Impact drivers and impact wrenches are powerful tools that are widely used by construction workers, mechanics, and DIY enthusiasts. They can be used to fasten, wrench, drill, and remove rusted nuts and bolts.
If your job requires force, these tools will deliver it. However, there are some important differences between the two types, which might not be obvious if you aren’t familiar with them.
To make sure you choose the right tool for a job, we have written an impact driver vs. impact wrench rundown. This includes looking at their power, user-friendliness, and which tool will be more suitable for specific tasks.
- Impact drivers are smaller, versatile tools for drilling, driving screws, and loosening rusted bolts and nuts.
- Impact wrenches are powerful, heavy-duty tools designed for removing rusted, overtightened, and frozen nuts and bolts, commonly used by mechanics and professionals.
- Using an impact wrench as an impact driver is possible but requires caution to avoid damaging materials or overtightening screws and fasteners.
- An affordable impact wrench option is the Campbell Hausfeld TL140200AV, offering a lightweight design and 550 ft.-lbs. of torque.
Quick Comparison Chart
|Key Features||Impact Driver||Impact Wrench|
|Average weight||3.5 pounds||6 pounds|
|Power source||Electric, battery||Compressed air, electric|
|Chuck type||0.25-inch Hexagonal socket||0.50-inch square shaft|
|Average torque||1,500 to 2,000 in-lbs||2,200 t0 3,000 in-lbs|
|Best for||Drilling and driving screws||Loosening/tightening lugs and heavy bolts|
|Likely users||Homeowners, DIY enthusiasts, construction workers||Mechanics, production lines, professionals, large construction|
What Is an Impact Driver?
An impact driver provides more torque than a drill but less than an impact wrench and was once considered a specialist tool. Since their introduction, they have steadily grown in popularity and are now standard parts of many people’s toolsets.
The torque is the standout feature of an impact driver. These tools are less powerful than impact wrenches but they should still make short work of most drilling and driving tasks.
Impact drivers differ from impact wrenches in a couple of ways. For one, they are smaller and lighter than impact wrenches. They also have 0.25-inch hexagonal sockets for drivers and drill bits. Drivers are less powerful than wrenches, but you are unlikely to need all that extra power for everyday DIY tasks.
Impact drivers usually have various sophisticated features, including brushless motors and keyless chucks. They also tend to have adjustable or electronic clutches to manage their power distribution.
When to Use an Impact Drill
Impact drills can make round holes in hard surfaces. They can also drive longer and wider screws and fasteners into wooden surfaces with ease. Trying to drive the same screws with a standard drill will take much longer and you might need to predrill holes if the surface material is too hard.
You can adapt an impact driver to accept 0.50-inch socket attachments, which will enable you to use it as a type of wrench. This is ideal for removing lug nuts when replacing a wheel on your car. As the driver produces so much torque, it will make it much easier to remove rusted nuts and bolts.
Using Impact Drivers
- High torque
- Drills holes
- Drives screws
- Less recoil
- Limited attachments
- Less powerful than a wrench
- Hexagonal chuck
- Lack of torque control
- Not cheap
What Is an Impact Wrench?
Impact wrenches have been in use for more than a century. Since they were introduced by Chicago Pneumatic, they have been known by several names, including rattle guns, impact guns, air wrenches, and air guns.
The impact wrench is a specialist tool, typically found in the workshops of mechanics and repair garages. They can be powered by electricity or compressed air.
Impact wrenches are excellent for removing overtightened nuts and bolts that have rusted. This makes them ideal for large projects that require many nuts and bolts to be loosened, such as restoring old vehicles.
Impact wrenches are heavier and more cumbersome than impact drivers. They also produce greater torque, which makes them very powerful. However, this power also means they are more intense to hold and control, so you might struggle to use one for prolonged periods.
These tools accept different accessories than impact drivers, as they have square sockets that take specialist attachments.
When to Use an Impact Wrench
An impact wrench can only be used for a limited number of tasks. It is designed to remove rusted, over-torqued, and frozen nuts and bolts. Unless you work on vehicles, you are unlikely to encounter a situation where an impact wrench is required in a non-professional setting.
If you have ever spent any time in a garage, waiting for your car to be serviced or repaired, you will probably recognize the familiar “brrr” sound. That is the noise an impact wrench makes. At about 100 dB, they are among the loudest power tools.
When Should You Not Use an Impact Wrench?
Avoid these common mistakes when using an impact wrench:
As impact wrenches are so effective at removing nuts and bolts, it can be tempting to also use an impact wrench to tighten them. However, this will almost certainly lead to overtightening, stretching the nut or screw, and stripping the thread. You might also break the head clean off.
The sheer power and torque of these tools mean you shouldn’t use them for anything other than their stated purpose. Overtightening bolts in your car won’t only damage the bolts themselves, but you could also damage parts of your car.
This damage occurs if you try to turn a bolt or screw and it is cross-threaded. When you apply force, you could damage the fixing beyond repair. Always hand-turn the bolt into the housing first to ensure it is properly aligned before tightening it.
Using Incorrect Sockets
People often use ordinary sockets with an impact wrench, which is understandable given that socket sets have square attachments and look as though they should fit. However, you shouldn’t use any attachment that doesn’t fit the tool perfectly.
Using the wrong sockets could lead to them rotating in the wrench and potentially slipping. They will struggle to withstand the forces produced by the impact wrench and wear out quickly.
Buying the Wrong Size Impact Wrench
If you overestimate the amount of power you need, you will probably end up with an impact wrench that is unnecessarily powerful. The strongest impact wrenches can be very difficult to control and you could end up doing more harm than good.
Think carefully about how you will use the impact wrench. Air impact wrenches are smaller but deliver a higher power-to-weight ratio than electric wrenches. This means they are better for working in compact spaces and for longer periods of sustained use.
However, electric wrenches are better for infrequent use as they ultimately deliver more overall power.
- High torque
- Removes frozen bolts and fixings
- Ideal for mechanics
- Specialist tool
- Too powerful for many users
Impact Driver vs. Impact Wrench
On the surface, impact drivers and impact wrenches are very similar tools. However, that isn’t the whole story. Impact drivers are more versatile and can be used for a wide range of DIY tasks. They can drive fixings and larger screws directly into wood. They can also be used as drills, which makes them ideal for removing rusted or frozen bolts and screws.
Impact wrenches are designed for one main purpose: removing rusted and frozen nuts and bolts. While they excel at this role, you are unlikely to find them suitable for any other tasks.