If you’re seeking to learn what a socket wrench is, in this article for beginners I’ll give you clear step-by-step instructions on how to use a socket wrench, as well as general tips you should know.
What Is a Socket Wrench?
A socket wrench is a type of wrench with a socket on one end that’s used to turn fasteners. Another term you may have used heard to describe a socket wrench is a ratchet wrench. It’s a handheld tool with a ratcheting system attached to the handle and you use it to loosen or tighten nuts and bolts by pulling or pushing the handle while the socket is fitted around the fastener.
Is a Wrench the Same Thing as a Ratchet?
Although people use the terms ratchet and wrench when they’re describing the same thing, technically there’s a distinction between the two. A ratchet is actually a type of wrench and the most important piece of a ratchet wrench is the socket mechanism that stays in place while the handle is either pushed or pulled by the user. Not only this is more convenient, but it also speeds up the removal and tightening process.
The Best Way to Use a Socket Wrench
The steps below will tell you everything you need to know about how to use a socket wrench, including how to select the right wrench for your project. This information is designed for beginners and should help you understand how to properly and safely work with this tool.
1. Select the Correct Socket
Socket wrenches come with adjustable sockets or many sizes of sockets you can attach to the handle. This allows you to use the same tool for a variety of projects and fastener sizes. To avoid damage and get your job done as quickly and easily as possible, it’s very important to choose the correct socket size. This is probably easier than you think, because you usually won’t have to measure or guess the size by sight.
Most sockets have size markers on them or you can simply fit the socket to the fastener before attaching it to the handle to see if it’s a good fit. If the socket feels too small or too big on the fastener, try another size before using the socket to loosen or tighten the fastener. This is important to avoid damaging or breaking what you’re working on. Start with a larger size and work your way down to avoid getting the fastener stuck in a socket that’s too small.
2. Connect the Socket
If you’re using the type of wrench with multiple detachable sockets, connect the socket to the handle. If you’re using an adjustable socket wrench, lock the correct size in place once you’ve determined what size to use.
3. Perform a Quick Inspection
Before using the socket wrench, it’s recommended that you do a little check to make sure the wrench is working as it should. You can do this by holding the socket with one hand and using the opposite hand to turn the ratchet back and forth from left to right several times.
4. Fit the Socket on the Fastener
Align the socket with the head of the fastener – the fit should be tight enough that you can loosen or tighten the ratchet. This is perhaps the most important step and requires accuracy so don’t rush it.
5. Turn the Fastener
It’s essential to remember that turning the handle of the wrench clockwise tightens the fastener and turning the handle counterclockwise loosens the fastener. Rotate the wrench handle in the same direction you want the bolt or nut to turn. If you’re able to get a good enough grip, you can try re-positioning the handle and restarting to make more turns. You need resistance for the tool to work, so you may even need to grip the socket to keep it from turning the wrong way.
6. Keep Turning
Continually rotate the handle until your fastener is completely tightened or loosened. Some socket wrenches come with a button that lets you easily take the socket off the fastener. When you’re done, pop the button to remove the tool from the fastener. If your wrench doesn’t have a quick release button, you’ll have to remove the socket manually, which may take some muscle.
Tips and Tricks
- Invest in high-quality socket set, especially if you plan to use your wrench multiple times or on many different types of projects. A good set will have many socket size options and is usually easier to use (for example, a higher quality wrench should have the quick release button mentioned in step 6 above).
- If you’re really having to use muscle while turning the handle, check to make sure you aren’t damaging the jaw of the wrench.
- Don’t use a socket that’s too big or too loose for the fastener. This can damage or strip the fastener and even allow you to slip, which can be dangerous.
- You can purchase extensions for your socket wrench, which can make your work a lot more comfortable. For example, you may find you need a shorter or longer bar for different tasks. Buy a wrench that allows you to use extensions (or comes with extensions) and invest in a few extension sizes as well. This will help you work in far or hard to reach places, such as when working with car parts.
- Keep your socket organized by size and make sure you return them to the right place when you’re done using them. This can save you both time and energy in the long run.
Now that you have a clear understanding of what a socket wrench is, the basic steps to using one, and some general tips for purchasing and working with socket wrenches, you should be able to apply this information to your own daily life.