What is the Difference Between an Impact Driver and a Drill?

September 18, 2022

Drill and impact driver power tools comparisons

A close friend of mine excitedly called me the other day, telling me he wanted to jumpstart his woodworking career. So, I told him that it was good to know that he was changing gear, wanting to dip his hand in woodworking. Then, he asked me about the difference between a drill and an impact driver. So, I obligingly explained to him the succinct differences between these two tools. 

If you’re new to woodworking, you will indeed get confused with these two tools. So, I already expected the question from him, and if you are like him—new to woodworking—you might also be asking this same question. 

Of course, the conventional drill and the impact driver are two of the essential tools you should have in your woodworking arsenal. Both these tools will be handy in most of your woodworking tasks. Moreover, these two tools can make your woodworking tasks easy and bearable.

Major Differences Between the Drill and Impact Driver

To differentiate the impact driver and the drill, you need to consider their applications, designs, working mechanisms, front end, torque delivery, and many other factors. Below is a short explanation of each of these factors:


The drill is the go-to tool before the introduction of the impact driver. It allows you to drill holes and drive fasteners with ease. The drill, of course, is engineered for drilling holes, and you can drill all day long using it. On the other hand, the impact driver is meant for driving screws and other fasteners. 

You can use the drill for many applications that entail drilling holes. It thrives in drilling various hole sizes and depths. However, you can utilize the impact driver for installing sprinklers, ductwork, steel framing, concrete anchors, electrical boxes, deck screws, and many other applications. 

Many contractors, moreover, no longer use the drill/driver to drive fasteners. They now shifted to impact drivers because of the apparent advantages of the impact drivers use, like more torque, ease of reaching tight spaces, and lightweight. 

The drill/driver, on the other hand, provides constant torque and speed that allows you to drill with consistency and efficiency through materials. Hence, many HVAC contractors, electricians, carpenters, and plumbers use this tool for drilling holes for lock installation, venting, and other applications. 

Drill/drivers offer higher torque at less RPM. Thus, you can also use the drill driver as leverage for mixing different substances like mud, concrete, and paint. Drill/drivers can also be handy in many applications. But if you intend to deal with heavy fastening workloads, you might as well go for the impact driver.

Size Differences

If you’re new to woodworking and the use of drills and impact drivers, you may get confused between these two tools. The reason is that they almost look the same at first glance. Yet, as you become familiar with their usage, you can quickly differentiate between the two. 

The first thing you’ll notice is their size difference. The impact driver, for example, has a different internal design which also makes it different from the drill/driver. The impact driver comes with a short body that lets you use it better in tighter spaces.

Moreover, it has reduced weight compared to the drill/driver. The drill/driver, on the other hand, is perfect for boring and drilling applications. Its motor is connected via a gearbox to the chuck. Besides, it comes with a variable speed trigger that is generally common for most drills.

Working Mechanisms

The working mechanisms of the impact driver and drill/driver differ from each other. If you would do an incision process into the very bowels of these two tools, you will readily notice the stark similarities and differences between their internal mechanisms. 

First, you will see that they have battery-powered motors. The impact drivers deliver torque bursts by simply releasing from the spring the needed energy. This release of energy makes the rotating hammer strike an internal anvil several times per second. This kind of internal mechanism is perfect for high torque applications without any kickback or resistance. 

The drill, on the other hand, offers constant torque that makes use of gears. Moreover, the drill delivers its power consistently. The drill continues to push while the other makes sharp and snappy punches.

Front End

The impact driver comes with a one-quarter hexagon bit shank. You can quickly change the bits of the impact driver, but it can only accommodate 1/4-inch hex bits. You will find that some brands manufacture one-quarter tool accessories, especially for the impact driver. 

The drill, however, utilizes a chuck with three jaws to accommodate the tool accessories. The three-jawed chuck can accommodate hexagonal, round, and triangular-shaped shanks. The three-jawed chuck is self-centering and can hold the bits tightly. Thus, you can expect precision drilling with the drill.

The chuck closes and opens quickly to accommodate various diameters of shanks. It can also hold screwdriver bits and bit holders. Additionally, the range of accessories in the market for drill chuck is enormous.

Torque Delivery

The delivery of the torque is a major distinguishing factor between these two tools. Their method of torque delivery also determines their pros and cons. The impact drivers, for example, can provide the highest torque when you operate it at its fastest speed. This allows for the biggest impact on the anvil by the hammer. On the other hand, drills offer the highest turning force when you set it in the slowest and lowest gear. 

You can use the impact driver to drill materials. Yet, if you use it with the one-quarter head shank drill bit, you will more likely produce an uneven surface finish because of its stop-start rotations. So, you compromise the quality of your drilling when you use the impact driver. 

Regarding the burst-like delivery of torque by the impact driver, it does not transmit any equivalent force that makes the use of the impact driver safe. Moreover, the main pros of the impact driver’s torque delivery include the following: 

  • The screwdriver bits will not likely jump out of your fastener’s head.
  • You will require very little weight to push the tool.
  • You can use it at arm’s length, which is perfect for tightening and loosening something in a tight space. 

At present, you will find impact drivers that offer different speed settings for better control when operating them. Moreover, some impact drivers come with an innovative feature for self-drilling screws. This auto-setting feature can prevent over-tightening while enabling you to prevent the crushing of washers. 

The drill, on the other hand, is perfect for boring and drilling applications. It offers a constant turning force that lets you attain a more accurate and smoother hole. Moreover, the holes it creates are cleaner and more precise. Furthermore, you can achieve precise screwing applications using the drills. 

The drill, however, is prone to kickback because an equal force is transmitted back to the hands of the operator. Thus, you will feel more vibrations when the drill bit hits a delicate material. You are also more likely to snap the screw head of small screws.

Noise Level When Operating

The impact driver and the drill will indeed produce different noise levels. Impact driver, for example, is noisy. In fact, some impact driver’s users call it a rattler because it creates a rattling sound. The fact that deep inside, the hammer strikes the anvil repeatedly makes the impact drill very noisy. Thus, being noisy is one of its drawbacks. 

On the other hand, the drill creates noise that emanates from its motor and gearbox. Of course, you can hear this noise, but it is more bearable than the impact driver’s noise level. Nevertheless, when drilling or using an impact driver, you should never forget to wear your ear protection to protect your ears from their noise.  

Should You Buy Impact Driver or Drill?

Aside from the functionality and performance of these two tools, the level of comfort should also be on your list of essential factors to consider when selecting an impact driver or a drill. With an ergonomic design, a device will not fatigue your hands, leading to better outcomes. It will be good to note that the balance and weight of the tool, the materials you use, and the overall design of the device will also come into play when you work. 

These factors can determine your level of fatigue when working. For example, if you use a tool with a soft-grip handle, you will feel less tired, and your hand will not get sore quickly. So, if you are choosing between the impact driver and conventional drill, it will be best to consider the abovementioned factors carefully. 

For impact drivers, for example, the tools with the highest torque rating will deliver the optimum fastening performance for you. Nevertheless, the variable speed and soft-grip features will provide you with better control of the tools. 

It will also help if you look for something with LED light. Such a feature will come in handy when you’re working in a dim setup. However, you should ensure that the LED light feature is trigger-activated. In this way, the LED light will not drain your battery quickly.

For drill/drivers, it will be best to look for something with a heavy-duty steel-reinforced collar and an all-metal gearbox. You should also look for something with a powerful and fast motor. It should also offer a dual-speed feature as well as a multi-position clutch. Furthermore, your tool should also be durable so that it will last and withstand accidental dropping. 

Lastly, you should go for drill or impact driver tools with a good warranty behind them. Great companies offer excellent warranty programs for their products.


The drill and the impact driver are two of the essential tools you should have in your tool arsenal. The drill can create holes and can even drive screws. The impact driver, on the other hand, can rotate and drive screws with ease. Both tools use rotational power to drive fasteners into any material. Yet, the impact drill differs because of the hammering action added into its mechanism and design. This internal mechanism offers high torque, which the traditional drill can’t readily achieve.

Now that you have read the abovementioned differences between the impact driver and the traditional drill, you can now differentiate one from the other. Moreover, you can now distinguish with ease an impact driver from a conventional drill. 

The thing is, each of these tools thrives in its turf. The drill, for example, is ideal for drilling holes consistently. It delivers clean holes. The impact driver, however, is perfect for driving fasteners. As you gain more experiences in woodworking, you will quickly appreciate the value of having both these tools in your tool arsenal.

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