Impact drivers are high-torque tools. They deliver a series of impacts to increase force, but the force is applied rotationally to increase spin on a screw without dislodging the slots, unlike a hammer drill, where the impact is delivered forward to improve penetration.
Impact drivers are an increasingly popular tool for the home workshop when people undertake home repairs and DIY projects. But are impact drivers worth it? Let's take a closer look.
How does an impact driver work?
An impact driver works similar to regular cordless drills, except that once the driver motor senses resistance, the impact hammer mechanism is engaged by pulling an internal spring back which then plunges the hammer forward striking the anvil. This mechanism dramatically increases the amount of torque allowing you to forcibly drill screws into dense tough materials with ease.
One thing to note, as they don't have a clutch like a cordless drill, you'll have to experiment and experience drilling screws for yourself to gauge the correct depth. This doesn't involve a huge learning curve, but it's worth noting.
Connecting bits with an impact driver is done by utilizing a 1/4-inch quick connect chuck that you merely slide forward and connecting your bit. It is then locked in place and your can drill screws or fasten nuts as necessary.
Do I need a drill if I have an impact driver?
This depends on the work that you'll be undertaking, whether you're a professional contractor or DIY enthusiast. Although, if you're doing anything apart from fastening screws into shelving or assembling a set of bedside tables, you will likely require a cordless drill as they offer greater versatility.
Most cordless drills today have an extensive amount of features that might them a must-have comprehensive DIY power tool. Any decent 18V or 20V model from reputable will include; adjustable variable speed settings, hammer drill option and larger chick size.
In short, yes. You'll likely make use of both tools if you're a tradesman or partake in a substantial amount of DIY work.
How Does an Impact Driver Compare to a Cordless Drill Driver?
Not all drills are built the same, and when it comes to an impact driver and a cordless drill driver, their design features and direct applications set them apart.
While an impact driver has its limitations compared to a cordless drill driver, so does a cordless drill driver compared to a hammer drill.
All tools have their restrictions. Whether you plan on driving screws into a bookshelf, drill holes in a piece of 4x4 timber or hammer drill your way through a retaining wall, the correct tool you use is paramount and will ultimately determine the outcome of the job.
Typically, you'll be limited to a 1/4-inch hex shank when using an impact driver, whereas cordless drills have a three-jaw chuck at either 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch. This one of the primary characteristics that set these two tools apart, although there are many more we'll analyze further.
So to help you get a better understanding of these tools and their best use cases, here's a complete break-down of the main ways in which an impact driver is different from a cordless drill/driver.
Impact drivers have a hex chuck
This hex chuck reduces spin under load, and makes changing bits faster. If you're fixing sheet metal for instance and plan on using hex head screws, an impact driver with a hex head will make driving screws an absolute breeze.
Impact drivers have dedicated bits
Bits designed for an impact driver not only have the hex shape, but are more rugged than standard drill bits, designed to withstand the additional stress of the repeated impacts.
Impact drivers are loud
These tools are usually much louder than a cordless drill or driver, due to the sound of the impacts. While impact drivers deliver about 50 percussive pulses per second, so the sound of the tool is more like a loud hum than a distinct tapping, they are still loud and should be used with ear protection.
Impact drivers don't have a clutch
The impact mechanism in our current tools is incompatible with a clutch. While some very high-end impact drivers do have a clutch, you can't enable both features at once, and have to choose between the impact or the clutch.
Impact drivers are smaller
Because they don't have a clutch, impact drivers are smaller and shorter than drill/drivers. This makes them more maneuverable in small spaces, which can be helpful on some projects.
When to Use an Impact Driver
Impact drivers are particularly prized for two kinds of projects:
When installing cabinets, doing framing, working with masonry, using dimensional lumber, or building heavier furniture, an impact driver inserts long screws and fasteners more quickly, and with less physical effort, than using a drill/driver for the same job.
An impact driver is much less likely to strip screw heads, works faster, and is easier on your body.
For repetitive jobs like hanging drywall or building a deck, an impact driver is an excellent tool. It drives screws quickly and reliably, with more power but less weight than a drill driver, making these jobs faster and easier on your body.
When Not to Use an Impact Driver
That being said, there are a lot of projects where an impact driver isn't the best of tools to use. While your impact driver will be your go-to tool for repetitive tasks like driving screws, once you have to attach a decent size drill bit and get some serious drilling done, it's time to grasp another tool of choice.
Here are some scenarios where a cordless driver or drill driver is the better alternative tool.
When you need specialized bits or attachments
Drill drivers have a much wider range of bits and can take a round or hex shank bit. This means you can use specialty bits, or accessories like hole saws, rotary sanders, and other attachments.
While it is possible to drill holes with a 1/4-inch drill bit attached to hex shank bit, you won't be able to drill any holes beyond this diameter. For larger drill bits, you'll certainly need a drill with a chuck.
When you need more control
Drill drivers usually allow you to control torque with the clutch and alter the speed with speed switches and triggers. You can also control the direction of rotation, so you can remove fasteners as well as insert them. While impact drivers have some speed and torque settings, they are usually less varied and precise, so you have less fine control.
When you need to drill
While you can definitely use a cordless drill to do basic tasks like driving screws into sheet metal or fixing plasterboard to stud walls, an impact driver is the much-preferred power tool for this task as it allows you to increase the pace at which you can work at due to its functional design.
It has been specifically designed for the purpose of driving screws and fastening nuts & bolts at an accelerated rate. It was manufactured purely for these applications and possesses an enormous amount of torque for such a lightweight compact power tool.
So if your goal is to simply drive screws into wooden or metal materials, an impact driver will help achieve this at a much faster pace than a cordless drill.
But, if you plan on drilling holes into concrete or drilling through thick steel, you'll have to ditch the impact driver and grab yourself a hammer drill, power drill or 20V cordless drill. With the torque and power of most cordless drills on the market, you should be able to drill through a variety of dense materials.
While you still might have to break out the corded power drill for the tougher jobs every now and then, cordless drills now have more than enough juice to get the job done. Plus, with a cordless hammer drill also being a viable option for punching through brick or concrete, extension cords are almost a thing of the past.
Why are impact drivers better?
If you're all about time management and productivity, an impact driver will be an ally in mitigating tedious tasks and help you meet crucial deadlines on time-sensitive jobs. Until you've experienced the misfortune of continually having to switch drill bits utilizing a cordless drill driver, you really won't be able to appreciate just how valuable an impact driver is.
Apart from the amount of time an impact driver saves you on any given job, they are also incredibly versatile and very portable. Most impact drivers come with a reverse clip to hang the impact driver from your tool belt while you focus on the task at hand. The majority of the quality impact drivers available weigh under 4 lbs and are a lot less bulky than a cordless drill, which makes them the ideal choice if you're operating in a confined space or merely working mobile on various job sites.
The impact driver is not only an efficient and convenient compact power tool that is super easy to strap to your tool belt as you dangle from a ladder; its also simply the best driving tool available when it comes to sinking screws quickly.
Is an Impact Driver Worth It?
An impact driver can be a great investment for a home or DIY toolkit, if you do the kinds of jobs that call for it, but considering their price, can you justify buying one?
For larger, tougher home improvement and construction projects, an impact driver makes the work faster and easier, reducing your physical strain and often giving you stronger, more robust attachments.
For smaller, more precise woodworking projects, or for basic home repairs and improvements, a drill driver provides an incredible amount of versatility.
In other words, a drill driver is an essential piece of equipment for almost any homeowner, while an impact driver may not be worth it if your work is less demanding or rather uncomplicated. If you do have bigger home improvement projects, work with masonry, or find yourself repetitively driving screws into materials, most would agree that an impact driver is worth every penny.
In other words, driving a few screws every once in a while with that beat-up old cordless drill driver is fine, but if you plan on doing any serious DIY work such as installing plasterboard or even baseboard molding, it might be time to say good-bye to that degraded old drill driver and make an investment in an impact driver that seriously screws.
What is the best impact driver?
This comes down to a lot of different factors, and our recommendation and your final decision will probably involve a bit of brand loyalty to some degree.
But what shouldn't sway your decision when choosing an impact driver, is the price. Some people assume when purchasing power tools that if it's expensive, it must be good, right? Well, not really.
When buying an impact driver, you should focus on buying one that's right for you. How you plan on using the tool should be the key consideration when deciding. You can go in a number of ways with both design and power, and whether you need a 12V model or a 20V will be something you'll have to ponder.
But, if you're truly looking for the best impact driver available, we conducted a complete review with comparisons of the best models on the market, which will hopefully help with you making a decision in purchasing an impact driver that is right for you.
So there you have it. We hope this article has expanded your knowledge and helped you make an informed decision on whether an impact driver is worth the price tag it commands.
Impact drivers are an incredibly valuable asset to assist both professional contractors or DIY enthusiasts. They will definitely help you make short work of time consuming tasks and in majority of cases, will be the go-to power tool you reach for when attempting to fasten screws swiftly.