Are Impact Rated Bits Worth the Money?
When I was working on the premier issue of Pro Tool Reviews magazine back in March, my team drove over 7500 screws in order to test the battery life and driving capacity of various 18V cordless impact drivers. That’s a lot of screws. During the course of that article, we found that one manufacturer’s impact rated bits didn’t seem to last much longer than the non-impact rated bits…which concerned me, particularly since I went through over 150 bits in that test. It quickly became very clear that knowing which ones performed better than others might be worth investigating—and might be tremendously helpful to those of us going through hundred of bits every year.
The object of this “Bit Battle” is to establish a comparison between #2 Phillips head impact rated bits and non-impact rated bits. The goal is to see whether premium priced bits offer additional performance. Impact bits, on average, cost about double the price of non-impact rated, and it’s going to be interesting for consumers to see whether the cost-per-screw price makes financial sense.
Testing Methodology for Impact-rated Bits
There are any number of ways in which I could have tested bits. While overseas square and Torx drive are dominant, the #2 Phillips head screw reigns king in North America. To narrow the playing field to something that is applicable to the largest audience, I chose 2-inch long #2 Phillips bits. All of the tested bits have standard 1/4” hex shanks designed to fit into the quick release chucks of cordless impact drivers. A 20V Max DeWalt DCF895 impact driver was used for all the testing, and it was set to its highest impact/speed setting. My fastener of choice was the 1-5/8″ Grip Rite drywall screw because they are both widely used and easily available.
Bits were chosen that are easily available in retail outlets across the country. I went to Home Depot, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, Sears and Walmart. There are other brands not represented here, but they weren’t as easily available for me to test. If your favorite but wasn’t tested I’d encourage you to go ahead and try this on your own and send an email to PTR letting us know your results.
I placed a 3/4” piece of red oak on top of two layers of 3/4” plywood subfloor as the testing material. The hard top layer of wood was intended to expedite the failure rate of the bits because of its dense composition. All of the screw driving was done with just one hand on the impact driver handle so I could apply proper pressure but still let the tool do the work. The bits were used until they were not able to grip into the head of the screw securely and I started to experience cam-out or if the bit simply failed. After 4 or 5 cam-outs in a row, the bit was retired. We tested each bit multiple times with the average results factored in to establish the values used in my summary charts.
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Additional note about the impact bit testing
The test material was laid out in order to create as much natural stress as realistically possible in the bit tip, so as to expedite the failure. This wasn’t designed to set up an unrealistic scenario—after all, high stress isn’t uncommon when you’re driving Hardiboard or cement board into plywood or composite material for a tiling job. In either case, testing impact bits in drywall just didn’t seem practical or helpful. There are also many different ways in which the bits could have been put under different stress. Our testing doesn’t take into account every possible use or application of impact-rated bits (or the various bit shapes, for that matter). That means that while our data is helpful and certainly real-world, it’s not comprehensive or all-encompassing—particularly as it relates to very difficult bit loads that tend to snap off the heads of bits rather than produce camout.
One consistent observation is that any bit marked “impact-rated” is going to cost you extra. Throw in some titanium plating, and you might think you have the golden ticket to screw installing pleasure. The fact is that while fancy packaging, shiny colors and catchy tag lines might sell more product, I quickly found that, when it comes to bits, what you pay for is not necessarily what you get. The listed prices are what you can expect to pay in brick and mortar stores without any taxes included. I took those and divided by the number of bits in the packaging to get a per-bit price for the chart. This price, divided by the average number of screws installed, gives you the cost-per-screw.
By using this breakdown you can easily analyze two things: the best value and the toughest (cost-no-option) bit. The Bosch Titanium Power Bit was the third most expensive bit in the line-up and it was only able to install 40 screws. This is in stark contrast to the lowly Kobalt SpeedFit bits that were the least expensive and gave the second best performance. Ironically, the largest quantities of screws were put in by the three least expensive bits in the line-up. The only impact rated bit that consistently had a decent number of installed fasteners was DeWalt’s ImpactReady model. Even considering that, this should be your hint that it is OK to save some dough and go cheap on your bits.
I think that what was most surprising was the correlation between the best value and the most performance. For example, the cheapest bits were the Kobalt SpeedFit, DeWalt Power bit and the Bosch Ribbed Tip. Those three were also the bits that drove the most screws. So when you absolutely can’t waste any time swapping out bits in a serial application and simply want the toughest bits you can find, you’re still better off buying the bit that has you paying the least amount per screw.
Bit by Bit
Ace Professional Screwdriver Bit (2059277)
Price: $1.60 (1-pack)
Screws installed: 113
Summary: Just claiming “Pro” status isn’t enough. These bits were third from the bottom on our list.
Tagline: For longer life
Price: $2.89 (3-pack)
Screws installed: 159
Summary: While they look fancy, this bit only had midrange performance.
Tagline: Better grip, longer life
Price: $11.69 (5-pack)
Screws installed: 40
Summary: Don’t let the gold Titanium plating fool you, these bits were the most disappointing out of the group with the least number of screws installed and the third highest bit price.
Tagline: 50% more torque before camout
Price: $15.34 (5-pack)
Screws installed: 375
Summary: The ribbed tip on these bits really does make a noticeable difference in how well they hold into the screws. Second place overall, this bit installed the most screws.
Price: $6.99 (6-pack)
Screws installed: 193
Summary: If you must have impact rated bits, these landed in the top four for best value.
DeWalt Power Bit (DW2022CR6)
Price: $9.95 (6-pack)
Screws installed: 226
Summary: These were the third best value out of the bits tested. Larger contractor packs will give you an even better value.
Tagline: 3x bit life
Price: $4.78 (2-pack)
Screws installed: 165
Summary: These bits look nice, but even being rated for impact use, they did not impress.
Price: $4.47 (7-pack)
Screws installed: 286
Summary: This bit is the bottom line winner for the best cost-per-screw value.
Tagline: Up to 10x life
Price: Check on Amazon (5-pack)
Screws installed: 72
Summary: These bit tips seem soft and slightly smaller than some of the others, making for a sloppy fit. We had high expectations, but they came in at a disappointing second worst overall.