Impact Driver Vs. Drill: Which One Do I Need?
The right tools make all the difference when it comes to home projects. And while most people ay not have a fully fitted toolbox, having the bare essentials will get the job done. And what better tools to have for handling all your construction and building projects than an impact driver and a drill.
However, while one may be used in place of the other, they both have different strong suits for different tasks. Keep reading for a comprehensive analysis of the impact drill and a hammer drill and how to use each.
Impact Driver Vs. Hammer Drill Mechanisms
Below are the differences between the impact driver vs. electric screwdriver;
Impact Driver Mechanism
A hammer and anvil design helps impact drivers accomplish their tasks. Most impacts have two hammers, although some have three. As the tool’s motor turns a spring-loaded hammer plate, the spring compresses, and the hammer and anvil plates push apart. As a result, there is space between the plates and potential energy in the spring for a fraction of a second.
How an impact driver works
In this space, the hammer and anvil plates slip past one another only to slam together forcefully by the spring’s kinetic energy. This creates a great deal of torque (and a little downward force) as the hammers hit the anvils and transfer the energy through the bit to turn the fastener.
The impact driver repeats this process rapidly. Therefore, we look to the tool’s impacts per minute (IPM) or blows per minute (BPM) to measure impact rate in numbers as high as 4000 IPM in an 18V impact driver.
Hammer Drill Mechanism
To an extent, the hammer drill’s mechanism is a difference in degree rather than kind. But the difference results in forwarding force and less torque than an impact driver.
The hammer drill also uses two plates but trades out the hammer and anvil to design a mechanism that looks like the way two checkers stack together. Power drills also have two gears: slower with more torque for driving in screws and a second gear that’s faster for drilling holes.
Impact drivers only have one gear, so you have to be more precise with the variable-speed trigger if using an impact driver.
As you start to drill, the teeth slip up and over the opposite teeth or bearings to create a motion that pushes forward and slips back. This transfers through the bit into a chipping function while the plates, interlocking for a fraction of a second before separating apart, quickly turn the bit.
It’s common for the impact rate of a hammer drill to be tens of thousands of BPM (point of preference—we prefer IPM for impact drivers and BPM for hammer drills, though some manufacturers differ). Some easily exceed 30,000 BPM.
What is a drill used for?
Hammer drills are the right tool for drilling into masonry (brick, stone, block, concrete) to set anchors and create holes for outlet boxes. With a masonry bit, the hammer drill chips as it turns to push through the material.
Its more compact and lightweight design than a rotary hammer makes it a good choice for drilling holes up to 1/2″ or so in masonry, but it doesn’t include dust collection to keep you from breathing in silica dust.
A traditional hammer drill is not the right tool for driving screws. As we mentioned, hammer drills often look just like a traditional drill. However, most modern cordless hammer drills let you select between drill, drive, and hammer drill modes to do all three functions with one tool.
What is an impact driver used for?
An impact driver is shaped like a drill, but usually, it is shorter and smaller. However, it has many of the same features as a drill, such as a handle, trigger, and a type of chuck called a hex collet.
An impact driver delivers the sequential bursts of power users often try to get with drills more effectively. It delivers those bursts automatically, without the user having to use force. An impact driver also drills at a constant speed and draws upon the bursting action when the driver senses resistance in the work material.
The impact driver’s mechanism creates rotational impacts that are excellent for driving screws and hex bolts. In addition, the impulsing torque can drive and remove tough fasteners when the static torque of a drill would cause it to cam out or stop altogether.
You can also use an impact driver to drill with a hex shank bit, but it’s not optimal. The form factor of the stubby impact driver differs enough from a hammer drill (which looks like a regular drill/driver) that you can easily tell the difference.
When you reach the limits of an impact driver, you can switch to an impact wrench.
Impact drivers are best used for driving fasteners with great torque except for very short ones. An impact driver is especially good for uses like driving 3-inch screws into wood, a task that is difficult for a drill even with pre-drilling the hole. In addition, impact drivers excel at driving fasteners into dense or knotty wood and machine bolts or lug bolts.
You can use impact drivers when;
- Driving screws into wood or metal.
- Driving large diameter screws or lag bolts
- Tightening/loosening bolts, including those that should be very tight or have been stuck
- Drilling holes in wood, drywall, or metal using new impact driver designed drill bits
Note: you can use an impact driver for drywall if you’ve got a lower speed/torque option
Can you use an impact driver as a drill?
Yes, you can use an impact driver. The important thing is the drill bit. You can make small holes in light-gauge steel and softwood with an impact driver using a standard hex-shank drill bit, but if you want to make holes larger than ¼ inch in heavy steel, hardwood, or pressure-treated lumber, you need a bit rated specifically for an impact driver. Otherwise, it will either snap or detach from its hex shank.
Many impact drivers on the market are single speed. However, as accessories are being made to include more drilling functions, some companies offer impact drivers with multiple speed and torque settings.
Note: Be careful when using an impact driver as they tend to have a lot more torque than drills, and some applications recommend using impact-rated bits.
Is an impact driver better than a drill?
Yes. An impact driver will provide a lot more torque than a drill. Impact drivers work similarly to a drill in that they spin the bit that you have attached. When using a drill to drive a large fastener, you may encounter a point where the drill can’t continue. It’s using all of its power and torque, but it just can’t budge the large fastener or bolt.
In this case, using an impact driver is the better option. The impact driver is much stronger than a drill in terms of how it can deliver that extra torque to break loose stuck bolts and screws or drive them deeper into the material.
When should you not use an impact driver?
Below are various situations where an impact driver should not be used;
When working with Non-Hex Shank Bits
Impact drivers are very useful tools indeed, but something that does need to be said about them is that the special mechanism they use for their bits only accepts hex-shaped bits. Therefore, if you are working on any project requiring you to change the bit shape you are constantly using, an impact driver is not your best choice.
Sure, hex-shaped bits are very useful and widespread, but they aren’t the only type of bits out there. If you need to use bits other than hex-shaped fits, you will need a normal drill or a hammer drill, as both of these tools can accept many more bit types.
When using Short Screws
Impact drivers are best for inserting long screws and bolts into very hard and dense materials such as hardwood and masonry. This is, of course, because impact drivers produce a high amount of torque and impact, which together can drive very long screws into extremely dense materials. This undoubtedly answers whether you should use an impact driver or drill for deck screws.
With that being said, due to all of that torque and power that an impact driver has, combined with a lack of control, if the screws are too short, you risk breaking the screws or stripping them. In other words, if the screw is very short, that massive amount of torque that an impact driver can produce can cause the screw to screw in way too quickly.
Overtightening fastenings can also result in the materials that are being fastened cracking. For instance, if you screw a screw way too hard inside a relatively soft wood piece, you might crack the wood itself. Don’t use an impact driver to fasten very short screws, particularly into soft materials, something that we’re about to touch on below.
When working with Soft Materials
You need to remember here that impact drivers are not well suited for soft materials. Due to the torque and force that they put out, they are ideal for hardwood, masonry, metal, and other such materials. However, if soft materials are involved, particularly softwood, you probably don’t want to use an impact driver.
This is much for the same reason as we discussed above. The reason is that impact drivers have very limited control, making them relatively imprecise. So when it comes to something like softwood, if you insert a screw fastener with a bit too much torque, you can damage that piece of softwood.
If the materials you are using are delicate, then the tool you are using to work on that material needs to be equally as delicate. When it comes to soft materials, an impact driver is too rough, but it’s also just unnecessary. When drilling or screwing into softwood, it’s a normal drill/driver that you want to use.
When doing Precision Work
You should not use an impact driver for any precision work, particularly when small pieces of material are involved. Yes, impact drivers are very powerful, and they produce a heck of a lot of torque, but with that said, due to that back and forth banging action that they feature, they can be a bit hard to control.
Drilling a straight hole with an impact driver, particularly a very small hole, will be nearly impossible, especially if the material you were working on is very thin and delicate. For a simple comparison, an impact driver is a massive explosion that takes out everything in the vicinity, whereas a normal drill driver is a precision strike without collateral damage. So you can’t do anything overly precise or delicate with an impact driver.
When Drilling Holes
Another task that an impact driver is not ideal for is drilling holes. Now, impact drivers can technically drill holes, but they’re not built for this. If you need to drill holes, it’s either a hammer drill or a normal drill driver. There are many reasons why impact drivers are not suited for drilling holes, with one of them being that they only accept hex-shaped bits.
The fact that impact drivers also feature very limited control makes it harder to drill precise holes. Finally, due to the massive amount of power and torque these tools produce, you might over drill a hole and cause it to be too deep. No matter the case or situation, if you’re drilling holes, especially into the wood, use a normal drill.
Note: Impact drivers are great and heavy-duty tools designed for extremely dense materials. They are not suited for small projects and delicate work of any sort.
Impact driver vs. drill for drilling holes
There are a few differences between impact drivers and hammer drills.
The main difference between a hammer drill and an impact driver is the type of force used. Hammer drills use a hammering action to exert extra force when needed, as though a hammer was hitting the back of the drill.
This action provides the necessary penetration to drive the fastener through a hard material as the drill spins debris out of the hole. For example, you can use hammer drills to drive bolts into concrete, brick, masonry, or heavy metal.
Like the cordless drill, an impact driver uses rotational force to drive a screw and saves its quick power bursts when it feels resistant. For example, you would use an impact driver for long screws or large fasteners when working with wood. In addition, an impact driver is lighter than the hammer drill, making it easier to handle.
An impact driver offers the most help when using a lot of large bolts and screws.
Impact drivers handle large screws and bolts more efficiently than the average compact drill. In addition, because they automatically add extra rotational force when they encounter resistance—two to three times more torque than a drill—you’ll find using an impact driver is easier on your hand and wrist.
So, if your project involves a lot of large fasteners, like a deck or pergola, you’ll find an impact driver that makes the job a lot easier.
Can I use an impact driver to remove lug nuts?
Yes. You can use an impact driver to remove lug nuts, but it is not the ideal tool for the job. You will need an adapter, and you may still be unable to remove bolts that have seized or over-tightened with a pneumatic impact wrench.
You could technically adapt an impact driver to remove lug nuts using a hex shaft to square drive adapter. However, an impact driver is not likely to have sufficient torque to do the job properly, especially if the bolts are rusted or over-tightened. So use an impact wrench instead.
The ideal tool for removing lug nuts under these circumstances is a large impact wrench, and if you are going to be doing a lot of automotive work, you should invest in one. On the other hand, if you only need to replace a tire occasionally, you may get away with using an impact driver.
How To Remove Lug Nuts with An Impact Driver
Follow this process to remove lug nuts and bolts:
- A good quality impact driver.
- A 1/4-inch hex shaft to 1/2-inch square drive adapter.
- A 1/2-inch socket is suitable for the lug nuts you intend to remove.
- Insert the adapter into your impact driver.
- Correct the adapter to the 1/2-inch socket.
- Set your impact driver to its highest speed setting.
- Set the rotation to counter-clockwise.
- Insert the 1/2-inch socket into the hub of the lug nut.
- Pull the trigger, and wait for the lug nut to come off.
- If the lug nut doesn’t come off, try applying lube.
Can You Use Impact Driver Bits in a Drill?
Yes. Companies like Makita, Bosch, Ryobi, and DeWalt now offer drill bits that fit impact drivers. This allows you to use an impact driver for everything a drill can do.
Impact Driver Bits vs. Regular Drill Bits
Keep reading to learn the difference between impact driver bits and regular drill bits;
Impact drill bits
Impact-driver bits are more malleable than regular drill bits
When fastening a screw, the impact driver bit spins at full speed and receives a lot of pressure. If a regular drill bit is used, it can easily break as it has much lower ductility than an impact driver bit. On the other hand, as impact-driver bits are more malleable than regular drill bits, they can bend easily without snapping, making them perfect for those uses.
Impact drill bits have narrow sections
If you put an impact driver bit side by side with a regular drill bit, you’ll see that the impact-driver bit has a narrower shaft than the regular drill bit.
Thanks to its narrower shaft, excess stress is removed from the bit’s tip and released into that shaft with a larger surface to dissipate the pressure. This design, in turn, allows the impact driver bit to have a much larger torsional strength than a regular drill bit.
As a result, the torsional strength allows the impact driver bit to continue spinning without breaking even when much stress is put on the bit.
Drill bits have rounded ends.
This prevents them from being installed in impact drivers as they only work with hex bits. However, some regular drill bits come with hex ends which means these can be installed in most impact drivers.
Drill bits have a thicker shaft
this doesn’t allow the stress to be removed from the bit tip, leading it to have less torsional strength. Consequently, there’s a higher chance that the regular drill bit will break when using it to drill on tough materials.
Can I use impact driver bits in a regular drill?
Yes. Given that regular drill bits output lower torque levels than impact drivers, it’s pretty safe to use impact-driver bits with regular drills. In addition, these bits are engineered to deal with higher stress levels, which makes them even safer to be used with a regular drill.
Regular drills come with chucks responsible for clamping different drill bits. Chucks can hold both hex drill bits and rounded-ended drill bits, given their design. Thus, hex impact driver bits will be compatible with regular drills.
Can I use bits regular drill bits in an impact driver?
No. Given their design and materials, if regular drill bits are used with higher-torque impact drivers, this could snap them in pieces and break the impact driver itself. As such, do not use regular drill bits in impact drivers.
Drill bits are not designed to withstand the stress of the torque an impact driver outputs. As a result, if stress-tested, regular drill bits with hex ends placed in impact drivers can easily snap, breaking the impact driver itself.
On the other hand, impact-driver bits have hexagonal ends. This design is thought so that way because impact drivers have hexagonal shanks.
Can you use an impact driver to remove screws?
An impact driver can help to remove or drive screws. These tools contain a hex shank for locking into the chuck collar, eliminating the effort to tighten something essential for a standard drill.
Can you use an impact driver to drill into concrete?
If you drill holes less than 1/4 inch, an impact driver can help drill through concrete and brick. These tools have a massive amount of torque. However, they are not built to be used like a hammer or regular drills.