Our Pro mechanics recognize not all impact wrenches are the same. We asked them to help us answer the question: Which impact wrench do you need? Since impact wrenches come in all shapes and sizes and offer a wide range of torque output, it can be tough to settle on just one. Around the shop, you might have (or need to have) a variety of impact wrenches. Different applications simply call for more or less torque. We look at each major category of impact wrench to help figure out which types of impact wrench best fit some common applications.
Which Impact Wrench Do You Need?
First Up: Cordless or Pneumatic?
There are benefits to using either platform, but ask a few questions to filter down your options:
- Are you a Pro or a DIYer/hobbyist?
- Do you have a large compressor at your shop?
- Are you choosing for just yourself, or are you outfitting an entire garage?
- How much torque do you need?
- How important is speed?
Breaking It Down Further
A lot of Pros, if not most of them, still use pneumatic power to drive their impact wrenches—and for good reason. Pneumatic impact wrenches weigh less, cost less, and typically offer more torque. While cordless models have recently increased their torque output, it comes with a steep price. On the downside, pneumatic impact wrenches are still tethered to hoses and require large (and often loud) compressors.
Meanwhile, cordless impact wrenches give you freedom from hoses and compressors, but they cost and weigh more. These match up well for guys who either need to be mobile or who can’t or don’t want to mess around with compressors and hoses.
For a full breakdown of the pros and cons of cordless and pneumatic impact wrenches, check out this article:
Breaking It Down By Size
Stubby, Sub-Compact, and Compact Impact Wrenches
When you really don’t need an obscene amount of torque, lighter and smaller impact wrenches offer a great solution. These tools top out under 250 ft-lbs of torque—plenty of power for many applications.
Plus, this class of impact wrenches is small and light. Most weigh less than 3 lbs with a battery inserted. This makes these tools particularly helpful when you need to work overhead for any length of time.
Lower pricing on most sub-compact tools also makes them a great choice. A compact pneumatic model might cost less than $100, while a battery-powered model, like this Makita Sub-Compact Impact Wrench, could cost over $200 with the battery and charger.
Mid-Range Impact Wrenches
When you actually do have some real mechanical work to do, rather than horsing around with those bite-sized sub-compact models, reach for something in the 450 ft-lb torque range. This middle range probably covers the vast majority of automotive work.
As far as weight goes, the mid-torque cordless class start to differentiate itself from its pneumatic brethren. Cordless guns can weigh 5 or 6 pounds with a battery attached. Compare that to pneumatic tools with similar torque which weigh less than 4 pounds.
Cost is another consideration with this class. Mid torque cordless impact wrenches can run upwards of $400 with batteries. Meanwhile, solid mid-torque pneumatic options commonly price out under $200.
High-Torque Impact Wrenches
At this point, if you need to reach for something bigger—say, 750 ft-lbs or more—you likely work on heavier equipment. Certainly, you tackle more than just your standard car or half-ton truck. In this case, sticking with a cordless wrench means that you can expect to lug around 7-8 pounds of tool. By comparison, a pneumatic model still weighs less than 5 pounds. That additional weight really factors into the equation.
Things also start to get more expensive at this torque rating. For instance, the winner of last year’s high-torque impact wrench shootout—the 2767-22 Gen2 Milwaukee High-Torque Impact Wrench—retails for around $450 with a couple batteries. This is actually not bad. Some of the other models we tested cost $600 – $700. Still, a comparable pneumatic tool with the same (or better) power could run less than $300.
The Bottom Line
So, which impact wrench is right for you? If you do a lot of work requiring an overabundance of torque, go large. For most DIYers, and likely a lot of Pros, mid-torque and lower solutions will suffice. If you don’t already have a decent compressor, cordless provides even more convenience. If you’re a Pro working in a garage, and you don’t mind using an air hose reel, a pneumatic model still makes for a better fit. It also saves you from having to charge batteries throughout the day.