Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench – Which Tool Is Right for You?

Impact drivers and impact wrenches are two important tools that can make your life considerably easier. Based on their names alone, it’s easy to think they’re essentially the same tool. While they’re capable of doing some similar tasks, they are definitely different tools meant to handle fastening jobs in different ways.

Read on to find out how these two power tools stack up against each other.

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Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench Comparison Chart

Criteria Impact Driver Impact Wrench
Power SourceElectricity (corded and cordless)Compressed Air, Electricity (corded and cordless)
Output Force Higher RPM, Lower Torque Higher Torque, Slower RPM
Impact ForceRotational and Axial Directional ForceRotational Directional Force
Bit/Socket Connection 1/4″ Hex Socket 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″ Square Shaft
UsesLight Duty Assembly, Driving Screws, DrillingHeavy Duty Assembly, Loosen/Tighten Lug Nuts, Loosen/Tighten Large Bolts and Nuts

What Is an Impact Wrench and What Is It Used For?

Lug nut on tire being removed by air impact wrench

An impact wrench is a powerful tool that produces high torque output with minimum effort by the person using it. Energy is stored in a rotating mass and then delivered suddenly to the output shaft to deliver the high torque. Compressed air is the most common source of power for an impact wrench, but battery-operated cordless versions are also available. You can use impact wrenches to tighten or remove bolts, screws, and fasteners.

They’re a widely used tool in automotive industries. The most common use that all of us come across often is the removal or tightening of lug nuts when we change the tires of our car. If you happen to be in a car repair shop and the mechanic approaches your vehicle with a tool to change the tires, you’re looking at a pneumatic impact wrench.

Apart from changing tires of cars, other impact wrench uses include heavy equipment assembly, assembly of automobiles, manufacturing of machine tools, construction projects, and so forth.

You can also use an impact wrench for certain home jobs such as securing your bed or a tv wall mount in your home. But that would be a little overkill. Impact drivers are a much more preferred choice for home-related tasks.

When using an impact wrench, make sure you assign the correct speed on the dial or switch and attach the correct sized socket. After that, all you have to do is pull the trigger!

What Is an Impact Driver and What Can You Use It For?

Cordless Impact Driver from Dewalt on wood table

Impact drivers are available in both manual and electrical versions, but the electric ones are what most people are talking about when referring to impact drivers. Electric impact drivers are available in both corded and cordless models.

Although impact drivers cannot generate the same power as impact wrenches, they have a high enough torque to help you drive a big screw with relative ease.

They’re very versatile power tools and allow you to take on screw and bolt installation and removal tasks with one hand. This is primarily because an impact driver features a hammer mechanism that generates considerable forward pressure.

Very much like an impact wrench, you can use an impact driver to loosen nuts and screws around the house that you cannot remove with a conventional screwdriver. My cordless impact driver gets lots of use around the house owing to its frequent need.

An impact driver also tends to perform very well in the following cases:

  • Driving in self-threading screws
  • Driving thick and long fasteners in hard material
  • Loosening corroded bolts, screws, and nuts
  • Assembling furniture

Impact drivers are also immensely useful for cabinetmakers, construction workers and even for yourself if you want to take up any task that requires the use of several fasteners.

How to Use a Hand Impact Driver

If you find yourself needing to loosen some bolts that are really stuck and not budging, a manual impact driver can come in quite handy.

You use a hand impact driver by doing the following steps:

how to use a manual impact driver
  1. Install the appropriate socket on to the tool
  2. Grasp the tool with your non-dominant hand (in your left hand if you are right-handed)
  3. Engage the bolt or stuck screw
  4. Apply pressure downwards. At the same time, turn the impact driver in the direction in which you want the screw to turn.
  5. Strike the top part of the impact driver with a hammer.
  6. Continue striking the impact driver while applying firm pressure and the turning force until the bolt is loosened. You can tighten a bolt in a similar fashion by applying turning force in the opposite direction.

What Impact Drivers Cannot Do?

You shouldn’t use impact drivers for any kind of precise drilling since you do not need a hammering action when drilling. You should use a power drill instead for this purpose.

Moreover, impact drivers don’t have clutches. What this means is that you can very well accidentally tighten a screw too much when driving it in. In other words, when you are using an impact driver, you are at the mercy of your own precision and strength.

Impact drivers are also not suitable for tasks where a very high level of output torque is required such as taking out heavily corroded screws or assembling car parts together with precision.

Differences Between Impact Drivers and Impact Wrenches

Impact wrenches are bulkier, heavier and far more powerful (more output torque) than impact drivers. Impact wrenches produce around 7 times more power than impact drivers.

pneumatic impact wrench on workbench

Moreover, impact wrenches make use of a square drive (1/2 inch), typically used for sockets, and are made for fastening and loosening bolts. On the other hand, most impact drivers use a 0.25-inch hex drive, which you can use with any bit or socket with a hex shank, to drive screws and bolts or drill holes.

You can use impact drivers for a wide variety of jobs (more on this later). In contrast, it’s best that you only use impact wrenches for specific high power tasks such as assembly and maintenance of machinery owing to the tool’s tremendous amount of power.

Which One Should You Choose?

Impact wrenches are specialty tools, which is not the case for impact drivers. What this means is an impact wrench is a preferred choice for special purposes and not for day-to-day needs. Even if you do purchase an impact wrench, the chances are few that you’ll actually face a situation where you’ll need to use it.

Carpenter using impact driver to assemble cabinet

I would strongly recommend going for an impact driver if you need a tool for home tasks such as assembling your wood cupboard or fixing up your bed. It is also very easy to carry out any repair work involving tightening or loosening bolts at your home if you have an impact driver. Although you can use an impact wrench for these purposes as well, there is a chance you might damage your items or tighten the screws too much when you use an impact wrench. This is because this device has higher torque and is only suitable for certain applications.

On the other hand, you should opt for an impact wrench if you want to take up a specific job that requires a very powerful tool (or you just want to live out your NASCAR pit crew fantasies). For instance, you should definitely purchase an impact wrench if you work in an auto repair shop or if you’re in charge of maintaining machinery. The high power of the impact wrench allows you to easily take out or tighten bolts used in trucks or cars.

Conclusion

On first observation, impact drivers and impact wrenches might seem like similar tools. However, as you can now see, there are a few distinct differences between them. When choosing between an impact driver and an impact wrench, it all comes down to what your particular needs are.

In a nutshell, go for an impact driver for home-related tasks. However, an impact wrench might be your best bet if you need a tool for specific tasks that require a huge amount of power/torque.

FAQs

Can an Impact Driver Remove Lug Nuts?

Yes, technically. You would need to use a hex shaft to square drive adapter in order to attach a lug nut socket to the tool. However, an impact driver may not have enough torque to break loose a lug nut that’s rusted/frozen or over tightened.

About the Author Josh P.

I'm a computer geek by day, but I've been building and fixing stuff for as long as I can remember. I have a passion for DIY and woodworking projects and my wife considers me a tool junkie. One day I hope to finish the never-ending list of home improvement and remodeling jobs around the house.