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Like a power drill, an impact driver is a handheld tool primarily used to drive screws. Compared to a power drill, however, an impact driver has considerably more rotational force, which is produced in extremely quick bursts—up to 50 times per second—creating a very powerful torque capable of driving even large screws and other fasteners into hard materials quickly and easily.
Another difference between power drills and impact drivers is that the latter doesn’t have a chuck; instead, impact drivers have quick-release shanks that fit all ¼-inch hex driver bits.
While a power drill is sufficient for simple around-the-house tasks, if you are facing a project that involves a large quantity of wood screws—building a deck, assembling a child’s swing set, or erecting a fence, for example—you’ll appreciate the power, ease, and lighter weight of an impact driver over a power drill.
Here, the best impact drivers for your next DIY project.
Best Overall: DEWALT 20-Volt Max Variable Speed Impact Driver
The best impact driver does not need to be the most expensive or complicated. In fact, many top-tier options come with a no-frills approach since the driver and a battery is really all you need. The top pick for this list takes just that approach with the addition of a handy charging station to keep the driver going as long as you need it for any indoor or outdoor job you can imagine.
The DEWALT DCF885C1 impact driver is a great option for anyone looking for a first-time or replacement power fastener. Coming with an independent charging station and the standard ¼-inch hex shank, this driver is small enough to fit into tight spaces without sacrificing on the power and torque—up to 1,400 inch-pounds—it can produce. The driver head also includes three LED lights for illuminating the space you are working on.
Best Budget: Milwaukee 12-Volt Impact Driver
If you can live without a large amount of torque and power, a budget impact driver makes a great first time power fastener or a quick replacement for an existing one. In general, this price point has many impact drivers that are quite capable at basic projects that require a good amount of torque but can do without the maximum amount possible (meaning the average DIYer).
The Milwaukee 2462-20 embodies the “small but mighty” adage with a 12-volt power supply and a maximum of 1,000 inch-pounds of torque and 2,500 rpm of speed. The small size of the driver makes it easy to carry it around on large job sites where the ambidextrous belt clip will keep the power tool close to you at all times. To monitor the power level of the driver, a handy LED power level meter is accessible on the side any time you want.
Best Multi-Piece Kit: Makita XDT131 18-Volt Impact Driver Kit
Many people forget that the impact driver is just a part of the equation. While many impact drivers and drills can share different types of bits, having a dedicated set just for the impact driver can save time. This will allow you to find the bit you are looking for without having to rummage around a central supply or lose bits when using the same ones with a drill.
For anyone starting from scratch with a new impact driver, the Makita XDT131 Kit will give you everything you need to handle most fasteners. The 18-volt impact driver delivers up to 1,500 inch-pounds of torque, has two speed settings, and comes with one of Makita’s interchangeable batteries and charging stations. But the real magic of this kit comes in the form of the 50-piece driver set that includes a magnetic insert holder and a variety of bits for most types of fasteners.
Best Small: Milwaukee M12 12-Volt Impact Driver
The one drawback of many more-powerful impact drivers is the size. Even though they can be smaller than a typical drill, many heavy-duty impact drivers are still tough to wield in cramped or tight spaces. Trading a little bit of power for a smaller footprint, however, makes most lower-powered impact drivers perfect for jobs where fasteners are placed in less-than-ideal spots. But the Milwaukee M12 impact driver goes a little further with a different approach than the rest.
The Milwaukee M12 has a unique design that makes it much easier to work in tight or awkward spaces. Using a right-angled head, rather than the typical straight-angled design, this impact driver allows you to get past obstacles and into cramped areas more readily than standard options. Other than the right-angle bend in the head, however, the power tool is a typical impact driver capable of delivering up to 600 inch-pounds of torque for secure fastening.
Best Multi-Tool: BLACK+DECKER BDCDMT120IA 20-Volt Max Drill/Impact Combo Driver
Any tool you can buy that will save you time and effort is a smart purchase. This is why multi-tools capable of handling different tasks are so popular. While most impact drivers tend to be single-use tools, BLACK+DECKER has taken the approach of offering more with its Matrix Quick Connect System. This next product is their platform for making one tool do several different things almost at once.
The BLACK+DECKER BDCDMT120IA multi-tool takes a different approach than typical combo kits. Instead of including a separate impact driver and drill, this power tool has a swappable attachment system that fits on the same base. The impact driver is capable of delivering 1,300 inch-pounds of torque and up to 800 rpm of speed. In addition to the driver and drill attachments, BLACK+DECKER also sells other attachments such as an orbital sander and jigsaw in its expansive Matrix Quick Connect System.
Best Combo Kit: BLACK+DECKER BD2KITCDDI 20-Volt Max Drill/Impact Combo Kit
Since drills and impact drivers can go hand-in-hand on most projects, it makes sense to keep both around in a well-equipped tool box. Recognizing this, many manufacturers offer great combo kits that come with both a drill and impact driver. Often using the same battery and charging station, these kits are a great value purchase for anyone wanting to cover their fastening needs for any project.
The BLACK+DECKER Drill/Impact Combo Kit is not only a great combination kit that includes an impact driver and drill, it is also one of the most affordable options around. For the great price, you will get a 20-volt impact driver capable of delivering around 1,375 inch-pounds of torque.
Both the driver and the drill use the same BLACK+DECKER battery that is compatible with most other cordless power tools in the lineup.
Best Tool-Only: Ryobi ONE+ 3-Speed Impact Driver
It can come as a surprise that while most impact drivers come with a battery, some manufacturers leave them out. These tool-only options are meant for customers who already have the company’s interchangeable batteries for other power tools and only need the tool itself. As a result, a battery-less impact driver is the best way to save money on something you already have.
The Ryobi ONE+ is all about efficiency and speed when it comes to getting things fastened securely. Using Ryobi’s popular 18-volt batteries that power the companies 80+ power tool line, the impact driver can handle most fastening tasks with ease. It has a maximum of 2,000 inch-pounds of torque and top speed of 3,100 rpm. The ¼-inch quick-connect hex shank holds most driver bits securely while a magnetic tray holder provides a space to keep spare bits when not in use.
Best Compact Combo Kit: DEWALT DCK240C2 20-Volt Max Combo Kit
The DEWALT DCK240C2 combo kit gives you the best of DEWALT’s power tool line. With a drill and impact driver, the kit will cover most fastening needs you may have at home or out on the job site. Both devices offer a comfortable grip due to the ergonomically designed handles and are compatible with most ¼-inch hex shanks. The included charger will recharge the 20-volt battery in a couple hours as well.
Both tools are reasonably compact in size, making them perfect for situations where fasteners are difficult to reach or you don't have a lot of room to maneuver. The included impact driver provides up to 1,700 inch-pounds of torque and two speed settings. The set includes two 20-volt batteries, as well as a charger and handy carrying bag.
The DEWALT DCF885C1 impact driver (view at Amazon) wins top marks thanks to its compact design that makes it easy to work in even tight spots, its independent charging station for quick recharges whenever necessary, the three built-in LED worklights, and the reliable power and torque. But if budget is a concern, you’ll find that the Milwaukee 2462-20 (view at Amazon) has enough power to get most simple DIY tasks done, and comes at a very reasonable price.
What to Look for in an Impact Driver
While there are corded impact drivers, they are rarely used in the DIY setting. Being free of a cord means you can easily work your way down a row of screws while tackling a large project, such as erecting a fence or building a deck. Cordless impact drivers run off batteries—usually lithium-ion—and the three common power capacities are 12-volt, 18-volt, and 20-volt.
Twelve-volt impact drivers are compact and lightweight, making them easy to tote along while you work. They have enough power to drive average-sized screws into soft to mid-weight wood, making them a fine choice if you only expect to use the tool for small projects around the house, such as putting together a swing set.
Eighteen-volt impact drivers are a little larger and heavier, but also have more power, making them the better choice for projects that require large screws or involve hard wood. If you take DIY seriously, you’ll find an 18-volt impact driver is the most versatile choice.
Twenty-volt impact drivers are the big boys; these heavy-duty tools don’t hesitate at driving even oversize screws into the hardest wood over and over again. While it’s most often contractors that choose these powerful—and more expensive—impact drivers, they might be the right choice for a DIYer tackling a very large project, such as adding a room to the home or building a large deck.
Torque and Impact
Impact drivers are all about torque, which is a measurement—usually stated in inch-pounds—of the tool’s turning power. As a general rule, the more battery power, the more torque, which is why 18- or 20-volt tools handle harder wood much more easily than a 12-volt impact driver.
A lightweight 12-volt impact driver might deliver as little as 800 inch-pounds of torque, while a 20-volt beast might have a top capacity of more than 2,000 inch-pounds of torque. For most typical DIY tasks, however, the lower-to-midpoint of that range is sufficient.
Another important number is the rate at which the impact driver delivers an extra “blow” of power during use. This is measured in impacts per minute (ipm). Note that the manufacturer’s stated ipm is the tool’s “no load” ipm, meaning what it delivers when run in the air, not actually driving a screw. Lower-powered impact drivers generally deliver around 2,000 ipm, while more powerful tools might boast as much as 3,700 ipm.
Another important measurement is the impact driver’s rpm, or rotations per minute, referring to the speed at which the bit turns. Obviously, the faster the rpm, the quicker you’ll get the job done, but keep in mind that going too fast can strip screws or damage the wood. You’ll also find that as torque increases, speed decreases. Still, as a general rule, most higher-end impact drivers today have multiple settings for rpm; usually the lowest setting delivers 600 to 800 rpm, the middle setting up to 1,800 to 2,000 rpm, and the highest setting up to 3,000 or more rpm. Note that this number is usually the tool’s “no load” capacity, meaning the maximum it can deliver when running in the air, not actually driving a screw.
How does an impact driver work?
Unlike drill/drivers, which apply torque at a steady rate, impact drivers provide extremely rapid bursts of impact—something like a hammer blow—to their torque, creating a very powerful turning force far beyond what a regular drill is capable of. To achieve this, an impact driver contains a spring, a “hammer,” and an anvil. As the motor spins the shaft, the spring compresses and then releases with great force—imagine using your hands to squeeze a large spring together and then abruptly letting it go—striking the hammer which then strikes the anvil. This happens very quickly, typically more than 50 times per second, adding bursts of impact to the torque.
Do impact drivers require special bits?
While bits for impact drivers resemble the bits used in a regular power drill, they are not the same. And although it is safe to use an impact-driver bit in your handheld drill, it is NOT safe to use your regular drill bits in your impact driver.
Impact-driver bits have to withstand the tremendous torque of the tool. Because of this, they are made of metal with a bit more flexibility than regular bits, which are prone to shattering if used in an impact driver. Impact-driver bits also have a slightly narrower shaft than regular bits, and the end of an impact-driver bit is hexagonal in shape, unlike the rounded end of most regular bits.
Do impact drivers have torque settings?
You might be surprised to learn that a tool that’s all about torque doesn’t actually have a setting allowing you to set the torque level, but that’s the reality of impact drivers. Unlike many drill/drivers, which often do have torque settings, impact drivers are mostly an all-or-nothing tool. That’s why they are best saved for projects requiring considerable force to drive screws through hard materials, or for jobs where the high speed of these powerful tools will come in handy.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article was written by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs.