Impact Driver vs Drill – Do You Need Both?

By Tool Scout | Impact Driver Advice

Impact Driver vs Drill

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The age-old debate among tool enthusiasts has raged for decades now as to which power tool you should own if you could only choose one.... an impact driver vs drill driver?

This largely depends on your occupation and or the demands of the job(s) in question. But, there is a clear winner for those weekend warriors looking to conquer every drilling and driving DIY job know to mankind.

While impact drivers and drill drivers may seem to function in the same way, they are quite different power tools that both have their pros & cons.

Let's get into how exactly they stack up against each other and identify which power tool will bring you a better return on your investment.

Do I Need a Drill or Impact Driver?

If you're asking me personally, I'd recommend grabbing a combo kit like the DeWalt DCK299M2 which includes both power tools in one very affordable set. The cost of purchasing them separately and or as a combo kit is relatively similar.

Plus, they are both tools that you'll most certainly use on a daily basis.

Typically, you'll find yourself using an impact driver far more often due to how lightweight and compact they are, although, there are certain tasks that an impact driver just cannot accomplish.

Say you want to drill a few holes into a concrete surface or attach a larger-sized drill bit to drill hardwood? Well, neither of those robust tasks are something you'll be able to carry out with an impact driver.

Ideally, this really comes down to the project at hand and how much you value your time. With both power tools at your disposal, your overall efficiency, and productivity will vastly increase as impact drivers and cordless drills excel at different specific tasks.

The fact is, you're not going to be able to fasten screws anywhere near as fast with a cordless drill when compared to a high torque impact driver. That said, there are a greater number of challenging jobs that an impact driver will just not be able to achieve.

So, while you can get by without an impact driver, you cannot without a cordless drill. One will make life a hell of a lot easier (impact driver), and the other (cordless drill driver) will make short work of all your basic drilling and driving needs. 

Can You Use an Impact Driver as a Drill?

Generally speaking, an impact driver is the preferred tool of choice for those looking to sink a boat-load of screws at a rapid pace due to the enormous amount of torque they possess.

But, an impact driver shouldn't replace a cordless drill entirely for all your drilling and driving needs as you cannot control the amount of torque an impact driver produces. A Cordless drill, on the other hand, features a slip clutch system allowing you to control the amount of torque being produced.

Plus, while it is possible to use an impact driver as a drill, you'll be severely limited when drilling holes with an impact driver as they are only equipped with a 1/4-inch chuck that is suitable for a hex shank.

There are certainly adapter kits you can buy that will assist with stepping up in size for larger drill bits, although, you're not drilling anything of the same diameter of what a cordless drill driver can as they are equipped with either a 3/8 or 1/2-inch chuck.

Apart from drilling holes of the smaller variety, an impact driver can be used to fasten or loosen nuts & bolts (with a socket attachment) or to even remove lug nuts when attempting to change a tire on your car.

Keep in mind, that while impact drivers can be used to successfully change a problematic tire, they are flawed in comparison to impact wrenches when it comes to this specific task.

That said, impact wrenches are more tailored towards auto mechanics and are not a power tool that the majority of DIYers would consider adding to their shopping list.

Can You Use an Impact Driver as a Drill

Is an Impact Driver the Same as a Hammer Drill?

Nope, a hammer drill is another tool entirely. Although you can buy a drill driver with a hammer drill feature, a bona fide hammer drill utilizes a forceful hammering mechanism with a specially engineered clutch.

Unless you're planning on punching through some cinder block or chasing out a concrete wall to embed some pipework, a dedicated hammer drill is something you'll rarely use.

The hammer drill feature on most 20V drill drivers provides an ample amount of power for the majority of heavy-duty tasks you'll encounter on small project works.

Personally, I'll generally use a drill driver with a hammer drill feature for most light works on building sites, so if you're only going to be using a hammer drill for the odd job around the house, you really don't need a dedicated hammer drill.

While an impact driver does utilize a hammering mechanism that forcibly strikes an internal hammer against the anvil, there is no other correlation between the two tools.

So sure, impact drivers have an internal hammer that generates the amount of torque required for aggressively driving screws, but that's about all impact drivers and hammer drills have in common.

Simply put, an impact driver is used for driving screws and fastening nuts, while a hammer drill is used to drill holes in concrete or masonry.

Is an Impact Driver the Same as a Hammer Drill

Impact Driver vs Drill Driver - Pros & Cons

If you've yet to make a decision and you're still on the fence, a quick summary of the pros & cons of both tools might be helpful. Let's break down all the features and benefits to hopefully aid in ascertaining whether you truly need both tools to succeed or just one of them.

Impact Driver Pros

  • Impact drivers possess an incredible amount of torque to greatly assist with fastening and unfastening fixtures (with the right bits), and love to drive screws.
  • Equipped with a 1/4-inch hex shank, you can drive hex head bits much faster than with a cordless drill and a standard Phillips head bit.
  • Super lightweight and mobile power tools that can be easily maneuvered in confined spaces, ceiling spaces, or wall cavities with relative ease.
  • Newbie friendly power tools that deliver all the torque and power necessary without causing any strain on your wrist as impact drivers generate zero kickback.

Impact Driver Cons

  • Driver impact mechanism is very loud, and especially so when driving screws into metal materials or even hardwood (ear protection is recommended) unlike with cordless drills.
  • Limited in terms of their drilling capacity causing restrictions regarding what the tool can actually accomplish as you won't be able to drill holes of any significance.
  • Impact drivers lack any means to control torque while drilling or driving which can cause damage to the materials you're using if the tool isn't utilized correctly.

Cordless Drill Driver Pros

  • Cordless drill drivers have a greater degree of versatility when compared to impact drivers as you can adjust torque settings to suit the material you're working with.
  • They are equipped with a larger chuck size so you can make use of much bigger drill bits giving you the ability to take on jobs that are more challenging.
  • Cordless drills can be utilized with more attachments, like; metal nibblers, polishing heads, hole saws, and masonry drill bits.
  • Premium brands typically produce models with a hammer drill feature so you can do everything from drive screws, to drill holes in hardwood or concrete.

Cordless Drill Driver Cons

  • Cordless drills deliver insufficient torque when compared to impact drivers which can result in undesirable stripped screws.
  • They are bulkier and heavier to carry around which also restricts them from being effectively used in confined spaces.
  • When drilling for extended periods of time bits tend to come to loose which can be problematic if you're working from heights.

As you can see, both power tools have their advantages and disadvantages. Logically, you'll want to establish what you value most and whether any of these little nuances will affect your working progress.

When selecting any tool, you always want to think of the application first and how the particular tool will benefit you.

Fancy high-tech features are assuredly alluring when shopping for power tools. Although, no amount of modern-day wizardry will suffice if the tool you're attempting to use isn't capable of completing the tasks at hand.

Conclusion

Impact drivers and cordless drills are somewhat similar in terms of their appearance and general functionality. But where they differ is their capabilities and ability to complete specific tasks.

An impact driver could be considered more of a luxury, while a cordless drill would be deemed an absolute necessity if you have to choose between the two.

As touched upon throughout this article, owning both an impact driver and cordless drill for all your drilling, driving, screwing, and fastening needs is the way to go. 

You're going to be immensely more proficient with both tools available in your arsenal, and if you consider time to be money, the initial investment is indeed worth it as it will pay dividends later down the line in regards to your productivity.

Lastly, if you're just starting out and can only afford one of these particular power tools, I suggest you choose one of the better cordless drills on the market as you'll be able to tackle more tasks with it.