Impact drivers are among the most inexpensive tools you can buy that will instantly improve your DIY life. I waited years before purchasing an impact driver and immediately regretted not buying one sooner. Don’t be me—get one now.
Many people skip buying an impact driver when they learn that a power drill does everything an impact driver does and more. After all, a power drill can drill holes (it’s right there in the name) and drive screws. That’s why home center stores typically call the tool a power drill/driver.
Impact drivers, on the other hand, can only drive fasteners (like screws, lag bolts or lag screws). But once you understand what an impact driver is and how it works, you’ll want to own one.
What is an Impact Driver?
An impact driver is a tool made specifically for driving fasteners. At first glance, the body of an impact driver looks remarkably similar to a power drill, and you might confuse the two. But key differences make the impact driver better at its job than a power drill ever will be.
A power drill works by engaging a motor to turn the chuck holding your drill or screw bit. It’s simple and effective but doesn’t give you a great deal of torque.
An impact driver, on the other hand, contains additional components. If you take one apart, you’ll find a motor, a spring, a notched hammer, and a bar-shaped anvil. When you pull the trigger, the motor turns just like a drill.
When the impact driver encounters resistance (from the wood you’re screwing into for instance), the spring engages by pulling back. It then releases, which pushes the rotating hammer forward. That impacts and turns the anvil, which rotates the collet holding your driver bit. Here’s a video that shows the process in slow-motion.
When you use an impact driver, you can feel and hear the anvil strikes. It’s easy to think the impact is purely a downward force, but it’s more rotational than vertical. That leads to a great deal of torque without putting a lot of pressure on your arm, which is why impact drivers are better at driving screws than drills.
When to Use an Impact Driver
If you’ve been following along, you already have a good idea of when to use an impact driver. When you need to drill pilot holes, you’ll still use a power drill. While a power drill has a chuck that can hold either round or hex bits, an impact driver uses a collet system that only accepts hex bits used for driving screws or lag bolts with an adapter. An impact driver won’t take drill bits.
But when you want to drive a fastener, that’s the time to pull out your impact driver. Thanks to the higher torque and force it provides, you’ll find it easier to drive fasteners into the material (wood, metal, etc.). The thicker the material, the more noticeable the difference becomes.
Not only will the impact driver work more quickly, but you’re less likely to strip a screw in the process, and you’ll end up with cleaner results. That’s true even if you forgot to drive a pilot hole.
In the above image, I’d driven two screws into a thick board. I didn’t drill full pilot holes, just a starter hole to keep my screws straight. For the left screw, I used a power drill, and for the right screw, I used the impact driver. As you can see, the power drill stripped the screw on the left, while the impact driver didn’t.
Impact drivers will save you additional time beyond how quickly and cleanly they drive fasteners. By owning both a power drill and impact driver, you’ll spend less time changing bits. With just a power drill you’ll insert a drill bit, then a screw bit, then back to a drill bit, and repeat. You’ll just swap tools when you own both.
And inserting a screw bit into an impact driver is an easier and faster process. With a power drill, you need to insert the bit, hold the chuck in place, then pull the trigger and try to get a tight fit. With an impact driver, you pull out the collet slightly, push the bit in, and release. That’s it.
Overall, adding an impact driver to your toolset will save you more than enough time to justify the expense.
The Best Impact Drivers
Before making specific recommendations, you should know that most impact drivers are incredibly similar. Some may have a few minor features not found on others but generally which manufacturer you choose for your tools is more personal preference than anything else.
That said, if you already own a battery system from a particular manufacturer like Ryobi or Dewalt, then you should buy an impact driver from that company. Either you won’t need to buy another battery, or if it comes with one, it will work with your other tools.
If you don’t already own a tool system, here are a few recommendations to get you started with impact drivers:
The Best Drill and Impact Driver Combo Kit: DEWALT DCK240C2 20v Lithium Drill Driver/Impact Combo Kit
If you don’t own a power drill already, the DEWALT combo kit comes everything you need to get started. You’ll get the power drill, impact driver, two batteries, a charger, and a carrying case.
DEWALT is a well-known manufacturer, with an extensive array of tools that share the same battery systems. A three-year limited warranty should guarantee your tools work for a long time to come. Like most impact drivers sets, you’ll get 1.3 Ah batteries, but you can use larger DEWALT batteries as well.
DEWALT 20V MAX Cordless Drill Combo Kit, 2-Tool (DCK240C2)
Everything you need in one convenient package. You'll get a power drill, an impact driver, two batteries, a charger, and a carrying case.
The Best Impact Driver: DEWALT DCF885C1 Impact Driver Kit
If you already have a power drill, you don’t need to buy a combo kit. Just an impact driver will do. DEWALT’s Impact Driver kit comes everything you need, including battery and charger. That puts it above some other impact drivers, like Ryobi’s which frequently don’t come with a battery.
DEWALT offers a three-year warranty on the impact driver, and you step up to a slightly larger 1.5 Ah battery compared to the combo kit.
DEWALT 20V MAX Impact Driver Kit, 1/4-Inch (DCF885C1)
The DEWALT impact driver comes with the tool, battery, charger, and case. It packs a three-year warranty, and a 1.5 Ah battery. Everything you need to drive home some screws.
The Best Budget Impact Driver: BLACK+DECKER BDCI20C impact Driver
If you don’t need a drill or impact driver all that often, then $100 or more for just an impact driver is a large ask. Black&Decker offers a more budget-conscious option without a lot of sacrifices.
This impact driver comes with a hefty 2 Ah battery, but delivers less torque and comes with a shorter warranty than the DEWALT offerings. You also don’t get a carry case, but as a bonus, it has storage for one bit directly on the tool.