What's the Difference Between a Drill/Driver and Impact Driver?

Don’t let the size fool you. It’s all how you use it.

We know you hate to admit it, but maaaaaybe you aren’t 100% sure when you’d need an impact driver, especially when you already have a drill/driver (or three) in your arsenal. Well, here’s a quick and easy pro/con list so you can be sure you’re not working any harder than you need to in the shop or onsite.

If you need to drill pilot holes or are working with softer materials like drywall, stick to the drill because it won’t dent or break the material. The Louisiana Green Corps swears by them when building out the walls and ceilings of new homes. Photo: Carla Bruni

Drill/Driver

Pros:

  • Works great for jobs requiring care or precision
  • Applies a constant torque
  • Accepts a wide variety of drill and screw-driving bits
  • Accepts accessories such as wire-wheel brushes and rotary sanders
  • Has a slip clutch that allows you play with the amount of torque
  • Relatively inexpensive to purchase

Cons:

  • Can stall when driving long, large fasteners
  • Has the potential to strip screws
  • Can put strain on the user
Some Door County vintage trailer restorers are all about the impact driver. They use them to drive a massive number of bolts through metal during the restoration process – they once counted 400 on just the BACK of one of a these trailers. Photo: Carla Bruni

Impact Driver

Pros:

  • These suckers have some real power
  • Powers screws through some seriously dense material with more torque and concussive blows
  • Prevents wrist strain because it’s doing more work
  • Drives long screws with little effort
  • Less likely to strip screws
  • Has a short snout for getting into tighter spaces

Cons:

  • Costs more than a drill
  • Makes a lot of noise
  • Only accepts hex-shanked driver bits
  • Isn’t meant for drilling, just driving screws
  • Too much of a beast for more precise, delicate jobs

Both of these handy companions are slowly moving towards a frankentool that combines their best qualities, where drills have more power and impact drivers have more versatility. In the meantime, as a general rule, if you’re working with drywall, softer woods, veneers, plastics, or brass screws, stick to the drill because it won’t dent or break the material. If you’ve got a project that requires using a ton of screws, long or thick screws, or driving through dense materials (such as building a deck), save your wrists and some time and go with an impact driver.

Let us know if you have any other tips!