Impact wrenches were designed with higher torque in mind — they bust bolts loose or torque them up in excess of 1000-foot pounds. It seems natural that when a person uses an impact wrench, they would use an impact socket. However, Cleve Pechuekonis, marketing manager at Ingersoll Rand, often notices that technicians are using regular sockets with impact wrenches. Not only does this affect the tool’s performance, it’s a significant safety concern.
“It’s common out in the field that someone will use a standard socket on their impact wrench,” says Pechuekonis. “The problem is that socket isn’t designed for that amount of torque, and the socket can shatter and become a safety hazard.”
Standard sockets aren’t equipped to handle the high torque of an impact wrench. Part of this is due to the materials used to make standard sockets and impact sockets. Standard sockets are made from chrome, which is fairly brittle and can split and shatter with too much vibration.
“Impact sockets are designed to handle the torque and flexibility without the product failing or shattering,” says Pechuekonis. Impact sockets are made from a softer, more malleable material called chromoly bdenum. This material is softer and more flexible to absorb the higher impact in situations where regular sockets would shatter like an ice cube. That’s not to say that an impact socket can’t split open. The important thing to remember is that they won’t shatter and send debris flying. Most impact sockets are gray in color or a black finish that looks like chrome.
So why would someone opt for a standard socket on an impact wrench? Pechuekonis notes that often technicians are unaware of which socket they’re using or don’t realize the difference between the two. A technician might go to the tool room or tool box looking for a 9/16ʺ impact socket. If the technician doesn’t have access to that, they might use the chrome standard socket in the same size — with the justification of “It’s just this one time.”
While it may be convenient to use a standard socket, safety is a major concern. The socket could shatter, sending fragmenting pieces in all directions. This can injure you and the people around you. You may also lose control of the impact wrench, causing it to fly off the bolt. When you consider that some impact wrenches turn 5000 - 6000 rpm, shattering pieces can go far.
When dealing with impact wrenches, you want the socket to wear out before the tool — and using the wrong socket can actually cause the reverse to happen. The impact socket should absorb most of the vibration. An impact socket in a high-production facility may only last 30 days, but for an automotive technician it could last a lifetime. The anvil, one of the most expensive parts on the tool, can split or wear out if you’re using the wrong socket and could cost $100 - $150 to repair. Replacing the socket can be as little as $8 - $10. The cost difference between standard sockets and impact sockets is negligible. An 86-piece socket set from Ingersoll Rand costs approximately $250, and a standard set is very close to the same price.