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September 23, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros


Should I Buy a Drill or an Impact Driver?

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Several of our readers have posed this common question to our staff: “Should I buy a drill or an impact driver?”


That’s a great question and one that comes up pretty early in the apprenticeship training process. Here’s the short answer: If you can only afford one tool, buy a drill. However, get a 2-tool kit with both if at all possible. With some of the deals we’ve seen, you can grab both of these tools without draining your bank account.

Should I Buy a Drill or an Impact Driver?

Let’s flesh this out a bit more and give you some solid rationale to make your purchase decision easier. It’s all based on how each tool works. The drill spins with a constant amount of pressure on the chuck until it has no more power to continue. That is unless you engage the clutch. We’ll talk about that in a moment. An impact driver has a hammer/anvil mechanism inside. As the hammers (usually two, but Metabo HPT has three) spin, they strike the anvils on their way around.

To understand the difference, imagine pushing as hard as you can against a punching bag versus punching it. With the push, you have less power on the bag itself, but you’re able to sustain that power smoothly. Punch the bag, and you drive much greater force—but only for a moment. A drill is akin to a push and an impact driver is like the punch.

So that makes it seem as if the impact driver has more power—and it does. So why buy a drill instead? We have several good reasons if you must decide between the two tools.

Drill vs Impact Driver Functions

An impact driver’s driving mechanism and power make it a screw driving specialist. No drill delivers the speed and ease of driving larger fasteners that an impact driver provides. You can even do light socket work with an impact driver. Be sure to use impact-rated sockets for that task, however.

Best 18V Impact Driver Roundup - Medium Lag Screw Test Milwaukee 2753

When it comes to drilling holes with twist bits, spade bits, Forstner bits, self-feed bits, hole saws, etc., the impact driver is capable of getting the job done, but it’s much rougher. And if you’re looking for smooth function and clean holes, all those impacts work against you. This is where the constant pressure of a drill is a much better option.

Why You Should Buy the Drill

So the drill takes care of drilling and boring tasks much better than an impact driver. You could use an impact for that task—in fact, some brands even make drill bits specifically for your impact driver. However, you just get better results with the drill and it provides a smoother drilling experience.

Ridgid Max Output Hammer Drill

The drill may not be as fast as an impact driver on screws and other fasteners, but you won’t lose the quality of the result by using it. In fact, your results can actually improve. Using the clutch on a drill allows you to dial in the exact amount of driving force you want for the material you’re working with and the fasteners you have. That can leave a very clean, precise finish when all your screws are perfectly flush with your workpiece. Impact drivers tend to offer a little less finesse in the finish department.

What’s the best cordless drill kit under $150?

But You Should Really Buy Both… If You Can Afford It

In an ideal world, you should have both tools so you have the best tool for all drilling and driving applications. This also gives you the ability to use the drill for pilot holes and use the impact driver to sink fasteners. Since you don’t have to switch bits for each fastener, you’re much more productive.

If you want a top-of-the-line solution like the Milwaukee 2804-22 and its 1200 in-lbs. of torque, you’re looking at $299 to get a kit with batteries. You’ll need to tack on another $70 to add the impact driver.

Heavy Duty 18V Cordless Drill Shootout Lag Bolt - Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2704

Top of the line is nice to have, and seasoned Pros love them. If you’re new to the trades, however, don’t feel as if you have to buy the best right away. After all, you don’t—or shouldn’t—be buying the same house your parents spent 20 years saving for the moment you graduate college and get married. You’ll wind up with more debt than you can carry. That can happen with your tools as well.

Should I Buy a Drill or an Impact Driver?

You can look to Ryobi, which offers a nice blend of entry-level performance with outstanding value. There, you can pick up a kit with batteries starting at around $100. You can move another step up into Pro performance with a Ridgid kit priced at $150. With the money you’re saving, you can add tools more quickly or save to buy those premium tools with cash rather than adding the interest you’ll accrue on a credit card.

Should I Buy a Drill or an Impact Driver?

With the extra money in your pocket, you’ll even be able to afford to take your wife out for a Thursday lunch date without worrying about credit card debt.

We love helping new Pros learn more about their chosen trades. If you have a question like “Should I buy a drill or an impact driver?”, feel free to hit us up on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram – or leave us a comment below!


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BikerDad

Both. Drill. Impact, unless 99% of your work is heavy assembly. If you’re doing light assembly (RTA furniture, gym equipment, woodworking, etc), then the drill is better because of the clutch. For very light stuff (drawer slides into cabinets, hinges, etc) the Bosch 12v DRIVER (or the like) can’t be beat. If, on the other hand, you’re assembling pergolas, gazebos, floating docks, metal buildings, etc, then the impact is the ticket. “Both” though is so far ahead of the singles that I’d say step down a level in quality if you absolutely must buy now, rather than waiting the extra… Read more »

David S

I bought the drill because I knew I would be doing more drilling than driving, but now that I’m building things that get assembled with screws I’m wishing I had bought the kit. As it is I’m either switching out drill bits of different sizes and driver bits constantly, or I’m using my old Ni Cad drills that are slower and less powerful to keep from having to keep swapping out bits.

Alex Stefaniak

I bought the kit with both because it was a good deal and I could see having a use for the punching power of the impact driver. Having assembled a cedar swing set 15 years ago with hand tools is always what I think about when I question whether or not I made the right choice. That being said, I volunteer a lot with school and community theaters. We try to reuse as much as we can, so set pieces are assembled using screws rather than nails. I’ll often come across something during strike where the guy using an impact… Read more »

Pete

I just made this decision and got both. Drill for the holes, impact for the screws and bolts. Cuts down on swapping out bits. Lots of good deals out there on kits with both.

Ndahura David

If woodwork only without concrete start with an impact driver then with time get a drill to help out other tasks.

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