Drills vs Hammer Drills vs Impact Drivers

I have had the DeWalt Impact driver in my shop for several months now and I finally decided it was time to talk about it. Now this is my first and only impact driver, so I can’t really compare it to other brands. Instead, I decided it would be more useful to you if I discuss the differences between impact drivers, hammer drills, and regular drills. The distinctions eluded me for quite some time until I decided to do a little research and get some answers for myself. The subtle differences can be explained with a few rather simple analogies. So let’s dive in.

The Traditional Drill

You know ‘em, you love ‘em. Over the years they’ve lost their cords, shed a few pounds, and we’ve seen the addition of keyless chucks and on-board lights. But for all the new creature comforts, these drills all operate in pretty much the same fashion. They are affordable, dependable, versatile, and they are great for both drilling and driving screws. But for some special tasks, there are definitely better options out there.

The Hammer Drill

A hammer drill pretty much looks like a regular drill. In fact, you can find a number of models out there that have both a regular and a hammer setting. So what does the hammer setting actually do? Imagine while you’re drilling, someone is smacking the back of the drill with a hammer to help drive the bit further into the work. This is pretty much what is happening when you use a hammer drill, only the hammer hits are very fast and furious. This type of drill is very loud and feels like a little jackhammer in your hands. In fact, I thought the drill was broken the first time I fired one up! These drills excel at plowing through concrete and other masonry. So if you do a lot of work with masonry, this is definitely a drill that should be in your collection. From the standpoint of a shop woodworker, you won’t really have much use for a hammer drill.

The Impact Driver

The impact driver is the drill that gets all the attention these days. Its not a hammer drill and its not a regular drill. It even looks different with a smaller stubby profile and a hex socket in place of the chuck. So what’s the deal with this thing? Lets consider another analogy. Imagine you have a pair of vise grips attached to the shank of your drill bit. Now instead of someone just whacking the back of the drill, they are also hitting the wrench to spin the bit. This results in a significant increase in torque and better control.It also means you are much less likely to strip screw heads and you can drive very long screws with little effort. The drill truly is doing all the work and the impact action kicks in automatically when its needed. The drawback here is that you don’t always know when its going to kick in. So it might be risky to use this drill on your fancy brass hardware. But if you are driving screws for cabinet installs, general construction or DIY projects, this drill is amazing. It should be noted that we aren’t too far off from seeing models that allow you to turn the impact feature on and off. In fact, Bosch will have this feature in some of their new impact drivers. Check out this Tool Monger Preview for more info on that.

So let’s discuss the impact driver a little more and go over my experiences with the DeWalt unit. As a fine woodworker, I don’t see myself needing anything other than a good old fashioned drill. But if I were doing a lot of on-site cabinet installs, I would consider the impact driver absolutely essential. And as a homeowner and DIY’er, an impact driver really makes life easier. I’ve been doing a lot of shop upgrades lately, including hanging new florescent lights and installing my ClearVue cyclone, and the impact driver has been worth its weight in gold. Just for fun, I recorded myself attaching a support plate to the wall. I am driving a 3″ long Spax screw through a 3/4″ piece of ply, through the drywall and into the stud. I did this with one hand, on a ladder, while filming with my phone in my other hand. As you can see, it took very little effort. The video is a little loud so turn your speakers down. Now one last thing you should know about impact drivers is that they only work with bits that have a hex shaft. Most of my bits do, so it wasn’t much of an issue for me.

As someone who does a lot more than just woodworking, the DeWalt impact driver has found a permanent home in my collection. And frankly, the darn thing is so fun to use, it puts a smile on my face every time I pick it up.

When I first got the impact driver, I started a thread in the Community and thought some of you may be interesting in reading the comments and opinions: check it out! So do you own an impact driver? How often do you use it? And if you could have only one drill, which type would you buy?

Categories: Reviews, Tools


  1. Mark Williams December 20, 2009


    So now I see the utility of the impact driver. I may have to pick on up, however my only drill right now is a NICAD Hammer drill that is the previous model to the one you have displayed. It works well and has plenty of power but is way to heavy for both Woodworking and most DIY projects. Also, when you are drilling three in spax or deck mates in between studs it is do large and you have to drill them at an angle other then 90 degress so the integrity of your DIY project is decreased. When woodworking, the weight is to great and if you are not very careful it shifts the screws slightly throwing them out of square. So I think I may be getting a new 12 voilt Lithium Ion Milwaukee that was rated high in pop wood working or fine wood working can not remember which! So if I get that I will be picking up an impact driver next. I will then sell the hammer beast on craigslist!

    • Jen December 20, 2009

      The M12? That’s a great drill. Out of the box of drills I have, that one is my favorite.

      • joey November 8, 2010

        i own the milwaukee M12 1/4 inch impact driver and let me tell you, this thing is excellent! it weighs less than 3 pounds. if you are short like me (5′ 7″) and you need to be reaching upwards with your arm to drill holes/screws (or reaching on a ladder), you can hold your arm up with this tool in your hand and not have it feel like 100 pounds with a handle when you are done with every use. it is also very small yet so very strong. 850 inch pounds of torque (right in between 70 and 71 foot pounds). i know there are regular drills 18 volt power with more inch pounds/foot pounds of torque but the impact action of the m12 will eat through materials while the 18 volt (higher torque) drill will spin and strip your screw. as stated in the original review posting, if you use the m12 impact driver, or any impact driver, you really need to have touch and skill to not drive too deep and ruin a piece. cabinet installs and other mounting applications with an impact saves you from extra fatigue and some cuss words you’d use with a regular or hammer drill when it fails to perform how you’d want it to. the only bad thing i have to say about the m12 line of tools is that they have a regular lithium ion battery which is great, and then, they have an extended 2x life battery upgrade which looks like the battery in the dewalt impact in the video above. 2x life is great, but the changed design makes getting into tighter places just as hard as it would be with a regular drill. so if you are going to be using an impact for, lets say, securing galvanized fence bolts the 2x battery wouldn’t get in the way and would last a long time. if you need to get into a really tight place in between things to drill the regular Li-ion battery would be your best bet. i use my impact driver to make pilot holes drive 3 inch and longer screws into hardwoods (oak cherry maple). as for the hex shapes receiver on the tool, if you have regular “round” drill bits you can buy a 1/4 inch shank 3/8 inch ready clutch head that will accept all your round bits. as long as it has a 1/4 inch hex shank (don’t have to be same brand) it will fit the 1/4 inch hex shank on the tool….MAKE SURE THAT YOU USE IMPACT READY ACCESSORIES EVERY TIME YOU USE AN IMPACT DRIVER. that also will save you money on re-buying bits/materials you just broke and again save you from those nasty cuss words we all use when we break things. DEWALT MILWAUKEE HITACHI MAKITA BOSCH all make impact ready bits if you prefer brand matching everything you own. *tip* if you use an impact on brass – it’s best used to remove a screw or bolt. drilling holes/screws into brass with an impact is like a choo-choo train going through “finish line” tape. way too much power…step down do a traditional styled drill.

  2. Yazheirx December 20, 2009

    I picked up the DeWalt 18v XRP impact driver two or three years a go as I was working on my basement. I have to agree with the comments I see over and over on forums; I wish I would have picked it up sooner.

    One thing that you should remember is that an impact driver is not meant to be used as a variable speed drill, even though it is capable of it. Use of the impact device at slower speeds can over tax the impact clutch and cause premature ware.

    I only use mine for construction and installation to ensure I am never tempted to use variable speed.

  3. spamfilterman December 20, 2009

    I got the Makita li-ion set of cordless tools a couple years ago… love them.
    Like you said, the impact driver is the best tool for driving 3″ screws into studs. I did just that a couple weeks ago when making shelves in my garage.
    I would not use the impact driver for finesse work. It’s just too strong.

  4. That’s some mighty fine explainin’ there, I remember that metaphor from an ealier discussion, about hitting the drill with a hammer… it was a Eureka moment then, and as my brain is a leaky old thing and I’d almost forgotten by now, it’s a Eureka moment again…so, Eureka! Now I get it! (again) B-)

  5. Dean December 20, 2009

    Nice explanation Marc. I wasn’t really clear on the value of an impact driver until I read your write up and watched the demo video. I think one of these would be useful, however I think, as you’ve already mentioned, that doing fine woodworking requires only a standard drill. I think an impact driver would be a second tool as the need arises.

    I would wait for the newer impact drivers you mentioned that will allow turning the feature on or off. This might allow the ownership of only one driver/drill. Those who only have round shank drill bits will have to purchase an adapter chuck with a hex shank or purchase bits with the hex shank. It will be interesting to read the reviews when they are released for sale.

  6. Chris (http://tool-rank.com) December 20, 2009

    You mentioned the new Bosch model that allows users to turn off the impact setting, I would like to add that Makita also has an impact with those features, Model BTP140.

    I have no affiliation with either company, I just want to point out all available options.

  7. Germain December 20, 2009

    OK. I think I now get it. The action of this impact driver is similar to pneumatic impact drivers used for automobile lug nuts.

    • Trey January 26, 2010

      I have the makita LXT impact driver. I got the 1.4″hex to 3/8″square drive adapter and I use it to remove the lug nuts on my truck. They really have a lot of power in a small package.. (I use a torque wrench to put the lugs back on though)
      Because of this power, I would recomend NOT using it in MDF or partical board. I will just make a mess if you are not really careful

  8. Jason December 20, 2009

    I love my Bosch PS40. It’s small and has plenty of power for almost anything I do. I even have a chuck I can put in so I can use normal drill bits. The battery lasts a really long time. On the negative side of impact drills, they are quite loud and can break screw bits if you’re screwing into something hard

  9. Dan Drabek December 20, 2009

    Having only used a “traditional” drill, I don’t quite understand.

    Can you use a hammer drill for driving screws, or only drilling holes?
    Can you use an impact driver for drilling holes or only driving screws?


      thewoodwhisperer December 20, 2009

      You can use both for driving screws and drilling, but the way they do the job is different.

  10. Dave Odekirk December 20, 2009

    After watching the crew of “Holmes on Homes” use impact drivers I went out and bought one first chance I had. I wouldn’t think of driving a screw into a 2×4 without it. I do still use my cordless drill now and then for short screws, but the long ones find me getting out the other box. I bought a hammer drill for drilling into concrete but have never used it yet. I also bought a set of impact ready bits after the driver cracked some cheaper ones. I see DW has some impact ready hole saws. Hmm, I wonder if I need one?

  11. This is great advice. I own a makita impact driver and it works great for any car repair work I do. I use it mostly to remove and install small covers or brackets. I have never used it in a woodworking application though, and I can’t really think of a reason to use it in the shop.

  12. mark williams December 21, 2009


    I was wondering, what is the criteria you use when testing a tool? Just curious what you look for, is there a list you develop for each tool category before you use it? Or is it more, youuse it for awhile and see how you like it?

    Just wondering!


      thewoodwhisperer December 21, 2009

      Hey Mark. You will frequently see me say things like, “I am not a professional reviewer”. The reason is because I don’t typically have any pre-determined criteria and I don’t have access to enough of the comparable tools to do a comparative analysis.

      So all of my “reviews” are based simply on my experiences and the tools I have available. But even without the formalities, I can still give my readers/viewers a summary of how the tool works, and whether it will be suitable for their purposes. In my opinion, this no BS approach can sometimes be more helpful than a big chart of comparative data.

      • Mark Williams December 21, 2009

        Agreed, I always rely on your reviews and advice, i.e. RUN don’t walk from that planer/jointer combo. :-) I was more wondering what your process is because you seem to always have a method to your “madness.” Honestly I don’t want a professional reviewers advice, I want a professional woodworkers advice……

  13. John Verreault December 21, 2009

    One bit about bits you forgot… for most cases it won’t matter but, if you are using regular bits, not ones specifically designed for impact use (DeWalt makes Impact-Ready bits), then be prepared to snap one or two off when you hit something a bit tougher than the usual softwood or hardwood planks. The impact torque literally can make excellent steel bits look like they are made of white metal. By the way, the bit set for sale in the USA from DeWalt only seems to have Phillips bits but the one in Canada has a mix of Phillips and Robertson (square head) bits. Just FYI.

  14. Rob in Roseville December 21, 2009

    I just finished using my makita impact driver to drive 5/16 lag screws into old dry douglas fir 2/4s. I used pilot holes to avoid splitting and get the screws in. With out the impact driver i would not have been able to drive thoes screws. It is really hard to drive nails into old DF without a pilot hole. The impact driver is powerful, light, compact. It is an amazing tool. The lithium ion batteries last a long time and charge quick.

  15. John Daugherty December 21, 2009

    I’ve got a 14.4 makita and really like it. One thing I really like is it’s compact size. I can get into tight spaces that my conventional drill won’t fit.

  16. Mike December 21, 2009

    Marc I enjoy the reviews, you could upgrade to “semi-pro reviewer”

    I also need to pick one up!

  17. Dyami Plotke December 21, 2009

    I own 4 impact drivers (all cordless) and 6 drills (4 cordless, 2 corded). I’d say that for a woodworker, a combination of 18 and 12 volt Li-Ion should cover all their bases. Start doing any DIY, and the impact driver becomes a must have.

    As you’re using the 18 volt DeWalt, I’d recommend you try out a 12 volt Li-Ion impact driver. You’ll find it weighs almost nothing and has more torque than an 18 volt drill.

  18. Doug McPherson December 22, 2009

    Good reivew and comments all.

  19. nateswoodworks December 26, 2009

    Marc, another honest and open-minded review unlike some of the magazines that tend to tell you that every woodworker needs one of everything that is being sold and that you need to buy from their biggest sponsor!! Thanks again for being a straight shooter.

  20. Well, I know what I’m adding to my wishlist now. I NEED an impact driver.

  21. Toby December 27, 2009

    Hey Marc, I didn’t read all the comments but did anybody mention the value of really good quality bits with the impact driver?
    I’ve been using the 18V Lion Makita impact driver for the last two years and it just rocks, It gets used pretty much everyday and I pick it over four other hammer/drill drivers that are to hand.
    Anyway, back to the bits; having had normal bits shatter and fly off in all directions, I feel this is quite important: BUY GOOD BITS, I mean the diamond ones especially designed for impact drivers, they last way way longer and you’re less likely to lose an eye…realistically who wares glasses for every screw they put in the wall.
    To anybody out there wondering whether it’s the right choice when they come to upgrade their drill driver then all I can say is: – “do it”! You wont regret it. It doesn’t replace a hammer drill but does just about anything else.

  22. nateswoodworks December 30, 2009

    Toby thanks for the heads up, never had one and never would have thought of that. Good info to keep in mind, is that something that they at least put in the manual-not that we ever read them.

  23. Kent January 1, 2010

    I bought a Bosch 18V Litheon combo drill and impact driver for my Dad for Christmas this year. I bought it thinking that the impact driver was a hammer drill because we plan on using it to mount paneling around an interior chimney. However, when we opened the case we quickly realized that it was not a hammer drill capable of accepting normal masonry bits. Your website clarified the differences between the two tools. However, a few questions remain. Can an impact driver be used to drill through concrete or brick/mortar? What about driving masonry screws directly into masonry with an impact driver? Finally, are there masonry drill bits with 1/4″ hex mounts for use in impact drivers?

      thewoodwhisperer January 1, 2010

      Hey Kent. You should be able to use an impact driver for masonry, assuming you have compatible bits. And if you have something like Tap Con screws, you should have no problem driving those puppies into masonry.

      Now I know they make masonry bits with the hex shank, but I am not 100% if they are impact-ready. Maybe someone else can chime in on that. I have to imagine there are impact-ready masonry bits available.

      • Toby January 2, 2010

        Hey there, I’m not sure about 1/4″ shank impact ready masonry drill bits (what a mouthful!) but a word of warning; I’ve found that the impact driver isn’t the best when you need to drill precise holes, the 1/4″ bit holder collet thing just doesn’t have as firm a grip on the bit as a normal chuck has and so the holes seem a little wobbly. Can’t beat the impact driver for pushing screws in but I very rarely use it for drilling holes.

      • John Verreault (aka Johnny Vee) January 7, 2010

        Just a note on bits of any sort used with an impact driver. As I mentioned in my comment further up this thread (Dec. 21), you will need impact-ready bits or they will snap off ESPECIALLY when used on TapCon screws going into concrete or any masonary… that is how I discovered the problem. DeWalt makes them and I think Bosch may also have a few out.
        Just FYI.

  24. Clay Hanson January 22, 2010

    I got the DeWalt Impact Driver for a BDay gift two years ago. It is an amazing tool. So small, so much power. Last summer I helped build a deck. The contractor I was working with just had a regular cordless drill. He was having to change batteries left and right. Long deck screws kill old batteries. It was a totally different story with my driver. I was flyin through screws. Battery lasted the entire job. Impact driver + square bit = Magic! The contractor couldn’t believe how fast I was going. The next day he had a nice new addition to his tool collection. I asked him about it and he said he thought the impact feature was just a gimmick. But after my little demo, he had to go pick one up.

    The only down side is the fact that you dont know when the impact feature is going to kick in. I have striped many screws trying to get this amazing tool to work in every situation. Still one of my best tools.

  25. JohnathanStover March 14, 2010

    Hey I use the same dewalt impact gun. I lived in north dakota and took a job with a guy doing remodeling and construction. I worked that job for 3 years and put up countless tin roofs with this gun and it still holds a charge like I bought it yesterday. I switch batteries about once every 2 months it holds a charge that long not even kidding.I have driven so many screws with this gun it is not even funny. It has even been dropped off a few roofs and its hit concrete from falling of my work bench at least 5 times. Although it does have some nicks and dings in it still runs and drive screws like brand new.

  26. Walter_Lars April 4, 2010

    cordless drill are better for drilling holes but for driving screws or lags
    Impact drivers all the way

  27. Chad Tennant April 16, 2010

    I am looking to buy one of these impact drivers….

    since most of the work will be done in the shop….

    should I get a 12volt or 18 volt version?

      thewoodwhisperer April 16, 2010

      Hard to say. What are you going to be doing with it?

    • Trey April 17, 2010

      It really depends on what you are doing with the impact driver. I have a Makita LXT impact driver and I can take the lug nuts off my truck with it. But it KILLS my shoulders when driving in drywall screws into a new ceiling all day. It

  28. Doug Clark May 27, 2010

    This thread is getting older but I couldn’t resist adding a +1 regarding impact drivers and I can personally relate to the sheer joy of the DeWalt impact driver.

    I first came across impact drivers while building a very large slot car track for work. A couple of construction workers from our City construction crew were asked to provide me with tools. Initially I had requested a drill figuring it would suit me best. After all a standard drill was all I had ever used to that point and so I didn’t realize what an impact driver even was. Shortly into the project, I found my drill missing one day because the crew was running short and had commandeered it. Instead I was provided with an impact driver instead. WOW! It was a revelation! As they say, you don’t know what you don’t know, until you know. I never looked back. The drill was relegated to countersinking and large boring, all screws however were driven with the new DeWalt impact driver that I purchased almost immediately after using the one loaned to me. It is now officially the one cordless tool I can’t do without.

    As for the selection of the DeWalt 18v Li-ion. I actually took the time to shop around. I specifically had my eye on the comparable Makita, which I thought was better looking and would have insured that my own tools didn’t get mixed up with the crew’s construction tools. However, it really is true that you should try out tools, because after trying things out I realized that the DeWalt felt much better in my hands. And since I was using the tool for long periods of time, I should probably use the one that was going to be more comfortable during long hauls. I still love the look of the Makitas and they even have outscored the DeWalt in many reviews, so I would certainly never dissuade someone from checking them out. I also would never pressure someone to get DeWalt, just because I like it, but I would always strongly encourage everyone to try for yourself and make a decision based on experience, as much as possible.

  29. Gary July 14, 2010

    I appreciate the tips and insight when it comes to the best use for each tool. I had been thinking that an impack driver was going to make my life easier in my woodworking and was in the market. I now think I can use the money elsewhere and hold off – I think one day I will still buy one but may wait until there are several choices out there that let you turn off the impact function when it is not needed.

  30. Trey July 14, 2010

    Makita makes such a tool. It is the 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Hybrid? 4-Function Impact-Hammer-Driver-Drill Kit Model: BTP140 The three major problems I see with it though is its almost four pounds. I know it doesn?t sound that bad, but let me know how your shoulder feels after 4000 drywall screws in the ceiling! Second issue, it requires either 1/4 inch hex drill bits, or a chuck adapter. This is not a big deal, but can become a hassle if you have a nice drill bit collection already. Third, I will often pilot drill, then screw. This can be done with one tool, but requires some fiddling around to change bits. When Im on a ladder, holding something over my head with one hand, the last thing I want to do is try a one handed bit change. With the tool hooks on my drill and driver, I can just hang them both, drill the hole, holster the drill, pick up the driver without looking, all one handed. This is often faster than bit changes. This is also when the smaller 10/12 volt compact drills/drivers come in handy.
    Also, with the all in ones, if your tool fails, you are SOL. With a drill and a driver you can still move forward with one of them.
    The all in one is lighter than the Makita drill, heavier than their impact driver. I am inclined to get a 10/12 volt drill too though. For most tasks like 1/8 or 1/4 inch holes usually don?t need a 450-560 in-lb drill. The big drills are still needed for those 1? holes though.
    The same goes for screws. The impact driver is great, but watch out in MDF, the screw just becomes a drill bit with that torque. Then in the harder wood, you could snap off the heads. I?ve also found Philips head screw bits are very sensitive to high torque in hard materials. The screws will strip out or the bit snaps.(I know the Philips interface is actually designed to cam out under torque to avoid over tightening, hence pozi drive to overcome this) I tried Milwaukee?s new shockwave bits. They don?t seem to break as easily, but tend to round off the bits. Maybe a softer metal to accept the impacting? Anyone try the Dewalt Impact ready Philips bits? I am also wondering about those Kobalt impact bits from Lowes.. Yes, they are cheaper, but how do they stand up compared to the Shockwaves and Impact Ready bits?

  31. DC July 19, 2010

    I dont own a variable speed impact driver but i have always wondered if its necessary??? Does anyone own one like the Makita BTD144 or something similar and could comment on whether or not it is necessary in most applications to be able to adjust the speed of the driver?

  32. Matthew August 11, 2010

    Makita has a nice kit for around $280 that includes a regular drill and an impact driver… I think that I might just have to pick it up

  33. Tango September 5, 2010

    Thanks! I was wondering abou the differences between the hammer and impact. Great explanation!

  34. PoorMarcus September 29, 2010

    Thanks for that. I was a little embarrassed to ask at the hardware store. And the other articles on the web did not quite cut it.
    You explained it perfectly

  35. Barry Cartwright November 22, 2010

    The carpenter working on some home improvements to my home was using a 3 year old 12V Milwaukee impact driver and it impressed me greatly.
    I bought a model #2450-20 12V Milwaukee impact driver kit from Home Depot for $155 Cdn which is the best electric screwdriver I have ever owned. Check this drill out. Fantastic and priced right.

  36. liverpool December 8, 2010

    My regular BD cordless drill just bit the dirt after 5 years. I use it to drill holes into brick work and concrete to hold metal signs and sign cabinets on the exterior of buildings.

    I’m told I should invest in a driver or hammer cordless drill. I would appreciate any input.

  37. Trey December 9, 2010

    What size holes are you drilling in this brick and concrete? I have a Makita LXT Model: BDF451 drill with the hammer drill function on it. Let me tell you, that?s all it is. A drill with hammering as an optional function. Honestly, I think its only for bragging rights on the spec sheet but not intended for heavy use. I tried to drill some half inch dia x 4 inch deep holes with it. After the third hole, the gear box was trash and the brush housing was a melted goo. Amazingly, Makita warrantied the drill and completely rebuilt it for me. From now on my hammer DRILL will not see a masonry bit bigger than 1/4 inch even though Makita rates my drill for 1/2 inch in concrete. If I need any bigger holes I would get the LXT rotary hammer like Model: BHR241. Its designed for drilling up to a 7/8 inch hole in concrete, and uses the SDS Plus bits. I would rather operate the tool well within its operating limits than on the verge of damaging it.
    Also, when hammer drilling with my drill it doesn?t seem to drill clean holes where the rotary hammer I rented drilled VERY clean perfectly round holes.

    As for the impact driver, This would also depend on the size of the screws/bolts you are dealing with. If they are smaller bolts, you could risk shearing the heads off with the high torque and impact energy from the larger 18 volt units. Makita makes one you can dial the torque back on if this is a problem. I believe its the BTD144 that DC mentioned. I would LOVE the variable torque option.

  38. Dean January 9, 2011

    Some good stuff here, but it seems no one has answered the question that has been on my mind for a while. What are the differences between Hammer drills, Rotary hammer drills and Percussion drills. They can all be used to drill masonry, but which is the better? And what are their inner workings?

  39. noumenon February 23, 2011

    Impact drivers are a godsend for us contractors along with the lithium ion batteries. Several factors make them indispensable if your driving fasteners all day. One is the amount of torque they produce which is close to 3 x of what a cordless drill can with the same power source. Two is the weight and size making it much easier to drive fasteners all day. Third the ability to sink your fasteners at the desired depth much easier than with a drill. What makes it easier to sink screws to a constant depth is the impact action. The action is triggered by resistance which uses a clutch to wind a spring that powers a anvil to create the impact. When this happens the rpms decrease and the screw in driven in deeper with each impact. This decrease in rpms and the incremental turns of the bit make is what makes sinking screws to a constant depth much easier. What you have to watch out for is the torque which still amazes me when you have this petite looking drill that can sink hefty lag bolts all day.

    I’ve used all of the major brands of lithium ion tools and have to say by far my favorite is Makita for several reasons. First they have the largest lineup of tools in the 18 volt sector which is pretty much the standard as far as construction work goes. Second they have the fastest charging times, their 3 mA batteries charge in 30 min. and their slim line 1.5 mA batteries charge in 15 min. Charge time matters a lot when down time is costing you money and these li-ion batteries aren’t cheap. Dewalt and Milwaukee batteries take twice as long to charge as Makitas and Bosch has 2.6 mA and 1.3 mA batteries which means less run time. I’ve had the Makita impact driver battery and all go into a pool while doing a deck job, let it air dry for a couple of hours and then back to work. I’ve driven countless 5/8 lags through pilot holes on deck ledgers, pergola beams, thousands of 3″ screws, etc. and this thing keeps going.

    I have to say though if your a homeowner not using this to make money then ANY of the new li-ion sets will be a DREAM for you to use and if you’re mainly using them in the shop I would get the slim line batteries for the smaller profile and lightness. For the shop I have the Makita 12 volt impact driver and driver drill set which has more than enough power for any wood working needs. I do have to say too that after you use the impact drivers for a while you can use them on mdf or particle board no problem. I use them for pocket screws all the time. Once you hear the first few clicks of the anvil your done and all the Makitas have variable speed triggers which helps with controlling that torgue.

    • Michael Reis July 1, 2011

      Some people know what they are talking about.

  40. EOA7 March 8, 2011

    I have a Makita 18 volt BTD144 impact driver. Will it be ok drilling 3/16th inch pilot holes into wood beams for my lag bolts? Or should I buy a drill/hammer drill?

    • Raymond March 8, 2011


      I would use a drill/driver for the pilot holes and the impact for driving the screws. That’s how they are meant to be used. Hammer drills are “mostly” for pilot holes into masonry, again, using a drill/driver (or the impact) for setting the screws after.

      • Trey March 8, 2011

        With Dewalt?s Impact Ready drill bits they are designed to handle the impact stress from operating in an impact driver. Also keep in mind most drill bits do not have a 1/4 inch hex to even fit an impact driver and most smaller bits I?ve seen that do, look and feel cheap and from what I?ve experienced, their performance is on par with their look and feel. The Dewalt Impact ready and the Milwaukee Shockwave drill bits seem to be a different story. Dewalt has a wider size selection though.

  41. Raymond March 8, 2011

    I just moved into a new (to me) house that was probably built in the ’50s. I set out to install a french cleat system in the garage (for my new shop . . . loving the idea of starting over) while professionals set out to hang 3 flat screen TVs in various parts of the single story, wood frame house.

    We both used cordless impact drivers, the TV installers with 1/4in lag bolts, me with #10s. We both ripped the heads off half a dozen screws that were only driven halfway in (and in the exact spot they were supposed to be) before (a) barking at the moon, (b) removing the previous screws and shelving to tear at the broken screw with pliers and chisels to remove the offending, headless screw, and (c) finally resorted to a combination of “normal” cordless drills and regular screwdrivers to complete the job.

    It was my first use of impact drivers, but not the first time for the TV installers. So, my “review” of impact drivers is, love ‘em, . . . provided you’re not screwing into wood with a partially petrified section or the occasional knot, at which point I hate them as they turn a quick job into a mother of a repair and re-do. Plus, without a drywall guy on hand, both jobs look like we went at it with a shotgun. But at least they’re behind something that looks better.

    • Trey March 8, 2011

      What brand screws were you using? I find a pop heads off the Grip-Rite screws when I look at them wrong. I?ve had excellent luck with the Deck-Mate screws. They are slightly thicker and are square drive compatible. Well, unless you grab the wrong box, then you are stuck trying to use the Torx T25 bit which is great for torque, but HORRIBLE for single hand non-pilot screw starts. For screwing into 2x4s I prefer pilot drilling though. I always end up splitting the wood. If we are talking eight screws, this is not a lot of added time. Putting down a new sub floor? Well, there will be splits I guess!
      My coworker borrowed my impact driver for a small project he had in his garage. Part of the project involved a 1/4 inch RedHead into the concrete floor. He snapped it right off! I wonder how the outcome would differ if he used a grad eight bolt instead?

  42. EOA7 March 9, 2011

    Dewalt’s impact ready drill bits(DD5057) seem up to the task of drilling pilot holes – the reason I raised the question. Drill/drivers seem cheap now in comparison – just the convenience of using one tool is what I’m thinking. The middle setting on my impact driver seems to match the RPM/torque characteristics of some of the drills out there. One obvious comparison is that the impact ready drill bits are about a 1/3 shorter than ‘regular’ drill bits.

  43. A T Mutaalib June 26, 2011

    I am in Putrajaya in Malaysia and am into DIY. Have a few electric drills which includes Bosch, Black & Decker and DeWalt.

    Am looking for a Li-Ion powered cordless hammer drill, preferably of 12V or 14V. It must be a brand with similar Li-Ion powered tools, meaning the same battery can be inserted into the other tools like a cordless power saw, grinder, impact drill, etc. That should give me a lot of versatility from the same battery packs. I don’t think I need very heavy-duty tools.

    I do fancy the Bosch Cordless Hammer Drill / Driver model GSB 14.4 VE-2-Li Professional but Bosch does not have many similar powered tools.
    Any suggestions on other makes ?
    Many Thanks.

    • Michael Reis January 19, 2012

      If you’re dealing with 95% of fasteners (nuts, bolts, & screws) an impact driver is a far superior tool. When drilling holes a drill is still the tool of choice.

  44. Michael Reis July 1, 2011

    I’m carpenter & bug tool buff, so I’m on top of all the drills & impacts when a new one is released. Assume all of the guns I’ll be talking about are lithium ion batteries. The Makita 18v is the king, with it’s 3.0 amp hour battery, power to weight ratio, & trigger control, the competition has been playing catch up for 4 years now. The Dewalt 18v has a smaller battery capacity 2.0ah, babying screws is difficult, & I have found to be quite loud, but when it comes to driving something hard & durability is your priority, this probably should be you choice. I’ll be honest & say I’m not the biggest Milwaukee fan, I don’t trust their manufacturers claims of torque, & reliability has been an issue with previous tools of co-workers of mine. I haven’t used the Bosch 18v, it feels like it a little heavy, but most Bosch tools are. I had a Ryobi 18v ni-cad, say what you want, but it had excellent trigger control. Dollar for dollar it was a great buy, but it is a little loosely constructed (that solid feel in your hand unlike the Dewalt or Bosch) & after some drops the bit would wobble.

    I’ve had a Makita 10.8v pistol impact for a year & a half, & I can honestly say it is the greatest power tool of all time. It is so light & compact, I put in my tool belt & walk around with in there like it’s a screwdriver. Obviously the battery doesn’t last anywhere near as long as the big 18v guns, so as long as you don’t mind swapping batteries on the charger, you’ll absolutely love it. The little guy does make a lot of noise, so if you work with grumpy old dudes, they’ll bitch. With a fresh battery, it has all the power anyone could ever need for screwing. For sensitive work, you can feather the trigger like no other drill or impact. I’ve dropped it numerous times, & worked it all day boarding drywall, & she has no sign of slowing down. I would highly recommend it to any & every contractor, homeowner, grandma, klutz, laborer & apprentice.

  45. Binkie July 15, 2011

    You are confusing an impact driver with an impact wrench. Easy to do, since an impact wrench (which you are describing) is usually used as a screwdriver. An impact driver also adds downward impact (like a hammer drill does) as well as tortional impact. It helps keep the bit seated in the screw and prevents cam-out. So it’s like someone’s hitting the wrench on the bit while someone else is hitting the back of the drill.

    Impact wrench = screwdriver + rotational impact;
    Impact driver = impact wrench + downward impact.



      Correction made. Thanks Binkie.

    • Trey August 6, 2011

      What you say IS correct, but also need to be qualified. The Manual impact drivers apply this downward force you mention, but the powered impact drivers do not do this. Looking on the Makita web site at their parts breakdowns for both the impact drivers and impact wrenches show identical internals. Just a 1/4? hex interface of a square drive interface. The ?traditional? manual impact driver that is struck with a hammer can apply this downward force. It could be a matter of marketing skewing that terminology? According to Makita, impact wrenches have the square drive making it an ?impact wrench? and the hex interface is common among screw drivers, leading to ?impact driver?. Looking on the Dewalt site, it?s the same story. They have them all in the ?impact Driver/Wrench? category. Looking at the DCF813S2 vs the DCF815S2, they are virtually identical except for how they interface with their bits. ZERO mention of any kind of linear impact. You KNOW they would be all over marketing a feature like that too.

    • Michael Reis January 19, 2012

      No, that is completely wrong. Impact drivers & impact wrenches are nearly identical except the drive. Typically, drivers will have a 1/4 inch female hex with a quick release. The wrenches will have a male 3/8 or 1/2 inch square drive.

  46. Rob Crosby July 26, 2011

    Exactly the explanation I was looking for. Thanks!
    Just picked up a PC set, standard and impact driver, 18V ion and wasn’t sure when to use which. Now I know.

  47. Pegtek August 23, 2011

    Question: I just bought the DeWalt 12Volt Max DCF815 1/4 inch cordless impact driver. I also picked up a driver kit with various length driver bits. Being a woman, and not all that acquainted with power tools, I read the instructions which specifically state, “the chuck accepts 1/4″ hex accessories and 1″ bit tips only.” No one at the store could explain why that is so, and I see this as seriously limiting the functionality of this impact driver. Can anyone enlighten me as to why DeWalt would sell the “impact ready” kits with 2 and 3 inch bits if they can’t be used? Was this a misprint–do I misunderstand?


      Honestly, I don’t know. But I can definitely say that if you bought some impact-ready bits, they will all work just fine with the impact driver.

    • Michael Reis December 11, 2012

      If you put a 1 inch bit in a impact driver, you will be extremely disappointed. One inch bits can be used with drills that have chucks, but they cannot be released from a quick change or an impact driver. If you insert a one inch bit into an impact driver, you may have to dismantle the driver. Been there, done that, good luck, no fun.

  48. Martin November 15, 2011

    Came across this thread while looking for a succinct explanation of why my brother-in-law would want an impact driver. Just want to reiterate Trey’s correction of Binkie’s post. Only manual impact drivers (those you strike with a hammer) exert downward force. Neither impact wrenches operated by compressed air, nor cordless impact drivers exert such force, only rotational force.

  49. Leo November 15, 2011

    I just purchased a Milwaukee hammer drill/impact driver/multitool combination from Home Depo a few days ago and used all three on a kitchen remodeling job. I can certainly attest to a lot of the comments here about the use of both impacts and hammers. The hammer drill was more precise and easier to control for piloting and drilling. The impact driver did just that, impact and drive, and it did it quite energetically!…. 3″ screws I used for the flooring were in there like hot knife through butter. They are my first Milwaukee tools I purchase and I have become an instant fan. They are not interchangeable as far as their purpose is concerned. For finesse, I used the hammer drill. For beastial power, I used the impact wrench. Thanks to all who commented here and shared their experience with the rest of us, greetings From NYC!

  50. Michael February 7, 2012

    I bought a Porter Cable (PC) set with an ordinary drill and for the life of me I can only drive a screw home if I drill a pilot hole first and sometimes not even then. I tried all the torque settings but to no avail. Maybe I’m just an idiot but I don’t see the point of having a regular drill if I can’t drive screws home. So I’m going out to get me a PC impact drill. It might not match the Makitas and DeWalts out there but it seems good enough for my jobs and I already have the batteries. Any comments from anyone?

    • David D. April 1, 2012

      wondering the same thing, if anyone can enlighten us would be much appreciated…

  51. Jeanne August 11, 2012

    I’m debating on buying a 18-Volt X4 Hyper Lithium Ion Drill Driver and Impact Driver 2-Pieces Combo Kit by Ridgid. I like the idea of lifetime replacement on batteries as that is what I always wear out and am tiered of buying a new drill every 3 years or so. I do alot of replacing floors in mobile homes along with other DYI projects. I was just planning on getting the drill til I saw the combo. Any advice??

    • Michael Reis January 4, 2014

      If you get a Ridgid, make sure the charger is plugged in first then slide the battery on the charger. I’m no sparky, but I’ve seen multiple chargers & batteries get fried if the battery is on when it gets plugged in. :)

  52. dimiidnm November 12, 2012

    Sometime ago in this thread, someone asked advice on choosing 12V or 18V version,
    and the reply was “depending on what you are doing.”
    I want to drive 3 inch Deck Mate screws to screw down or replace 2×6 planks loosened
    on my deck.
    I was looking at DeWalt 12V and 18V versions: will 12V version will do the job or
    I should go for 18V version. (BTW, is the driver in the video demo 12V or 18V?)


    • Michael Reis January 4, 2014

      The 12v Dewalt impact driver will do the job without difficulty. Though the 18v is more suited for that kind of work.

  53. Trey November 13, 2012

    Ten years ago, I would say 12v would not be up to the task. 14v would be the smallest I would go. My old (1997) Milwaukee 14.4v was great and had no trouble building several wood decks. My newer Makita LXT drill and impact driver have been great tools for remodeling houses as well as smaller jobs but get heavy really quick when you are using them all day. The new Lithium 12v units are impressive with minimal weight. I don’t think I would want to build a whole deck with one, but to replace a board here and there, the 18v is drastic overkill. The 12 volt impact driver would be more than enough for anything up to a 4” DeckMate. Yes, the 12v will be a little slower while it drives the screws in, but its not your profession, just a DIY right?

  54. dimiidnm November 14, 2012

    Trey, thanks for your advice.

    Yes, it is for DIY. In fact,a beginning DIY.

  55. Kevin November 20, 2012

    I have a 14.4 Ridgid cordless drill and impact driver. At first I did like the impact driver, but over time I find myself going to the regular drill. The impact seems to run down batteries 2x faster (at least) and I don’t like the lack of control that I do get with just a regular drill. Maybe it’s just the Ridgid as I’ve not tried others. The Ridgid has the lifetime service agreement — so free batteries for life — which I have used once. That was slick, as the drills are in great shape, but if I had to buy all new batteries I may as well get a new drill. I have a 14.4 craftsman with 2 dead batteries. I’m likely to discard it — which is sad — as the drill is in fine shape, but new batteries would run nearly as much as a new drill and 2 new batteries.

    Ridgid recently had (maybe still has) their similar lithium combo set for $179 with the LSA also. I just about took the plunge, but after thinking how little I use the impact, I backed off and decided I could wait.

    However, I now have some concrete drilling I need to plan for. But it looks like for $49 I can pickup a refurbished corded hammer drill, which probably makes more sense for me.

  56. Cheri December 7, 2012

    I want to buy my husband a cordless drill for Christmas. We own a tug and barge and he does a lot of dock repairs in place on the lake. Some are newer but most are pretty old and can be logs and wood that have been in the water for a while. He is going to be replacing the wood decking on the barge surface. He is also doing a lot of home repairs and renovations. A new deck is the next big project, finishing the inside of new garage and finishing the basement. I know a hammer drill is not the thing but I am wondering about using an impact drill rather than a drill for the dock repairs where the logs would be soft on the outside but could have knots. He has been hauling a compressor and his corded drill around which makes no sense to me, especially when he working hanging off the side of docks inches above the water. Any help would be appreciated.

    • Michael Reis December 11, 2012

      Impact drivers are a superior tool for putting in screws & bolts. Drills are better for drilling holes & mixing. Since I have owned an impact driver, I’d say that I use it 15 to 20 times more often than the drill. If the price is right, the Makita 18v is the tool of choice.

      • bobbobwhite January 3, 2014

        I have lots of drills of different makes, but a friend just gave me a used Makita impact 18v lithium tool. I read here about driving screws, but how do you do that with a tool with no chuck to hold the screwdriver heads? It has a 4 sided drive shaft with sockets, but no chuck. Confused, need reply..

  57. Dave Kirkeby January 30, 2013

    I recently purchased the DeWalt 20V impact driver and drill kit (for $199 at Lowes (the price has gone up since I bought mine)). Previously I had a Ryobi impact driver and a Kobalt drill which performed adequately although each had some issues which weren’t unreasonable given that they are low end tools. The DeWalt tools are on a different planet, so much so that I couldn’t imagine that anybody could build anything better. The torque was amazing, the battery life is great, the charge time is only 1/2 hour, the flashlight feature that stays on for 20 seconds after the drill is turned off is very useful. I just put in the Hardibacker for a shower with the impact driver. The job went substantially faster just because of the improvement of the impact driver over my old Ryobi.

    As a side note, while I couldn’t imagine that anybody could build a better impact driver apparently DeWalt could. They have a higher end brushless impact driver that has even more power, a gas gauge in the battery pack, a very cool release mechanism for the bits and a 3.0 AH battery instead of the 1.5 AH battery in the impact driver I bought. While those additional features might justify the additional cost for many users, the impact driver I bought is just fine for my purposes.

    And one other side note: the 20V designation is just a branding thing by DeWalt. While the battery pack is not compatible with their old 18 volt line the battery voltage is the same and in Europe DeWalt doesn’t use the 20V brand for their new tool line.

  58. Thanks Marc for all the drill info and comparisons. I’m new to the drill scene and any new information/knowledge is helpful..

    I also appreciate all the comments from the other posters.

    Thank you.

  59. adventuresteve April 27, 2013

    obviously an impact driver would be ideal for automotive work removing old rusty nuts and bolts but can a hammer drill be used for that as well?

    • Jonathan July 7, 2013

      Not in my experience. In most automotive settings you are trying to tighten something with a high level of torque, while a hammer drill smacks the back of the bolt/screw (usually bolts unless you are doing interior) it does nothing to help you turn the bolt. The impact wrench applys a sideways hammer action, this helps take a Huge load off of your body and can allow you to tighten things well beyond your physical capability.

      This is not to say you cant use a hammer drill on automotive, but it wont help with getting rusted things out or making new holes. I should also mention that with wood hammer drills are great at pushing through wood, but only because it is comparably flexible. Metal will have a tendency to be strained and damaged, (once had a buddy use a hammer drill for body work) any thin metal will suffer from slight bending if your too harsh.

      The thing I am most concerned about is what a hammer drill would do to more sensitive things like an engine. The last thing I want to make note of is wheel nuts, Do Not tighten wheel nuts with a hammer drill, the pegs are most often friction fit, and can be dislodged by the hammer of the drill. (the wheel bolts are like big friction nails, using a hammer drill would be like just smacking it with a hammer.

      Ok I lied, this is the last thing Im going to say. On the topic of wheel nuts, using an impact wrench to remove the nuts is fine, but please to not use one to put them back on, wheel nuts need to be torqued to a specific poundage, over tightening can result in damage to the wheel or its mount.

  60. angela August 2, 2013

    so that I understand, an impact driver is only useful for driving in difficult screws or bolts? or is it also useful for drilling into harder woods with a good sharp bit? and im guessing a hammer drill wouldn’t be any good for timber either as I have only read they are more for concrete, is that correct? what would I be better off with for drilling through hard wood in a battery model, reason being that I am only powered by a small scale solar setup and don’t use generator the inverter charges 400 watts, I am happy to spend a bit of money on something that will give me piece of mind as im also 2 and a half hours driving time from any store
    warm thanks

  61. MrM August 24, 2013

    I purchased a 16V lithium-ion Rockwell impact driver and the thing is a blast to use. I agree with another poster that DeWalt is almost on a class of its own, (though I like Milwaukee tools a lot) but the Rockwell is definitely solid, quality stuff. It didn’t hurt that I got mine with a $30 rebate that brought the price down to under $100. For a tool like this? Wow!

    Having said that, I’ve used it extensively in demolition/deconstruction work to free incredibly tight, rusty bolts that would’ve been impossible to remove with a plain old ratchet wrench or regular drill. Seriously, the torque on this puppy is amazing. I took apart an old swing set my neighbor had and got the most of the nuts and bolts out with no problem. The battery lasted all day without losing juice and it only took 15 minutes to fully recharge.

    Thinking it had no limits I took it to my car wheels to try to remove the lug nuts for a tire rotation, and that’s where it hit its Waterloo. I guess there is no substitute for old compressed air after all, at least not without paying twice as much.

    Overall, for the price this was a steal. Two batteries, the quick charger and a carrying case, plus Rockwell’s free lifetime battery replacement program? I should have bought two!

  62. Donovan Douglas April 8, 2014

    Thank you, Marc. Your review was extremely simple and helpful. I use a drill all the time had no idea there was a hammer or impact. Now I know what I need to replace my faithful but dead Makita.

  63. Rose April 30, 2014

    Being a woman, and not having much knowledge, (just enough to make me dangerous) I was wondering about the difference in the drills. I have purchased the Dewalt hammer drill and the impact as a combo. I built board walks for my garden paths, and put up shelves in our garden barn. My husband (bless his heart) taught me a lot before Alzhiemers took his mind. I am so glad I listened and learned from him about making improvements. His very old heavy electric drill was way to heavy for me, and I couldn’t work with it for very long. Glad for your sight and all of the comments. Thanks guys. From a grateful woman who loves to DIY.

  64. GROD July 12, 2014

    Well, you inspired me. I had a heavy framing job that I was dreading. After reading this article, I grabbed my trusty 3/8″ pneumatic impact gun, put a 3/8 X 1/4 socket on and a Phillips head bit in the socket and DROVE the 3″ screws through the 2X4 cleats, into the plates, like it wasn’t there!

    I will have to get a cordless 1/4″ impact driver soon though – Mama doesn’t like the air hoses strung through the house…

    Thanks everyone!

  65. Deb November 22, 2014

    Is an impact drill good for drilling through concrete?

  66. julian December 12, 2014

    What are your thoughts on Ridgid 12 volt tools? I like the fact they offer life time warranty. I know Milwaukee battery last longer on M12 but life time warranty is quite appealing.

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