Saturday, January 16, 2016

A Review of SK and Williams Sockets

Williams MSB-20HRC Socket Set

I decided that I needed a new set of sockets for Christmas. I have used a great set of Craftsman sockets for more than 20 years. They have been good to me, but they are 12 point sockets and I always wanted a 6 point set. So I decided it was time to upgrade.

I'm not a full time mechanic who really stresses and bangs up his tools.  I'm a solid hobbyist level mechanic. I don't use my tools every day but I work my on own modern motorcycles, I occasionally restore vintage motorcycles and I work on my own vintage car: so I do require solid quality tools. For tools that I frequently use, I am willing to get top quality stuff. I am a careful tool user. If I don't have the right tool, I will buy it. I tend to clean my vehicles before working on them, I read the manual and I use a torque wrench on everything that I can find a torque specification for. And if my wrenches are dirty or greasy at the end of a project I wipe them off. So that's some perspective on this reviewer.

It is important to note that I have no way to evaluate one of the most important factors of a socket: how it applies torque to the bolt. The shape and hardness of the interfacing surfaces are not easy to measure. Standards like these cover those factors:

Metric socket internal opening design: SAE MA 4534A
Metric socket opening tolerances: ISO 691:2005
Sockets and handles: ANSI B107.5
Minimum hardness and torsional strength : ISO 1711-1:2015

I haven't seen any tools that claim compliance with all these standards in their catalogs, I'm just pointing out that standards like this exist. If someone wanted to test the interfacing surfaces of a socket, I would start by reading those standards.

My evaluation is is a simple visual review of the socket's fit and finish and of how it attaches to the ratchet handle.

I looked at some reviews on the web, I searched the Garage Journal Forum, I read Amazon reviews and asked some knowledgable friends.

I wanted something at least a step up from my old Sears Craftsman sockets. First I looked at Snap-on. And while they are probably great, the price stopped me in my tracks. While I respect Snap-on tools, I personally don't think they are always worth the price for a hobbyist.

So after eliminating Snap-on I decided to try SK. Many guys on the garage Journal Forum liked them and my friends really liked them. But I research indicated that SK has gone through a couple phases. Supposedly the old stuff made when when my friends bought theirs, was really good quality. But sometime around 2010 they went bankrupt and there were quality problems. But I read that the quality went back up after they were bought out of bankruptcy and that things were good now.

SK Socket Review

For Christmas I asked my wife to order a set of SK sockets from a reliable internet tool vendor that I specified. I asked her to order the SK 3919 19 piece metric 3/8" drive 6 point set. While the SK catalog touts that they test their 'SuperKrome" for corrosion with ASTM Salt Fog procedures, they do not cite a specific standard nor do they actually claim they pass the testing. There is no mention of these sockets meeting any dimensional standard in the SK catalog. The set includes all the sockets from 6mm to 24mm. It was $105 plus tax.

Christmas arrived and I was excited when I opened the heavy package.
The SK set came in a plastic bag and seemed not to have any oil or other coating on them.
The inside of the sockets were randomly finished: Some were chrome inside and some had a matt silver finish.

So whats up with that? Maybe chrome or matt silver inside doesn't make any difference... but the randomness of this didn't give me confidence the tolerances will be right or the heat treatment, etc.

I'll also note the flashing inside by the square drive receptacle was also ugly on some of the sockets. And the detents in the square receptacle that hold the socket to the ratchet handle seemed cut unevenly.

Frankly, I didn't consider it at all. I put the sockets on my gravel driveway, snapped a few pictures with my phone for reference and packed them up to be returned to the vendor.

Interestingly, when I posted about this experience on the Garage Journal forum, a few people agreed with me, but a vocal group complained that the sockets were fine and that I was overly concerned about the random finish inside the sockets. Some claimed that the random finish was the result of a change in the production a couple years ago, and newer sockets with the matt interior finish are mixed with the older ones. It was said that the matt silver finish was silver paint to protect the sockets interior from corrosion.

So... I considered a bit and decided to give the SK Tool company another try. I ordered an other identical set from a different online vendor for $109. And...
The new set was just as crappy as the first. Now, these all did have the matt interior finish, so at least that was consistant. But the other flaws were present again on this set: Here are some of them:

Note the square drive receptacle on the left socket is poorly formed.

 Here is a closeup. Horrible.

Check out the different heights on the detents on these two sockets. Also check out the poor chrome finish. These are fresh out of the plastic bag SK packed them in.

And compare the detents on these two sockets. Would the left one even hold the socket on the ratchet?

 If the details I can see on the SK sockets are this bad, what should I expect of the details I cannot see? Needless to say, I returned this set.

So, my review of the SK sockets? Both sets I bought were poorly made. Don't buy them, because there are better options. Frankly, I wouldn't buy them at any price.

Williams Socket Review

Williams is the "Industrial" brand from Snap-on. The sockets are very similar to the Snap-on ones. Note the set I chose is "Made in the USA". Some Williams sockets are domestically made and there are others that are made outside the USA.

I chose the Williams MSB-20HRC 20 piece metric 3/8" drive 6 point set and ordered it from a large online vendor for $96. Interestingly, Williams cites the ANSI B107.5 standard for the sockets on the catalog page for this set.  They do not cite any corrosion testing standard. The set includes a 5.5mm socket and then all the sockets from 6mm to 24mm. The set came in a simple cardboard box and was well oiled.

The exterior finish is very nice. In some light look they look to have a tint of nickel coloring. Generally everything was very crisp. Some of the edges, like around the square drive receptacle might be a bit sharp. Nice interior finish. The most notable imperfection is a light ring around the circumference of single socket, probably from rolling during manufacturing or storage or something. I did note the "Williams" script on a few of the sockets was done in a different style on a few of the sockets. They must be phasing in a new logo.

There are no signs of surface imperfections or rust. The inside of the sockets look smooth and nice and clean. (No sign of any SK style paint inside.)

A Close up of the inside of the Williams sockets. Nice and crisp. You can see the oil coating in the pictures.

Interestingly every socket has a different exterior circumference. This implies that Williams uses separate tooling for each socket size (the SK sockets had a least two that were the same external diameter).

The sockets have clean and sharp square drive receptacles. Every detent is the same and nicely cut. Chrome is good and has a light coat of oil.

So, my review of the Williams sockets? Very nice. They are the step up from my old sockets. They are what I expected for the price.

More information from the Garage Journal Forum:

Interesting comparison between Snap-on and Williams sockets

Another review of that includes SK sockets and sees some of the same quality problems