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Cordless Drill vs. Impact Driver: What's the Difference?

A cordless drill/driver is a versatile tool that can drill holes and drive screws. It’s equipped with a keyless chuck that accepts both round- and hex-shank bits.

The cordless drill/driver (shown above) is by far the most popular portable power tool of all time, and it’s not going to lose that title anytime soon. However, cordless drills are beginning to lose ground to a relatively new type of cordless tool, the impact driver. And that’s got do-it-yourselfers everywhere asking questions: What’s the difference between a drill/driver and impact driver? How does an impact driver work? And, if I own a drill/driver why would I need an impact driver?

Here’s a quick look at the features and benefits of each tool, which will hopefully answer all your questions. And after reading this article, don’t be surprised if you decide that you must own both tools!

A cordless drill/driver is a super-versatile tool that’s designed to drill holes and drive screws. Its keyless chuck accepts a wide variety of round- and hex-shank drill bits and screw-driving bits, as well as hole saws, rotary sanders, wire-wheel brushes, and assorted other accessories. All cordless drill/drivers are also equipped with a slip clutch that allows you to adjust the amount of torque (i.e.: power) for precise, consistent screw driving.

An impact driver (shown below) looks similar to a drill/driver, but for one noticeable distinction. Instead of a keyless chuck, it has a collet that accepts hex-shanked driver bits. This tool is specially engineered to do one job: drive screws, which it does faster and easier than any other tool. And impact drivers can drive long, large fasteners—including fat lag screws—that would stall the very best drill/driver. Here’s how an impact driver works:

A cordless impact driver is specifically designed to drive screws, which it does with impressive speed, power and precision. Its spring-loaded collet accepts hex-shank bits.

The tool uses both bit rotation and concussive blows to power-drive screws through the thickest, densest woods. The result of this two-punch combination is raw, unadulterated power. In fact, impact drivers typically deliver two to three times more turning force (torque) than the average drill/driver. How powerful? During a recent tool test, one 18-volt impact driver drove an astonishing 138 three-inch lag screws on a single charge. Yet despite all its brute strength, an impact driver is extremely easy and comfortable to use because the concussive action transfers much of that high-energy reactionary torque directly to the screw, not to your wrist or forearm.

So, if you’re planning a project that requires driving a ton of screws, or a lot of very large or long screws, then consider an impact driver. For example, impact drivers are ideal for building decks, installing tile backerboard, and screwing down plywood subfloors. Note that an impact driver does not have a slip clutch, but the concussive action allows you to drive screws with great control and precision.

Cordless drill/drivers might be slightly less proficient at driving screws, but they can drill virtually any size hole, so they’re more versatile than impact drivers. However, the gap between these two useful tools might be closing. Some manufacturers now offer drill chucks and other hole-drilling accessories for use in an impact driver.

And you can save money by buying a combo kit, which contains a drill/driver, impact driver, two batteries, a battery charger, and carrying case.

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