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Impact Driver

The Must Have Power Tool
dewalt dc825ka-18v impact driver
Versatile and handy, impact drivers are rapidly becoming the most popular power tools. Read this 101 and our buying guide, then check out our top 5 picks including in-depth reviews and consumer information.

What is an impact driver?

There seems to be quite a lot of confusion about what an impact driver is and what exactly it does better than regular drills and drivers that is making them so popular with users everywhere. Part of the reason for this confusion is the fact that they look very much like regular powered drills and drivers. However, new users are almost invariably taken aback at how effortlessly they are able to drive large screws and bolts home, more so because these tools tend to be smaller and lighter than  standard drills and drivers. As a result, most new users quickly make impact drivers their tool of choice, rarely touching their standard drills or screwdrivers again. Like regular drills, impact drivers can also unscrew fasteners by reversing bit rotation with a button or switch. Many pros and amateur tool afficianados consider the impact driver to be the most significant tool to arrive since the power miter saw, table saw and nail gun and have made it their most-used, must-have tool.

Impact driver vs impact drill

Impact drivers can be used to drill holes by using hex shank bits even though they are not designed primarily for this use. The difference is in a rapid hammering action that is brought to bear both in-line and rotationally to impart as much as three times the effective torque as the in-line-only torque of "regular" drills. This impact action is engaged automatically when a certain amount of resistance is encountered that calls for more torque or with a manual switch and a cam and gear mechanism kicks in to apply very rapid forward impacts along with the turns, producing a loud rattling sound. It is extremely effective in driving screws because it greatly reduces or eliminates the continued cam-outs that occur with a regular screwdriver or drill that can damage and strip the screw head. And unlike drills, including impact drills, it is not necessary to apply much if any extra force to "push" a fastener into any material--the impact action does the work for you. It is ideal for a wide range of applications from heavy construction like deck building and house framing to lighter jobs like cabinetry. There are some situations where you will be better off with a drill, like when you are drilling small-diameter holes and don't care for the rat-tat-tat noise, or you need to pre-drill some holes for fear of splitting a piece of wood while driving a large screw. But if you are a casual user, for the most part it makes little sense to buy a cordless drill when you can get an impact driver for about the same price nowadays. A professional will always carry both.

Impact driver vs hammer drill

Finally, some confuse these tools with hammer drills which move their drill bits in and out rapidly unlike impact drivers whose bits stay put and can be controlled with great precision.

Torque in impact drivers

Another difference between these tools is in how the torque force is applied: in regular power drills, you will sometimes need to physically restrain and counteract the torque that is generated from tightening a screw because that torque is transfered to the drill itself and may cause it to slip and spin out of control in some situations. With the impact drill, the torque generated by the hammering action is focused on the screw, bolt or nut and almost none is transfered to the tool itself, making it easy to control without exerting any extra force. Simply holding it on the fastener is enough--you don't feel a thing.

Impact driver vs impact wrench

Although similar in action and sound, impact drivers should not be confused with impact wrenches which develop more torque but are less precise and used exclusively for driving or retracting heavy-duty nuts and bolts. Impact drivers typically have a quick release chuck that allows for changing bits rapidly, so it is possible to go from a flat head to Phillips screwdriver or to a socket adapter quickly and effortlessly.

Drawbacks of impact drivers

Like any other "perfect tool" however, the impact driver does have some drawbacks and this is reason enough to not get rid of your standard drill or screwdriver just yet. For one, the effortless driving of screws into tough materials can actually be counterproductive in some situations. One example is when you try to mount a cabinet onto metal studs, the screw could go right through the stud without giving you any tactile feedback. Another situation would be when installing hardware in cabinetry and similar work, you will do better with the fine control and touch afforded by a standard driver, drill or manual screwdriver. Then there is the noise of the impact action which can bother some people and you may need earplugs when driving large screws.

Corded vs cordless impact drivers

Impact drivers can be corded or cordless and both have their optimal uses. The corded drivers are useful when it is inconvenient or impossible to use batteries, when more power is needed on a big job than is possible with battery power and when significant  physical force may be needed to augment the impact function which is not possible with cordless models. However, cordless impact drivers can be used in cramped spaces and other situations that would be impossible or dangerous for corded models, for example while balancing on a ladder to reach a spot with hand outstretched. Because they are so much smaller and lighter, they are perfect for working in tight spaces like those encountered in cabinet or duct work.  Finally, as cordless tools are totally portable their charged batteries and can be used anywhere, including where no electricity is available.  By far the more numerous type, cordless impact drivers are one of the fastest growing segments in the power tools market today. A major driver of this growth is the power and capacity of today's high-tech cordless tool batteries which continue to push the envelope of long-lasting portable power. ryobi 130429001 18v li-ion batteryThe the top brands are Makita, DeWalt, Bosch, Hitachi and Milwaukee.

NiCD vs NiMH vs Li-Ion batteries

Our choices and flexibility have increased greatly with the rapid advances in battery technology in general that are enhanced by the proprietary technologies that tool companies are investing in. It is important to understand the differences in the three main battery types that are currently available and we have provided a handy guide for this purpose.

The modern impact driver gives its users an unprecedented level of productivity and it is here to stay.
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Disclaimer: Makita, Bosch, Hitachi, Panasonic, DeWalt, Milwaukee, Ryobi Ridgid are registered trademarks of their respective companies and are not affiliated with www.ImpactDriver.org . References to certain products in this website are for informational purposes only are not to imply endorsement by or affiliation with the particular manufacturer.