Impact Driver vs Drill: What’s the Difference & Which is Best?

We put together this guide to impact drivers and cordless drills - Find out which is best to use for the job and all the pros & cons of each
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You’re ready to secure your fasteners to the new cabinet you’re building. However, what drill do you use? Do you pick up an electric drill, or an impact driver – What’s the difference between the two? If you have no idea on which is the right tool for the job, then we are here to rescue you from confusion.

We put together this guide to impact drivers and cordless drills. By the time you finish this article, you’ll have a clear indication of the right drill to suit your handyman task.

Impact Driver vs. Drill – What’s the Difference?

When comparing traditional cordless drills to impact drivers, the primary difference comes in the torque factor displaced by the machine. Impact drivers offer you a combination of fast-paced rotation strike, as opposed to a traditional drill that offers lower rotational torque.

However, it’s important not to confuse and impact drill with a hammer drill. A hammer drill provides strike from the rear of the drill. This action allows you to power through most materials where an impact driver or traditional drill won’t work, such as concrete surfaces.

Think of a hammer drill as tapping the back of the drill with a hammer while drilling into the surface.

An impact driver achieves this same level of functionality, but it has speeds that equate to approximately 50-release and returns in a single second. Therefore, you don’t get the same bumpy effect as you do with a hammer drill during operation.

You’ll still need to wear ear protection, as an impact driver makes plenty of noise during operation. The primary difference between an impact driver and a traditional drill is the clutch. The impact driver features no-clutch operation, making it easier to fit the drill into tight spaces where a conventional model would struggle.

The clutch-less impact drill also places limits on the types of bits you can use with the machine. When it comes time to select either tool for a job, you’ll need to think about the requirements of the task.

A traditional drill has a refined touch, and it’s more precise at drilling than an impact driver. However, if you’re drilling into sturdy materials, an impact driver has the torque you need to finish the job, such as fitting rock screws.

Impact Drivers Explained

The chances are that you have a traditional drill lying around in your workshop, or you have experience using one in the past. Conventional machines let you drill holes for a multitude of projects. If you’re drilling into your walls to fit a shelf, or through wood panels to build a cabinet, a traditional drill will get you there.

An impact driver only has one purpose, to drive screws. This tool has a specialized gearbox that makes the tool head spin faster than a traditional drill. As a result, you drive screws into fasteners much faster and with greater accuracy than with using a conventional machine.

The DEWALT MAX XR is Consistently rated as the Best Impact Driver

Unlike a traditional drill that requires the use of a chuck to fit new tooltips, an impact driver uses a collet. This collect allows you to fit bits with a hex-shaped end. Impact drivers will drill in the longest and largest screws with ease, where a traditional drill may stall on you.

The impact drill also delivers three to four times more power than when using a traditional machine. While the impact driver has superior power, it’s still easy to manage the toll during operation, without the rotational force of the machine, causing it to jump out of your hands.

The concussive drilling action of the impact driver transfers the power to the head of the screw, not into your wrist or hand. As a result, you can drive in screw accurately, without compromising the safety of your wrist or hand.

Top Selling Impact Drivers

Bestseller No. 1
DEWALT 20V MAX Impact Driver Kit, 1/4-Inch (DCF885C1)
  • INCREASED VISIBILITY: Has built in LED with 20 second delay after trigger release
  • ERGONOMIC DESIGN: Compact (5.55 in. front to back)and lightweight (2.8 lbs) design fits into tight areas
  • ONE HANDED BIT LOADING: Has a 1/4 in. hex chuck and accepts 1 in. bit tips. No load speed: 0 2,800
  • RELIABILITY: Tools backed by a 3 year limited warranty.Anvil type quick release
  • INCLUDES: (1) DCF885 Impact Driver, (1) 20V MAX* Battery (1.5 Ah), and (1) Fast Charger
Bestseller No. 2
BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Impact Driver Kit (BDCI20C)
  • High Performance Transmission delivers 1375 in-lbs of max torque
  • Quick Release 1/4" Hex Chuck
  • Compact & Lightweight for ease of use
  • Maximum initial battery voltage measured without a workload is 20 volts and nominal voltage is 18
  • Included Components: (1) BDCI202, (1) 20v Max Battery, (1) Charger, (1) Screwdriving bit
Bestseller No. 3
DEWALT 20V MAX Cordless Drill Combo Kit, 2-Tool (DCK240C2)
  • Ergonomic Design: Lightweight Tools Designed to Fit the User’s Needs
  • Increased Visibility: The DCF885 Features a Built in Led with 20 Second Delay After Trigger Release
  • Includes: (1) DCD771 Drill/Driver, (1) DCF885 1/4 Inches Impact Driver, (2) 20V Max Lithium Ion 1.3 Ah Battery Packs, 20 Volt Max Charger, and (1) Kit Bag
  • ONE HANDED BIT LOADING: THE DCF885 has a 1/4 inches hex chuck and accepts 1 inches bit tips, Power Tool Type:Cordless
  • High Performance Motor: The DCD771 Delivers 300 Unit Watts out (Uwo) of Power Ability Completing a Wide Range of Applications

Top Selling Drills

Bestseller No. 1
BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Cordless Drill / Driver with 30-Piece Accessories (LD120VA)
  • Ideal for drilling through or screwing in wood, metal, and plastic, soft grip handle provides added comfort during use
  • The lithium ion battery holds a charge for up to 18 months
  • 30 accessories include drill and screwdriving bits, nut drivers, and magnetic bit tip holder
  • Kit also includes one 20 volt lithium ion battery and charger;Uses:Drilling through wood, metal, and plastic, Screwdriving though wood, metal, and plastic.RPM : 0 650 rpm
  • Chuck Size: 3/8 in; Clutch Setting: 24; Included Components: LD120 20Volt MAX Lithium Drill/Driver, (1) LB20 20Volt MAX Lithium Ion Battery, (1) LCS20 Charger, (6) Brad Point Drill Bits, (10) 1 inch Screw driving Bits, (9) 2 inch Screw driving Bits, (4) Nut Drivers, (1) Magnetic Bit Tip Holder; Power Source: Cordless
Bestseller No. 2
BLACK+DECKER 20V MAX Cordless Drill / Driver, 3/8-Inch (LDX120C)
  • Ideal for drilling into wood, metal plastic and all screw driving tasks
  • Chuck Size: 3/8 inch; Clutch Setting: 11; Included Components: (1) LDX120 Drill/Driver, (1) LBX20 20V MAX* Lithium Ion Battery, (1) LCS20 Charger, (1) Double Ended Bit; Power Source: Cordless
  • Lithium Ion Technology & 20V MAX: Lighter, more compact, no memory, longer life
  • 11 Position Clutch: Provides precise control for drilling into wood, metal, plastic, and all screwdriving tasks
  • Compact and Lightweight: Less fatigue and allows users to drill / screw in confined spaces. Part of the 20V MAX System A System that Demands Attention
SaleBestseller No. 3
DEWALT 20V MAX Cordless Drill / Driver Kit, Compact, 1/2-Inch (DCD771C2)
  • Compact, lightweight design fits into tight areas
  • High performance motor delivers 300 unit watts out (UWO) of power ability completing a wide range of applications
  • High speed transmission delivers 2 speeds (0 450 & 1,500 rpm) for a range of fastening and drilling applications. Chuck Type - Keyless
  • 1/2 inches single sleeve ratcheting chuck provides tight bit gripping strength
  • Ergonomic handle delivers comfort and control.Tool Width:1.9 inch

Is an Impact Driver Worth Purchasing?

Impact drivers may not have the same versatility as a traditional drill, but they still deserve a place in your tool chest. If you’re having problems getting through materials using your conventional machine, then an impact driver can help you punch through.

The compact design of impact drivers allows you to get them into corners and tight spaces where a conventional drill can’t reach.

Can I Use an Impact Driver to Remove Lug Nuts?

Technically, this situation isn’t a problem for an impact driver. However, the forces involved with removing lug nuts will test the power output of your driver, and it may burn it out. If your lug nuts are on tight, then the driver may strip its gearbox instead of removing the lug.

Black & Decker is another popular make of Drills & Drivers

Can I Replace my Traditional Drill with an Impact Driver?

No, you can’t. Sometimes, the high-powered impact drill is overkill. If you’re drilling into sensitive materials, the brute force of an impact driver might tear your work to pieces. Impact drills don’t have the same versatility as traditional drills, and they have a slipper clutch that allows for precise control of the power in your hands.

When is it Best to Use a Cordless Impact Driver?

If you’re working with soft materials like wood, then you need the lighter touch of a traditional drill. However, if you’re drilling into harder surfaces like masonry or concrete, then the extra power on offer with an impact driver makes it your tool of choice.

You’ll also need to check the grade of tooltips you’re using with your impact driver. Some models may use cheaper materials for the tooltips, resulting in your stripping the head.

Impact Driver Vs. Traditional Drill

Anyone taking a glance at a traditional drill and an impact driver, won’t be able to tell the difference between the machines. However, a conventional drill includes a clutch, so the body of the tool is generally longer than an impact driver.

A conventional drill also features a clutch where you can adjust the drill speed to your application. An impact driver doesn’t have a clutch or multi-speed operation. Most drills feature a tool head that either requires loosening with a chuck or your hands. An impact driver features a collet that only fits hex-shaped tool bits.

The hex-shape of the bits allows them to withstand the forces of the impact driver while it’s in action. Impact drivers have higher torque motors, delivering power in short bursts. A traditional drill allows you to utilize the machine for longer drilling times.

The Kobalt Cordless Brushless is rated as the best cordless drill

The Pros & Cons of Impact Drivers & Traditional Drills

When comparing impact drivers against traditional drills, it’s a prudent strategy to make a list of pros and cons. Look through this list of benefits and disadvantages of each of these power tools to find out which one is right for your application.

Drill Pros

  • Multi-purpose action for a variety of applications.
  • This tool is the best choice for jobs that require accuracy and precision.
  • The tool-head allows for fitment of a variety of drills and components like hole-saws.
  • The machine provides you with a constant torque displacement.
  • Control the torque output using a slipper clutch.

Drill Cons

  • It is easy to strip the threads and heads of screws.
  • The machine stalls when fitting long screws.
  • Bits may come loose in the chuck, requiring tightening after every operation.
  • The feedback from the machine to your hands is intense.

Impact Driver Pros

  • Plenty of power and torque for drilling into hard surfaces.
  • The machine drives in long screws with little effort.
  • An impact driver can help you remove stripped screws.
  • The small body allows you to maneuver it in tight spaces.
  • There is less impact on the wrist and arm than a traditional drill.
  • There is less chance of stripping screws than with a traditional drill.

Impact Drivers Cons

  • Too much torque for delicate jobs that require precision.
  • Expensive to purchase.
  • Louder than a conventional drill.
  • Only permits fitment of hex-headed bits.

Both traditional drills and impact drivers have a place in your tool chest. Determining which one to use for your next project depends on the work. If you’re drilling into soft materials like wood, then a conventional drill will suffice.

However, if you need to punch through tougher materials like concrete, an impact driver is your best bet. If you only have the budget for one machine, we suggest you go with a conventional drill. A traditional drill offers more versatility than an impact driver.

In Closing – Which Tool Suits Your Next Project?

By now, you should understand the difference between the two machines. However, which one will you choose for your next handyman project?

Conventional cordless drills are ideal for drilling holes in materials and securing small fasteners. If you need to screw in large fasteners, then you’ll need the more powerful touch of an impact driver. Impact drivers make short work of long and thick screws.

If you need precision in your next project, then we recommend you use a traditional power drill. With a conventional machine, you get more control and higher accuracy. However, if you need power, then an impact driver is the top choice for your next project.

Robin Watson

Robin owns his own Landscape Gardening company based in the UK and has over 10 years professional experience working outdoors, creating beautiful landscapes for his clients in the UK. He is also a keen garden-grower and maintains his own fruit and vegetable gardens. He also has a level 3 Certificate in Practical Horticulture from The Royal Horticultural Society and is currently working on his first book about gardening. Contact him at

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