What Is an Impact Driver Used For?

September 18, 2022

Using impact driver to drive screw into wood.

Imagine you’ve been driving several screws manually onto your workpiece using a screwdriver, and you know what an awful experience it is. Your hands are already sore, and your arm is already aching because of continuously twisting your arm muscles. Such would be your experience if the impact drivers weren’t invented. The good thing is that we now have impact drivers to facilitate the driving of fasteners onto any material.

However, if you are relatively new to impact drivers, you may confuse the impact drivers with drills. The main distinguishing factors, however, between these two are their rotational action and power. The impact driver has a quick-release shank that accommodates a 1/4-inch hex driver bit. Moreover, the impact driver produces enough rotational force that can drive even the largest wood screws quickly. It features an internal mechanism that allows it to create more torque compared to that of the drill. Besides, the impact driver produces these impacts (bursts) up to fifty times per second.

How Does an Impact Driver Work?

The impact driver is born of the need to make the driving of fasteners easy. As mentioned above, driving a series of screws or fasteners manually is an exhausting task that could enervate you. So, some ingenious minds out there conceived of the innovative impact driver that could facilitate the driving of fasteners. Moreover, mechanics can also use the impact driver to loosen larger screws that are rusty.

With the impact driver, you can also reverse the bit’s rotation and tighten the screw using a torque greater than what a screwdriver can provide. 

The impact driver works by combining rotational motion with a beating action to produce high torque. It is like combining the turning force of your hand with the thrashing action of a hammer. If the motor of the impact driver can’t offer the necessary force for driving the screw, then the spring-loaded hammering mechanism activates. 

Then, the hammer slightly lifts and goes on turning around. Underneath the hammer, you will find a spring that pushes downward. The hammer then beats the shaft, producing a rotational torque. This mechanism happens, again and again, delivering high torques to its spindle. 

When the hammer pushes down due to the action of the spring, it releases an impact on the shaft. This impact lets go of its stored energy in a linear axis to the head. The force generated by the impact driver on the bolts and nuts is five times greater than any cordless drill can deliver.

What Do the Impact Drivers Do?

The impact driver is also a drill. It is a cordless drill driver type that is equipped with a 1/4-inch hex bit holder. Moreover, this hex bit holder grips the tiny screwdriver bits. The thing about the impact driver is that it is capable of high torque along with high impact levels. Compared to a combi drill, it can produce higher torque outputs. This high level of torque lets you drive even the most stubborn screws onto the toughest materials. 

When choosing an impact driver, however, you should consider its head length. Since you will utilize your impact driver in tight spaces, you would need a shorter head length because it is more practical to use. Moreover, if you go for the cheaper impact driver, you will often get a one-speed driver. But if you want a more flexible impact driver, you can go for something with two speeds or more.

When Will You Use an Impact Driver in Your Woodworking Shop?

As a woodworker, you will often drill holes for fastening wood pieces together. You can use a screwdriver to drive fasteners, and it would be a good exercise for your hands. But if you would drive dozens of fasteners using the screwdriver, you might as well use an impact driver. You can use the impact driver to drive sheetrock screws on most of your projects. 

Of course, the impact driver thrives on these occasions when you need to drive long sheetrock screws. Thus, you will find the impact driver handy when installing cabinets, constructing theater sets, building shop furniture, framing anything, building deck, and many other projects.

How Would You Differentiate the Drill and the Impact Driver?

One thing you will notice with the traditional drill is that it provides lower torque. On the other hand, impact drivers use a combo of high torque and quick rotational strike. Yet, it is too easy to confuse the impact drivers with hammer drills. The hammer drill delivers a rear strike to channel the bit power through any hard material like concrete. With the impact driver, the rotational strikes enable it to nudge a fastener while avoiding the spinning out of the screw tip off the grooves of the fastener.

When used to drive a fastener onto a material, the traditional drill would get snagged a bit when it hit something hard. So, you need to add the extra impetus to release the fastener from the snag. Then, you resume drilling. 

On the other hand, the impact driver does it likewise, but it does this at a tremendous speed which is far greater than the speed of the drill. I used to utilize the traditional drill for driving fasteners years before when I hadn’t gotten my very first impact driver. But with the impact driver, the difference in driving fasteners is enormous.

Another significant difference between the impact driver and the traditional drill lies in the clutch. The impact driver doesn’t have a clutch. For this reason, it is shorter and is handier. It can also fit with ease into tight spaces, which the traditional drill would find hard to do. Moreover, this lack of clutch also limits the impact driver’s capability of handling and the ease of accommodating various bits. 

Furthermore, the traditional drill offers a more precise and delicate touch. On the other hand, the impact driver thrives when you need to muscle a fastener into a material, and you needed extra torque to accomplish it. Thus, the impact driver is handy when installing a cabinet, making furniture, constructing a theater set, building deck, and framing dimensional lumber.

In summary, the use of impact drivers and traditional drills depends on the projects you would like to accomplish. Drills, of course, are versatile. They offer more settings for torque and speed. You can also use some drills like an impact drill. Nevertheless, it will be best to have both these tools in your woodworking arsenal.  

When Should You Use an Impact Driver?

The impact driver is primarily used to drive long fasteners. You would seldom use it to drive short screws. Moreover, you will commonly use it to drive three-inch screws into your materials. Driving screws three-inch-long would indeed be difficult, especially if you got many screws to drive through, even if you have predrilled the holes. 

Yet, the impact driver thrives in doing so. You can also use the impact driver for lag bolts and machine bolts. The impact driver is perfect for larger projects. You can use it for securing pergola beams. 

You will indeed find the impact driver handy when engaged in driving long bolts or screws. Moreover, if you would deal with pressure-treated lumber or heavy steel as well as hardwood, the impact driver can provide you with the needed torque to get the fasteners through these materials. 

How to Choose an Impact Driver?

The market is awash with myriads of impact driver brands and models, making the choosing process a bit confusing. Yet, most impact drivers you will find out there are battery-powered. Their batteries, likewise, come in three different sizes (12,18,20 volts). 

Of course, higher voltage impact drivers offer more torque and power. Yet, the 18 volts and the 20 volts differ only nominally. This is because all impact drivers provided by other companies that have the tag of 18 volts also can deliver up to 20 volts. Hence, the power difference between the 18-volt and 20-volt models is only nominal. 

Nevertheless, if you intend to drive more large fasteners, you might as well go for a powerful impact driver. Moreover, it will be best to understand that more power means larger and heavier batteries. The larger the batteries get, the heavier the impact drivers become and the more difficult they are to use for heavier workloads. 

Another important thing to consider is whether you are going to choose a brushed or a brushless motor. Brushless-motored drivers are more expensive. Yet, they offer more power and better efficiency. They also generate less heat and noise. Plus, they have longer-lasting batteries and longer runtime. 

It will also help if you go for impact drivers with variable speeds to vary the torque depending on the necessary force you need to apply. You should also go for better brands like Milwaukee, DeWalt, and Makita. These brands are known for their high manufacturing standards. 

The impact driver is pretty easy to use. Moreover, if you buy an impact driver from these brands, you will often receive in the kit a collection of drill bits that come with a 1/4″ hex shank that you can use for your screwdriver bits.

Frequently Asked Questions

Aside from knowing the difference between the impact drill and the traditional drill and their different applications, it will also help if you are cognizant of the frequently asked questions about impact drills and traditional drills:

Can You Use an Impact Driver to Remove Lug Nuts?

Technically, you can remove lug nuts using an impact driver. However, practically speaking, you can’t use it to remove lug nuts. You can’t use it for two reasons. First, the impact driver can’t handle the required force, and it is well beyond the torque range of the impact driver. The other reason is that other factors can cause nuts to be a challenge to remove. Such factors include over-tightening, weathering conditions, and rust.

Can You Replace the Traditional Drill or Driver with an Impact Driver?

The answer to this question is “No.” The impact driver, as mentioned above, is powerful enough, and its brute force may not be necessary for most applications. Moreover, it can be damaging to your workpiece, ripping your materials into smithereens. The traditional cordless drill is a very versatile tool. You can drill holes using it and insert fasteners. You can also equip it with different types and sizes of round- and hex-shaped drill bits and even rotary sanders, wire-wheel brushes, and hole saws. It also comes with slip clutches that let precise torque control.  


If you are new to woodworking, I would suggest that you start using a drill. Afterward, you can add to your arsenal or transition to the use of an impact driver. You will often find the traditional drill adequate for most of your home projects, considering the versatility of the conventional drill. 

Besides, experts would readily agree that you should begin with the use of a conventional drilling tool when building up your tool arsenal and only add the impact drill later. However, with the traditional drilling tool complemented by an impact drill, you can almost do any project with ease.

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