We’ve tested these impact drivers for efficiency, speed, ease of use, accuracy and all the other features worth knowing about
When it comes to driving screws, there are some tasks that even the best cordless drill driver will struggle with, such as installing decking, roofing timbers and ceilings, constructing a shed – or indeed any job that involves harder woods and the need for longer than normal screws. In these instances, there’s only one tool powerful and quick enough for the job: a cordless impact driver.
There’s a wide variety of impact driver brands to choose from, so to make things easier we’ve called in a clutch of top-rated models and put them through their paces.
Granted, impact drivers aren’t a necessity if all you do is assemble Ikea furniture or drive small screws into window frames to hang up ornaments. But when it comes to tackling bigger jobs on a regular basis, the impact driver rules the roost.
How to choose the best impact driver for you
What’s the difference between a drill driver and an impact driver?
A drill driver is a combination of an electric screwdriver and a drill. It’s the perfect tool for light DIY duties such as building flat-pack furniture, repairing sheds, assembling barbecues and, in most cases, drilling into walls. However, drill drivers will struggle with some hardwoods and they require a lot of forearm and wrist pressure to drive in the screw. This commonly ends up stripping the head of the screw.See related Best cordless drill 2021: Drill drivers, hammer drills and SDS drills to DIY forBest lawn mower 2021: The top electric, cordless and manual mowers
Most decent drill drivers are equipped with two gears for smooth, controllable drilling and screwing, and, perhaps more importantly, an adjustable torque clutch that stops the driver’s rotation the moment it senses resistance. This helps save you from driving screws too deep into the wood or, in the case of nuts and bolts, stripping the threads.
By comparison, an impact driver is the tool to reach for if you’re doing some serious woodcraft that involves driving longer screws into all types of wood. These little titans look very similar to drill drivers, only their bodies are usually smaller, making them well-suited to working in confined spaces.
A good impact driver will drive an 8in monster screw into wood without kicking up a fuss. It does this by complementing its screwing action with an up, down and sideways hammering motion that’s both fast and very noisy. The upside is that screws are driven in at record speed and with minimal effort and far less stress on the wrist and forearm. This, in turn, means far fewer instances of screw heads being stripped.
The downside is that impact drivers don’t come with an adjustable torque clutch like most drill drivers, so there’s every chance you could – and probably will – drive the screw too deep into the wood, especially if it’s a small screw. As a consequence, some manufacturers have now started fitting their impact drivers with two and three-speed switches that allow you to drive the screw in at a more leisurely pace and be able to stop it before it buries itself too deep. Despite being equipped with a variable speed trigger, an impact driver’s gearing system is less subtle than that of a drill driver, so having a slower speed also lets you align the screw more accurately, which will prevent it from veering off at an angle.
Finally, where drill drivers are equipped with a chuck system – a clawed device on the end of the drill that opens and closes to accept different sized circular drill bits – impact drivers have a spring-action sleeve that only accepts screw bits with 1/4in hex shanks. This means you can’t use an impact driver for drilling holes.
Should I get a brushless model?
Many of the best power tools are now equipped with brushless motors. Without getting too technical, a brushless motor not only allows for a more compact body, but also provides longer run times, almost infinite motor life and more power. Brushless motor-driven tools cost more than their brushed counterparts but are definitely worth it.
Why doesn’t an impact driver come with a battery?
You’ll notice that when you search for a power tool, or even a lawnmower, it’s advertised as being sold without a battery or charger. That’s because most manufacturers have developed their own swappable battery systems to fit their entire range of tools. They, therefore, assume the user already has one of its power tools to hot-swap the battery with. Of course, this locks the user into a specific brand, which is precisely what the manufacturer wants.
So, if you already own a Makita power tool and you’re in the market for a different tool from the same brand, there’s no need to order a separate battery and charger. But, if you don’t already own a Makita product, you’ll need to pay a higher price for the power tool, a battery and a charger. With the exception of the DeWalt, all of the products featured here are sold naked without a battery and charger.
Now you know your onions, it’s time to dip into our mini-roundup of the best impact drivers on the market.