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A lot of contractors, homeowners, and DIY enthusiasts rely on cordless drills to do just about every darn job.
However, as great as these tools are, they are pale in comparison to a top-notch impact driver when it comes to fastening and driving screws at rapid succession.
With that said, which impact driver is the right tool of choice for your specific needs in 2020?
PORTER-CABLE 20V MAX Impact Driver
The DeWalt DCF8878B is a 20V Max brushless impact driver. You can get it as a bare tool or splurge a little and receive a few extra accessories with a kit.
This model that comes as a tool only that we'll be reviewing and is compact and lightweight which will help you make short work of most jobs in tight spaces at a reliable pace.
Arguably the best impact driver in its class, the DeWalt DCF887B boasts three RPM ranges. The first RPM range is between 0 to 1,000 RPM, while the other two top out at 2,800 RPM and 3,250 RPM respectively. The tool also has a high IPM rating of 3,600.
You can use the variable speed trigger to make all the adjustments you need to drive the toughest screws or bolts and to avoid stripping the bits when working with soft wood or thin metal.
As already stated, the DCF887B has a brushless motor. This ensures a better energy transfer, faster speeds under load, longer battery runtime, and less heat output. This results in much higher reliability compared to a brushed motor.
A work light is also included and can provide you with three LED beams. The light will turn off after 20 seconds as soon as you release the trigger. It’s also worth pointing out that the DCF887B comes with a 3.0 Ah battery. All of these features combined also result in a maximum 1,825 in-lbs. of torque, which is also adjustable to accommodate a wide range of tasks.
There isn’t a single feature that makes the DeWalt DCF887B stand out. Everything combines to give it a great balance between performance, speed, torque, and run time.
The only small downside is that the DCF887B is a slightly expensive tool, especially if you want to buy it with the battery and charger kit included.
The Black+Decker BDCI20C is a cordless impact driver of impressive speed and torque. It’s a lightweight power tool that can make short work of light- to medium-duty jobs. It comes with all accessories needed to use it after unboxing.
Like most standard cordless impact drivers, the BDCI20C has a quick-release 1/4" hex-shaped collet. The impact driver runs on an LBXR20 20V Max Li-Ion battery that comes with its own charger. A single driver bit is included.
The BDCI20C is capable of delivering up to 3,900 IPM, which is very good for this price range. The motor also delivers up to 1,375 in-lbs. of torque under no load, also good value for the money.
With the variable speed trigger, you can quickly reach 3,000 RPM. This speed should be enough to quickly drive some of the most stubborn fasteners. A simple LED work light is also available.
In terms of build quality, the BDCI20C is not overly impressive. However, its composite casing should hold its own even when working in tougher environmental conditions.
Although quite powerful, the BDCI20C impact driver is probably most notable for its low price point. For many, it has the potential to be a cheap and reliable impact driver for basic remodeling and repair work around the house.
Even though the BDCI20C boasts some impressive numbers, you should expect a good drop-off between no load and under load ratings. This model is not made for heavy-duty tasks.
Makita power tools aren’t always the cheapest, but the higher prices are often reflected in the performance, as is the case with the Makita XDT16Z brushless impact driver. This is one of the most dependable tools in its class and comes with a wide range of adjustable features.
It is often said that the best impact driver is the impact driver that gives total control over the speed. The XDT16Z fits the bill with its four RPM ranges. That’s twice as much as the average impact driver.
Granted, all the ranges may seem a bit high on the top end. Regardless, you can get up to 3,600 RPM if you crank it up to max. You can also adjust the number of impacts per minute within four different ranges for even more control over your driving. The highest IPM under no load is 3,800. The speed/power selector is conveniently placed under the collet or chuck.
But the brushless motor on the XDT16Z isn’t capable of just high speeds or beats per minute. It’s also responsible for delivering up to 1,600 in-lbs. of torque.
There’s also an auto-stop mode which helps when you’re loosening fasteners. There are many more good things to list about the XDT16Z, such as the ergonomic grip design, the comfortable trigger, the overall build quality, but it’s all to be expected from a Makita power tool.
One of the best things about the XDT16Z is the built-in assistance. The A-mode, as it’s called, is a function that prevents cross-threading. It does this by driving at a lower RPM until it senses that the tightening has begun.
Unfortunately, the XDT16Z might be too pricey for most homeowners. It already comes at a high price point, and it doesn’t come with accessories included such as the battery, charger, drive bits, etc.
As an impact driver, the Ryobi One+ P236 delivers reliable performance, tool-free bit changing, and a variety of comfort features.
The budget-friendly price is only applicable to those who own other Ryobi One+ cordless tools as it doesn’t include a battery.
The motor can deliver up to 3,200 RPM, which is nothing to scoff at, as well as the 1,600 in-lbs. of torque. The 3,200 IPM rating is also good even though you’re not getting as much control over the beats per minute. Regardless, there are many more features that make up for this minor inconvenience. Features such as the tri-beam LED work light which offers great visibility when working in tight spaces.
The ergonomic pistol grip is also impressive. It’s non-slip and reduces fatigue, mostly due to the rubber overmold. Not that you should need a lot, but the overmold also improves stability, which might be helpful to less-experienced users.
Another cool feature is the magnetic bit tray which keeps both fasteners and bits on the P236. This improves mobility, stability, and comfort. While the battery is not included, you should know that the P236 is compatible with all Ryobi Li-Ion and NiCad 18V batteries.
The Royobi One+ P236 packs a decent punch for a budget impact driver. It produces 4,000 IPM, which is on the higher end of the scale and is an improvement over it's predecessor, which was at 3,400 IPM. Considering the top of the range (pricier) impact drivers boost a 4,000 IPM, the Royobi One+ P236 really is a bargain budget impact driver exhibiting similar characteristics and statistics.
While the Royobi One+ P236 is a great budget impact driver, it does have a bit of a budget feel to it. But one of the most significant drawbacks with this impact driver is that it doesn't come with a kit option. Being a bare tool, you'll have to purchase a battery separately if you already don't have one in your collection.
Porter-Cable has built a name for themselves over the years. The company delivers some excellent power tools that are both affordable and feature-packed. This 20V Max impact driver is a great example of what Porter-Cable brings to the table as they continually manage to balance out pricing with efficiency, performance, and, most importantly, durability.
This ergonomically designed Porter-Cable 20V Max impact driver comes with a brilliant lightweight, portable charger that makes this impact driver an ideal choice for daily use. It is also accompanied by two lithium-ion batteries that deliver exceptional run time, even when used for more intensive tasks.
In terms of power, the 4-pole brushless motor produces up to 1,450 inch/lbs of torque, providing plenty of deuce to drive or drill through thick, dense materials. This is an impressive number to see on any impact driver’s spec sheet. The impact driver also features automatic torque adjustment to control the resistance and maintain accuracy in light- and heavy-duty tasks, which is something that’s necessary to avoid striping the bits.
The top speed for this impact driver is 2,700 RPM. It’s not adjustable, so a bit of extra care while handling it might be necessary. The same goes for the beats or impacts per minute, with the maximum rating of 3,000 IPM.
The metal gear housing is another impressive design feature. For more comfort and reliability, Porter-Cable also added an extremely bright LED work light and a handy reversible metal belt clip.
The Porter-Cable 20V Max impact driver has an excellent ergonomic design that delivers superb weight distribution and feels very comfortable in hand. But what makes this impact driver stand out, is the highly efficient lithium-ion battery and fast portable charger, that make this impact driver a great tool for both contractors and DIY enthusiasts looking for reliable workhorse.
Although boasting impressive torque on paper and in the field, this model might not be as efficient for major heavy-duty work. The Porter-Cable 20V Max impact driver will do the job, but if you're planning on loosening lug nuts daily with this impact driver, you might disappointed.
As opposed to their first cousins, driver drills, impact drivers have less complicated designations and don’t come in a variety of classes or types. One could simply classify impact drivers into four simple categories.
Corded impact drivers are like any other corded power tool. They’re bigger and more powerful than their cordless counterparts, and you can use them continuously at the cost of some mobility.
A cordless impact driver is easy to use, and it can be controlled for light-duty and heavy-duty tasks. The minor downside, of course, is that you’re always dependent on the battery and its charging time.
Another type or category of impact drivers is the brushless impact driver, which is called this because of its brushless motor. It’s a motor that operates without friction, which means that it’s much more reliable and doesn’t break down as easily, among other things.
Brushed impact drivers are the classic impact drivers with brushed motors. They are cheaper than their modern brushless counterparts but require more maintenance. Both brushless and brushed impact drivers can come in corded or cordless designs.
The IPM number indicates the number of hammer blows that the impact driver delivers in 60 seconds. Therefore, higher numbers are indicative of faster pulses or bursts, which are ultimately responsible for driving those long screws into walls.
You might also be interested to know that some manufacturers use BPM (beats per minute), which is, of course, just another term for impacts per minute.
Regardless of whether you’re looking at a light-duty or heavy-duty impact driver, the rotations per minute (RPM) or speed will be significantly higher than that of your standard drill driver combo tool.
The majority of impact drivers should be able to operate at multiple RPM ranges. Although seeing higher numbers tends to be eye-catching, you should know that variety is often better when it comes to RPM.
An impact driver with more RPM ranges and one that allows you more control over the speed should be better in performance than an impact driver that just has a very large RPM rating on the top end.
Also worth noting is that RPM is less indicative of performance than it is in the case of cordless drill drivers. For impact drivers, torque and IPM are sometimes more important. That’s because using too high of an RPM setting on an impact driver could cause stripping.
As is the case with most cordless power tools, voltage is used by manufacturers to indicate the power of an impact driver. Of course, those who took high school physics would know that power is the product of voltage and current, so the voltage alone may not say much.
Most impact drivers are powered by 12V, 18V, or 20V battery. So, which is the best impact driver out of these three categories?
12V impact drivers are generally reserved for light-duty work. They are certainly cheaper and lighter and have unique applications when working in tight spaces.
Secondly, 18V and 20V impact drivers tend to vary very little in terms of power. Just as it is with cordless drill drivers. The main difference between 18V and 20V impact drivers is this: The former is a rating that makes use of nominal voltage while the latter uses maximum voltage.
This means that for the most part, the actual power supplied by 18V and 20V impact drivers is about the same. Torque is not the same as power. It depends on the design of the motor and drivetrain, which also determines the RPM where the maximum torque happens. (You may notice a similarity to the torque rating of car engines and drivetrains there.)
Of course, compared to 12V impact drivers, 18V/20V models will offer more power. They will also be heavier and more expensive, but that’s just what it takes to work on heavy-duty tasks.
Current is often used to express the power in corded impact drivers. That’s because you already know the voltage (110 to 120V in the US but often assumed to be 117V) – multiply the current in Ampere by that, and you get the power in Watts. However, corded impact drivers are less sought after due to their lack of mobility.
Amp-hour (Ah) is the unit for battery capacity. It shows how many amps a battery can deliver continuously in one hour. So, a 2Ah battery can deliver 2A for one hour, 1A for 2 hours, 0.5A for 4 hours, 4A for 0.5 hours, you get the idea.
This means that the higher the Ah value, the longer the battery should last between charges. It’s worth mentioning that higher capacity batteries are also larger and heavier. They will also take longer to charge.
The first thing that comes to mind when operating an impact driver is having a supply of compatible drill bits. You’re much more limited with an impact driver than you would with a driver drill.
You'll mostly require specific 1/4-inch drill bits necessary to fit in the hex-shaped collet of the impact driver in order for them to work.
In terms of operating an impact driver, it’s much easier than a cordless drill since there are less adjustable settings. You don’t have to worry about torque adjustments for the most part, nor do you have to worry about keeping a very steady hand or injuring yourself.
Due to how an impact driver works, driving screws can be accomplished in record time.
There’s a simple principle behind the operation of an impact driver. A downward rotational force is applied directly to the screw to drive it into a wall, wooden frame, or other medium.
This action is similar to that of a hammer drill. However, with impact drivers, this force is applied in short bursts of significant torque. It’s important to understand that unlike manual impact drivers, automatic impact drivers exert a downward rotational force instead of a forward thrust.
Because of this difference, electric impact drivers are a lot safer to use than manual drivers or drill drivers.
An impact driver is a high-torque power tool that can accomplish similar functions as cordless drills and more. Due to its design, the impact driver is often the preferred tool for most screw driving and tightening jobs.
And, because the torque is generally higher than what you get in a standard drill driver, an impact driver helps you finish the job faster.
Most people use impact drivers to drive large fasteners such as long screws and lag bolts. This type of power tool is a go-to option for both light-duty and heavy-duty work in remodeling, art projects, metalworking, construction, and many other fields.
Apart from being able to drive large fasteners at superior speeds, an impact driver can also be used to drill very small holes in soft wood or light metal. However, for drilling purposes, an impact driver will pose some limitations, especially since most of them can only work with 1/4" hex-shank drill bits.
The terms brushed and brushless are used to describe the motor in power tools and other machinery. A brushless motor is a motor that operates without brushes, and is therefore frictionless.
Besides reliability and lifespan, friction and resistance can cause some issues with performance or efficiency. Therefore, brushless motors are known to offer superior reliability, energy transfer, heat efficiency, and more.
This means that a brushless impact driver is generally a more expensive power tool. But it is also one that gives the best results under continuous and long-term use.
If you’ve made it this far, you may find it easier to select your next impact driver with our final recommendation.
If you’re interested in purchasing a high-quality impact driver from an established and respected brand like Dewalt that can cover a wide range of applications, the DeWalt DCF 887B 20V Max Impact Driver might be the best impact driver out there.
Its impressive specs and sophisticated features are matched by both it's superb durability and outstanding performance.
There are a plethora of budget-friendly options when it comes to purchasing impact drivers as they are a relatively inexpensive power tool overall. Whether or not the impact driver you're considering appeals to you or meets your needs, is another thing entirely.
All of the impact drivers we've covered in this review showcase solid technical specs at an affordable price tag and some necessary accessories to help you get started on that future project.
We hope this review provided some insightful information and helped clarify an uncertainly regarding what impact driver would be the ideal choice for you.
My name is Michael McDonnell, and I’m the creator of The Tool Scout. I’m a mechanical engineer by trade with over 20 years of experience in the construction industry. I started The Tool Scout because I love talking about everything DIY related and figured I could help others with the decision-making process when it comes to selecting the right tools for the right job.
Apart from being a blue-collar kinda guy on a relatively noble quest to help others, I’m also a serial entrepreneur and an obvious lifelong Lakers fan. 🏀