Powerful Yet Lightweight: The 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 the best impact drivers in 2021 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 Driver
Ingersoll Rand Series Impact Driver
Snap-On MG725L, 1/2" Long Anvil Impact Driver
Campbell Hausfeld TL140200AV, 1/2 Inch Impact Driver
Hitachi12 Volt Li-Ion Peak Impact Driver
DeWalt 12 Volt 1/4 Inch Impact Driver
Bosch 12-Volt Impact Driver
Milwaukee M12 2450-22 1/4" Hex Impact Driver
Makita 12 Volt Max Lithium-Ion Cordless Impact Driver
Milwaukee 28 Volt Lithium-Ion 1/2" Cordless 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
Best Impact Drives of 2021 Reviewed in Detail
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.
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 - Honorable Mention
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 - Best Light Duty Cordless Impact Driver
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 - Best Light Duty Cordless Impact Driver
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.
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.
An impact driver is one of the handiest and most versatile power tools. It’s ideal for both hobbyists and professionals when it comes to driving long fasteners into hard materials. In addition to deck laying and furniture building, they can be utilized in projects that include fencing, shelving, and flooring.
Impact drivers offer more torque than the usual drills and remove rounded-out heads and half-sunk screws, making jobs speedy and smooth. However, with so many models already available in the market, it could become quite challenging to pick the best one for your job. In this ultimate buying guide, we have shed light on the types of impact drivers and compiled a list of factors and features you should consider to choose the perfect fit.
What are the Different Types of Impact Drivers?
Cordless Impact Drivers
Cordless compact impact drivers can drive just about any kind of fastener you throw at them. These drivers are available in cordless designs that range from 12V to 20V. The cordless impact drivers tend to get hot when you are driving a lot of larger fasteners in rapid succession. These drivers are rated in terms of volts (V) and their battery rating is measured in amp-hour (Ah).
Corded Impact Drivers
Corded impact drivers are generally utilized in workshops and garages because they are ideal for heavy-duty jobs and projects. Since these drivers also have a better gear reduction system, they stay cooler and last longer than cordless impact drivers. Coded impact drivers are also heavier and reinforced with motors that are rated in amps (A).
What Factors Should You Consider Before Purchasing the Best Impact Driver?
Torque is the first feature you must take into account to determine the performance of an impact driver. It is the power of a tool to drive a screw into a material. The higher the torque, the more twisting force or power the impact drivers generate. An impact driver that has 800 inch-pounds of torque or twisting force is ideal for driving fasteners into a simple workshop application, while a tool with 2,000 inch-pounds of torque is suitable for driving multiple thickest fasteners into the hardest material.
It is associated with torque and the run time. Impact drivers having lower voltage ranges are compact and can be carried or handled easily without adding excess weight. However, always remember that their lower power can be a drawback as they won’t be able to match the strength of the larger impact drivers. Though the compact machines with a 12V motor can also engage in jobs beyond their abilities, it would be a good idea to use an 18V impact driver for driving thick fasteners quickly.
Speed is the most important factor of a good impact driver. There are typically two types of speeds, i.e. no-load speed and impact rate. No-load speed or rotations per minute (RPM) describes the free-spinning speed of the impact driver. On the other hand, the impact rate is stated as impacts per minute (IPM) or blows per minute (BPM), which refers to the number of times the tool strikes the fastener. Most drivers can have a maximum no-load speed of 2,500 RPM and an impact rate of around 3,000 IPM.
What Are the Features to Look For in An Impact Driver?
LED lighting the most important feature you should consider in an impact driver because it helps in increasing visibility even in dark and out-of-reach places. It also saves a lot of battery power.
If the weight of your impact driver is lighter, then it will offer you more maneuverability. It will also reduce your hand tiredness and let you utilize them in tight spaces.
This feature is extremely useful if you are using your impact driver in smaller woodwork projects like cabinet doors and windows as it can help you fine-tune the force the impact driver exerts on the fastener.
Now, the majority of impact drivers come with the battery-powered feature. The batteries of impact drivers typically come in three sizes: 12V, 18V, and 20V. So, you can get one according to your needs.
This feature helps minimize the amount of vibration the impact driver gives off. Despite having a vibration protection feature, the tool will keep vibrating quite a bit.
Easy-to-use toggle switches let you switch the action from driving to reversing in a jiffy.
Variable Speed & Reverse Function
Variable speed will assist you across different material ranges as you switch from softer to harder woods, and the reverse function will allow you to unscrew rapidly.
The Brushless Motor in your impact driver offers increased performance and a longer life cycle. It also reduces energy consumption and increases durability simultaneously.
It is important to determine the most frequent type of use or scope of your job in order to pick the right tool that will help you get through your next task. We hope you have found the most relevant information in this guide that will assist you in getting the best impact driver based on your specific requirements.
Impact Driver FAQ
Q: Do impact drivers have the option of torque settings?
A: As many other drills and drivers often have torque settings, impact drivers don’t have an option that enables you to set the torque level. They are ideal for projects that require extensive force to drive screws through hard materials.
Q: What does an Impact Driver Bit refer to?
A: An impact driver bit refers to a ¼” hex shank that comes in a range of sizes and shapes to accommodate different screw heads.
Q: How 1/4 and 1/2 impact drivers are different?
A: As the name implies, a 1/4 impact driver has a hex driver that accepts 1/4 inch bits. On the contrary, a 1/2 impact driver has a square driver that uses the larger 1/2 inch square shaft bits.