July 13, 2020

Impact Wrench vs Impact Driver: an Unbiased Comparison

Impact Wrench vs Impact Driver

Impact wrench vs impact driver: in this article, we are going to try to resolve this dispute and help you decide which one you need. If you try to google “impact driver” and “impact wrench”, it might be difficult even to distinguish them in the first place if you’re not an expert. It can be quite confusing for a beginner. You may even think that they are the same thing with slightly different names. That’s not the case.

Although there are some similarities, there are also big differences that can make you easily choose one over the other.

If you want the quick answer, here you have it. The main difference between them is the torque: an impact wrench is much more powerful than an impact driver. Unless you are a professional, an impact driver is probably enough for your needs. Moreover, an impact driver is a more versatile tool, while an impact wrench is typically used for one single job: loosening or fastening nuts.

That’s just a general answer, and there are some exceptions. In the following paragraphs, I’m gonna go into detail and try to give you all the information needed to make a weighted decision.

What is an Impact Wrench and What can You do With it

bosch impact wrench

An impact wrench is basically the enhanced version of a common handheld ratchet, that you insert into sockets to loosen or tighten bolts and nuts. Instead of relying on human force, an impact wrench is powered in different ways: the most common power source is compressed air, though you can also buy models that use hydraulic, electric or battery power. If you compare it to a common ratchet, you have a much higher torque output with minimal effort. They come with inline or pistol grip.

This high torque output comes handy with heavy-duty activities, such as:

  • Breaking stuck nuts loose (the impact power comes handy for this);
  • Maintenance on heavy machinery;
  • Auto body shops (to remove cars’ lug nuts quickly);
  • Product assembly lines;
  • Major construction projects.

Basically, they are involved in all the activities that need a lot of nuts’ loosening and fastening. These were just a few examples, but I think it’s pretty clear by now that an impact wrench is a tool used mostly by professionals when a heavy and powerful tool is needed.

Their functioning is pretty simple: the motor accelerates a rotating mass, that accumulates energy. When needed, the mass is connected to the anvil (i.e. the output shaft) and delivers the required torque. The great thing about these tools is that they are designed in such a way that the operator doesn’t feel much torque while operating. The hammering mechanism, which provides the impact force, functions only when needed. If the fastener requires little torque, the impact wrench is able to run smoothly, for a much more pleasant user experience.

What is an Impact Driver and What can You do With it

milwaukee impact driver
Photo: toolcraze.net

Now let’s talk a little bit about the impact driver. This tool can deliver a great force, which is also reinforced with the concussive blows that the hammering mechanism provides. There are a lot of activities you can do with it, for example:

  • Break stuck nuts loose (this isn’t always possible, only if your impact driver is powerful enough);
  • Drive screws into hard materials (the impact bumps come handy for this one);
  • Remove a car’s lug nuts (if the tool delivers enough torque and you have an adaptor to convert the 1/4 inch hex socket into a 1/2 inch square drive, usually). Impact drivers have enough power to remove lug nuts (if they’re not rusty or stuck);
  • Your average DIY project that requires loosening or tightening screws and nuts. This also applies to a lot of things you might need to do around the house;
  • Light automotive work (check the nut’s torque rating to be sure that your impact driver can do the job);
  • Drill holes (with the right adaptor for your drill bits, or with a hexagonal shank drill bit). Basically, you can use a driver like a drill.

Let’s talk a little bit more about this last point. At first glance, an impact driver could be easily mistaken for a cordless drill, but they are pretty different tools. The main difference is the torque output, which is greater on an impact driver. Furthermore, they also give concussional rotational blows to ease their way into hard materials or to loosen stuck bolts. Unfortunately, they do not provide forward thrust like a hammer drill does. The main thing here is that you need to get specific bits to use your impact driver as a drill. And you probably don’t want to throw out of the window all the drill bit you accumulated over the years.

Impact Wrench vs Impact Driver: Similarities

There aren’t many similarities between these two tools. The main thing is that they are both impact tools, which means that they give concussive rotational blows to maximize their torque output. This is particularly helpful when you are dealing with a stuck bolt: the concussive blows (which make the typical impact tool noise) are similar to hammer hits, and their purpose is to break the bolt loose.

Both impact driver and impact wrench’s blows only go in rotational direction. This isn’t a problem for an impact wrench since it only works in that direction. Instead, for an impact driver, it would be useful to have concussive blows in the axial direction, especially when working with hard material. Although, these forward thrusts are only obtainable with manual drivers (typically you would hit the back of the tool with a hammer to give it some forward pulse) and hammer drills.

There’s also a bit of overlap between the activities you can do with these tools. To a certain extent, an impact driver can also do the job of an impact wrench. Its power might not be enough with stuck or frozen nuts.

Another similarity is the lack of torque output control. This is true for both the tools, but it’s particularly dangerous with impact wrenches. That’s the reason why it’s not recommended to use those for tightening bolts.

Those are the only similarities between these two tools. Now let’s get to the differences, which are going to be the decisive points.

Impact Wrench vs Impact Driver: Differences

We already talked about one big difference, i.e. the activities you can get done with them. That’s the main thing to consider when comparing tools. You need to be sure to get the right tool for the job. So, if you already forgot, I suggest you get back to the paragraphs above where I talked about the use of both of them.

Other than that, they also differ in power output, tool holder and comfort. Let’s get to those one at a time.

Power

First, let’s talk about the power source: an impact driver is typically powered by electricity or battery (if cordless). On the other hand, an impact wrench is commonly fueled with compressed air, even though you might also see electric or battery models available.

That said, an impact wrench is way more powerful than an impact driver. Generally, they are at least twice as powerful than impact drivers. You need to be careful with the unit of measure, though. For example, the DeWalt DCF885C1 (a best-seller between impact drivers) comes with a 1400 inch per pound torque. That is equivalent to about 120 feet per pound. The Porter-Cable PCE211 impact wrench (which isn’t the most powerful impact wrench available on the market) comes with a 450 feet per pound torque. That is almost 4 times more. You are going to feel it when dealing with stuck nuts. On the other hand, it’s gonna be easy to (literally) screw things up when using an impact wrench for driving screws.

Obviously, a lower torque comes with a higher rpm (rides per minute) and vice versa. Let’s look at the models I mentioned before: the DeWalt DCF885C1 impact driver spins up to 2800 rpm, while the Porter-Cable PCE211 impact wrench goes up to 2200 rpm.

Tool Holder 

Another key difference is the way these two pieces of equipment accommodate the tools. An impact wrench usually comes with a ½ inch square drive, even though you can get ¼ inch square drives for small assembly operations up to 3 ½ inch square drives for major projects. 

On the other hand, impact drivers usually come with a ¼ inch hexagonal socket. This kind of tool holder makes the impact driver a very versatile piece of equipment. You can use whatever screwdriver or drill bit suits your project. Although, if you are like me, you probably have a lot of drill bits with a round shank already. Therefore you might have second thoughts on getting more drill bits for the impact driver. Guess what, you can spend your money wiser by getting a drill chuck for your impact driver, that will convert the latter into a powerful drill. 

You can also use a socket adapter to convert the ¼ inch hex socket into a ½ inch square drive. In this way, you can transform your impact driver into an impact wrench. Although if you are dealing with a stuck nut, an impact driver might not be powerful enough. Keep that in mind.

Comfort

Another thing to keep in mind when buying tools is the comfort feature.

The first thing to evaluate when talking about comfort is the weight of the tools. Impact drivers are lighter and more compact than impact wrenches. Let’s keep referring to the tools I used in the paragraph before. After a quick research, I found out that the DeWaltDCF885C1 impact driver weighs 2.8 lbs, while the Porter-Cable PCE211 impact wrench weighs 7.5 lbs.

Usually, they are also well ergonomically designed. They’re also easier to handle than common drills since the pressure is generated by the tool itself, so you don’t need to push really hard when driving screws into tough material.

When it comes to impact wrenches, the additional power comes at a price. These tools are heavier and bulkier than impact drivers. Their design makes them heavy on the wrists. They can be tiring if used for a long period of time. They are also very loud machines, so it might be a good idea to wear some ear protection first.

So when it comes to comfort, the impact drivers win hands down.

Price

Impact drivers are less expensive than impact wrenches. The most affordable impact driver you can get costs 60 bucks, while certain models go up to 160-170 dollars.

When it comes to impact wrenches, the amount of sheer force they deliver comes at a price. The average cost for a good model is around 200 dollars, while you can get the cheapest one for about 80 bucks. If you need one of these, I think it’s better to spend some more, just to be sure that you are getting a reliable tool: you are gonna be using it on a heavy-duty job, and you don’t want it to fail in the middle of it.

What do Users Say?

Another thing that I find useful to do when comparing tools is looking at what people say about them. You often find useful considerations between the comments. I did the job for you, and here is what I found about impact drivers:

  • A lot of users report that impact drivers make working on cars much faster since you can quickly get bolts out instead of having to turn them lots of times with a manual ratchet. Furthermore, the additional torque comes handy. And you can reach tough spots underneath your car since they’re very compact tools.
  • The battery is more than enough for an intense day. That is nice since you don’t have to worry about it dying while using it.
  • As I said earlier, the additional power makes it easier on your hands and wrists than a common drill.

Speaking about impact wrenches, I found out the following:

  • The torque on the hands while operating is minimal, which is good for your wrists. The tool is pretty heavy and large, but that’s expectable for the power you get.
  • A user suggested using impact wrenches only for loosening/removing purposes. Since it’s impossible to regulate the speed/torque output, you will likely overtighten or even snap your bolts.
  • Users usually get this tool for a specific purpose, like taking lug nuts off a heavy vehicle, loosening rusty nuts, removing lawn mower blades, etc.

Why Should I Choose One Over the Other?

You should get an impact driver:

  • If you do a lot of DIY and/or home improvement projects, so you need a versatile tool;
  • If You are looking for a tool similar to a drill, but that delivers more torque than a drill. Without doubts, an impact driver gets the job done quicker. And it’s certainly easier to drive long screws into wood with an impact driver than with a common drill;
  • Because impact drivers are handier than impact wrenches;
  • Because they are more user friendly than impact wrenches.

On the other hand, you should get an impact wrench if:

  • You are a professional, and you remove and fasten bolts a lot;
  • You do a lot of projects that require a lot of delivered torque;
  • The power of an impact driver isn’t sufficient for your job.

Conclusion

For the average Joe, an impact driver is probably enough for most of the projects. The additional torque output of an impact wrench is often unnecessary (unless you’re dealing with a stuck nut). If that’s not the case, you can easily get an adaptor for your impact driver and use it on socket drivers. The high torque of an impact wrench could even be detrimental. You can easily over-tighten the screw if you use an impact wrench on it without being super careful (and that might not be enough). These days you can indeed buy impact wrenches with self-regulated torque output, but they are quite expensive.

Another thing to mention is the price difference: an impact driver is usually cheaper than an impact wrench. If you are on a tight budget, this could be a decisive point.

If you are not sure if an impact driver is powerful enough for your needs, check the manuals of whatever you are going to use the tool on to see what kind of power output is required. This way, you will be sure that you are getting the right piece of equipment for the job. Make sure to add a little bit more to that, just to be sure.

To wrap it up, let’s just say that an impact driver is a more versatile tool than an impact wrench. Unless you are planning to do some specific things with it, an impact driver is probably the safer choice.

That’s it for this comparison article, I hope it helped to clear your mind!