Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench

What is the difference between an impact driver and an impact wrench? Which one is better?

If you just look at the name of these two kinds of power tools, then you might assume that they are essentially the same tool. However, you would be wrong to think that. There are certainly some similarities between the two kinds of tools; however, there are also some key differences as well. Any prospective buyers should be aware of these differences. That is where I come in. I have used both of these extensively and I feel that I should share my experience with you so that you can make an informed purchase that works for you.

Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench
Impact Gun: People often get confused between Impact driver vs impact gun vs impact wrench. So let me get this straight first. An impact gun is nothing but an impact wrench. It’s just another name for the same tool. 

Now that it is clear, let’s see the difference between an impact driver and an impact gun (impact wrench).

Impact Wrench vs Impact Driver Comparison Chart

For those who are in a hurry, below is a comparison table containing key differences between an impact driver vs impact wrench.

Impact Driver
Impact Driver
Impact Wrench
Impact Wrench
Power Source Electricity. Battery (cordless) Compressed Air, Electric
Tool Holder ¼-inch Hexagonal socket ½-inch square shaft
Working Principle Impact force in rotational and axial direction. Impact blows only in rotational direction.
Output Force More RPM. Less torque Less RPM. Higher torque.
Uses Drive screws. Drill holes Loosen/Drive-in lug nuts, heavy bolts.
Recommended Products Top Impact Driver

1/4-inch Cordless impact Driver
Milwaukee M18 2853 – Click to See Price

Best Impact Wrench

Cordless Impact Wrench 1/2-Inch
DEWALT DCF899HB: Click to See Price

For who? DIY, Home Improvement, Construction Auto repair, Assembly lines, heavy equipment maintenance, large construction.

Now, let’s examine each of these powertool in detail and find out which tool is the right one for you.

Impact driver

An impact driver or impact drill is a power tool that can exert high rotational torque as well as hammering blows in the axial direction using an internal impact mechanism. It is a very useful tool to have, both for professionals with years of experience under their belt and for amateurs who only do the occasional home improvement project. So, what is it exactly that an impact driver does? Well, an impact driver is what you use to drive screws and fasteners into the material. You can reverse the switch and it is a very good tool for getting out screws or fasteners. 

Ryobi P290 One+ 18V 1/4" Cordless Quiet Strike 3,200 RPM Impact Driver with Quick Change Chuck and Mag Tray (Batteries Not Included, Power Tool Only)
Above: Ryobi P290 Impact Driver – Click to See Price

Furthermore, they can also be used for drilling holes in tough materials. Please note that if you want to drill masonry, hammer drill is the right tool. See the difference between hammer drill vs impact driver here.

You may question why exactly you need an impact driver for these jobs, after all, can’t a regular cordless drill do these exact same jobs? While it is true that cordless drills can technically do the same jobs that an impact driver can, the real difference lies in how powerful and efficient the tool is. An impact driver is far more powerful than any cordless drill. This is because an impact driver uses a mixture of rotational power and percussive power (whereas cordless drills only use rotational power) to make driving in screws or fasteners much quicker.

What can you do with an impact driver?

Impact DriverImpact drivers are used for 2 purposes.

  1. To loosen and tighten fasteners which require higher rotational torque.
  2. To drill holes in hard materials using hexagonal shank drill bits.

In order to give you an idea of the power differential between the two power tools, imagine driving a long self-threading screw into the hardwood. Most standard cordless drills might have some issue drilling in such a large screw. An impact driver would be able to drive that screw deep into hardwood easily. Another example would be stripped screws or fasteners. These things usually give regular cordless drills (and the people using them) conniptions. But, for an impact driver, a stripped screw is not an obstacle whatsoever.

Finally, in terms of pure productivity and efficiency, an impact driver is simply superior to a cordless drill. Driving screws with a cordless drill/driver is not an easy operation and you will be exhausted soon.  Impact drivers are easy on your wrists causing much less fatigue and stress. In the time it takes for you to screw in five screws with a regular cordless drill, you could get double the amount of work done with a regular impact driver.

Impact wrench

An Impact wrench (also known as impact gun) is an excellent tool for driving lug nuts and fasteners that demand very high rotation force. When you go to a car repair shop, the mechanic will approach with an air-powered tool to change the tires. Yes, the one that makes the ‘brrrr…’ sound; it is a pneumatic impact wrench.

Cordless 1/2 in. Impact Wrench used for automotive work
Tool in Pic: Milwaukee M18 FUEL – Click to See Price

An impact wrench is used to either remove or tighten screws, bolts, and fasteners. Impact wrenches fulfill the same general role as impact drivers. But what sets them apart is the sheer amount of force and power that each tool can put out. If an impact driver is more powerful than a regular cordless drill, then an impact wrench is more powerful than both combined (and then some). Impact wrenches are the tools that get used when no other wrench or tool is capable of extracting a frozen nut, rusted bolts, or fastener.

Impact wrenches are either powered by electricity or compressed air. The electric impact wrenches can be corded or the battery-powered cordless units. The cordless version utilizes only the battery powers is less powerful when compared with the compressed air powered impact wrenches. Impact Wrench The downside is that you need a uninterrupted supply of compressed air. That said, even a portable pancake compressor will work for impact wrench.

Key Features of Impact Wrenches

  1. More rotational torque output when compared to impact drivers.
  2. Widely used in the automobile industry to remove and tighten lug nuts.
  3. Used in production assembly lines and metalworking industry.

Both the power tools work based on a similar principle. However, there are differences in practical application.

Differences between Impact Drivers and Impact Wrenches

Despite their similar appearances, these two tools have a few key differences that everyone should be aware of.

For starters, they get used in different settings. Impact drivers are used on the vast majority of home improvement projects, carpentry projects, etc. Because of this, impact drivers are popular both with amateur DIYers and with professionals of all kinds.

Impact wrenches, because of their tremendous power, are only used in certain special professions. For example, they are often used in automobile body shops because their power allows them to quickly pop out or tighten the bolts and nuts used on cars and trucks.
In many ways, the power of the impact wrench can actually be detrimental to home projects. If you use an impact wrench on the wrong kind of screw (such as a very short one), there is a high chance that the screw will end up being overtightened. Some impact wrenches come with internal attachments that prevent overtightening, but they cost a lot more and are less common than regular impact wrenches.

To give you an idea of the vast power disparity between impact drivers and impact wrenches, let’s look at how much power they output.
A decent impact driver will output around 2,000 in-lbs (inch-pounds) of torque. While an impact wrench outputs over 1250 ft-lbs, which is 15000 inch-pounds of torque. That is more than 7 times the amount of power. Please note that in most cases the power of an impact driver is mentioned in inch-pounds whereas the output of an impact wrench is expressed in foot-pounds.

Who should get each kind of tool?

An impact wrench is a specialty tool. What I mean by that, is that the vast majority of people will not need it. It is the type of tool that usually sits and gathers dust until a specific situation comes up where it is needed. Because of this, I recommend that most people go for an impact driver, as opposed to an impact wrench. Both professionals and interested amateurs will get more use out of the impact driver.

The only reason I recommend getting an impact wrench is if you know that you are going to be working on a specific job that requires such a powerful tool. For example auto repair shops, maintenance of machinery, massive construction projects, etc. So, if you know that you are going to be working on some automobiles in the near future, you may want to consider investing in an impact wrench because it will make the job much easier.

Conclusion

I know that the similar names of these tools can be confusing, but I hope this article has cleared up any lingering confusion and has given you a good idea of the differences between impact drivers and impact wrenches. You should now be able to purchase the tool that meets your needs and wants.

Impact Driver: For handyman and DIY enthusiasts to do drilling and driving and driving screws into a hard material.

Impact Wrench: For removing lug nuts, stubborn bolts, automotive and industrial use.