Impact drivers are fast becoming part of the standard tool kit for people who do DIY home repairs and improvements.
Once considered a tool solely for professional contractors, impact drivers have now become extremely popular with everyday DIYers for their power and portability.
But what about impact wrenches? While they are mandatory for pit crews pursuing pole position, are they really as useful to have around the house?
And if you already own an impact driver, do you need an impact wrench, or can one tool do both kinds of jobs?
Since they both high-torque power tools that look darn near identical in appearance, how are they actually different?
In this article, we'll take a closer look at the differences between impact drivers and impact wrenches, and what they are most often used for, to explore the similarities and differences between them, and help you decide whether you need one or both tools in your toolkit.
What is the Difference Between an Impact Driver and an Impact Wrench?
While impact drivers and impact wrenches use the same principles in operation, they are used very differently and have distinctly different applications.
Impact wrenches deliver many times more torque than impact drivers, usually hundreds of pounds more. They are used professionally on heavy equipment and throughout the construction and automotive industry.
For most homeowners or DIYers, the most common applications for impact wrenches would be in the garage, if you had to do some more serious work on your prized pride and joy. Impact wrenches are a tool that you just can't do without if you're a car enthusiast who's constantly tinkering and tweeking with engines.
Impact drivers, on the other hand, are increasingly popular for DIY and home projects. While they aren't as versatile as the likes of a cordless drill, they are great for building decks, sinking screws rapidly, general home repair works, and can even remove stubborn lug nuts (more on that later).
The difference between an impact driver and an impact wrench is, therefore, the difference between a driver and a wrench: One is designed to drive tough screws and fasteners, the other to tighten or loosen tough nuts and bolts.
The truth is, most average homeowners won't have that many jobs around the house that require an impact wrench. Since an impact driver can be used to tighten and loosen lug nuts and do other light automotive tasks, it's usually perfectly adequate for most needs, and a much more versatile tool to have around the house.
Also, for mechanics and professionals in the metal fabrication industry, who need hundreds or thousands of pounds more torque delivered at high speed, an impact wrench is part of daily life.
What Exactly is an Impact Driver?
While an impact driver might seem similar to a cordless drill and look nearly identical to an impact wrench, they are markedly dissimilar in functionality.
An impact driver is a power tool designed to deliver high torque and or rotational force. The impact is a strong, repeated, rotational hammering force (rather than constant forward force), and they have been specifically designed for driving and fastening with speed and power.
Impact drivers have a 1/4-inch hex socket, with bits specially designed for the additional stress that an impact driver places on a bit.
Also, just remember that when you're buying an impact driver, you'll be somewhat limited in terms of what you can actually drill. Honestly, if you're looking to do more than drive screws or fasten nuts and bolts, you'll need to get yourself a cordless drill.
What is the Best Impact Driver?
A quality impact driver like the DeWalt DCF885C1 is definitely a power tool you'll want to get your hands. It really is the best bang for your buck option out there, and also comes from a reliable brand that provides a 3-year limited warranty.
This little beast from DeWalt weighs just 2.8 lbs and has been developed with a heavy focus on both comfort and ergonomics. You'll be able to maneuver the DCF885C1 in the tightest of spaces, and with its 3-ring LED system for increased illumination to assist with operating in confined spaces.
- Delivers unreal performance for a budget impact driver that comes with a variable speed setting feature.
- Comfortable ergonomic design with a stellar rubberized grip handle to enable extended use.
- Equipped with cool 3-LED light ring construction that provides an enormous amount of illumination.
- Kit includes one 20V MAX 3.6 Ah battery, 20V fast charger, and hard protective carry case.
What Can You Use an Impact Driver For?
A cordless impact driver is typically used for driving screws into heavy-duty materials like studs and sheet metal. Impact drivers are smaller and less versatile than cordless drills, but deliver a lot of torque, which means additional power to drive long screws into tough materials quickly, with less effort from the user.
You can also use impact drivers for drilling holes with a 1/4-inch hexagonal shank and bit drill to suit. If you're just drilling a few holes into wood, plastic or aluminum, you'll have very little trouble.
Although once you go beyond 1/4-inch by utilizing adapters and attempting to drill into heavy metal or hardwood, you'll definitely need bits rated specifically for an impact driver.
What is an Impact Wrench?
Just like impact drivers, an impact wrench is a high-torque tool. Most impact wrenches have a square drive and deliver percussive rotational force.
The best way to imagine what an impact wrench does is to imagine that you are trying to loosen a big, tough bolt.
If your standard socket wrench isn't working, you might attach the wrench to the bolt, and then hit the wrench with a hammer, to apply percussive torque that loosens the bolt. An impact wrench does precisely that, as the wrench impact mechanism hammers against the output shaft producing an enormous amount of torque.
What is the Best Impact Wrench?
Impact wrenches are more expensive than impact drivers, but, if this is a tool that you'll be regularly be using for automotive works or mechanical engineering works, it will pay its self off in no time.
Makita's XWT11SR1 has everything you want from a workhorse that possesses a high-quality brushless motor, three selective speeds with an auto-stop feature, and also comes with an 18V 2.0Ah lithium-ion battery.
- Equipped with Makita's Bl Brushless motor that delivers up to 210 lbs of max torque suitable for pros.
- 3-Speed power selection switch allows extra precise control in a wide range of applications.
- Reverse rotation auto-stop mode stops rotation and impact when the load is loosened adequately.
- The kit comes with an 18V lithium-ion 2.0Ah battery, 18V LXT fast charger, and a lightweight tool bag.
What Can You Use an Impact Wrench For?
Impact wrenches are designed to apply a lot of force to fastening or loosening sockets, rather than driving screws or fasteners. They are so powerful that they are typically associated with heavy-duty automotive and construction equipment work, with oversized, very tight sockets and bolts that are difficult to loosen and tighten correctly.
Now while you can use an impact driver to tighten or loosen bolts, an impact wrench is specifically designed for this purpose and harbors a much greater degree of torque and power.
The average impact drivers torque output is around 110 ft-lbs, while the typical impact wrench punches out around 700 ft-lbs. That's a considerable difference in torque and the power out between an impact driver vs impact wrench is defined by their practical application.
In short, you simply do not need the level of power and torque from an impact driver to drive screws, but for removing a 10-inch prevailing torque nut on the foot mount of a motor, you're going to need that extra juice and larger square drive to get the job done.
Can You Use an Impact Driver to Remove Lug Nuts?
Ideally, the right tool you'd want to use for this job is an impact wrench due to its high-torque output.
Although, if you only own a cordless impact driver, and need to remove some lug nuts to replace a tire, you should be able to accomplish this as long as your impact driver isn't some super cheap knock off-brand.
What You'll Need
All you'll need to successfully remove and fasten lug nuts is...
- An impact driver (ahh, duh)
- A 1/2-inch to 1/4-inch adapter
- 1/2-inch socket to suit the lug nuts you'll be removing
Follow this Step-By-Step Process
- Correct your adapter to the 1/2-inch socket
- Adjust your impact driver to the highest speed setting
- Insert the 1/2-inch socket into the lug nut hub
- Pull the trigger with the rotation setting set to anti-clockwise
There you have it. You've now successfully removed them stubborn lug nuts without the need for having to get impact wrench.
As with almost all power tools, whether it's a conversation about an impact wrench vs impact drivers, all of these power tools are designed for different specific tasks and are used in a variety of varying circumstances.
Now you know the differences between impact drivers vs impact wrenches and the most common household applications for each of the power tools, you can now confidently decide which one would better suit your needs, and which one is worth the investment.
Also, while you really could just get one tool or the other (likely an impact driver) if you're a DIY weekend warrior, you might be better off considering a combo option and get both tools if you're a professional contractor.