Impact Driver vs. Impact Wrench

Updated
Categories Drills
Impact Driver or Impact Wrench? Know the Difference.

Impact drivers and impact wrenches are professional construction workers’, mechanics’, and DIY enthusiasts’ dreams come true. They fasten, wrench, drill, and remove rusted nuts and bolts.

Anything that requires force, these tools deliver. However, there are differences between the two. So we examine what sets them apart in this impact driver vs. impact wrench rundown.

Impact driver or Impact Wrench

Impact drivers are lighter, smaller, and easier to use. They are more versatile, adapting to drilling and driving. Impact wrenches are heavy-duty tools, favored by the heavy-construction industry, production line assembly, and mechanics.


Quick Comparison Chart

Key FeaturesImpact DriverImpact Wrench
Cost$$$$$
Average weight3.5 pounds6 pounds
Power sourceElectric, batteryCompressed air, electric
Chuck type0.25-inch Hexagonal socket0.50-inch square shaft
Average RPM3,0002,000
Average torque1,500 to 2,000 in-lbs2,200 t0 3,000 in-lbs
Best forDrilling and driving screwsLoosening/tightening lugs and heavy bolts
Likely userHomeowner, DIY enthusiast, constructionMechanics, production lines, professionals, large construction

What Is an Impact Driver?

Photo by: Dewalt

An impact driver has more torque than a drill, but less than an impact wrench, and was once considered a specialty tool. They have grown in popularity and are readily found in toolboxes up and down the country.

It’s the torque that makes these tools stand out. They aren’t as powerful as impact wrenches, but they sure make light work of most drilling and driving tasks.

Impact drivers differ from impact wrenches in a couple of ways. First, they are smaller and lighter. Second, they have a 0.25-inch hexagonal socket for drivers and drill bits. They are less powerful than wrenches, but that’s okay because you would never need all that power for day to day household tasks. It would be like slicing a sandwich with a machete.

Impact drivers are packed with sophisticated features, including brushless motors and keyless chucks. They also tend to have adjustable or electronic clutches to manage the distribution of the power.

When to Use an Impact Drill

Impact drills make round holes in hard surfaces. They also drive longer and wider screws and fasteners into wood with ease. If you were to try and drive these screws with a standard drill, your hand would suffer fatigue reasonably quickly, and the task would take twice as long.

You can adapt your impact driver to take 0.50-inch socket attachments, which enables you to use it as a type of wrench. This is ideal for removing lug nuts when you are changing a wheel on your car. Because the driver produces a high torque value, it would be a breeze to remove rusted nuts and bolts.

Using Impact Drivers

Impact drivers are smaller, lighter, and far better suited to working in confined spaces. You should choose an impact driver when tackling general household repairs and home improvement projects.
PROS:
  • High torque.
  • Powerful.
  • Compact.
  • Lightweight.
  • Drills holes.
  • Drives screws.
  • Less recoil.
CONS:
  • Limited attachment.
  • Less power than a wrench.
  • Hexagonal chuck.
  • Lack of torque control.
  • Not cheap.

What Is an Impact Wrench?

Photo by: Dewalt

Impact wrenches have been around for a long time. Since it was invented by Chicago Pneumatic over a century ago, it has had several names, from rattle guns, impact guns, air wrench, and air guns (1).

The impact wrench is a specialist tool, typically found in mechanics workshops and repair garages up and down the country. They are either powered using electricity or compressed air.

Impact wrenches are excellent for removing over-torqued nuts and bolts that have rusted and set. Therefore, they’re handy to have when you are undertaking a larger project that requires a lot of loosening and tightening of bolts.

Impact wrenches are heavier and more cumbersome than impact drivers. They also produce higher torque levels, making them extremely powerful. However, these tools are far from comfortable to use, so operating an impact wrench for prolonged periods will quickly wear you down.

They also differ from an impact driver because they have a square socket that takes specialist attachments.

When to Use an Impact Wrench

An impact wrench has a limited repertoire of uses. It removes rusted, over-torqued, and frozen nuts and bolts. It is unlikely that you will ever have a situation where an impact wrench is required, and for that reason, they almost entirely belong in a professional setting.

You will recognize the “brrr” sound from a trip to the repair shop. That’s an impact wrench. At 100 dB, they are a lot louder than almost every other power tool.

When Should You Not Use an Impact Wrench?

You should avoid these common mistakes when using an impact wrench:

Over Tightening Fixings

Many unskilled users would consider using an impact wrench to tighten their nuts and bolts. This causes the nut or screw to stretch and strip the thread. You could also snap the head clean off.

While impact wrenches loosen nuts and fixings, there is a temptation to use them to tighten bolts. This is risky because of the sheer power these tools have and the torque they deliver.

Also, when assembling parts on a car, over-torquing the bolts could lead to damage of the components and their mounts.

Damaging Threads

This damage occurs when you try and turn a bolt or screw, and it is cross-threaded. By applying such force, you risk irreparably damaging the fixing. Always hand-turn the bolt into the housing first to avoid this happening.

Using Incorrect Sockets

It is a common sight to see people using ordinary sockets with an impact wrench. They get confused by the fact that socket sets have square attachments and assume that they fit an impact wrench.

Using the wrong sockets will cause them to rotate in the wrench and start to slip. They struggle to withstand the cyclic force of the impact wrench, and wear out quickly.

Buying the Wrong Size Impact Wrench

If you overcompensate for the amount of power you need, you are likely going to get the wrong impact wrench. Some wrenches are so powerful, they can be challenging to control and will just tear at anything you use it for.

Consider when and how you will be using the impact wrench. Air impact wrenches are smaller but deliver 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 around the home.

PROS:
  • High torque.
  • Removes frozen bolts and fixings.
  • Ideal for mechanics.
CONS:
  • Expensive.
  • Specialist tool.
  • Limited uses.

Impact Driver vs. Impact Wrench

So, on the surface, the two tools perform similar tasks. However, that is only half the story. Impact drivers are more versatile and are useful around the home in a variety of ways. They can drive fixings and larger screws directly into wood. They can double-up as a drill, and they are ideal for removing rusted or frozen bolts and screws.

The Deal on Impact Wrenches

Impact wrenches have one primary purpose, and that’s to remove rusted and frozen nuts and bolts. This makes them the perfect tool for the repair shop and a mechanic’s best friend.

The Final Impact

If you work in heavy construction or as a mechanic, you are going to sing the benefits of an impact wrench to the rafters. It is an invaluable tool that speeds up your work rate and enables you to do your jobs effectively.

But, an impact wrench is a specialist tool and really only benefits those working in a professional setting. Alternatively, an impact driver has more general uses. It drives screws, drills holes in hard material, and it can be converted with an adaptor to remove nuts and bolts. It has less torque but still has enough punch to get the job done.

Impact drivers have a broader appeal because they are more versatile.

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.
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