Impact Driver vs Drill – What’s the Difference?

Impact Driver vs Drill - What's the Difference

Upon first inspection an impact driver and a drill may look quite similar, leaving us asking the question, “what’s the difference?”

Impact Driver vs Drill

Impact Driver vs Drill - Cordless Drill Example

Example of a 20 Volt Cordless Drill

Let’s first start by discussing the drill.

Drills come in many different forms and have evolved greatly over the past century.  Perhaps the most commonly found form of drill nowadays is the cordless drill.  Cordless drills come in countless different variations (e.g. right angle drills, 12, 18, or 20 voltages, and so on) but all perform the similar functions of primarily drilling or fastening different materials through the use of drill bits and/or driver bits.

A slight modified version of the standard drill is the hammer drill, also often referred to as a “rotary hammer.”  Hammer drills live up to their name in that they will actually apply a hammering motion to the bit, thus driving the bit further into the material being drilled.  Here the bit is actually pounded into the material (similarly to a jack hammer) as it is being rotated by the drill.  During use, it can actually feel a bit like having a small jack hammer in your hands.

Impact Driver vs Drill - Cordless Hammer Drill

Example of an 18 Volt Cordless Hammer Drill

A good way to picture the action being applied by a hammer drill would be to think of the user smacking the back of the drill over and over as it is turning, thus driving the bit into the material (only with a real hammer drill this happens many times per second).

Now onto impact drivers.

Impact drivers function a bit differently from hammer drills in that the impact, or hammering motion is applied to the bit in a twisting motion rather than head-on.  So instead of thinking of the user smacking the back of the drill (as mentioned with the hammer drill) here picture that that user has a bar attached to the drill’s chuck and is now hammering that around in a circle, thus driving the bit.

Impact drivers apply a great deal of torque to a bit and although they require a bit more strength to control vs a traditional drill, they are far more effective for driving long bits or bolts into hardened materials.

Since seeing is understanding, we suggest taking a look at this video where the speaker demonstrates how an impact wrench works by showing a cutaway of an impact wrench adapter (not advisable for safety reasons).  Note: we don’t recommend using an impact wrench adapter in place of a real impact driver due to the “wear and tear” it can put on your drill.


Impact driver vs drill - Cordless Impact Driver

Example of an 18 Volt Cordless Impact Driver

As you can see, the twisting motion of the impact driver applies a large amount of force in short bursts, thus effectively “knocking” the bit tight, or loose, depending on the application.  Impact drivers usually come in both electric and pneumatic versions (these are the loud tools you hear in auto shops when you see mechanics removing lugs from wheels).

When deciding between using an impact driver vs drill it’s important to take into consideration the application to avoid overkill.  As mentioned earlier, impact drivers are excellent for use on jobs where a large amount of torque is required for driving longer bits or tougher bolts, or when working with hardened materials.  Regular drills on the other hand can be more effective for driving smaller fasteners or cutting bits and often have the ability to set the clutch so that you don’t apply too much force and strip the bit or fastener.

If you’re looking for an impact driver, hammer drill, or traditional drill for your latest job, be sure to check out the F & F Industrial Catalog.  We carry hundreds of drill options from all of the top industrial brands


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