Impact Driver vs Drill: What’s the Difference and When to Use Each

If you need to drill some holes but aren’t sure if you need an impact driver or traditional cordless drill – or even if you’re not quite sure what the difference is – you’re in the right place. Let’s take a closer look at a traditional drill versus impact driver to learn what jobs each power tool does best.



Power drills are some of the most versatile handheld tools around. It’s a safe bet that most people have one in their arsenal. A power drill’s most common use is, predictably, drilling holes.

Depending on the power tool and the bit, you can use a conventional drill to drill holes in everything from drywall to hardwood or steel. People also use drills to drive screws and other fasteners by changing the bit, eliminating the need for an electric screwdriver. In addition to drilling, some powerful drills can power sanding discs and brushes, making them extremely versatile. That said, drills only have one type of motion – rotational.

One of the biggest choices you have to make when choosing a drill is whether you prefer a cordless drill or corded drill. Both have their pros and cons.


Corded Drill

Corded drills typically run on a 120-volt motor. They are used for heavy-duty applications like drilling holes in metal, concrete, and hardwood. Some corded drills have a clutch, but some do not. Drills with no clutch cannot be used to drive screws or other fasteners.

A corded drill draws anywhere from six to 13 amps of electricity. The more amps your drill has, the more powerful it is. With a 13 amp drill and the right drill bit, you can put a hole through some very hard and thick materials.

Corded drills have many options when it comes to chuck size, commonly ⅜, ½, ⅝, or ¾ inch. The chuck is the small clamp that holds the drill bit. Smaller chucks hold smaller bits and drill smaller holes in often delicate material, while larger chucks drill larger holes in thick material. Which size you should choose depends on what jobs you’re planning to do with your drill.


Cordless Drills

Cordless Drills

A cordless drill works the same way as a corded drill, but they run on battery power. Unlike corded drills, this type of drill always has a clutch, which allows it to drill holes or drive in fasteners.

The big thing to remember about a cordless drill is the importance of the battery. The more amps the battery has, the longer the battery will last. They also come with different size chuck, either ½ or ⅜ inch. Since this tool does not have a cord, you can use it just about anywhere, but remember that the battery life limits how long you’ll be able to use it.


Pros and Cons

Here’s a quick overview of the pros and cons of drills:



  • Multipurpose tool
  • Good for precision
  • Accepts a wide range of bits, including accessories like sanding bits and wire brushes
  • Uses constant torque
  • Can adjust torque


  • Can strip screws
  • Not good for long or large screws
  • Can be hard on the user after long periods of time
  • Bulky design is difficult to use in tight spaces

Impact Drivers

Impact drivers look similar to drills, and they have a few things in common, but it’s a very different tool. Impact drivers are lightweight and compact. They are almost always cordless, and come in a range of voltages, from 12 volts to 20. Again, more volts equals more power.


While most drills have a chuck that holds the drill bit, an impact drill driver features a quick-change clamp that uses a hexagonal shank to hold different drivers and bits. This difference in design is largely because impact drivers put out such a large amount of downward force. They are the tool of choice for long screws, lag bolts, and any job that requires driving a large number of fasteners. Why? Because impact drivers are faster than drills for driving in screws and fasteners so they can get through big jobs faster. They’re also easier to use for long periods since they’re so lightweight.

Most impact drivers use the same motion as a drill – a rotational force. The difference is that an impact driver applies this rotational force with a lot more power. Some impact drivers also have a hammering function that uses concussive blows to screw through very dense material. You may also find some impact drivers that can drill holes, but they do not offer the precision of a drill.


Pros and Cons

Here are the pros and cons of an impact driver:


  • Drives in long, large screws quickly and easily
  • Removes stripped or corroded screws
  • Compact size is easy to use in small spaces
  • Power is transferred to the screw instead of the tool itself, making handling easy
  • Rarely strips screws


  • Not suitable for precise jobs
  • Louder than most drills
  • More expensive

The Differences

At first glance, these tools look a lot alike, so much so that you might not even be able to tell the difference between them. But there are some significant differences.

Traditional drills are usually much larger than an impact driver. Some drills have a clutch, but an impact driver does not, which means that you cannot adjust the torque.

Another difference is in the type of bits each tool uses. A standard drill uses a chuck and a variety of drill bits, while an impact driver uses hex shanks. Because an impact driver delivers power in quick bursts, it needs hex shanks to accommodate the greater force. Don’t get us wrong, drills are plenty powerful. But how they deliver force through the chuck is much different than how an impact driver delivers force.

Even though they deliver up to three times as much power as a drill, an impact drill driver is a little easier to use because of its compact size and shape.

Another Option


In addition to a standard drill and an impact driver, there is also a third option: a hammer drill. Just like a drill, a hammer drill uses a spinning motion, but a hammer drill also combines it with hammering, pounding along the axis of the drill bit to apply concussive pressure while spinning the fastener into the material. Most hammer drills have a switch off a button to engage when you want to turn on the hammering motion. When not engaged, the tool acts as a regular drill.

How does a hammer drill compare to an impact driver? The biggest difference is in the type of bits they use. Hammer drills are a little more universal as they use both hex and round bits. As mentioned, an impact driver only accepts hex bits.

When to Use an Impact Driver vs a Drill

As mentioned, drills and impact drivers have some overlap, but there are differences between them. If you’re still not sure whether you need an impact driver or drill, here’s a closer look at when to use each:


Use a drill to:

  • Drill holes
  • Drive screws
  • Tighten or loosen bolts

Impact Driver

Use an impact driver to:

  • Drive numerous screws quickly
  • Drive fasteners into hard, dense material
  • Remove screws and bolts that are stuck or corroded

Recap: Differences between an Impact Driver and a Drill

Here’s a quick review of the differences between these two useful tools:

  • Drills are more versatile than impact drivers. There are many bits available and, depending on the drill, they can serve many functions.
  • Drills are generally more affordable than impact drivers.
  • Drills are better at jobs that require precision.
  • Drills are more likely to strip screws.
  • Hammer drills are used for drilling holes into dense materials like masonry or concrete and are a better choice than a standard drill due to the additional hammering motion.
  • Impact drivers are more powerful and much faster at driving large numbers of fasteners quickly.
  • Because they are lightweight, compact, and powerful, impact drivers are easier to use for long periods without hand or wrist fatigue. Drills are a little harder on the user.
  • The short pulses produced by an impact driver are more controlled than the torque of a drill, which means it’s less likely to strip your screws.
  • If you have a screw or nut that is corroded, an impact driver is more likely to be able to remove it.
  • Impact drivers are ideal for small, hard-to-reach places.

The Right Tool for the Job

If you’re still not sure which of these tools is right for you, the best thing to do is decide what type of jobs you plan to tackle.  For most homeowners or hobbyists, a drill is a good initial investment. Impact drivers are a little more expensive than drills and not quite as versatile. Before buying an impact driver, it might be worth waiting until a big project comes up that requires a tool with such unique characteristics.

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