There are lots of different hex fastener-driving tools, each with their own benefits. Last week we talked about ball hex key sets, and before that, a whole slew of different hex driver styles.
I used three different types of hex tools today – a single hex key size, 2 sizes of T-handle ball hex drivers, and a ball end hex socket.
Yes, a ball hex driver socket.
I bought this socket (Proto, 3/8″ drive, 1/4″ ball hex size) a few months ago for a specific project, and it has come in handy a few times since then. For that project, I had obstructed fasteners (and so only a ball hex driver can be used), but I knew in advance that my Bondhus T-handle ball hex driver was too long.
Additionally, my T-handle driver requires at least a 60° swing, or else I need a lower profile tool. Even the coarsest-tooth ratchet in my toolbox can work with a far smaller swing arc.
I use the ball hex socket every so often, usually with a Wera Zylops flex-head ratchet because of its smaller size, but I have also used it with a sliding handle. The Zyklops is not ideal, as the socket pops off its quick-release ball detent a little too easily.
The one size cost me $12.50, but I can currently find it from other Proto suppliers for around $10 and change. A 7pc inch set can be found for as low as $56 (via Amazon).
There are other makers as well, but I knew this size would see a lot of use, leading me to spring for Proto’s USA-made industrial-grade option. I’d probably go with a less expensive brand for a starter set, upgrading if I used the tools often.
Buy Now(Ball Hex Sockets via Amazon)
Who else uses ball hex driver sockets?
While you are talking about dedicated sockets to drive hex-recess socket screws – you might also consider using a socket that holds insert bits. Folks like Gearwrench, Proto, SK, Williams and others sell these. With a set of 1/4 hex-drive hex bits they are cheaper and less space-consuming than having a full set of hex bit sockets.
There are also sockets designed to remove damaged socket screws:
Here’s a link to ones from Cal-Van:
Hex driver sockets also come in impact styles of different lengths – and some with center-holes for tamper-proof screw like these:
Wiha makes hex-driver tamper-proof sockets for non-impact use.
Vim (Durston Mfg.) make hex-driver sockets in stubby configurations – for limited clearance applications.
Sunex makes this sort of stubby socket for impact use.
Many others make hex-driver sockets in long pattern (with or without ball-ends) to help reach deeply set fasteners.
Vim – possibly others make hex-driver sockets with universal joints.
While that’s an option too, at the time I couldn’t find long-enough ball hex insert bits.
Bondhus has a set of long bits, but they require same-size sockets, and I don’t think I have a 3/8″ drive 1/4″ socket, although a non-locking bitholder might have also worked for this particular size.
For the tasks I bought the socket for, I really needed ~5″ exposed length and 6″ overall length to be able to clear the obstructions. Smaller screwdriver bits wouldn’t have worked because any bit holder would have been too wide to fit within the channel.
I was not espousing any one solution – but rather suggesting that there were other type of sockets available to work with hex-recess fasteners.
There are bit-holder sockets are better than using a 1/4 hex socket – because they incorporate some manner of bit retention (might be a ring or set screw etc.) to prevent the bit from constantly slipping out. The older set screw types may be the most secure – but adds a step (turning the set screw with a hex key) to mount and change bits.
Here is a link to one – but many others are available in 1/4 to 1/2 inch square drive sizes.
I like what you said and saw it as an opportunity to discuss some more of why I went with this socket.
The Bondhus bits I saw require same-size sockets, and there can be a benefit to that, although I wont argue against the convenience of standard 1/4″ hex bits, if they can be found in the needed sizes and lengths.
With tools like these though, one is often at the mercy of what’s available and accessable. It’s not like Phillips tips, which can be found in any imaginable size and length.
Koko the Talking Ape
I looked fairly hard for some metric ball-head hex bits, and couldn’t find any as a set. I could get 12 4 mm ball head bits, for example but not a set. So I ended up spending more for driver sockets, which annoyed me.
McMaster Carr has some. https://www.mcmaster.com/#ball-end-hex-screwdriver-bits/
Bondhus does offer a set, and it took some digging to find it on Amazon.
Koko the Talking Ape
Thank you sir. (sigh)
The McMaster offering seems reasonable, except when compared to Phillips-head bits. $1.40 each? Still, one has to pay for unusual tools.
I’ve bought 3 so far and for unique purposes too. 10mm for the socket screws on the front hubs of a holden monaro/pontiac GTO. 8mm for the brakes on a mazda something. and a 15mm for some reason I don’t recall but it was for an aircraft engine.
same reasoning as you had – to run on a smooth action ratchet in a tight space. or as I did recently on a hub exchange – run them with my impact driver. (not wrench – driver)
I have the HF versions and have used the warranty a few times on the smaller sizes, the weak point above the ball snaps and sometimes leaves the ball in the fastner to fish out. really annoying if you are using these to reach behind a tv to level up high on the wall.
food for thought.
If you have a tendency to loose one hex key out of a set and then go and buy another set, and before you know it you have a junk drawer full of odds and ends. You might look into a set of the hex driver sockets that you can replace the actual allen wrench piece.
The socket has a set screw so you can just change out the shank to long or short, ball end or regular, damaged or worn pieces. You might have to sacrifice an allen to get the length or end you prefer.
I’m surprised you find these a bit odd. they are indispensable when it comes to repairing bicycles, small engines, and anything else that requires specific torque applications, ie using a torque wrench.
I think I have only used straight hex with a torque wrench. I have a small set from Tekton’s parent company, and then I bought a better Craftsman set. For smaller fasteners I use 1/4″ bits.
To fred’s comment I hadn’t seem the Bondus bits that are made for sockets when I needed the ones I bought. I saw that yesterday and might order a set.
The one I bought for the mazda brake job was litterally a why would you use that moment when I saw it – so that socket bit is a Lisle product I got from autozone. As I wanted to do that then. The 10mm and 15 mm ones I bought are both a impact rated socket that.
I like the Bondus idea – when I looked at the SK sockets they are specifically mated to the sockets as best as I can tell. To remove a broken bit it looks like they have to be pressed out. Does anyone have a set of the SK and knows how easy it is to replace them?
FOr me I find the sockets are lightly used – but when you need one you need one.
Been using hex bit sockets for years! I have a few sets of regular sizes and another hex set from Craftsman. Just used one yesterday as a matter of fact. None of my sets are the hex-ball type but at this point in time I have been able to access the majority of repairs using what I have. I also have a bunch of ratchets in varying lengths including a couple of different thumb drive ones. Just haven’t had the need to purchase the hex-ball set yet.
To your point regarding swing arc you could also keep a ball bearing ratchet drive handy for jobs where you knew access was limited. Titan has some affordable options if you couldn’t stomach the Snappy prices.
What about power bit ball hex? Use with a drill in low clutch setting. Wiha, Bondhus made them. https://www.wihatools.com/magicring-ball-end-hex-power-bit-belt-pack
Also, Bondhus bits come in extra length set: http://www.bondhus.com/bondhus_products/tool_categories/bits_blades/blades.html
One issue with these Bondhus – the entire shaft is 1/4″ – so, for the small head size, the body is significantly larger and thus may not fit into certain recesses.
So – these Husky sets, are better (in that regard):
And, Wiha has this PowerBlade set, but seems to be SAE/inch only (non-ball):
And – the set Stuart mentioned from Bondhus – they’re available in a bunch of varieties: blade only, blade w/ socket, ball-end blade only, and ball-end blade w/ socket. They look like a quality set – but they’re a tad pricey for me at the moment. And – like he said, they don’t come the way I want them – if you want to use the 3/8″ blade, you have to put it into a 3/8″ socket.
If the Wiha came in a ball-end variety and metric – I’d likely just stick with those for most of my needs (I already have the SAE security style).
All this talk and the research it inspired me to do – I’ve decided to pick up a set of the Bondhus double ball-end stubby L-Wrenches (both SAE and metric):
Now the only debate I have left is – which finish? BriteGuard (chrome) or ProGuard (like black oxide)
Good point. The standard power bit set do have 1/4″ shaft. The Bondhus blade bit ball hex are more versatile as they come in size appropriate shaft and different length. I think they are better than the socket ball hex as these blade bit allows use of power tool. But like anything tool related, there is use for everything, so choose wisely. The double end ball hex keys look nice, but since I got a Wiha mini ratchet set, I hardly ever use keys anymore. The mini ratchet is easier on my fingers and wrist.
Are those relatively new? I just saw that the other day when the other thread made me look at the Bondus website. I like the idea – I’ve been using 1/4 hex shank bits in a bit holder for years but I like that design better.
I have needed to use ball-end insert sockets quite often, particularly metric, long, small sizes, and needing to torque the fasteners.
I’ve found that the Wiha blades for the System4 tools are easily re-purposed – either by inserting them into a 6-point 4 mm socket or using one of the adaptors they sell, which gets you to the more common 1/4″ hex bit.
Metric ball-end blades (obviously, straight hex and inch variants are also available).
A few adaptors
Wiha also has a nice set of blades that are straight/ball double ended, also for System 4.
One obvious jury-rigged solution is to take a long ball-end L-key, cut-off the short arm with a cut-off wheel or similar, and insert the long end into a small socket. You can usually use a socket already intended for the same size hex bit (but came with a shorter blade) and swap for the longer ball-end bit. Often these sockets have a set screw and sometimes they just fit the hex blade very nicely and you have to punch the old one out and tap the new one in.
You might also look at Wiha 75803, 75900, and 75901,
I have the Craftsman set, I rarely use it but it didn’t cost me anything out of pocket and retail is pretty cheap: https://www.sears.com/craftsman-24pc-reach-and-access-add-on-set/p-A011456050
Wera in some of their kits include long hex bits the problems are availability usually only special order and price which is very high, they will work in other manufacturers tools so you could use a WIHA torque screwdriver for instance.
Having only ever seen Torx star drivers online or in print I saw a set in the flesh yesterday and they looked very good with a price to match.
I’ve always made my own ball or straight end hex drive sockets. It’s pretty easy. All you have to do is take some sockets that you don’t use and cut some hex keys before the 90 that match the socket sizes and hold it in the vise hammer the socket onto it or press it in the socket with a vise and a piece of pipe. You may have to round the od on the end so you can get the hex key started in the socket hole. I remember my dad making them when I was a kid. He would make screwdriver socket drives, drill bit socket drives, socket drive taps, and other socket drives.
great idea, maybe a spot of weld to hold them. Thanks.
I have various versions of these for specific sizes from different brands like Snap on,proto,tekton for example.
They are handy for sure,I love using my 1/4″ drive ones with my Bosch 12v drivers or my Wera mini Zyclops.