool will last. Everyone needs a good socket set. If you expect to use it once or twice a year, a cheap set will probably do, with the proviso that a 40 piece set won't have all the tools you'll need, and certainly will not have all the tools you'll want. But they can be had cheap enough to keep one in your car's trunk. I bought a 250 pc. set and add tools as needed. But with a bigger set, you'll need to spend money less often. More importantly, you won't have to stop what you're doing and run to the store so often.

At the risk of repeating myself: Every household needs a socket set. How much you need is up to you.

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