Drill vs Impact Driver: What’s the Difference?
It used to be so easy, when you needed to drill a hole for the first time you were out of your parents’ house, your dad proudly took you to the local hardware store to pick up your first Black and Decker drill. Ah, those were the days. Now we have more options than we know what to do with. Drill vs impact driver. Impact driver vs hammer drill. Should I buy just one, a two tool kit, or all three?
Let’s take a look at how these things work so you can decide for yourself what you need, or at least can sound like you know what you’re talking about when the next sale at Home Depot or Lowe’s comes up.
Drill vs Impact Driver
Simple enough, a drill spins the chuck at the front of the drill. Most chucks are now keyless, meaning you don’t need that funny looking key that’s bent to 90 degrees to change out the bits. Simply grab hold of the chuck and twist one way to loosen and the other to tighten. The chuck is strong enough to hold onto just about any shape that fits into it, including circular drill bits. Many drills have multiple speed and torque settings. The exact uses for those can be saved for a later discussion since we really just want to understand the major differences for now.
Impact drivers work in a similar way to a drill in that they spin the bit that you have attached. When using a drill to drive a screw, you’ll notice that there will be a point that the drill can’t go anymore. It’s using all of its power and torque, but it just can’t budge the screw or bolt. That’s where the impact driver comes in. Imagine you’re working on a bolt that is hard to budge, so you grab a ratchet for extra leverage. You still can’t budge it. To knock it loose, you take a hammer and hit the handle of the ratchet to deliver extra, but short lived, torque. That’s what an impact driver does, though it can do it several thousand times per minute. When it gets to the point that it is stuck, a mechanism inside automatically starts “hitting” the chuck to continue driving the screw or tightening/loosening the bolt. The impact driver is much stronger than a drill in terms of the way it can deliver that extra torque to break loose stuck bolts and screws or to drive them deeper.
The most popular impact drivers use a 1/4″ quick lock chuck system that allows you to slip a bit or driver in as it automatically locks in place. To remove it, you pull up on the chuck and it releases the bit. One advantage to this system is that it makes for a more compact design, so you can get in tighter spaces easier. The downside is that it requires the bit or driver to have a special locking feature to fit it, and your round drill bits and even basic driving bits won’t fit.
Until recently, if you wanted to drill a hole, you had to use a drill. Companies like Milwaukee, Ridgid, and DeWalt now offer drill bits that fit impact drivers. There is a push in the industry to allow you to use an impact driver for everything that a drill can do. Be careful though! Impact drivers have a lot more torque than drills and some applications require the use of impact rated bits, not just the standard ones that came in that big kit for $19.99 at Christmas time.
Many impact drivers on the market are single speed. However, as accessories are being made to include more drilling functions, some companies are offering impact drivers with multiple speed and torque settings.
What about Hammer Drills?
Hammer drills start with a traditional drilling action and have the same kind of chuck as the drill. In fact, most allow you to switch between drill and hammer drill modes. Like a drill, the hammer drill can also have multiple speeds. Instead of having that hitting action working in the same direction that the chuck spins like the impact driver, the hammer drill works by spinning the bit and “hitting” the bit forward the same way a hammer would deliver its force. Imagine using a drill and hitting the back of it with a hammer while you use it.
Hammer drills tend to do the best when working in concrete, masonry, stone, and other similar materials. There really isn’t a benefit to using the hammering action to drive into wood or drywall. In fact, the hammering action can often damage those softer materials.
Drill vs Impact Driver vs Hammer Drill… Make it Simple for Me!
When to use…
- Driving screws into wood, drywall, and other soft material
- Tightening/loosening bolts that don’t require an extreme amount of torque
- Drilling holes in wood, drywall, and other soft materials
- Driving screws into wood or metal (you can use it for drywall if you’ve got a lower speed/torque option)
- 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
- Driving screws into wood, drywall, and other soft material (in drill only mode)
- Tightening/loosening bolts (in drill only mode)
- Drilling holes in wood, drywall, and other soft materials (in drill only mode)
- Drilling holes in concrete, masonry, or stone (in hammer drill mode)
Drill vs Impact Driver vs Hammer Drill… What Should I Buy?
This is a tough question to answer since there are so many different needs out there. If you are only going to buy one product, I’d go with the impact driver. New bits allow you to do everything with it that you can do with a traditional drill, so you’re only missing out on the hammering action needed for concrete type materials.
If you can afford to buy a two tool kit and know or think you’ll be drilling into concrete/stone, go with an impact driver/hammer drill kit. Even without the special bits, the hammer drill should have a drill only mode that allows it to operate exactly like a drill, and then you’ll also have the impact driver for when you need more torque with nuts/bolts and lag bolts. If you’re not going be around those masonry applications, stick with a drill/impact driver kit.
Drill vs Impact Driver vs Hammer Drill… Give Me Some Real World Ideas
I’ve had the chance to use these tools on several recent projects. For example, we helped to build a wheelchair ramp with a local church. For drilling pilot holes and driving screws, a drill was all we needed. So for projects like building a deck or putting up a wood fence, the drill is a fine choice.
We had to anchor the ramp to concrete on the end, so we employed a hammer drill to make the holes before using it to drive the Tapcons in place. Applications where you need to drill a smaller hole in concrete is where you need a hammer drill. Large holes are usually done by a tool called a rotary hammer.
I recently put together a grill and used my impact driver to ensure each connection was very tight. Mechanics will often use impact drivers to tighten and loosen bolts on an engine. A lot of gas engine machinery like mowers and trimmers will require the use of an impact driver to tighten and loosen bolts appropriately. Anytime you’re using bolts on metal or driving a screw into metal, you’re going to want an impact driver.
For the most part, the impact driver is my go to tool. I personally keep a hammer drill/impact driver kit on hand that meets all of my needs for drilling and driving.
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