Impact Driver vs Drill: What’s the Difference?

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An impact driver and a drill look similar, but they are not the same. It’s important to know the differences, so you choose the right one for your project.

Impact Driver vs Drill

What is the difference between an impact driver and a drill? They look similar and do similar things, but there are a few big differences that set them apart.

Which is better for making holes? Which is better for driving long screws? Which is better for precision work? Which one should you buy first? It’s important to know the differences so you can choose the right one for your DIY projects.

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Impact Driver vs Drill

I’ve received a handful of messages recently from DIYers with questions about impact drivers vs drills. Questions like “What is the difference between an impact driver and a drill?” and “What is an impact driver used for?”

I totally understand. These tools look similar and perform similar functions, but there are some big differences between them. Those differences are power and rotational action or torque. In simple terms, Merriam-Webster describes torque as “a turning or twisting force”.

I should mention that I didn’t own an impact driver before writing this article. But I bought one so I could do a thorough comparison. Any excuse to buy a new tool, right?!

Related: 10 Must-Have Woodworking Tools for Beginners

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What is a Drill?

A drill, sometimes called a drill driver is a versatile tool.

It can be used to make holes using bits like a spade bit, hole saw, Forstner bit, countersink bit, and more.

Related: How to Use a Countersink Bit

It can also be used to drive screws using bits like a flathead, Phillips, square, star, and more.

Chuck

Drills have a chuck with adjustable jaws. A chuck is a clamp. The jaws hold or clamp drill bits and drivers in the drill.

The adjustable jaws allow a drill to accept round bits.

Related: How to Put a Drill Bit in a Drill

The adjustable jaws also allow a drill to accept hex bits.

Settings

Drills have speed and torque (clutch) settings. The speed setting adjusts how fast or slowly the drill turns.

The torque or clutch setting adjusts the turning or rotational force of the drill. 

Setting the clutch prevents the drill from turning once it meets a certain amount of resistance. For example, I set the clutch on my drill when driving pocket screws to prevent over-tightening the screws.

Related: 9 Pocket Hole Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

The speed and torque settings make a drill ideal for precision work.

Drawbacks

Drills have a few drawbacks. Sometimes the bits can come loose inside of the chuck. They are prone to stripping screw heads. And they may stall out when driving long or large screws.

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What is an Impact Driver?

An impact driver is a high-torque tool that is not as versatile as a drill. That high-torque is great for doing one thing really well: driving screws quickly.

Impact drivers are smaller and lighter than a drill. This smaller size means it can fit into a tight spot.

Related: How to Screw in Hard-to-Reach Places

Chuck

The chuck of an impact driver is different than a drill. It’s a collet. A collet is a band or sleeve that goes around the bit to keep it in place. This means the chuck of an impact driver is not adjustable. Instead, it only accepts ¼” hex bits.

Settings

Impact drivers often don’t have speed or torque settings like a drill. This means they might be too powerful for precision work.

Drawbacks

There are a few drawbacks to impact drivers. First, it can be louder than a drill. Impact drivers only accept hex bits. The high-torque can be too powerful for some projects.

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How Does an Impact Driver Work?

An impact driver has lots of rotational force or torque. It can produce two to three times more torque than a drill. And it produces that torque in quick bursts.

The bursts or impacts start when the driver begins to feel resistance.

This is different from a drill. A drill may stall out when it meets resistance like when driving long screws.

Instead, the impact driver uses those bursts or impacts to help it quickly drive long or large screws.

This impact motion also helps bits from slipping out of the grooves of the screw head. This means bits are less likely to spin out of the screw or strip out screw heads.

💡 TIP: I don’t recommend using an impact driver for building projects with pocket holes. When used to drill pocket holes, the impacts can cause the stop collar to come loose. And using it to drive pocket screws can cause the pocket hole to strip out or worse yet, crack the wood.

Related: 9 Pocket Hole Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

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What is an Impact Driver Used For?

An impact driver works best for:

  • Quickly driving long or large screws and fasteners
  • Tightening nuts
  • Removing stuck screws

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Do I Need Special Bits for an Impact Driver?

When buying bits, look for ones that say “impact-rated”. These bits are designed to handle the high-torque of an impact driver.

Impact-rated bits look different from other bits. They are usually skinnier in the middle and wrapped in plastic.

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Can You Use an Impact Driver as a Drill?

An impact driver works best for quickly driving screws and fasteners. Remember that an impact driver delivers impacts in quick bursts when it meets resistance. This motion works well for driving screws but doesn’t work as well when you’re trying to drill holes.

But in a pinch, an impact driver can be used to drill small holes. Be sure to use a drill bit that is “impact-rated” otherwise the impacts could damage the bit.

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Impact Driver vs Drill Comparison Chart

Impact
Driver
Drill
Size Small and Light Large and Heavy
Accepts Round Bits No Yes
Accepts Hex Bits Yes Yes
Requires Impact-Rated Bits Yes No
Speed Setting No Yes
Torque Setting No Yes
Best for Precision Work No Yes
Best for Drilling Holes No Yes
Best for Drilling Pocket Holes No Yes
Best for Driving Screws Quickly Yes No
Best for Driving Long or Large Screws Yes No

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Should I Buy an Impact Driver or a Drill?

My recommendation is to buy a drill first. Drills are versatile. They have speed and torque settings. The adjustable chuck of a drill can accept a variety of bits. These bits can be used to make holes and drive screws.

A drill is often all you will need to make repairs, do common home improvement projects, and build DIY furniture. I have been doing DIY projects for years. As I mentioned earlier, I didn’t have an impact driver before writing this article.

Do You Need an Impact Driver?

My recommendation is to add an impact driver when you need it. Building a deck, for example, is a project that you may want to consider investing in an impact driver. 

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Final Thoughts

It’s important to know the differences between an impact driver and a drill, so you choose the right one for your project.

Drills are versatile and can be used for many DIY projects. Drills accept a variety of bits, have speed and torque settings, and a good choice for precision work.

Impact drivers are a high-torque tool. They only accept hex bits, are great for driving screws quickly, but not the best choice for precision projects.

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