What Is an Impact Driver? | How It Is Different And What It Is Used For

impact driver

Impact drivers and impact wrenches: these tools are fast becoming part of the standard kit of every DIYer.

But, if you’re new to the world of DIY home improvements and repairs, you may be wondering:

What is an impact driver or impact wrench?

It’s quite easy to confuse both tools as they look similar in appearance. However, for the sake of this article, we’ll focus more on the impact driver.

Initially, the impact driver was common among professional contractors. Today, it has gained wide popularity among DIYers or homeowners—thanks to its portability, performance, and power.

So, back to the big question; What is an impact driver?

Simple, it’s a power tool that uses impact force in axial and rotational direction to drill holes and drive screws. While at it, the tool produces more RPM and less torque.

In this article, I’ll take you through the ins and outs of an impact driver. Also, I’ll talk more about how it works, what makes it important, the tool’s application, and more.

Let’s get started!

What Is An Impact Driver?

It’s easy to mistake an impact driver for a drill or an impact wrench. So, to understand what impact drivers are and how they work, you must know the function and purpose of drills and impact wrenches.

What are Drills?

Drills are primarily used to drive fasteners into materials. It uses a rotational force from the motor and pressure from your hands to do this.

It sounds simple right?

But, what happens if the material is too tough or thick for the drill to work? Or you hit something hard while drilling into a workpiece?  You might think adding more pressure to the drill would solve the problem, but that’s not such a good idea. By doing this, you might overload your motor and damage it.

So, what’s the solution to this issue? Impact drivers.

You can use an impact driver to solve this type of issue with its two-pronged attack. First, the motor supplies more torque than the normal drill. Then, the impact action helps you drive fasteners through tough and dense materials. As a result, it excels where the drill can’t—we’ll talk more about this later in this article.

Does the mechanism seem familiar? That’s because it has a lot of similarities to the impact wrench.

What Is An Impact Wrench

The impact wrench helps to release large and tough bolts with a very high supply of torque. However, impact drivers are different because they are not as powerful.

You can think of the impact drivers as a middle man between the power drill and the impact wrench. It’s not as precise as the drill or as strong as the wrench. But, it offers a balance between the two with a compact design that works for all projects.

What Makes the Impact Important?

As I mentioned earlier, the impact driver works where the drill can’t. But, this is possible because of the impact force it delivers.

That said, why is the impact so important?

First off, the Impact driver has similar mechanics to the power drill. That is, both have a motor that applies rotational force. But, what sets it apart from the drill is the hammer and anvil mechanism—which is responsible for generating the impact force.

Now, here’s what makes the impact important.

When there is no opposition from the fastener, the impact driver works like a regular drill. However, the impact happens when the fastener applies enough load or pressure.

Once this happens, the hammer moves away from the anvil and depresses the spring. Then, it rotates freely to gather enough force to strike the anvil again with enough impact to negate the opposition from the fastener and continue the driving operation. As a result, the spring gets released from its compressed state.

Also, when you can’t use a drill to drive fasteners into tight spots or apply the desired pressure because of awkward angles, the impact driver will handle the job effectively.

The impacting action will drive the fastener through any material that a drill won’t. The shock from the tool also helps to release stubborn and stuck fasteners.

Impact Drivers: What’s behind their Versatility?

The impact driver’s impact action and rotational force make it a perfect go-to for many applications. But, the true secret behind its versatility is the head-mounted quick-change drive.

Most of the impact drivers on the market have a quick-change collet with a 1/4 -inch hexagonal shank. All sorts of drill bits and bit drivers can fit into this slot, allowing you to work on anything without limits—which makes it incredibly versatile.

Though impact drivers are not as precise as the power drill, it’s quite handy if you want to drill holes into tough materials.

There’s more.

Another feature that boosts the impact driver’s versatility is its compatibility with socket adapters—so you can transform your impact driver into a mini-impact wrench. That said, impact drivers can undoubtedly handle most projects around the shop.

Applications of Impact Drivers

Even if the impact driver is useful for a wide range of applications—it doesn’t pinpoint the exact use of this tool.

But to get a clearer picture, here are different applications where the impact driver shines effortlessly:

An Impact Driver Is Quite Useful for Handling Large Bolts and Screws

Large bolts and screws are troublesome with a normal drill. Luckily, the impact driver is the best fit for the job. Because it delivers an additional rotational force through impact, it can effectively counter any resistance when driving. So, if your project requires many large fasteners, take advantage of the impact driver’s high torque to handle the job.

Impact Drivers Can Also Serve as Drills

The impact driver’s design is for driving fasteners and not drilling holes. Why? Because it is an all-or-nothing tool without variable speed controls. It’s not the tool you get if you need precision. But, you can use the standard hex-shank drill bit to drill holes into softwood or light-gauge steel. If you have a denser material, get a drill bit made for an impact driver. Otherwise, the powerful torque will snap and damage the bit.

DIY Applications

Using an impact driver for your DIY projects depends on the nature of your project. For instance, small home projects don’t require impact drivers as the normal drill supplies enough power for the application.

But, passionate DIYers might want to take advantage of the impact driver’s versatility.  The tool provides everything you need for almost any project.

Larger Projects

An impact driver is the go-to for larger projects. So, if you’re working on a pressure-treated wood piece or a piece of hardwood, you will need longer bolts, screws, and the necessary power to drive through these materials. The impact driver is the perfect fit because it meets all the requirements for big projects.

The Good and Bad Side of Impact Drivers

The similarities between an impact driver and a cordless drill can lead to questions like, “Why do I need an impact driver when I can use a cordless drill for the same applications?” Well, here are some of the advantages the impact driver has over the normal drill as well as its disadvantages:

Pros

Impact drivers have higher torque: when it comes to torque, the impact driver is five times more powerful than the normal drill. Thus, fastening screws in dense and tough materials is easier and faster with an impact driver.

Perfect for self-driving screws: the impact driver is perfect for screws that don’t require drilled holes for fastening. Plus, impact drivers can handle the high torque required for this operation.

Compact design for tight spaces: Impact drivers have a shorter design when compared to standard drills. Thus, the tool fits comfortably into tight spaces you can’t reach with a cordless drill.

Less stress on your wrists: the lightweight and resistant counter of the impact driver ensures your wrist is not worn out after use.

Less recoil: when you’re using an impact driver, it allows you to enjoy a recoilless operation. So, you don’t have to worry about losing control because of a kickback.

Cons

Not all Impact drivers are cheap. So, if you want the best performance, you might have to spend some extra bucks.

Drill bits might not work with the impact driver chuck. Hence, it would be best to get bits compatible with the impact driver.

The high torque can sometimes be a disadvantage because the power tool lacks control. That is, you can’t choose the amount of torque needed before you press the trigger.

Therefore, it’s crucial to be cautious when using the impact driver. Otherwise, you’ll damage your screws and workpiece.

Impact Driver vs. Drill: What’s the Difference

The impact driver and drill duo often make up the base of most cordless power tool kits. These tools are incredibly versatile and compatible with various accessories.

But, despite their similarities as essential tools, they perform different functions. So, let’s take a look at what sets them apart.

Impact Driver vs. Drill – Size

The first thing that differentiates these tools is their characteristics. Despite their similar-looking designs, each tool has its distinct feature. For example, when it comes to size, the impact driver is more compact than the drill. The drill is 220 mm, while the impact driver is 120 mm.

Front End

The impact driver features 1/4 -inch hexagonal shank front end and a retention system that supports quick and tool-less bit changes. So, you can’t use accessories that don’t have a 1/4 hex shank with the impact driver.

On the other hand, the drill features a three-jaw chuck that holds the accessories of the power tool. In other words, it can hold hexagonal, round, and triangular-shaped shanks tightly.

Working Mechanisms

The drill and the impact driver both have different working mechanisms. The tools are battery-powered, and they use rotational force to operate. But, the difference between them is the torque delivery system.

The impact driver delivers high rounds of torque when there’s a release of energy from the spring. Then, the force from the spring makes the rotating hammer strike the anvil several times in a second.

On the other hand, drills deliver constant torque with the help of gears. Here’s an illustration to help you understand. First, imagine pushing a heavy object with your hands—that’s how the drill operates. Now, imagine punching that object quickly—that’s how the impact driver delivers its power.

Torque Delivery

Don’t get confused here. The torque delivery is different from the torque delivery system. Here we look at how much power each tool can dish out.

The impact driver is well-known for its high torque delivery that happens at its highest speed. The power of this tool is suitable for fastening large bolts and screws and making sure screws don’t get damaged or fall off.

Drills, on the other hand, deliver a constant turning force ideal for boring and drilling holes. So, it’s easy to control its speed and torque. Plus, you can get feedback from the drill.

Noise

The impact driver is one noisy tool. The impact action of the hammer and the anvil is bound to make a lot of noise—which is a major setback of the power tool.

The drill offers a more bearable noise. The noise comes from the motor and the gearbox combined. However, it’s quieter than the impact driver.

When Do You Need to Get an Impact Driver?

An impact driver is a powerful tool, but that doesn’t mean you should use it for any task you come across. For example, if you need to make holes on your workpiece or fasten the regular medium-sized screw, you can use a normal drill.

However, if you have larger projects to handle, like building decks,  installing a plywood subfloor, or jobs that involve lots of bolts and screws, that’s when you need an impact driver.

It would handle the quickly in good time. But, remember to be careful and follow the necessary safety precautions when using the tool.

How to Choose an Impact Driver

Now that you know everything about the impact driver, I will tell you things you need to consider before choosing one.

Power

Power is a necessary factor to consider when shopping for impact drivers. If you need maximum power, go for brands with lots of torque and high battery voltage.

Speed

If your project requires fastening many screws in quick movements, then go for brands that offer high RPMs. This factor is important if you want to use your driver for drilling.

Motor

Though impact drivers with brushless motors are quite expensive, getting one is worth it. Brushless motors are more efficient than their brushed counterparts.

Battery Life

The majority of impact drivers available on the market are cordless. So, the tools run on rechargeable batteries. Hence, it’s ideal to look out for brands that offer long battery life/runtime or kits that offer multiple batteries.

Size, Weight, and Comfort

Before getting an impact driver, check out the weight, the space it will take up, and if it has an ergonomic design. It’s almost impossible to enjoy your operations with a driver that doesn’t fit in your hands.

Top Impact Driver Brands

  • Hart
  • Makita
  • DeWalt
  • Ryobi
  • Milwaukee
  • Hyper Tough
  • Black + Decker
  • SKIL
  • BOSCH
  • PowerSmart

Wrapping Up

There you have it: a comprehensive guide about what is an impact driver. In summary, they are powerful and versatile tools that work for many applications. In addition, there are various types available on the market, ranging from cordless, corded, to pneumatic.

However, getting an ideal one is a lot of work. But in the end, it would help if you go for drivers that suit your needs.

Do you understand impact drivers now? Are you considering getting one? Please feel free to reach out to us  with your questions or comments.

James Thomas

James Thomas

Tool Enthusiast

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About The Tool Square

James Thomas

Hi, I’m James. I created The Tool Square to help as many understand and know how to use Table Saws, and many other tool-related products. About Me.

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