Before impact drivers took center stage, DIYers basically had two options for power driving or loosening — a traditional cordless drill and a hand wrench.
Back then, drills, both corded and cordless models were the go-to choice for general-purpose driving, drilling, and fastening, and torque wrenches were used in automotive repair/restoration (removing lug nuts, frame/chassis bolts, etc).
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But today, a new pair of tools have arrived to perform the above jobs with ease — impact drivers and impact wrenches.
Many DIYers are confused between the two tools, given their names, and that they both use a similar rotating movement to create force.
But there are indeed several differences between an Impact driver vs impact wrench, and situations where one tool is more effective than the other.
What is an Impact Driver?
An impact driver is a powerful tool that looks similar to a regular drill but has a lot more power under its hood.
The power of an impact driver is measured in torque, where the higher the number, the more powerful the tool.
The torque of an impact driver is measured in inches and pounds, and the best impact drivers boast between between1500-1800in.lbs.
With regards to design, an impact tool showcases a sleek, compact footprint, and is typically lightweight, making it easy to use for longer periods than bulky and heavy impact wrenches.
Once considered a tool for professional contractors, impact drivers are quickly becoming a common addition to DIYers and homeowner’s tool arsenals.
One of the noteworthy traits of impact drivers is that they greatly reduce the chances of reactionary torque, which to explain briefly is the twisting of your wrists when using an impact driver or the vast majority of power tools.
The collet of an impact driver accepts 1/4-inch hex shank driver bits, which you can insert or release by pulling the collet forward.
Just like a regular drill, you can buy bits in myriad different shapes to complete a variety of tasks whether at home or at a construction site.
Most of the best impact driver models are equipped with a variable speed trigger, which allows you to use the tools at a slower speed for softer materials, and at a higher speed for tough materials.
Impact drivers can be loud just like some drills, so you should ideally wear ear and eye protection when using this range of power tools to drive the bits.
One of the downsides of an impact driver compared to a drill is the lack of a clutch, which is a feature that stops the tool from drilling once it reaches a certain level of torque.
What Tasks are Impact Drivers Used For?
Impact drivers are a great choice for DIY tasks and home projects such as building decks, (which generally use woodscrews with a square drive), sinking screws rapidly, and can even be used for turning lightweight threaded screws.
Most homeowners will have more tasks and applications that require an impact driver than an impact wrench. They are suitable for some light automotive applications that are generally done in automotive shops. When using an impact driver for wood screws, be sure to choose philips vs slotted screws, as the philips head gives much greater friction than slotted heads.
But it’s worth mentioning that an impact driver is only a good choice for driving fasteners, and is not ideal for precision drilling tasks, for which you should buy a drill.
Pros of Impact Drivers
- Powerful motor to complete most tasks
- Lightweight and easy to fit into tight spaces
- Minimal kickback
- Most models are lighter than normal drills
- Can accept both hex head fasteners as well as hex shaft bits its driving shaft
Cons of Impact Drivers
- Powerful motor drives fasteners too far if you aren’t careful
- Noisy during use
- Doesn’t accept the same bits from a regular drill
- The price of most impact drills is higher than a cordless drill
Impact Driver Buying Guide
Here are a few factors to consider when shopping for the best impact driver, most notably:
Type of impact wrench
There are three types of impact wrenches available namely cordless impact wrenches, air impact wrenches (pneumatic wrench), Cordless impact wrenches are powered by a lithium-ion rechargeable battery, and are often a preferred choice for their convenience and portability.
On the downside, they are less powerful than air impact wrenches, but on a brighter note offer long service life, thanks to their brushless motors.
Most of the best cordless impact wrenches are fitted with brushless motors, which are less powerful than brushed motors that usually come with air impact wrenches.
If you’re doing a lot of serious work on a regular basis, an air impact wrench is a great choice, but a cordless tool is all you need for applications around the home.
Torque is perhaps the most important factor to consider when buying an impact wrench, regardless of the type. Torque is measured in foot-pounds, and the higher the number, the more powerful the tool.
A high torque impact wrench may have an extra cost compared to low torque impact wrenches, but is a fantastic tool if you want to remove bolts and tighten screws easily, without any fatigue.
RPM and IPM
RPM (rotations per minute) is the speed of a respective impact wrench and is just as important as power and torque. The higher the RPM, the less effort you will have to put into the job.
Excellent quality impact wrenches deliver 3,000 RPM or more, but if you’re only going to use the impact wrench for small DIY projects around the house, spending money on a higher RPM model would be overkill.
IPM (impacts per minute) is another quality important metric to consider when on the shopping trail for the best impact wrench.
Impact wrenches require a lot of contact to drive screws or bolts or loosen them up. A decent impact wrench should have a good balance of lbs of torque, RPM, and IPM.
Impact drivers feature a forward and reverse switch, which allows you to easily toggle between directions. Some impact wrenches may have a neutral mode as well that locks the trigger, which prevents the battery from draining if the trigger is pressed inadvertently.
Ergonomic design and other key features
The best impact drivers come with a rubberized grip on the handle, which prevents strain on your hands during use.
Most, if not all impact drivers come with work lights at the front, which are helpful when using the tool in grim light conditions. Some even come with belt hooks that allow you to secure the tool with your belt.
3 Best Impact Drivers
Makita XT281S Combo Kit
The Makita XT281S is a combo option that comes with two essential tools in one kit a cordless drill and a cordless impact driver.
Both tools are powered by industry-leading efficient BL brushless motors, which offer a 50 percent longer runtime per charge.
The impact driver in this cordless option kit comes with a variable speed trigger for a total of 1, 500 in.lbs of max torque.
Further, this kit is a great option for basic drilling projects, carpentry projects, or any other project you may have in mind.
The drill driver and impact driver in this Makita combo is powered by an 18V LXT lithium-Ion 3.0Ah battery, which features an integrated L.E.D. battery charge level indicator. The battery can be recharged in roughly 30 minutes.
The impact driver in this kit is a lightweight tool at just 2.4 lbs, making it a joy to use and carry on the go. The Makita XT281S comes with all the accessories you need to get started including a battery and carry bag.
GALAXY PRO Cordless Impact Driver for Driving Screws and More
The Galaxy Pro can be your weekday or weekend warrior in the shop and comes with most bells and whistles only seen with much higher priced models in its segment.
For starters, it is fitted with a 1.3 Ah lithium-ion battery, which features an indicator that displays battery power. Adding to this, the Galaxy Pro impact driver comes with a variable speed dial, which allows you to adjust the speed between 0 and 2800 RPM.
It doesn’t come with accessories such as nut driver bits or isn’t as good as Ingersoll Rand impact drivers, but does come with some great features such as screwdriver bits and tool-less bit change with a special chuck.
The Galaxy Pro impact driver is topped with an ergonomic handle and comes with a rubber handle for added comfort during use.
The package includes an impact driver, battery, charger, belt clip, six screwdriver bits, and a detailed user guide.
DEWALT 20V Max Impact Driver Kit
The DEWALT Max is a budget-friendly impact driver that doesn’t fall short when it comes to key features. It tips the scales at just 2.2 lbs, and is fairly compact, making it easy to fit into tight spaces.
It features a 1/4 hex chuck that accepts 1-bit tips and can be loaded with just one hand. The DEWALT MAX is fitted with three LEDs for great visibility in low light conditions. This impact driver is backed by a three-year warranty against any manufacturer defects.
What is an Impact Wrench?
An impact wrench is also a great addition to your collection of power tools and offers a higher power level than an impact driver.
As an example of this additional power, the Milwaukee 2656-21 M18 cordless impact driver delivers roughly 2200 lbs of torque, and its bigger cousin the Milwaukee 2763-22 M18 impact wrench puts out about 13,000 in. lbs torque.
Even though both impact drivers and impact wrenches use the same drive styles during operation, they are used very differently, and for distinctly different applications.
Impact wrenches are used professionally on heavy equipment and are very common in the automotive and construction trades.
Impact drives look a little smaller and stubbier than impact drivers and are used to loosen or tighten nuts and bolts.
Impact wrenches can be powered in four different ways including cordless models and corded models. Corded power tools need to be plugged into an electrical outlet, cordless models are powered by rechargeable batteries, air-powered aka pneumatic impact wrenches are powered by compressed air supply, and hydraulic impact wrenches use a fluid mechanism.
What Tasks are Impact Wrenches Used For?
Impact wrench drive guns are used by car enthusiasts who are constantly tweaking engines, and those doing some serious work on construction equipment or automotive equipment.
You’ll see impact wrenches being used by mechanics at car races, but those are pneumatic impact wrenches that offer a surge of power quickly. They generally use 6 point sockets as opposed to 12 point sockets, which deliver more torque over a greater area to avoid any damage to the bolt head.
Therefore, impact wrenches have very little use for DIYers or work around your home, unless of course, you’re doing some serious tasks in your garage, for that you can invest in a pneumatic impact wrench. Removing lug nuts with an impact driver is almost a pleasure!
Pros of Impact Wrenches
- Can tighten or loosen the toughest nuts and bolts with high torque
- Four different types are available
- Works very fast
- Adjustable power tool with variable speed trigger
Cons of Impact Wrenches
- Not suitable for most tasks at home
- Not a great choice for novice
- Too noisy
Impact Wrench Buying Guide
Apart from torque, motor, and type, here’s what to look for when in the market for the best impact wrench.
Size and weight
Corded impact wrenches are typically much lighter than their pneumatic and corded counterparts. So, if you’re going to use the tool for a longer period of time, a cordless impact wrench is perhaps a great option for you.
Lithium-ion batteries set the gold standard in the rechargeable battery segment, but we recommend investing in spare batteries to avoid interruptions in your work.
When buying any power tool, it’s important to check out the safety features regardless of your level of expertise. When it comes to impact wrenches, safety features include anti-overloading cooling, etc.
3 Best Impact Wrenches
PORTER-CABLE Impact Wrench
The Porter-Cable impact wrench is in a league of its own with its onsite 7.5 amp motor, which makes the tool a perfect choice for heavy-duty applications.
It offers fast application speeds of 2200 RPM and 2700 RPM and comes with a 1/2-inch hog ring for easy socket changes. The Porter-Cable impact wrench provides a superior 450 ft-lbs of torque and comes with a three-year limited warranty.
K I M O. Impact Wrench
The K I M O. impact wrench delivers 3000 in-lbs of brute power and features a compact head design to fit in limited spaces.
It sprints at 3,000 RPM, allowing you to remove lug nuts within seconds. The K I M O. features a premium brake stop that prevents your nuts and bolts from damage after they’re loosened.
It is powered by a brushless motor and offers two speed modes to choose from.
DEWALT 20V Max XR Impact Wrench
The DEWALT 20V Max XR isa mid torque impact wrench that comes with extra accessories such as an LED light with a 20-second delay and offers 700 ft-lbs of max torque and 1200 ft-lbs of max breakaway torque.
It features multi-speed control and is fitted with a heavy-duty 1/2-inch anvil with a detent pin. The DEWALT 20V Max XR tool showcases a compact design and is designed to handle a variety of applications.
It comes with a brushless motor for long service life and additional accessories such as a fast charger and tool bag. For an impact wrench that doesn’t disappoint, the DEWALT 20V Max XR is worth a second look.
Driver vs Impact Wrench – Key Differences
Both impact drivers and impact wrenches are designed to reduce strain on your wrists, and prevent wrist injury.
One of the noteworthy differences between the two power tools is that an impact driver uses a standard ¼” hex collet, whereas an impact wrench has a 1/2 inch or 3/8 inch standard square drive.
With impact wrenches, there are more specialty versions to choose from such as 1/4-inch square drive and 3/8-inch drives on more compact models.
Impact drivers and impact wrenches are loud power tools, but the former is geared towards average homeowners and the latter for the automotive industry and utility workers.
Impact drivers are typically used to drive screws into tough materials and can drill long screws or lag bolts into dense materials without any hiccups, making them a great choice for building furniture. They are also good for driving self drilling screws through metal, as the speed helps with starting the self drilling process. Care should be taken not to strip screws using these tools, as their power can be deceptive.
Impact wrenches are more powerful and heavier than impact wrenches, hence may not be suitable for all users, but construction pros or the likes.
In addition to electric and cordless models, some are driven by compressed air, which obviously needs the use of an air compressor, and these are more suited to working in a workshop rather than job sites where portability is a factor.
Hybrid Impact Drivers/Wrenches
There are certain power tools that offer twofold benefits, that is serve as an impact driver and power wrench. A good example is the BOSCH GDX18V-1800CB15 Freak tools, which have 1/2-inch drives as well as 1/4-inch drives, so essentially they’re two tools in one.
The Bosch Freak is powered by a robust EC brushless motor and is equipped with the company’s CORE18V battery. It offers three speeds to choose from, making it a great choice when working with a tough bolt, 8-10mm bolts, hex bolts, or any other type of fasteners.
Even though the Bosch Freak is a must-have tool in an auto shop, its attractive price makes it a great tool for your tool kit too.