Impact driver (or impact drills) and cordless drills are both very useful and very common tools; which is why you will find one of each in almost every workshop or tool shed out there. Any professional worth their salt could easily tell you the difference between an impact drill and a cordless drill. But, that difference is not always clear for amateurs or people who are just getting into the world of power tools. That is who this article is primarily meant for, amateurs who want a detailed explanation of the differences between the two tools and who should get each type of tool (that being said, seasoned professionals might still find some interesting information within).
Before I explain the differences between an impact driver vs drill, let me give you a brief intro to both the power tools.
An impact driver is used to drive fasteners and screws into a dense material. Now, you may note that that is partly what cordless drills are meant to do as well. While this is true, an impact driver works differently. An impact drill combines two kinds of power, rotational power, and concussive power.
When you use an impact drill on a screw, it rotates and drives the screw inwards. In this sense, an impact drill is similar to a regular cordless drill. Both use rotational power to drive things into the material. However, where the impact drill sets itself apart is by also introducing hammering action into the mix. The internal impact mechanism provides high torque to the impact drivers which the regular power drills cannot achieve.
Although the internal hammer primarily delivers impacts in the rotational direction, it also delivers blows in the axial direction. This is done by the spring that gets compressed during the rotation and pushes the hammer back on to the anvil with an impact. You can see a detailed explanation of the working principle of impact driver here.
An impact driver can also be used for drilling using the external shank drill bits. That’s where the term impact drill comes from. Since the hammer mechanism delivers high rotational force (torque), impact drills can be used to drill tough materials like hardwood and metal. However, do not get confused between a hammer drill and an impact drill/driver. A hammer drill offers high axial force and is the ideal tool for drilling masonry. To learn more about the differences refer impact drill vs hammer drill guide.
Cordless Drill Driver
I think most, if not all of us, know what a cordless drill is. Cordless drills have two distinct jobs. Firstly, they are used to drive screws and fasteners into the material. Secondly, and more importantly, they are used to drill holes into wood, drywall, plastic, and other soft materials.
The cordless drills are designed with self-centering chucks and clutch. Rotate the outer ring for different clutch setting to precisely control the output torque.
Cordless drill/drivers are extremely important tools because they are used in almost any job that you can think of. Try to think of a home improvement job or a carpentry job that does not require a cordless drill. It is surprisingly difficult. This should give you an idea of why everyone from amateur DIYers to professional carpenters has at least one cordless drill/driver or at least a corded power drill.
Differences between Impact Driver and Drill/Driver
There are a lot of significant differences between impact drivers and cordless drills. I hope that by the end of this section, you will understand why both of these tools are complementary and why many professionals insist on having both in their tool sheds.
Impact Driver vs Drill Comparison
Here is a quick comparison chart between the two power tools.
|Cordless Drill Driver||Impact Driver (Impact Drill)|
|Speed||High RPM||Comparatively low RPM|
|Force||Less Torque||Higher Torque|
|Torque Control||Excellent control using clutch||Control torque by adjusting the speed|
|Tool Holder||Self-centering keyless chuck||¼-inch hexagonal socket|
|Versatility||Highly versatile tool||Mainly for driving screws and drilling.|
|Ease of Use||Very good for drilling||Easy on the wrist during driving|
|Noise||Low noise||Moderate noise|
|Uses||DIY, Woodworking, Home improvement||Drilling and driving screws in hard material.|
The first major difference is the range of jobs that each tool can be used for. In terms of versatility, the cordless drill wins hands down. As I said earlier, a cordless drill can be used to drill holes into various kinds of material and to drive in screws with accurate torque control. You can also mount polishing wheels and small mounted grinding wheels to perform various tasks.
This makes cordless drill an excellent general purpose power tool for home improvement, woodworking, metalworking, handyman jobs etc.
An impact drill is mainly to undo or to drive in screws and fasteners. You can also drill holes with an impact drill/driver; however, you need drill bits with hex shanks. Unlike regular drill bits, hexagonal shank drill bits may not be available in all sizes. Just in general, there is no reason to use an impact driver to drill holes into a soft material when a cordless drill does the same job so much better.
Where an impact driver truly shines is in its ability to drive long screws with ease. With a drill/driver, you will have to apply pressure on to the screw to drive it through hardwood or other tough material. This can cause problems to your wrist especially if you are doing a large project that requires you to use lots of fasteners. Buy an impact driver and save your wrist.
So, you may be wondering why you need an impact drill at all since it seems to only be able to do half the job of a regular cordless drill. Well, that brings to another major difference between the two tools, which is sheer rotatory power. Impact drivers are simply far more powerful than cordless drills as far as torque is concerned.
Do you remember the earlier point I made about internal impact mechanism? This enables you to drive in large amounts of screws or fasteners with relative ease. When it comes to sheer power, there is no contest; an impact driver is simply leagues more powerful than a cordless drill.
The cordless drill has better torque control than impact drivers. In fact, the impact driver offers almost no control. The way you change the torque in an impact driver is by varying the speed.
On the other hand, cordless drills are equipped with a clutch. You can switch the clutch to different position easily to drive screws with good accuracy. Setting the clutch at the right torque prevents the screws from getting over-torqued and stripped.
The power drills are normally fitted with self-centering 3 jaw chucks. In most cordless drills you can find keyless chucks which work very well for straight shank drill bits and screwdriver bits.
On the other hand, impact drill driver comes with hexagonal sockets; usually, ¼-inch in size. This works well for driver bits. When a straight shank driver bit faces resistance, it tends to slip from the chuck. When this happens the shank gets damaged and if you are drilling, the drill bit may get stuck inside the hole. A hexagonally shaped shank eliminates this problem.
Additionally, with the quick release hexagonal chucks, the driver bits are easy to replace.
Another, less important difference, is the way the two power tools look and handle. Cordless drills are a bit bulkier and heavier, this can make them more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces. Impact drills have a short head length which makes them relatively small. This makes them both easy to carry from place to place and makes them extremely useful for doing work in tight spaces.
Ease of Use
Both impact driver and drill are easy to use power tools. However, depending upon the application you may find one tool better than the other in certain situations.
Cordless drill/driver can accept a wide variety of tool bits since the self-centering keyless chuck can be opened and closed to hold different sized bits.
On the other hand, the impact driver can only accept drill and driver bits with a fixed size hexagonal shaped. However, the quick release mechanism in it enables replacing the bits a lot faster than a power drill.
You probably know that cordless drill is a better tool for drilling operations. They provide higher RPM and better control over speed. In contrast, impact driver offers higher torque but less speed. In short cordless drills are better for drilling soft materials like wood, plastic, plywood, aluminum etc. and for most type of drilling work. However, the cordless drill will struggle to drill through tough materials like metal and masonry. In such case, you might want to use an impact drill or even a hammer drill (for masonry) to perform drilling painlessly.
For driving screws and other fasteners impact driver wins hands down. However, use a cordless drill/driver when you need very low torque. For example; driving short screws in softwood, assembling small furniture, doing art and craft work etc. Using an impact driver for tasks that need delicate touch is not a good idea since most impact drivers lack torque control. And the brutal power of the impact tools can cause the fasteners to get over tightened or even results in stripping of the screws.
Summary: Cordless Drill vs Impact Driver
- An excellent versatile power tool.
- It can be used for drilling, driving screws, polishing using rotary sanders and wheel brushes.
- The slip clutch provides accurate torque control.
- Drill/driver delivers constant torque and uninterrupted rotational motion.
- The keyless chuck can hold a variety of drill bits, driver bits, and other rotary bits.
- Ideal for woodworking, home improvement, assembling furniture etc. where you need to drill holes and drive screws with feature touch.
- Relatively inexpensive power tool.
- Recommended power tool for all general purpose jobs.
- Specialty power tool that delivers excellent rotational force (torque).
- The quick release hexagonal socket only accepts bits with hex shanks.
- Ideal tool for driving long and thick screws into tough and dense material like hardwood.
- The internal hammer mechanism delivers impact in the rotational direction and the spring exerts hammering blows in the axial direction.
- The extra torque and axial blows ensure that screws do not get stripped.
- Very good at driving self-tapping screws or tek screws into wood and other soft material.
- Easy on your wrist. The impact driver can effortlessly drive-in and remove fasteners.
- An impact driver can be used to drill hard substances like metal where regular drill cannot penetrate.
- The short body length enables impact driver to be used in tight work-spaces.
Who should get a drill/driver?
As I have said a few times throughout this article, both of these tools are extremely useful. They also complement each other nicely. In fact many power tools manufacturers often package together impact drivers and cordless drills into a drill/driver kit. The combo kits also offer additional battery which is a nice bonus to have.
So, if you have the budget to get both power tools, then I definitely recommend getting them both. Both amateur DIYers and experienced professionals can benefit from having a good impact driver and cordless drill combo in their tool sheds or workshops.
If for some reason, you cannot get both, then I would recommend going for a cordless drill first and then getting an impact driver at the earliest opportunity. The reason for this is that since cordless drills are a bit more versatile, then it makes more sense for beginners or people on a budget to buy the tool that they can use more often.
I think that after this article, everyone should be able to differentiate between an impact drill and a cordless drill. In conclusion:
Cordless Drill: Get a drill driver for drilling holes and driving fasteners into softwood, drywall, plastic and other soft material. Cordless drill is the right choice for most woodworking jobs, DIY, and jobs that need good control over torque.
Impact driver: Get an impact driver for removing stubborn fasteners and driving long screws into hardwood. This is the ideal power tool for building a deck, large furniture, for installing cabinets and home improvement jobs the demand that extra torque.
The two power tools really do go hand-in-hand and I really do recommend getting both for your workshop as soon as you are able to. Go ahead get the cordless drill, impact driver combo kit and thank me later.