Buyer’s Guide: Impact Drivers
To find the impact driver best suited to the projects on your to-do list, start with our top tips and recommendations.
When you’re putting together the tools for your workshop, you’ll inevitably purchase such basics as saws, drills, and sanders first. But if you’ll be tackling jobs requiring multiple screws—anything from building a bookcase to framing up a house—you’ll eventually want to add an impact driver to your tool collection. The trick to selecting the best impact driver for your individual needs is to get one with the enough power to handle the types of projects you plan to tackle. Read on to learn more about how these souped-up screwdrivers differ from regular drills and what features to look for. And while you’re at it, don’t miss our roundup of top-favorite picks among the best impact drivers available.
- BEST VALUE: DEWALT 12V MAX Impact Driver
- BEST OVERALL: Bosch 12V Max 1/4-Inch Hex Impact Driver Kit
- BEST UPGRADE: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Impact Driver Kit
- ALSO CONSIDER: Milwaukee M12 12-V Impact Driver
Impact Driver vs. Drill
Impact drivers and drills look similar at a glance—and manufacturers often bundle them together in a single package—but each has its own purpose.
- Drill: Also called a drill/driver, this tool drives screws and also drills pilot holes, necessary when constructing with hardwoods, such as oak and ash. Drills accept drill bits and driver bits of different sizes, which adds to their versatility. But it is typically larger and heavier than an impact driver, and even the best drill can’t deliver quite as much power.
- Impact driver: This handy little dynamo is designed to one thing: drive screws. Like a drill, it uses rotational force to drive screws into wood, but unlike the smooth rotation of a drill, an impact driver uses rotational hammering, which is more effective at driving a screw without stripping out the head of the screw. Likewise, an impact driver is often better at removing screws without stripping out the heads. Impact drivers do not accept the same bits used in drills; rather, they accept only impact bits with 1/4-inch hexagonal heads (called “shanks”). Plus, rotational hammering is loud; users should wear appropriate hearing protection during operation.
Key Considerations When Choosing an Impact Driver
Power is the most important aspect of impact drivers. Less powerful models are suitable for workshop and DIY projects, while more powerful drivers will tackle the insertion of large screws, making them a good choice for professional contractors. Consider the following when shopping an impact driver:
- Torque: This is the amount of “twisting power” an impact driver offers, and it determines how well the tool will perform. The higher the torque (measured in inch-pounds), the more twisting power. A small impact driver with 800 inch-pounds of torque is sufficient for driving screws in a workshop setting, while an impact driver with 2,000 inch-pounds of torque is better suited for driving multiple large screws, such as those used to construct the frame of a house.
- Battery: Cordless impact drivers run on rechargeable batteries in 12-volt, 18-volt, and 20-volt capacities. The higher the capacity, the longer the battery life and the more power the driver will generate. The highest battery capacity (20-volt) is usually reserved for contractor-quality drivers. For DIY use, 12-volts is usually more than enough. Manufacturers often design power tools with interchangeable batteries, so you can save money by using the same battery for different tools. For example, if you already have a 12-volt DEWALT drill, you can buy a 12-volt DEWALT impact driver and use the same rechargeable battery for both. For this reason, impact drivers are often sold without a battery.
- Weight: Impact drivers are smaller and lighter than drills, which allows you to drive multiple screws without developing hand or arm fatigue. That’s particularly important when inserting screws overhead, such as when hanging drywall, where a regular drill is bound to quickly feel cumbersome and heavy. The smaller size also lets you fit the driver into tight spots where a larger drill couldn’t go.
The Best Impact Drivers
BEST VALUE: DEWALT 12V MAX Impact Driver
A good choice for the home DIYer, the DEWALT 12V MAX Impact Driver features a maximum of 1,400 inch-pounds of torque and weighs just 2.3 pounds. It comes with two rechargeable 12-volt batteries, a charger, and a carrying case. Directional LED lighting lets you see in dimly lit spots. If you’re looking for power, reliability, and long battery life (up to two hours of solid use), this DEWALT model is a worthy choice.
BEST OVERALL: Bosch 12V Max 1/4-Inch Hex Impact Driver Kit
With 930 inch-pounds of torque, the Bosch 12V Max 1/4-Inch Hex Impact Driver Kit is perfect for workshop projects and around-the-house DIY tasks. It weighs merely 2.1 pounds but lives up to its reputation as a workhorse. Standout features are its fuel gauge (you can see remaining battery life) and the tool’s ability to reach into tight spots to insert or remove screws. The Bosch comes equipped with two rechargeable batteries, a charger, two screwdriver bits, and a carrying case.
BEST UPGRADE: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Impact Driver Kit
When you need enough power to build a house, the DEWALT 20V MAX XR Impact Driver Kit is up for it. It features LED lighting and three separates speeds, including a precision speed, which dampers its powerful motor when you need a lighter touch. This impact driver isn’t for small workshop projects; it’s designed for residential construction and remodeling. Weighing in at seven pounds and featuring 2,000 inch-pounds of torque, it’s the heaviest and most powerful impact driver in our list, and it’s top pick for sheer power. Included are a carrying case, a charger, and two rechargeable batteries.
The Milwaukee Electric Tools MLW2553-20 M12 Fuel 1/4″ Hex Impact Driver is a fine 12-volt driver. With a soft rubber grip, and weighing in at only 1.8 pounds, it’s a lightweight and comfortable-to-hold tool. With a maximum torque of 1,300 inch-pounds, this model is well-suited for DIY construction and remodeling projects. Note that if you already own a 12-volt drill from Milwaukee Electric Tools, you can share the battery for the impact driver, but if not, you’ll need to purchase a separate battery.