Drill vs Impact Driver (2024 Guide)

Are you looking for a comprehensive Drill vs Impact Driver guide?

Awesome – you are in the right place!

In this ToolsGaloreHQ.com guide you will learn

  • Key similarities between the two power tools
  • Differences that are worth noting
  • When to use which power tool
  • And So Much More!
drill vs impact driver

Quick Comparison Table: Drill vs Impact Driver



Relative Size

About 1.5x greater in width

About 70% shorter in width than equivalent drill


Constant Torque and Power

load and unloaded cog interlocking system

Drill Bit Type

Cylindrical Shank

hexagonal Shank

Best Used For

Creating Holes in wood, PVC or metal

Fastening screws in wood

Best Rated

DeWalt cordless drill

DeWalt impact driver

Drill vs Impact Driver: Deeper Look At The Drill

Drills are very common, every DIYer knows that they need one. However how much do you really understand about what goes on underneath the covering of your drill? How much are you fully aware of its operations?

In order to fully understand how drills operate in relation to impact drivers, I will provide you with a small break down of the internal workings of your typical cordless drill.

Inside of drill

Image courtesy of drillrepairs

As you know this is a rotary tool. What that means is that drilling action is a function of the spinning drill bit. Now what is very interesting to note about drills is that the chuck can generally hold a large range of drill bit sizes.

This give the tool amazing versatility to drill into a varying number of materials such as wood, PVC and even metals.

Most modern drills have fantastic ergonomic features over and above their functionality to drill holes.

You will often find that the drill comes with a 2 finger variable speed trigger that allows for acute levels of motor and speed control.

In fact it’s for this reason why I would say for really small screws your drill is good and even better than an impact driver. Just purely based on the close control achieved from the variable speed trigger.

Over and above this the motor generally comes in two forms. It is either:

  • A solid state motor; or
  • 2 stage type motor with visible armature and coil.

Both of these motors can be brushed or brushless and they are further equipped with a fan to keep the motor cool during operations.

This motor drives a gear box. The gearbox is usually made of a combination of ball bearings, helix type gear and a drive shaft. Based on the quality and type of drill the gear box has it’s own tolerance levels.

The casing is made from a polymer mold similar to the impact driver. What’s really great about this casing is that it’s lightweight, relatively inexpensive and it’s designed to withstand the harsh working environments that would be typically experienced by the drill.

Personally. The cordless drill was one of the first tools I came to be aware of. I am sure that everyone can relate this is a must have for any DIYer or contractors tool box.

The Impact driver however is a slightly more peculiar tool, one that is not so often talked about but ever so important. In the next section I will go a little deeper into the impact driver discussing this tool in a lot more detail.

Read More:>>> Learn which is better between Black Oxide vs Titanium Drill bits

Drill vs Impact Driver: Deeper Look At The Impact Driver

The impact driver just like the drill is a rotary tool, what makes this tools different/special is that impact drivers are specifically made for driving in fasteners.

Interestingly they deliver a lot more force per square inch than your standard cordless drill. This is down to the overall construction of the motor and internal disc spring and cog loaded mechanism. Which moves back and forth when loaded and unloaded resulting in more power.

This back and forth motion also has the added benefit of ensuring that you avoid the infamous “camming” of your screw.

Camming or cam outs as known within the industry occur as a result of the screw driver bit slipping whilst it is rotating the screw head.

This can often lead to a what is known as a stuck screw.

Stuck screws are very difficult to remove from the hole because the area around the thread basically gets damaged as your screw and screw head is fastened into the material.

This is a very common occurrence when trying to fasten screws using a standard cordless drill, however due to the engage and disengage mechanism of an impact driver, fastening screws with these power tools practically removes the effects of cam outs.

One thing to note as well, if you have ever held an impact driver it’s considerably lighter than a cordless drill. This difference in weight has a huge impact on the overall comfort and usability of the tool, especially if you will be working for a prolonged period of time.

Earlier I mentioned that the impact driver is good for only fastening screws. So you may be thinking – Can I use my impact driver to drill holes?

The answer is it’s possible. However it is not recommended. The reasons being:

  • The impact driver requires hex shanks, it will not work with regular slotted or circular drill bit shanks; and
  • Drilling requires constant speed and torque, the impact driver does not provide this.

Similarities Between Drill vs Impact Driver

Now that we have fleshed out the each of these power tools in a bit of detail. Let’s look at some key similarities.

First and foremost – both of these are rotary tools. As stated previously, this means that they perform their function via the transfer of electrical energy into mechanical energy, which in turn fundamentally rotates a drill bit.

Both of these tools are handheld. In the case of a cordless drill and an electrical impact driver both of these tools are generally battery powered.

Read More:>>> Find a Drill Guide to compliment your cordless drill

Key Differences Between Drill vs Impact Driver

One of the first key differences that you will pick up, is the size. Typically drills are about 1.5x the width of impact drivers.

drill vs impact driver sizes

Secondly, another key difference can be found within the type of drill bit used for each. Most Drills use drill bits that have circular or slotted type shanks. For impact drivers on the other hand the drill bits have hexagonal shanks.

Interchanging drill bits between these two types of power tools is generally not considered feasible.

The reason for this is quite simple. The impact driver produces a lot more force. Regular drill bits found within your cordless machine would snap if used for impact driving applications.

Therefore, impact drivers require special drill bits that have been purpose made for the impact driving mechanism.

Also the chucks differ considerably. Standard drills generally use a three jaw chuck system which is great for circular shank drill bits.

Larger more powerful drills such as your hammer drill use an sds system with a chuck made for slotted drill bits.

Safety Requirements of Drill vs Impact Drive

As we have reiterated above, the impact driver is an incredible tool and for most mechanics, DIYers or even contractors and indispensable asset with their toolbox. It’s compact, powerful and can considerably save working hours if utilized correctly.

There are however a couple of key considerations to be factored in to ensure safe usage of this power tool.

Understand the type of impact driver you are using

There are many types of impact drivers, these include manual drivers, electrical impact drivers and pneumatic impact drivers.

1. Manual impact driver

These tools as the name reiterates require manual force to get the tool working. It is designed to provide a sudden rotational force and forward thrust when struck by a hammer on the back end.

Most DIYers or contractors do not really use this tool as often.

But if you decide to use such an impact driver be sure to fasten it tightly in place. Upon providing the hammer blow try by all means to be aware and keep your fingers and hand as far as possible from the hammer strike zone.

Many accidents can happen when using this power tool, so please keep safe.

2. Electrical Impact Driver

This is the most common impact driver on the market. Be sure to check that the tool does not overheat. This is very typical of battery powered impact drivers.

3. Pneumatic Impact Driver

Also often referred to as an air impact wrench is a great tool to have around the house, it can be used for loosening machine tightened bolts, securing heavy items and working on your automotive vehicle (i.e. removing large nuts on the tire).

For this tool, be sure to read the user manual and always adhere to the recommended safe use principles within that guide.

Read the instruction manual for safe operations

If you are like me, you will probably want to just skip this step and get to the real fun part which is operating the tool. However I would always recommend that you spend some time familiarizing yourself with the instruction manual.

Manufacturers do not just print these for no reason, they are important documents that really go into detail so that you can safely utilize your tool.

Remember power tools are very dangerous in general, anything that has the ability to fasten bolts and nuts can do damage if not placed in the correct hands.

Trust me on this one, the safety section within instruction manuals is a must read for your own sake.

Keep your workspace organized

Always keep the area around which you are working safe. Contractors are fairly good at this, however occasional DIYers tend to be a bit more lax and relaxed.

The reason you should do this from a safety perspective when using your drill or impact driver is to ensure that your mind can remain focused and free of nearby clutter.

The more cluttered your work environment, the higher the likelihood of an injury occurring.

drill vs impact driver tips

Wear the correct personal protective equipment

This goes without saying. Generally depending on the job you are undertaking the minimum level of personal protective equipment for your drill and impact driver work should include:

  • Safety glasses – These are to protect your eyes from any debris that may fly through the air whilst drilling or fastening; and
  • Safety gloves - To absorb the vibrations of the power tool and to keep your fingers safe whilst working a force.

Tool Maintenance

Last but not least. After and before every job perform a visual inspection of your drill or impact driver.

If you pick up any dark spots it could be an indication of electrical damage. Furthermore, if there is any excessive damage to the casing or one of the functional components such as the chuck or ventilation vents this could render the tool unsafe to use overall.

Hence why I will always reiterate – check the user manual for tolerance levels and signs that your tool is beyond the boundaries of safe usage.

Read More:>>> Learn how to sharpen your drill bits

Final Thoughts on Drill vs Impact Driver

Truly both the drill and the impact driver are incredible tools, and in my opinion both are a must have.

They perform different functions completely. Whereas your drill is fantastic for creating holes in a multitude of different materials (i.e. wood, PVC and metals), the impact driver is specifically used for fastening jobs.

I hope this guide has shed some light on the drill vs impact driver discussion. Happy tooling.

Mogale Modisane, PrEng

Mogale Modisane, PrEng

Mogale is a professional engineer (PrEng). With experience working on large-scale Solar, Wind, and Hybrid Projects. He has been exposed to multiple tools throughout his career and has a keen interest in breaking down the often murky world of power tools, machines, and measurement equipment making them more accessible and understandable to everyone.

2 thoughts on “Drill vs Impact Driver (2024 Guide)”

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Mogale Modisane, PrEng

Mogale Modisane, PrEng

Mogale is a professional engineer (PrEng). With experience working on large-scale Solar, Wind, and Hybrid Projects. He has been exposed to multiple tools throughout his career and has a keen interest in breaking down the often murky world of power tools, machines, and measurement equipment making them more accessible and understandable to everyone.

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