Cordless Drill Reviews & Impact Drivers

Best Hydraulic Impact Driver: Putting Oil Pulse Drivers to the Test


Two Very Different Design Philosophies Mark the Race for the Best Hydraulic Impact Driver

Out of the 30+ impact drivers we brought in for testing, 4 are hydraulic impact drivers, AKA oil impulse drivers. These use oil to hydraulically drive and claim to be quieter. In some cases, they claim to be faster than standard impact drivers. We put them through the same tests as their counterparts, and the results are more mixed than we anticipated.

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Best Hydraulic Impact Driver

Makita 18V LXT Oil Impulse Driver XST01

Makita’s Oil Impulse Driver puts together a solid balance of ergonomics and performance to make it the Best Hydraulic Impact Driver in our testing. It is the lightest and fastest driving under load. While others were more powerful in our torque tests, the XST01 holds its own well. The only chink in the armor is that there’s no kit option. If you’re new to Makita cordless tools, you’ll need to add the cost of a battery starter kit. This won’t present an issue for current Makita 18V LXT users.

Runner Up

Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge

Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel Surge finished less than a point ahead of Ridgid, opting for a smaller design over power. It has the smallest footprint and keeps the weight down while performing well in our speed and nut-busting torque tests. What’s curious is its low result in fastening torque—something we might chalk up to bad data if we hadn’t run the test so many times.

Also Consider

Ridgid 18V Stealth Force

The race for 2nd place was tight, and Ridgid is just 0.5 points behind Milwaukee with higher measurable torque and quieter operation than the rest of the group. If power is a higher priority than size and weight, the Stealth Force is the hydraulic impact driver you want.

Best Value Hydraulic Impact Driver

Ryobi One+ 18V QuietStrike

Ryobi doesn’t have the speed or torque that its Pro counterparts enjoy, plus it’s the heaviest of the group. Still, it makes up for all that with a killer price. You can pick up this tool for just $99 including a charger and compact battery. It also competes well in noise level, and it completed our tests easily.

Testing Results

Note: To see out testing methods, please check out our Best Impact Driver main page.

Speed Under Load

Driving deck screws is pretty easy, and our oil impulse drivers keep up with traditional models just fine. Adding the extra load of a 1/4″ ledger screw changes things, however. Makita tops the list at 503.8 RPM with Milwaukee’s Surge bringing up 2nd place at 444.6 RPM.

Ridgid’s Stealth Force is one of the fastest we tested previously in screwdriving but falls to 3rd with a 404 RPM average. Ryobi’s Prosumer model is pretty far behind the pack in 4th at 239.4 RPM.

Compared to the range of 18V impact drivers (363 – 651 RPM), our best hydraulic impact driver would have finished in 8th place.

Best Hydraulic Impact Driver: Putting Oil Pulse Drivers to the Test

Fastening Torque

Our torque tests do not and cannot replace how manufacturers test for their specifications. Take a look at our Best Impact Driver main page to see the details of our testing methods.

Hydraulic impact drivers have a different mechanism than impact drivers and don’t hit as hard. Some manufacturers are reluctant to provide torque data, so we were really anxious to see how this group compares to the traditional models.

Ridgid tops the group with 2376 in-lbs of fastening torque, more than 5oo in-lbs ahead of second place Makita (1871 in-lbs). A big gap separates those tools from Milwaukee (1241 in-lbs) and Ryobi (888 in-lbs).

Our traditional impact drivers deliver 1413 to 2656 in-lbs of torque. Ridgid and Makita are in that zone but don’t really challenge the top.

Hydraulic Fastening Torque

Nut-Busting Torque

Milwaukee surges to the top of our nut-busting torque test, tying Ridgid at 2880 in-lbs of breakaway torque. Makita is close behind with 2760 and Ryobi could only muster 600 in-lbs.

With Makita and Milwaukee both posting 3600 in-lb efforts in our 18V impact driver class, they once again seem safe from hydraulic impact drivers taking over their dominance.

Best Hydraulic Impact Driver: Putting Oil Pulse Drivers to the Test

Weight

Add an oil impulse mechanism to an impact driver, and you expect higher weight. There are no surprises there, but there is a wide gap in weights for these four tools. Makita is our lightweight at 2.8 pounds with its compact battery. Makita focuses on a lightweight and compact design with its impact drivers, so no one on the team is shocked by that result.

Milwaukee is roughly half a pound heavier at 3.3 pounds, and that’s where the weight really starts to pack on.

Ridgid is a hefty 4.6 pounds with their new Octane 3.0 Ah pack. Ryobi brings it up to 4.8 pounds with its new 3.0 Ah pack.

The real surprise in all of this is that Makita actually matches the Mac Tools MCF886 as the lightest 18V model and Milwaukee is well within an acceptable weight.

Best Hydraulic Impact Driver: Putting Oil Pulse Drivers to the Test

Footprint

The divergence we see in weight is also present in length and height. Milwaukee moves in to take the win in this category with a 5.0″ length and 7.6″ height. Makita measures nearly half an inch longer (5.4″) and a touch taller (7.7″) to easily nab second place.

Ridgid’s more powerful build stays just under 6″ in length (5.9″) and gains half an inch of height (8.2″) over Makita. Ryobi is noticeably longer than the rest and is as long as it is tall (7.6″/7.6″).

Best Hydraulic Impact Driver: Putting Oil Pulse Drivers to the Test

Feature Set

The main feature for hydraulic impact drivers is the hydraulic impact mechanism. Here’s a breakdown of what else these tools bring to the table:

  • Makita
    • Brushless motor
    • 3 speed modes
    • Quick-Shift Mode (T-Mode for metal fastening)
    • One-hand bit insertion
  • Milwaukee
    • Brushless motor
    • 3 speed modes
    • Self-tapping screw mode
    • One-hand bit insertion
  • Ridgid
    • Brushless motor
    • 3 speed modes
    • Tri-beam LEDs surrounding the chuck
    • One-hand bit insertion
    • Bit ejection
  • Ryobi
    • Tri-beam LEDs surrounding the chuck
    • One-hand bit insertion
    • Bit ejection
    • Mag tray for holding bits and screws

Noise Level

Every one of our oil impulse drivers claims to significantly reduce noise. But which one is the best hydraulic impact driver at actually keeping it down?

That award goes to Ridgid, which measured an average SPL level of just 92 dB(A). Milwaukee, Makita, and Ryobi are all just 2 dB(A) higher. Traditional 18V impacts in our test range from 97 decibels to 105. A 13-decibel drop sounds okay, but 3 seems hardly worth it.

Keep in mind that noise measurement isn’t linear. That drop of 3 decibels is actually half the sound intensity and 13 decibels is more than 16 times less intensity! As far as how loud it sounds (perceived loudness), every 10 decibels you drop makes it sound half as loud. Compared to the high end of our 18V impact driver tests, all of these hydraulic impact drivers come in under half the loudness.

Best Hydraulic Impact Driver: Putting Oil Pulse Drivers to the Test

Value

Ryobi sits in a familiar place atop the value rankings. While it doesn’t have the performance of the Pro brands, you can get it for less than $100 with a battery and charger. Ridgid tops the Pro list with a $199 price tag for its kit. Milwaukee settles in third while Makita’s lack of a kit will be an obstacle unless you’re already using Makita 18V LXT batteries.

 

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Warranties

We don’t claim to have a deep enough knowledge of manufacturing processes and tool components to give each of these tools a score for the quality of their construction, but knowing what to expect from the warranty if you have a problem can help make your decision.

  • Ridgid: 3 years warranty, lifetime service agreement (including replacement batteries when purchased in a kit)
  • Milwaukee: 5 years tool, 3 years battery
  • Makita: 3 years tool and battery
  • Ryobi: 3 years tool and battery

Final Rankings

  1. Makita 18V LXT Oil Impulse Driver
  2. Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge
  3. Ridgid 18V Stealth Force
  4. Ryobi One+ 18V QuietStrike

*Milwaukee and Ridgid are separated by 0.4 points on their final scores

5 Takeaways

Results are more than just rankings, so here are some things we learned while searching for the Best Hydraulic Impact Driver.

1 – Hydraulic Impact Drivers are Less Violent

Because of the oil and different impacting design, oil pulse drivers don’t hit as hard as traditional impact. It feels like the difference between a punch and a stiff push.

2 –  You’ll Go Through Fewer Impact Bits (Probably)

At the top end of the power scale, we broke a lot of socket adapters, but hydraulic impact drivers weren’t part of the problem. Their less violent impact gives your impact-rated and even standard bits a better shot at a long life. It won’t do much for an apprentice dealing with his or her cam out demons, though.

3 – Traditional Impact Drivers are Still at the Top of the Game

Traditional impact drivers are still putting out better performance, especially when you look at the weight to performance ratio. To compete in the top half, the Ridgid Stealth Force is more than a pound and a half heavier than the Makita XDT16.

4 – Hydraulic Impact Drivers Do Their Best Work in Occupied Spaces

Few people really enjoy the noise impact drivers make, but Pros are used to it. When working in an occupied space like a school, office, or home, any noise savings helps people who work or live in that space be less distracted.

5 – The Final Call is Still Up To You

We weight our results based on what our Pros agree is most important. If money is the biggest priority for you, your final rankings will look different than ours. We love diverse opinions, so tell us what you think is most important and which model you think is the best 18V impact driver.

Just remember that there are real people who do the work and who are contributing through their comments. I hate having to delete comments and ban people for acting like middle schoolers, so keep it on topic and clean.

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Moar
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Moar

Is this the same model # Stealth Force as the one from two years ago? I have the R86036K mine is not symmetric. Reverse is definitely weaker. Someone on the Ridgid forum shared the same observation. I’m not trying to second guess your work but the values seem off by a decimal place. 2880in-lbs is 240ft-lbs and if that’s the tested performance, you should be able to unfasten just about any lug nuts including large SUVs and pickups and many axle nuts. It’s also far beyond what 1/4″ shank can handle. I know from first hand experience the R86036K just… Read more »

JD Buck
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JD Buck

Surprise surprise. Makita invented the cordless impact driver category and the oil impact category. Was there ever any doubt? Ever since Milwaukee/Rigid got bought out by a Chinese manufacturer they have copied almost ever new Makita tool since 2000. Sad.

Greg
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Greg

I have sixteen NiCad 18 volt DeWalt tools I need to upgrade to lithium tools. I have been trying to decide between DeWalt 20V or going with the Makitas. I would be happy with either as they are both excellent. I run lots of Ethernet cables and do work in offices while people are trying to work and make phone calls. I often use my drill instead of an impact driver to drive screws because it is quieter. If I can get an impact driver that is half the noise level of the other types, then that has made my… Read more »

Patrick Kusler
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I’ve been running the Stealthforce for about 5 years. It’s never let me down, durable as can be. The power is not lacking and even when you expect it to be maxed out it has that little bit extra to get the job done. I often work in occupied space and it’s worth its weight in gold in that situation. I can’t hold a conversation with a homeowner because all of the noise from standard impacts. I hope Rigid redesigns it to a more modern version. I’d be happy to buy another.

Alan Mawford
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Mike, some good reading