Why You Should Own an Impact Driver

Drill on left, impact driver on right.

Drill on left, impact driver on right.

How did I spend so many years without knowing the liberating power of the impact driver? How many needlessly stripped screws have abused my patience? How long has the madness of switching bits out on my under-powered drill mocked my home repair progress? Why did I not gift myself an impact driver sooner?

A cousin to those “rat-tat-tat” noise-making impact wrenches found at the auto garage, an impact driver is mostly for driving home screws (or a rough hole in recalcitrant wood). An impact driver works like a normal drill up until the point it starts to encounter resistance. At that point an anvil engages to increase torque. It’s not to be confused with a hammer drill, used for drilling holes in concrete and masonry. A hammer drill taps down the length of the bit, whereas a impact driver’s internal hammer is used to increase torque, i.e. rotation. The increased power of a impact driver means fewer stripped screws and less muscle fatigue. The two disadvantages are the need for more expensive forged steel (rather than cast steel) accessories and the fact that impact drivers make a lot of noise. They also only work with 1/4″ hex shank bits and have a collet instead of a keyless chuck. As for the noise, you’ll definitely wake up the night clubbing members of the household if you begin work early.

If you’re an urban homesteader type planning to do a lot of chicken coop/shed building type projects I would highly recommend owning both a drill and an impact driver. That way, you can drill pilot holes and then drive the screw with your impact driver without having to constantly change bits on your drill. And the increased power of an impact driver means your arm will be less sore after a day’s work. When my corded drill started to give out I replaced it with a Milwaukee M12 12-volt driver and drill. You can buy these two as a kit or separately. If you’re manufacturing cabinets all day you’ll probably want to go with an 18-volt tool but, for most of us, a 12-volt drill and impact driver is all you need. I like the compactness of the Milwaukee M12 even though it means charging the batteries more often.

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7 Comments

  1. I second the value of the drill for thoroughly sinking screws, especially long fat ones (like deck screws.) But what about getting those screws OUT again at a much later time, when dealing with corrosion, swollen wood, etc.? I’m afraid to even try.

    • When my beds get old and rotten and the screws are rusted, I find I can simply pry the corners apart with a crowbar. If the screw will come out a bit and then just spins in the hole, I grab it with some locking pliers and twist it out by hand. It’s surprising how many screws can still be backed out of the hole all the way with a cordless drill, though.

      My new favorite tool is my 20v lithium max DeWalt cordless circular saw. Double covered cold frame, here we come! LOL.

  2. I have an 18V Bosch drill/driver set. It’s impressive how long the lithium batteries hold a charge when not in use. I recently used the driver to take apart 2 lawn mowers. I was struggling (almost hurting myself) with some of the seized bolts then I remembered I had the driver. Like night and day. In seconds they were off. Should have started using it sooner. It pays to wait for a sale on these sets. Definitely one of my better tool investments.

  3. No bit changing only works if you own BOTH a drill AND an impact driver! As the owner of an excellent Milwaukee M18 drill but NO impact driver, my work flow is definitely sub-optimal:

    (1) Put drill bit in drill and drill pilot hole;
    (2) Put screwdriver bit in drill and drive screw;
    (3) Go to (1)

  4. oh yes, the joy of not having to employ knees and elbows as makeshift supports for what ever is needing to be drilled while faffing around trying to change bits.

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