Socket Wrenches

A commonly used hand tool, socket wrenches allow the user to easily tighten and loosen nuts and bolt (and most common fasteners). Here at Cromwell, we have a large selection of socket wrenches from popular brands like Kennedy and Melform Engineers, so you're bound to find the right wrench for the job.

What are socket wrenches?

Socket wrenches are a type of hand tool that operates much like a regular wrench and is often used in the same applications, however they feature an enclosed socket (shaped in the head of the fastener) that grips the head of the fastener for greater purchase. Some socket wrenches feature a ratchet for easier application of torque, with less strain. Many ratchet wrenches feature removable sockets allowing for interchangeable sizing depending on the size of the fastener.

Why use socket wrenches?

Socket wrenches are designed for quick and easy removal of sockets, even when the sockets are embedded within machinery or tight spaces. They are compact and designed specifically for gripping sockets in hard to reach places as well as sockets that are stiff or potentially seized.

When are socket wrenches used?

An incredibly practical tool they are used by many, from professionals to amateur DIY enthusiasts, most commonly used in the automotive, carpentry and construction industries.

Types of socket wrenches

There are a variety of different socket wrenches available, ranging in materials and design. The type you require will mostly depend on the application. To help you sift through the available options Cromwell has compiled a list of the most common types, allowing you to make the correct decision based on your needs.

Ratchet wrench - Socket wrenches featuring ratcheting mechanism. They help install or remove a fastener without lifting it off the nut or bolt during each turn. They feature interchangeable heads usually in sets making them a great multi-purpose tool.

Torque wrench - A highly calibrated version of the ratchet wrench, used in precise applications where the tightness of a fastener must be precise. I.e., tightened with the right amount of pressure.

Flex Head - Featuring a swivelling head flex-head socket wrenches don't have a fixed and stationary drive head. Their heads can swivel during use making them useful for applications involving small spaces.

T-Handle - A basic type of socket wrench. T-handle socket wrenches feature a long vertical beam with a socket head at one end, with a horizontal handle, forming a T-shape.

L-Bar - Available in various sizes the L-bar type allows for a decent amount of torque as the user can grip with both hands during applications.
Nut Driver - Nut driver socket wrenches are much like screwdrivers but feature a socket head instead of a driver head.

Gearless - Aka, a gearless ratchet, a gearless socket wrench features a ball bearing instead of gears that allow them to tighten or loosen fasteners.

Considerations when choosing a socket wrench

Drive shape - This mostly apples to ratchet wrenches but can apply to swivel head too. Most common type of drive shapes are square and hex drive, however, there are also drives that feature a double hex drive. Selecting the right socket shape for the drive is paramount as otherwise, they won't be able to connect.

Drive size - Much with drive shape this commonly applies to ratchet types and swivel heads and will determine whether the socket fits or not. Common sizes include 1/4-inch drive, 1/2-inch drive and 3/8-inch drives.

Socket type - Sockets commonly come in square, hex, torx and double hex types, suitable for a variety of fastener types. Selecting the right type of socket type for the fastener ensure that you will be able to complete the job without delay.

Socket size - Sockets come in various sizes with both metric and imperial measurements available for every size of fastener.

Accessibility - Is the work environment confined or open? Is your range of motion going to be impaired by objects in the immediate environment? T-handle wrenches come in a variety of lengths and sizes but are great for use where space is tight, a rachet wrench also can offer a good amount of torque in confined spaces, especially when coupled with a flex head attachment or an extension bar.

Socket wrench jargon buster

Socket wrench terminology can be confusing to the layman. To help you decipher the technical jargon, Cromwell has 'busted' the most commonly used terms so you can have a better understanding of socket wrenches.

Drive - The part of a ratchet wrench on which the socket head is mounted. Connections can be male or female. The most common shapes are square or hex.

Torx - A socket or driver head that features a 6-pointed star shape.

Torque - A force that produces or tends to produce rotation.

Extension bar - An elongated connector bar between the drive and the socket commonly used with ratchet wrenches. Designed to access difficult to reach fasteners.

Quick release - A system designed to easily release the socket from the ratchet drive. Usually button operated, it allows for easy interchange of heads in an application.

Ratchet gears - Can be adjustable on some wrenches, the gears allow for greater control of the push motion when operating the ratchet. They lock when moved in one direction allowing the user to generate the desired amount of torque on the fastener, yet release when moved in the opposite direction, for free movement.

Driver head/bit - A type of socket head that acts much like a screwdriver or Allen key.

Hex drive/socket - A drive or socket with six sides resembling a hexagon when viewed straight on.

Double hex driver/socket - A driver or socket resembling two hexagons overlaying each other. Features twelve sides.


How to use socket wrenches?

Firstly, it always helps to know the exact size of the nut or bolt you are working with beforehand and to match this to the markings on your socket wrench or socket heads (if you are using a ratchet wrench). Test-fitting before operation will go along way to make sure the application is easier and doesn't result in damage to the fastener or the wrench.
Place the open end of the socket over the fastener and apply force in the direction that you want the fastener to turn, much like you would with a standard spanner.

Note: It is important not to apply too heavy torque while using a drive socket that fits the fastener incorrectly. This can result in sheering the faster making it incredibly difficult to remove and can even damage the socket itself.

How do socket wrenches work?

Socket wrenches work by allowing the user to apply torque in the desired direction to either loosen or tighten a fastener. Ratchet wrenches allow the user to lock onto the fastener and tighten or loosen the nut or bolt without the need to lift off and reset. Others like the L-bar have a more manual operation much like a traditional wrench, however they all operate by generating torque to acquire the desired effect.

For more information on the different types of socket wrenches Cromwell stock, why not read our in-depth technical guides?