Can You Use an Impact Driver as a Drill?

use impact driver as drill drilling

The drill and impact driver combo kit is one of the most popular because you get a drilling specialist and a screwdriving specialist at a great value. Some folks want just one tool, though, and often ask the question… can I use an impact driver as a drill?

The short answer is, yes, you can. However, you can’t do everything with an impact driver that you can with a drill. We help you navigate the differences and highlight the applications where an impact driver lets you accomplish many of the tasks without having to switch tools.

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When You Can Use an Impact Driver as a Drill

Knowing when you can use an impact in place of a drill involves more than just bit size and compatibility — but let’s start there. For one thing, if it doesn’t fit, that kind of simplifies things!

Milwaukee M18 Fuel Impact Driver

Drills typically have a 1/2-inch chuck (some DIY drills might come with a 3/8-inch chuck). For the most part, if the shank of the bit fits inside the chuck, it can clamp down on it and you’re good to go.

Impact drivers use a 1/4-inch hex collet, and only 1/4-inch quick-connect hex shanks work in them. If the bit you want to use doesn’t have that type of shank, it won’t work in your impact driver.

Milwaukee Shockwave Drill Bits
These Milwaukee Shockwave drill bits all have a 1/4-inch hex shank that makes them work with an impact driver.

However, many bits have the right connection, and they’re specifically designed so you can use them in either a drill or an impact driver. The most common two are twist bits and spade bits. There are also a few step bits that make the grade as well, along with select tap and die sets.

Twist bits tend to run as large as 1/2 inch. Spade bits usually top out around 1-1/2 inches. If you want to drill a hole that’s 1-1/2 inches in diameter or less, you can use your impact driver as a drill.

There’s a caveat, though. The impacting action of an impact driver tends to leave a rougher finish around the hole. If you’re not going to see the hole once your project is complete, it’s no big deal.

When You Can’t Use an Impact Driver as a Drill (or Shouldn’t)

The list of times you can’t use an impact driver as a drill is longer than those you can. Drill bits such as hole saws, auger bits, and self-feed bits need a beefier shank because of the force they’re under while drilling. You won’t find those types of bits with the 1/4-inch hex shank an impact driver uses.

Bits that Don't Fit in an Impact Driver
The Milwaukee Hole Dozer hole saws and Switchblade self-feed bits have shanks that don’t fit an impact driver.

I also like to consider the type of materials I’m working with. While you can get away with drilling in metal, I recommend sticking with sheet metal. When drilling in thicker metal, a good drill bit for metal will shave coils of material away as it works. Dull or poor-quality bits often chip out the metal. With the impacting action of an impact driver, it tends to chip away at the metal, even with a high-quality bit. The bits dull more quickly, it takes longer to drill the hole, and you often have a rougher finish.

Drilling in concrete is debatable. A hammer drill uses a forward chipping action to help the bit make progress. An impact driver’s impact action is rotational, so it does not provide the same advantage. However, it’s not detrimental to the hole if you use an impact driver in this application. It’s just not going to be as effective as using a hammer drill. A rotary hammer works even better.

When working with brittle material such as tile or glass, using an impact driver is definitely out. The violence of the impact sends vibration to the bit tip that will chip or break the material. A drill running slow and steady works best.

Quick Reference Chart – Bits and Materials

Here’s a handy chart you can use to determine if drilling with your impact driver is a viable option.

DefinitelyNot OptimalNot Possible
Twist bit in wood/PVC
Twist bit in thin metal
Twist bit in thick metal
Twist bit in concrete
Drill bit in tile
Drill bit in glass
Spade bit
Hole saw
Self-feed bit

Milwaukee made both the accessories and tools I featured in this article. The brand’s line of Shockwave impact-rated drilling and driving bits are a solid choice and include many specialty bits that other brands either don’t make or aren’t impact driver compatible. Pro Tool Reviews uses them pretty extensively around our shop.

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