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A standard drill and impact driver are two different types of tools designed for different purposes. But can use either of them to perform the same tasks. This interchangeability of the two power tools is what creates confusion among many handymen and DIY guys about which tool to place money on.
I was equally 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 so that it will be easy for you to select the most suitable tool for your project.
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 which delivers consistent rotational force to a fastener, an impact driver adds a hammering action to the twisting force.
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 its torque output with precision.
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 an impact 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 where a drill performs better. In this section, I will share some situations when a drill outshines an impact driver.
1. 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.
On the other hand, the clutch on the drill lets you set the level of torque to avoid damaging the workpiece.
2. 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.
3. 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 clutch starts to slip as you sit the screw and this prevents you from overdriving and burying the screw.
A standard drill is also the perfect choice when you need a delicate touch on material. Examples of tasks that require a feather touch include installing door hinges and driving pocket screws. The clutch setting on the drill driver lets you apply a precise amount of torque on delicate material.
4. 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. But this method often results in an ugly finish to your project and sometimes may cause wood to split. A better way to sit a screw fastener flush with the surface and maintain the professional look of your workpiece is to countersink it.
What is Countersinking?
Countersinking is simply 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.
One way to make a countersink is with a dedicated tapered countersink bit. It makes both a countersink and a pilot hole for your screw at the same time.
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 an impact driver?
There are times when an impact driver will be the real deal in your project.
In this section, we shall look at some of the tasks you would do better with an impact driver.
1. Installing screws and fasteners in tight areas
When you compare most impact drivers with drills, you will notice that the impact drivers are more compact. This means that they can access tighter areas than 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.
2. Driving big screws
Big screws need more torque. And you are not likely to get such kind of torque from a standard drill driver. Only an impact driver can provide the extra torque.
An impact driver uses the hammering action to increase the 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 the right tool for installing heavy-duty lag screws into heavy lumber.
3. Fastening bolts and nuts
An impact driver does a great job fastening bolts and nuts in light and medium torque applications. The driver has a 1//4 inch hex head that can accept sockets and adapters for driving different bolt sizes
4. 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 Words: Drill vs impact driver, which one?
By and large, I consider the comparison between an impact driver vs drill the same as 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 and you will need them for different tasks in your construction project. Even manufacturers understand this point and that is why most of them will see two power tools 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 a drill with hex bits as a driver to drive light screws without worrying whether the shanks will fit the chuck on the drill.