Impact Driver vs Drill Which is Better?

Disclosure: We may earn commissions at no cost to you from qualifying purchases made via the product links in this article.

A standard drill and impact driver are two different types of tools designed for different purposes. However, you can use both of them to generally perform the same tasks. This interchangeability of the two drivers is what creates confusion among many handymen and DIY guys about which tool to place money on. I was also in the same dilemma until I got some expert advice from two woodworking guru friends. These experts have been in the trade for more than 15 years and have a lot of experience with drills and impact drivers. Based on their advice and some thorough research, I was able to do an impact driver vs drill comparison. The aim is to mark out their differences and as a result, identify appropriate tasks for each tool in order to help you get the perfect outcomes in your projects.

What is the difference between impact driver and drill driver?

By definition, an impact driver is a high-torque power tool for driving screws, nuts, bolts, and other threaded fasteners. Unlike a traditional drill that delivers consistent rotational force to a fastener, an impact driver adds a twisting force that is generated by a hammering mechanism. This hammering action is produced by a coordinated action of a spring, hammer, and anvil inside the head of the impact driver. When the drill encounters resistance when driving a screw, the hammering kicks in to produce more torque. This additional torque resulting from internal impact makes an impact driver better than drill driver at driving fasteners into a hard material.

Most impact drivers feature a variable speed trigger that provides users with some control over the tool. In contrast, a standard drill driver has a slip clutch. This clutch gives a user more control over the amount of torque the drill driver delivers to a fastener. The lack of a clutch in an impact driver makes it difficult to control torque precisely. The heads of impact driver vs drill are also different. While a drill driver has a chuck that can hold bits with different types of shanks an impact driver only accepts 1/4 inch hex shank drill bits.

When is a drill better than impact driver

Drill vs impact driver - drill driver for drilling holes
Dewalt drill driver

Although a standard drill and impact driver are different, they can be used interchangeably to perform the same tasks. However, there are some applications in which a drill vs impact driver performs better. In this section, we shall examine the different tasks I learned that a drill outshines an impact driver.

Drilling holes

A standard drill is primarily designed to make holes using drill bits and hole saws. It has a chuck that holds different types of drill bits – hex or round – and a clutch for setting the level of torque. The chuck grips the drilling bits very tightly, eliminating any wobble during operation. The clutch, on the other hand, lets you set the level of torque to avoid damaging material.

Making pilot holes

When installing screws into wood, pre-drilling holes help to preserve the integrity of the wood. These pre-drilled holes are called pilot holes. They help to avoid splitting wood when putting in a screw. A standard drill is perfect for making pilot holes because it allows you to apply a precise amount of torque that will not destroy wood. A pilot hole also allows you to drive screws faster without pushing so hard.

Driving screws into soft material

It is fairly easy to damage soft material when you apply excessive force when installing screws. Fortunately, this is less common when you use a drill driver to install screws and other threaded fasteners. The clutch setting on the tool lets you select the torque level so that you don’t overtighten or overdrive fasteners. The starts clutch slips as you sit the screw. This prevents from driving and burying screws.

A standard drill is also ideal when you need a delicate touch on material. Examples of such tasks that require a feather touch include installing door hinges and driving pocket screws. In other words, the clutch setting in a drill driver lets you apply a precise amount of torque on delicate applications.

Countersinking screws and fasteners

Sometimes you may want the head of a screw or bolt to sit flush with the surface of the surrounding material. You can achieve this by forcefully burying the fasteners using an impact driver. However, this method often results in an ugly finish to your project and sometimes may cause wood to split. A better way to sit fasteners flush with the surface and achieve a professional look is countersinking.

What is Countersinking? Countersinking simply refers to creating a recess on a surface to allow a screw, bolt, or rivet to sit flush with the surface. It ensures that screw heads do not protrude from the surface. You can use a dedicated tapered countersink bit to make both a pilot hole and a countersink in one go. Alternatively, when working with thin material such as plywood, you can use a fluted countersink cutter to make a shallow countersink. Countersinking helps you to hide the screw from sight while at the same time maintaining a professional look to your project. This precision drilling of recessed holes for countersinking is best achieved with a drill driver.

When to use impact driver

quarter hex impact driver
1/4 inch Hex impact driver for light and medium torque jobs

What was clear to me is that there are situations when an impact driver vs drill is more suitable. As discussed earlier in the post, the impact mechanism in an impact driver is what distinguishes it from a drill. The internal impact means more torque. In short, an impact driver, like an impact wrench, is suitable for applications that require more torque. In this section, we shall look at the tasks that are best performed with an impact driver.

Installing screws and fasteners in tight areas

When you place an impact driver vs drill, you will notice that the impact driver is more compact. This means that it can access tighter areas that a standard drill. So, when installing fasteners in very tight spaces such as cabinet screws, you might want to use an impact driver when it is impossible to drive screws with a drill.

Driving big screws

Big screws need more torque. But you are not likely to get such kind of torque from a standard drill driver. You need a tool such as a cordless impact driver. An impact driver uses the hammering action to deliver rotational force around a bit so that you can drive big screws such as lag bolts into hard material without pushing too hard. It is ideal for installing lag screws into heavy lumber.

Fastening bolts and nuts

An impact driver is ideal for fastening bolts and nuts in light and medium torque applications. The driver has a 1//4 inch hex head that accepts sockets and adapters that allow you to drive different bolt sizes.

Installing fasteners quickly in big projects

Big construction projects involve a lot of work and often pay less attention to detail. In such situations, an impact driver vs drill comes in handy because it drives fasteners quickly and rams them into material when necessary. Unlike drill drivers, impact drivers have a quick disconnect that lets you change bits quickly without wasting time. For a drill, you have to rotate the chuck to release bits but for an impact driver, you only need to pull the collar and install a hex bit with one hand.

Final verdict on drill vs impact driver

By and large, I consider comparison between an impact driver vs drill as equal to comparing apples with mangoes. You cannot compare them because they serve different purposes. A drill is for making holes whereas an impact driver is for driving screws. Therefore, I would recommend getting both of these power tools because they perform different tasks. Even most manufacturers understand that and that is one of the reasons they sell both as a combo kit.

That said, if you have to pick one, I would recommend a drill. It is more versatile and makes very neat holes with drill bits, spade bits, speed bits, and hole saws. At the same time, you can use the drill with hex bits as a driver to drive light screws without worrying whether the shanks will fit the chuck of the drill.