Best Impact Driver
Impact drivers trace their roots to the impact wrenches used by mechanics. Even so, they’ve changed a lot, turning into tools that are useful for a variety of purposes besides just tightening and loosening lug nuts on cars.
Some have said that the name “impact driver” was only a marketing gambit, created to try and differentiate these tools from the pneumatic impact wrenches used by mechanics. However, there are more differences between the two than you might think. While the larger, pneumatic ones are essentially the same, there’s no way you can call a light-duty cordless impact driver an impact wrench. Not only is it not as powerful, it’s designed to be used differently.
To see the differences and understand how to select the impact driver that will best meet your needs, check out our buyer's guide provided below.
AirCat NitroCat 1/2" Impact Wrench #1200K
Chicago Pneumatic CP7748, 1/2” High Torque Impact Driver
Ingersoll Rand 2135TiMAX Series Impact Wrench
Snap-On MG725L, 1/2" Long Anvil Impact Driver
Campbell Hausfeld TL140200AV, 1/2 Inch Impact Driver
Hitachi12 Volt Li-Ion Peak Impact Driver - WH10DFL2
DeWalt 12 Volt 1/4 Inch Impact Driver - DCF815S2
Bosch 12-Volt Impact Driver - PS41-2A
Milwaukee M12 2450-22 1/4" Hex Impact Driver
Makita 12 Volt Max Lithium-Ion Cordless Impact Driver - DW01ZW
Milwaukee 0779-22 28 Volt Lithium-Ion 1/2" Cordless Impact Wrench
DeWalt DCF895C2, 20 Volt 1/4" Impact Driver
Makita XDT01Z 18V LXT Cordless 3-Speed Impact Driver
Porter-Cable PCCK640LB, 20 Volt 1/4" Impact Driver
Hitachi DV18DBL, 18 Volt Cordless Hammer Drill
DeWalt DW293, 7.5 Amp, 1/2 Inch Impact Driver with Hog Ring Anvil
Milwaukee 9072-20, 1/2 Inch Drive Impact Driver
Great Neck 25599, 1/2 Inch Corded Impact Driver
Porter Cable PCE201, 4.3 Amp 1/4 Inch Hex Chuck Impact Driver
Makita 6952, 2.3 Amp Hex Chuck Impact Driver
NitroCat is another name for AirCat, a company that specializes in air tools. This tool is powerful, delivering 1295 ft-lbs of loosening torque; which makes it the most powerful impact driver in this size range. Couple that with 950 blows per minute of impact from the hammer mechanism, and there isn’t much you shouldn’t be able to break loose. It’s also amazingly quiet, at only 86 decibels of sound pressure, rather low for a pneumatic impact.
This particular impact driver has a Kevlar composite case, making it probably stronger than a steel case. I don’t suppose there’s much chance of someone shooting at it, but it could probably take it and keep on working. Finally, they have the exhaust coming out the handle, so that it isn’t blowing in your face which is a nice touch.
Chicago Pneumatic is one of those companies who’ve been changing their cases over to composite from all metal construction. This cuts down on weight which is wonderful if you’re using the tool for an extended period of time. It has 1200 ft-lbs of breakaway torque which isn’t quite as much as the NitroCat but gives you more blows per minute. It might even be a bit quicker to use than the NitroCat, although I’d say it’d be a close contest. Where this one does win is in lower air consumption, 2.5 CFM, compared to Nitrocat’s 4 CFM. There’s also a self-retracting guide sleeve on it, to help protect your fingers from pinches and other painful mistakes.
Ingersoll-Rand has started using titanium in some of their air tools to save on weight. While this one doesn't have a titanium case (like some do), it does have a titanium hammer, traditionally the heaviest part of an impact driver. It also offers a lot more control to the user than most impact drivers, with a feather-touch trigger and four four-position power regulator dial. They brag that this tool has the best power-to-weight ratio in this class. Part of that is that this impact wrench only weighs 3.95 pounds. That will make a long day of work go easier. The 780 ft-lbs of torque that it provides is respectable, even though it’s not as much as the first two we've looked at.
Snap-On MG725L, 1/2" Long Anvil Impact Driver
Snap-on has long been a favorite of mechanics everywhere. These rugged tools carry a lifetime warranty, serviced by the same technicians who drive around selling them to auto repair shops. This unit delivers 1190 ft. lb. of breakaway torque and 810 ft. lb. of constant torque while the elongated anvil is made stronger to receive 1270 blows per minute. A magnesium housing helps keep the weight down to 5 pounds and it uses 4 CFM of air. An 8 vane rotor provides faster motor start-up and an anvil stop, shuts off the anvil when the trigger is released. This prevents the tool from throwing nuts and sockets.
This impact driver is an incredible value for the money. While the others we’ve looked at cost a few hundred dollars, the price of this one is well under $100. That’s pretty good, especially considering that it will still provide 450 ft-lbs of torque. It has a built-in regulator to help control the power setting, and a composite housing for lower weight. It also has a comfort grip, which is nice when you’ve got a lot of work to do.
Hitachi12 Volt Li-Ion Peak Impact Driver - WH10DFL2
Hitachi’s light-duty impact driver is the lightest on our list; weighing in at only 2.2 pounds. This upgraded unit provides 955 in/lbs of torque, and up to 3,200 BPM of impact power at 2,700 RPM. All three of those numbers are up from the preceding model, without increasing the tool's weight. Perhaps the best thing about this tool is that it comes with Hitachi’s lifetime Li-Ion tool warranty. That means you won’t have to worry about any problems with the tool. Like the DeWalt, the battery pack is part of Hitachi’s battery system, rather than an in-the-handle one. This also makes it possible to stand the tool on the battery base between using it. An LED light helps you see your work and they've even added a belt hook, the one thing that seemed to be missing from the previous model.
Besides being the most powerful impact driver in this class, DeWalt’s 12 volt driver has a number of nice features. Form a specifications point of view alone it would top this list, with 950 in/lbs of torque and 3,400 BPM of impact. The icing on that cake is this is one of the few which use batteries that are part of the manufacturer’s system, rather than a tool-specific battery. While most people don’t have all that many 12 volt cordless tools anymore, I like the interchangeability. It also has a 3 LED headlight which helps eliminate shadows that normally occur with a standard single LED. Finally, the handle is very comfortable and there’s a belt hook for portability.
Like the DeWalt, this driver from Bosch has three LED headlights forming a ring around the collet. That provides much better illumination and helps eliminate shadows. This one has an in-the-handle battery design, making it compact and easy to fit into tight places. In fact, the head on this impact is only 5.4 inches long, making it the most compact tool on the market, able to fit into tighter places. It's also the lightest, weighing in at only 2 pounds. The upgraded motor provides 960 in/lbs of torque and a maximum of 3,000 BPM of impact power. The impact mechanism is spring-loaded to reduce operator fatigue. A LED fuel gauge lets you know how much battery charge you have left.
This has got to be one of the few cases I’ve seen where Milwaukee’s tool doesn’t have the most raw power. Even so, it comes close at 850 in/lbs and 3,000 BPM of impact speed. It’s almost as light as the Hitachi, at only 2.3 pounds. It also has a LED battery fuel gauge, the only one I’ve seen on a light-duty impact driver while an LED work light is also provided. The kit comes with two batteries, a charger and a carry case.
Makita 12 Volt Max Lithium-Ion Cordless Impact Driver - DW01ZW
This tool has to be the best bargain going for a light duty impact. I was truly amazed to see the street price, especially considering that it's a Makita. Nevertheless, it has the quality and design that I've come to expect from Makita's tools. This compact impact driver provides 800 in. lbs. of torque, running at 0 - 2400 RPM with a corresponding 0 - 3 IMP, variable speed. At 2 pounds of weight, it would seem to be even lighter than the Hitachi, but that's without the battery. With the battery, it's a touch more than the Milwaukee. A built in LED headlight illuminates the work area for you and the ergonomic handle is rubber over-molded for comfort. Makita also provides a three year warranty on this tool.
As we’ve come to expect, Milwaukee beats everyone hands down on raw power. This 28 volt unit is so powerful, it could easily be considered a mechanic’s tool. Rated at 325 ft/lbs, this is the most powerful cordless impact on the market. Considering other cordless impacts are rated in inch-pounds, this should give you a pretty good idea of how powerful this really is.
A lot of this tools power has to do with the 28 volt battery, the highest voltage battery put into any cordless impact. One really great thing about this battery system is it provides up to 2 times the run time of 18 volt systems while the impact provides 2450 BPM at 1450 RPM. A top mounted hanger makes it easy to tether this tool when you’re working high overhead.
Once we drop down in power rating from Milwaukee’s giant, we find DeWalt makes the most powerful cordless driver around. This one uses a 20 volt battery, giving it just a bit more juice than the 18 volt models. That extra power shows up in the 1500 in-lbs of torque that this driver will produce. It’s also got three speed ranges, with the torque adjusting to match the speed. The higher torque goes with the higher speed range.
This is a compact tool measuring only 5-1/4” from front to back. Between the compact size and the 3.0 pound weight, it’s great for working in tight spots. One feature I really like on this impact is that it has three LED headlights, forming a ring around the chuck, providing the best impact work illumination out there. There’s also a battery life indicator, a belt hook, and bit storage built into the tool.
Makita has been investing in brushless technology, changing many of their designs over to take advantage of the lower maintenance they offer. Doing so also cuts down on total friction, helping the battery last longer. In this latest incarnation of their cordless impact, they've included electronic controls to optimize the work you can get out of a battery charge, while protecting the battery from overload, overheating, and over-discharging.
Measuring 5-1/2” long and weighing 3.3 pounds, this impact driver also offers a three speed power selection switch with a maximum of 2,600 RPM and 3,400 BPM, giving it the highest impact rate of any on this list. The motor delivers 1,460 in/lbs of torque, putting it right in the running with the Porter-Cable and the DeWalt. The battery warning light and built-in LED both flash when the battery needs recharging and the LED headlight has an independent on/off switch. Like all Makita’s Li-Ion tools, you get the fastest recharge time in the industry.
Porter-Cable’s contender comes in a close second to the one form DeWalt, with very similar specs and features. It provides 1450 in/lbs of torque, with a variable speed up to 2,900 RPM. The impact action speeds up with the higher speed as well, going as high as 3,000 BPM. It’s a touch longer than the DeWalt at 3.2 inches and a touch heavier at 3.2 pounds. This impact driver also features a battery life indicator, a LED work light and a belt clip.
The really great thing about this impact driver is that while others come with 1.5 Ah batteries, this unit includes 3.0 Ah Li-ion batteries so it can be used roughly twice the amount of time before you need to change batteries. The motor produces 1420 in/lbs of torque at a maximum of 2600 RPM, with a maximum of 3200 BPM. It also has both limited and continuous impact modes for ultimate control when driving into softer or harder materials. A digital control panel allows you precise control over the tool and there is a LED work light and battery indicator as well.
DeWalt wins the top spot with their corded 1/2-inch drive unit. This one puts out 345 foot-pounds of torque, making it the strongest corded electric impact driver on the market. It also produces 2,700 impacts per minute, giving it lots of power for removing even the toughest bolts. The 1/2-inch drive anvil has a hog ring for retaining sockets, just like an air impact wrench would. The dual trigger allows you to control forward and reverse movement from the trigger, rather than from a switch. All ball-bearing construction makes for long life. It will also run off of DC power for remote use on jobsites.
Milwaukee provides this variable speed corded unit producing 300 foot-pounds of torque. The variable speed runs from 600-1800 RPM and 1000-2600 impacts per minute (impacts are directly affected by speed). There is also a speed setting dial, so that you can pre-determine the maximum speed and pull the trigger to that point. Sockets are held on the anvil with a ball detent, much like a ratchet wrench. This unit uses Milwaukees Quik-Lok cord system, allowing the cord to be easily removed for storage or replacement.
For those who are looking for a good deal in a heavy-duty impact driver, this unit by Great Neck offers exceptional value. The 7 amp motor provides 240 foot-pounds of torque and 2700 impacts per minute, at a no-load speed of 2100 RPM. The trigger is a rocker type, allowing for easy reversing, without having to use a separate switch. While not a top brand this tool does offer you a rugged alternative at a reasonable price.
If all youre going to do with your impact driver is drive screws, take a look at Porter-Cables corded unit. The 4.3 amp motor on this unit provides 1,450 inch-pounds of torque (there are 12 inch-pounds per 1 foot-pound). The variable speed trigger provides speeds from 0 2,900 RPM, with corresponding impact speeds of 0 3,500 BPM. Thats considerably faster than what weve seen with the larger units. There is also a convenient belt hook, so that you can keep the tool with you when you need your hands free for other things. Theres even a magnetic bit holder for keeping the bit on the tool.
Makitas corded unit is a compact, lightweight unit that delivers 1,062 inch-pounds of torque (88.5 foot-pounds) in a 2.9 pound package. It is variable speed, with a range of up to 3,200 RPM, and corresponding variable impact speed of up to 3,100 BPM, making it the fastest of the units we've looked at. The reverse trigger is located near the trigger, like on many drill/driver units, making it easy to reach and instinctive to use. The motor is constructed with dual ball bearings for longer life. Speaking of long life, they've made the brushes externally accessible for replacement, something I wish every manufacturer would do to their tools. Finally, a belt/rafter hook gives you versatility for hanging the tool on your tool belt or where you are working.
Impact Driver Buyer's Guide
Impact drivers are multi-purpose tools, which can be used in a wide variety of disciplines. To a large part, they were developed for woodworking projects where a cordless drill/driver wasn't enough. Some larger units generate enough torque where they’re applicable for mechanics work and general equipment repair. As multi-purpose tools, the important part is how you need to use them.
For many handymen and do-it-yourselfers, the impact driver has replaced the "driver" portion of their drill driver, allowing them to use it as only a drill. The impact driver is much more efficient as a driver, especially when driving screws into resilient material such as pressure treated timber.
Categorizing Impact Drivers
There are a couple of different ways that we can look at impact drivers, in order to narrow down the field and only be looking at those which will provide the features we need.
Probably the most important single specification on any impact driver is the tool's torque. Some of the heavier duty impact drivers will provide as much as 300 ft/lbs of torque. That's great for removing a flat tire or tightening the bolts on your starter motor, but a bit too much for driving screws into a deck. You'd probably end up driving the screws right through the deck.
We can break these tools down into three different groups, where torque is concerned. The heavy-duty ones are best suited for mechanics work and general equipment repair. Medium duty units are ideal for building decks and other woodworking projects where a drill/driver doesn't have enough torque to drive the screws in. Light duty units (of which there are few) are best used for small projects.
Heavy-duty impact drivers tend to be powered by 120 volt AC house current. This is mostly because of their high power drain. If these units were to be powered by batteries, even Li-Ion batteries, they would drain the battery very quickly.
Most impact drivers today are cordless, running off of Li-Ion batteries. This makes them much more convenient to work with. For those who already have a collection of cordless power tools, it can save money as well. By buying the same brand, the same batteries can be used for a number of tools.
The exception to this is with some of the light duty units which use batteries designed specifically for the unit. So, even if you have other cordless tools from the same company, the batteries won't be compatible.
Pneumatic impact drivers like those used for mechanics work, are still available. In a shop situation, they can be better for working with than corded electric ones. The pneumatic motor is smaller than an electric one, making the overall tool size smaller. They’re also safer in that there is no electric power cord to get cut, causing an electrocution hazard. Finally, they offer more torque than even the heaviest duty corded models.
You can buy impact drivers with two different types of end connections; 1/4” hex drive collets for use with screwdriver bits and square drive for use with sockets. In addition, the square drive units range from 1/4” square drive all the way up to 1/2” square drive. In most of the mid-range sizes, the same unit can be bought in a hex chuck or square drive version.
Since power is the major reason for buying an impact driver, torque is obviously the first thing to look at. Additionally, the type of chuck end provided may make a difference to you, as you will want it to be compatible with the types of tips you’re intending to use. Buying a tool with a square drive is guaranteed to provide you with a lot of frustration to go with your work when your main task is driving deck screws
The number of beats per minute a tool provides will make a difference in its efficiency as well. The way these units work is they start driving like a drill/driver. Once a point is reached where the tool's native torque isn't enough to drive the fastener quickly enough, the impact mechanism kicks in, adding torque to each blow. You can actually hear this when it happens. The more blows per minute the tool provides, the faster it will drive the fastener.
Electrical power draw for cordless models can be pretty high, especially if you are driving a lot of screws or bolts. So you want to make sure you have extra battery packs handy. Most units come with two battery packs, which will be sufficient for most applications. It’s rare that you’ll be driving screws so fast the spare battery won’t have a chance to recharge.
Some units provide extras which make them more convenient to work with. Belt clips, tool holders, and LED work lights are common features, all of which are useful. However, they are of minor concern, when compared to the need for raw power
The other concern when you shop for these units is the overall size and comfort to use. Many are designed as compact units in order to be able to fit into tight places. If you are doing anything requiring working in tight places, be sure you look at the unit’s size. Comfort is an issue because the impact action can easily create operator fatigue.