Some of our readers posed this common question to our staff: "Should I buy a power drill or an impact driver?"
This is a great question, and one that comes up very early in the apprenticeship process. The short answer is: if you can only afford one tool, get a power drill. But, if possible, buy a dual-use kit. With some deals we've seen, you can use both without draining your bank account.
Let's flesh this out a bit further and give you some solid reasons to make your buying decision easier. It's all based on how each tool works. The drill rotates with constant pressure on the chuck until it has no more power to continue. That is unless you engage the clutch. We'll talk about that later. Impact drivers have a hammer/anvil mechanism inside. As the hammers (usually two, but the Metabo HPT has three) rotate, they strike the anvil as they rotate.
To see the difference, imagine pushing against a sandbag versus punching it. By pushing, you exert less force on the bag itself, but you are able to maintain that force smoothly. Hit the bag and you'll generate more power — but only for a moment. A drill is similar to a push and an impact driver is similar to a punch.
So this makes it seem like the impact driver has more power – and it does. So why buy a power drill? If you have to choose between these two tools, we have a few good reasons.
Drill and impact driver functions
The drive mechanism and power of the impact driver make it a screwdriver specialist. No drill can provide the speed and ease of driving larger fasteners that an impact driver offers. You can even use an impact driver for light socket work. However, be sure to use an impact-resistant sleeve for this task.
When it comes to drilling with twist drills, spade bits, Forstner bits, self-feed drills, hole saws, etc., an impact driver will get the job done, but is much rougher. If you're looking for smooth features and clean holes, all of these effects can work against you. Here, constant pressure from the drill is the better choice.
Why buy a drill
As a result, drills are better at drilling and boring tasks than impact drivers. You can use an impact driver for this task—in fact, some brands even make bits specifically for your impact driver. However, you can get better results with the drill and it provides a smoother drilling experience.
A drill may not be as fast on screws and other fasteners as an impact driver, but you won't lose the quality of your results by using it. In fact, your results can actually improve. Using a clutch on your drill allows you to input the exact drive force you need for the material you are working with and the fasteners you have. This leaves a very clean, precise finish when all screws are perfectly flush with the workpiece. Impact drivers tend to offer a little less finesse in the finish department.
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But you should really buy both…if you can afford it
Ideally, you should have both so you have the best tool for all your drilling and driving applications. This also enables you to use a drill to make pilot holes and an impact driver to drive in fasteners. You're more productive because you don't have to change drill bits for each fastener.
If you want top of the range solutions like the Milwaukee 2804-22 and its 1200 in. lbs. of torque, you'll need $299 to get the kit with the battery. You'll pay another $70 to add an impact driver.
It's good to have top-of-the-line products, and seasoned pros love them too. However, if you're new to the trade, don't feel compelled to buy the best right away. After all, you don't — and shouldn't — buy the house your parents have spent 20 years saving up for the moment you graduate college and get married. You will end up in debt. This can also happen to your tools.
You can take a look at the Ryobi, which offers a great mix of entry-level performance and great value. There, you can buy a set of batteries starting at about $100. You can take the Pro performance a step further with the $150 Ridgid kit. With the money you save, you can add tools faster or save up to buy those premium tools with cash instead of accruing interest on your credit card.
With some extra money, you can even afford to take your wife out to lunch on Thursday without worrying about credit card debt.
We love helping new professionals learn more about their chosen trades. If you have questions like "Should I buy a drill or an impact driver?" feel free to reach out to us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram – or drop us a comment below!