Standard Socket Wrench vs. Deep Socket Wrench

rows of bits and sockets
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A socket wrench is a very useful tool to have; you need a socket set in your toolbox as you’ll find them very versatile. When you go to buy a socket wrench you’ll find that that you can buy a standard socket wrench set (also known as a shallow socket wrench) and a deep socket wrench. What does each one do, and what are their pros and cons? Do you need to own both types of socket wrench?

Standard Socket Wrench

A standard socket wrench is what you’ll generally find on sale. It will be available in standard or metric measurements (don’t try to combine the two). In both cases you’ll find that the wrench itself is ratcheted, making it easy to use the wrench to tighten bolts.

There are different sizes of drive with a socket wrench, ranging from 1/4 inch to 3/4 inch. You can find larger, but these would generally only be used in industrial situations. Using the correct socket and drive on a bolt you’re able to tighten and loosen it very quickly.

The standard socket wrench is also referred to as the shallow socket wrench because the sockets themselves are intended to operate in places where there’s not much room. This lower profile increases the accessibility. In most situations you’ll be able to use a standard socket set with no problem. It’s important to select a socket that’s the correct size for the bolt. If it’s too big it will slip on the nut, ruining the edges.

Once it’s in place you’ll have to set the ratchet to the correct point, either for tightening or loosening and then turn the drive. You’ll go clockwise to tighten and counter clockwise to loosen.

Deep Socket Wrench

rows of standard sockets

Far less common is the deep socket wrench. This type of socket wrench has a much more specialized use. You’d need it where the bolt is recessed, and a normal, standard socket wrench wouldn’t reach it. The clamp bolts on an automotive exhaust are typical of the bolted joints where you’d need to use a deep socket wrench. You’ll find that the sockets, both deep and standard, have either six points or 12 points, although you can also buy eight point sockets which work well with square bolts.

A deep socket will generally be around one inch long. This will allow you to use a socket wrench in inaccessible places, especially if you have an extension on the driver.


A few manufacturers also offer a medium length of socket wrench, known as semi-deep or mid-length. The name doesn’t do the socket justice. It’s almost the same length as a deep socket, but it’s intended to fit in locations that would be too tight for a deep socket, but which wouldn’t work for a standard socket.

These aren’t commonplace, and tend to only be offered by those specializing in tools for the automotive and engineering trade. They tend to be more expensive than either the standard socket wrench or the deep socket wrench.