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Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench Explained

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Some people assume that the impact driver and impact wrench are the same tool, however they would be wrong to think that. These power tools have some key differences that set them apart, and so, a lot more people ask, what are the differences between an impact driver and an impact wrench? Which one is better?

This article will provide you with all the relevant information on both impact drivers and impact wrenches to help you understand which one is more suited to you!

Table of Contents

What is an Impact Driver?

An impact driver is often compared to a regular drill due to its appearance, but it offers a lot more power. Impact drivers have very high torque (force a tool uses to turn an object) which allows it to drill through wood, metal, bricks and other tough materials. Torque is measured in inches and pounds (in-lb).

Impact drivers, or otherwise known as impact drills, are a power tool that can exert high rotational torque as well as hammering blows in the axial direction using an internal impact mechanism.

An impact driver usually ranges from 1500-1800 in-lb. What is so great about them, is that they reduce the risk of reactionary torque, which is when you wrist twists due to the power of the tool in use.

They are available with variable speed measured in RPM (rotations per minute), which allows you to alter the speed depending on the material you’re working on. For softer materials you will want a low speed while for tough materials you will want to use a high speed.

Impact drivers are typically quite loud, and so you may want to consider using some ear protection whenever handling one. They tend to be available as compact cordless designs, requiring you to charge their battery, but this makes them much easier to fit into tight or difficult to reach spaces.

In general, you would use an impact driver to drive screws into tough materials, which as you may imagine, are useful for a variety of projects at home. They can drill long screws with easy, making building furniture projects effective and efficient.

Impact drivers are also very good at removing frozen or rusted screws that are stuck in materials, due to their high torque and RPM. You can also switch to reverse which is a very good tool for getting out screws or fasteners.

Please note, that though impact drivers are good for drilling holes in tough materials, if you want to drill masonry then the hammer drill is the right tool. Visit our Hammer Drill vs Impact Driver guide here for more information!

Impact drivers have a 1/4″ standard hex collet to keep its drill bits in place, allowing you to buy bits in many shapes and sizes to complete your varying tasks.

One thing they do lack however, is a clutch. The clutch stops the tool from drilling once it reaches a certain torque level. Impact drivers do not have this which leads to the possibility of you overdoing the work, driving a screw further than you intended – so you must be wary.

People question why you need an impact driver if a regular cordless drill can do the exact same jobs.. while this may be true, there is a real difference in how powerful and efficient an impact driver is over a cordless drill.

This is because an impact driver uses a mixture of rotational power and percussive power (whereas cordless drills only use rotational power) to make driving in screws or fasteners much quicker.

In order to give you an idea of the power differential between the two power tools, try imagining driving a long self-threading screw into hardwood. Most standard cordless drills may have some issue drilling such a large screw, but an impact driver would do this easily.

Another example is stripping screws or fasteners, these things will give cordless drills conniptions. While impact drivers do the job with ease. In terms of pure productivity and efficiency, an impact driver is simply superior to a cordless drill. In the time it would take for you to screw five screws with a regular cordless drill, you could get double the amount of work done with a regular impact driver.

Impact Driver Key Features

  • Loosening and tightening fasteners which require higher rotational torque
  • Drilling holes in hard materials using hexagonal shank drill bits

Impact Driver Advantages

  • Compact and portable – allowing the device to fit into tight spaces
  • Affordable
  • Lighter than regular drills
  • Boast high torque and overall power – enough to complete most tasks
  • Flexible – can change bits depending on project

Impact Driver Disadvantages

  • Too powerful sometimes – may accidentally drive screws too far
  • Noisy
  • Impact driver uses separate bits to a regular drill – more expenses

What is an Impact Wrench?

Impact wrenches are used to loosen or tighten nuts and bolts. They are smaller and stubbier than impact drivers but boast greater power. The force in impact wrenches is measured in foot-pounds (ft-lbs) and they pack a great amount of power!

If an impact driver is more powerful than a regular cordless drill, then an impact wrench is more powerful than both combined. Impact wrenches are the tools that get used when no other wrench or tool is capable of extracting a frozen nut, rusted bolts or fasteners.

An impact wrench can deliver more power than you probably need for projects around your garage or workshop, they’re typically used on cars to remove lug nuts. They can be found being used by mechanics during car races, as they are incredibly quick and powerful.

Construction work or assembly lines are more places where impact wrenches can be found. And so, you may not need to use them for average home renovation tasks.

Impact wrenches are available as corded, cordless, pneumatic and hydraulic powered versions. Corded impact wrenches must be plugged into an electrical outlet which can limit your manoeuvrability around your workshop. The cordless versions fix this problem as they’re powered by batteries, though, the batteries will need to be charged between uses.

The pneumatic (air-powered) impact wrenches are traditionally used by race mechanics and must be fed by a compressed air supply to successfully operate. The hydraulic versions use a fluid mechanism that rely on a low-pressure hydraulic fluid source and are not so commonly used as the others.

Impact wrenches work in a similar fashion to impact drivers, they’re designed to be easy to use and you simply squeeze a trigger to start the rotational force. They’re typically quite heavy and are designed to reduce the strain on your wrists – allowing you to work without the risk of injury. Impact wrenches have a 1/2″ standard square drive.

Impact Wrench Key Features

  • Greater rotational torque output compared to impact drivers
  • Widely used in automotive industry to remove and tighten lug nuts
  • Used in production assembly lines

Impact Wrench Advantages

  • Creates a huge amount of force to loosen tough nuts and bolts
  • Reduces wrist strain during use
  • Four different power source types
  • Works efficiently and effectively

Impact Wrench Disadvantages

  • Very noisy
  • Not suitable for amateurs

Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench – The Key Differences

Despite their similarities in appearance, the two tools have a few key differences that you should be aware of. For starters, they’re used in different settings. Impact drivers are primarily used on the vast majority of home improvement projects, carpentry projects etc and because of this, they are very popular with amateur DIYers and professionals of all kinds.

Impact wrenches however, due to their spectacular power, are only used in certain special professions. They’re often used in automotive body shops because their power allows them to quickly pop off or tighten the bolts and nuts on cars and trucks.

In some ways, an impact wrenches power could be detrimental to your home projects. Using an impact wrench on the wrong kind of screw, maybe one that is short, can lead to there being a high chance of it being overtightened. You may be able to acquire an impact wrench with an internal attachment that prevents over-tightening, but this will cost you a lot more money.

To give you a better idea of the vast difference in power between an impact driver and an impact wrench, let’s take a look at their respective power outputs. A decent impact driver will output around 2,000 in-lbs of torque compared to an impact wrenches output of over 1250 ft-lbs, which is 15000 in-lbs of torque. That is more than 7 times the amount of power.

Note: in most cases, an impact driver is measured in inch-pounds (in-lbs) whereas an impact wrench is measured in foot-pounds (ft-lbs).

Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench – Which is Right for You?

Impact wrenches are specialty tools. And by this I mean, the vast majority of people will not need them for use. They are the type of tool that will sit around collecting dust until a specific job comes up where they are needed.

Only get an impact wrench if you know that you will be working on a specific job that requires such a powerful tool to be used. Maintenance of machinery, massive construction projects are a few examples, or knowing you’re doing work on automobiles and so an impact wrench will be worth the investment to make the jobs far easier.

Otherwise, I would recommend most people go for an impact driver, as opposed to an impact wrench. Both professionals and amateurs will get far more use out of an impact driver!

What to Look for When Buying an Impact Driver or Impact Wrench

If you’re in the market for either of these tools, and by now you should’ve made your decision, there are a few key things you should look out for, and these apply to both an impact driver or an impact wrench.

  1. Buy from a reputable brand – a good quality brand is more likely to produce great tools, have excellent customer service and offer good warranty on their tools. Though, buying from a reputable brand may cost more, it is always worth it!
  2. Seek for a model with good safety features – some models of impact driver or impact wrench will offer more safety features than others. An automatic cut-off feature if it gets too hot or an automatic shut-down of the battery charger once the battery level is full are great examples of useful features. You may also find ones designed to prevent dust from entering the mechanism, helping the tool to last far longer.
  3. Get suitable accessories – you may be able to get great kits that contain everything you need. This can include bags or cases, extra tool bits if needed and spare batteries. If you don’t need everything, bear this in mind and save yourself the costs of extra accessories.
  4. Decide on technology – some brands utilize new technology when it comes to designing their new tools. Impact drivers come with an LED lighting system that allows you to see where you’re drilling, even in poor lighting conditions. Others have built-in security features, bluetooth connectivity or even apps that allow you to track their performance. Be mindful, if you’re willing to pay extra, you can have access to all kinds of interesting features that make using the tool easier and more enjoyable.
  5. Check batteries – if you opt for a cordless model, be wary on the battery charge length. Make sure you check this, and check that there is a battery included. Ideally you should get two batteries so that you can have one ready as back up for when one dies and you need to charge it.
  6. Check the weight – a very important check to make before purchasing any tool is the weight of the power tool. If you struggle with heavy objects or you tire too easily then its advised that you go for a lighter option that will be easier to use time after time.

Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench Summary Table

Impact DriverImpact Wrench
UsesDrive screws and drill holesDrive-in or loosen lug nuts and heavy bolts
Working PrincipleImpact force in rotational and axial directionImpact blows only in rotational
Tool Holder1/4″ hexagonal socket1/2″ square shaft
Output ForceMore RPM, less torqueLess RPM, more torque
Power SourceElectricity (corded/cordless)Compressed air, hydraulics fluid, electricity (corded/cordless)
For who?DIY, construction, home improvementAuto repair, assembly lines, heavy equipment maintenance, large construction
Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench Differences

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can an impact driver be used as an impact wrench?

Yes in simple terms, but it will not be anywhere near effective. Impact drivers can be used to tighten or loosen bolts, but impact wrenches are specifically designed for this purpose and have a far greater degree of torque and power. Almost 7 times more punch is provided by an impact wrench in comparison to an impact driver.

Can you use an impact driver to remove lug nuts?

Ideally, an impact wrench is the right tool you’d want to use for this job due to its high-torque output.

If you only own an impact driver, you should be able to accomplish this as long as your impact driver isn’t some super cheap knock off-brand and you have the right attachments (1/2″ to 1/4″ adapter + 1/2″ sockets to suit the lug nuts being removed).

Is an impact wrench worth it?

An impact wrench is certainly worth it if you’re working on machinery, massive construction projects or automobiles. Any project or job that requires such a high amount of power make the impact wrench worth purchasing, otherwise, you may not necessarily need one.

If you have any questions regarding impact drivers vs impact wrenches, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

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