The Difference Between Impact Drivers vs. Drills

Kristin Salaky
Written by Kristin Salaky
Updated June 7, 2022
Woman using a drill in her workshop
Photo: mavoimages / Adobe Stock


  • Drills are versatile power tools suited for most home improvement projects. 

  • Impact drivers offer more torque, or rotational force, to take on tough DIYs. 

  • Typically, impact drivers cost more than drills. 

  • Drills often come with adjustable speed and power settings that allow you to customize the tool to fit your needs. 

  • Impact drivers offer more power but less precision. 

  • Bottom line: A drill is a must-have for the average DIYer, while an impact driver is a nice (but potentially unnecessary) addition to your workshop.

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

A drill is one of the most common power tools on any handyperson’s toolbelt. However, impact drivers have become increasingly popular lately, too. As a result, you may be wondering which tool is best for your DIY projects. 

In this guide, we’ll break down the differences between a drill and an impact driver. We’ll also discuss the best usages for both to help you make a fully informed purchasing decision. 

What Is an Impact Driver?

Yellow and black battery-powered impact driver sitting on a wooden table
Photo: NEFLO PHOTO / Adobe Stock

An impact driver is essentially a cross between a power drill and a hammer drill. Like power drills, impact drivers work by rotating driver bits secured in a chuck (aka, the adjustable device on the front of your tool). The difference between an impact driver and a drill becomes more apparent when taking on tough home improvement projects. 

When drills encounter resistance while rotating, they often lose speed. This isn’t the case with impact drivers. Like hammer drills, impact drivers feature an internal mechanism that uses a hammering action to increase torque, or rotational force. 

Impact drivers maintain a steady speed until they encounter resistance. At that point, the drill may slow as the hammering mechanism strikes the chuck, providing short, rapid bursts of power. The force allows your impact driver to drill longer screws and large fasteners into hard materials like concrete, knotty wood, or brick. You can typically reverse your impact driver to loosen buried fasteners, too. 

Despite the extra power, impact drivers aren’t suitable for every home improvement project. That’s because they offer less precision than a drill. They may also be too powerful for hard, brittle surfaces like bricks or natural stone.

Impact Driver Pros

  • Quickly tightens or loosens fasteners, bolts, and screws

  • Often easier on your arms and wrists

  • Typically smaller and lighter than a drill

  • Usually cordless

  • Powerful enough to cut through heavy-duty materials like wall studs, concrete, or metal 

Impact Driver Cons

  • Little to no precision 

  • No variable speed settings

  • Not suitable for drilling holes

  • Typically more expensive than a drill

  • Requires specialty impact-rated drill bits 

What Is a Drill?

Blue electric drill sitting on a wooden table
Photo: Tiko / Adobe Stock

A standard drill is a common type of power tool. Most modern power drills feature a keyless chuck that holds the drill bits in place, though some models may still have a drill chuck key.

When you use a drill, the chuck rotates while holding the drill bit. Unlike an impact driver, most drills have adjustable speed and torque settings that allow you to customize your drill to each project. 

In fact, drills are well-suited for almost every DIY home project. They’re commonly used for drilling holes and driving screws, fasteners, and anchors into masonry, wood, drywall, and other soft materials. However, drills don’t usually have as much torque as impact drivers. As a result, they tend to slow or even stop when they run into resistance. 

Many people attempt to increase rotational power by pushing the drill forward manually or pressing the trigger quickly to create short, powerful bursts. These tactics may work for some projects, but others require the steady torque of an impact driver. 

Drill Pros 

  • More versatile than an impact driver

  • Can drill holes, drive screws, and reverse to remove small fasteners

  • Less expensive than an impact driver

  • Better suited for drilling into soft or brittle materials

  • Typically doesn’t require specialty bits or drivers

Drill Cons

  • Harder on the wrists and arms

  • Less torque than an impact driver

  • Poorly suited to longer screws or fasteners 

  • Usually heavier than an impact driver 

Impact Drivers vs. Drills

Still not sure if an impact driver or cordless drill driver is right for your next home improvement project? Read on for a side-by-side comparison of impact drivers and drills.

Price of Impact Drivers vs. Drills

Generally speaking, impact drivers are more expensive than standard drills. They also require specialty drill bits, which may cost you more in the long run. However, the price could be worth it if you plan to take on heavy-duty home improvement projects regularly. 

If you’re more of a casual DIYer, you may consider renting an impact driver as needed and purchasing a high-quality drill to keep around the house. 

Most cost-effective: Drills

Maintenance for Drills vs. Impact Drivers

Both drills and impact drivers require some maintenance. For instance, you’ll need to clean the tools after use, sharpen the bits, and lubricate the rotating mechanisms periodically to prevent overheating and corrosion. If you have a cordless drill driver or impact driver, you’ll need to charge the batteries regularly, too.  

With that said, high-quality impact drivers and drills can last for years with regular use, as long as you take some time for a little TLC. 

Easiest to maintain: Tied; drills and impact drivers are equally easy to maintain

Uses of Impact Drivers vs. Drills

Impact drivers and drills may seem similar, but one is rarely a substitute for the other. With that in mind, experienced DIYers may decide to add both to their tool belts.  

If you’re choosing between one tool or the other, consider your needs. Drills tend to be more versatile, with many models featuring adjustable speed and torque settings. As a result, you can perform basic tasks like drilling holes or removing screws. You can also use the tool to drill into marble, ceramic tile, or other delicate materials. 

On the other hand, impact drivers are slightly more limited when it comes to functionality. That said, impact drivers are incredibly useful for big projects like framing walls, driving screws through metal, or installing fasteners into dense wood. 

Most versatile: Drills

Choose an Impact Driver for More Torque 

As mentioned before, impact drivers offer substantially more torque than power drills. The tool’s  combination of rotational force and powerful hammering delivers up to three times more torque than a standard drill driver, making it a clear winner when it comes to power. 

Most torque: Impact drivers

Choose a Drill for More Speed 

Believe it or not, a standard drill is actually faster than an impact driver in most head-to-head comparisons. That’s because standard drill motors apply a constant force to the drill bit, resulting in an even rotation without any pulsing or pausing. 

Impact drivers may have more force, but the hammering action can result in a slightly slower pace. However, a power drill will slow down or even stop if it encounters enough resistance. In that case, an impact driver may be faster.

Fastest: Drills

Additional Questions About Impact Drivers vs. Drills

Brushed vs. brushless: Which is better? 

Both brushed and brushless motors convert electricity into rotational force. However, brushed motors are mechanically powered. As a result, they’re often less expensive, more reliable, and simpler to use—though they may overheat with ongoing use. 

Electronically powered brushless motors are often more expensive. Even so, they require less maintenance, are more precise, and tend to have a longer lifespan. 

Are cordless impact drivers and drills as powerful as corded ones? 

Corded impact drivers and drills usually have more power than cordless models. Corded varieties can also run longer than cordless tools since their batteries don’t need recharging. 

With that said, you’ll probably only notice reduced power levels if you’re drilling into heavy-duty materials for long periods of time. A cordless drill or impact driver will usually provide all the power you need to take on home improvement projects. 

Can you use an impact driver as a drill? 

Impact drivers look like a drill, so they must work like one, right? Not so fast. Impact drivers weren’t designed to drill holes. Instead, the tools have one main function: driving and drilling fasteners into tough materials. 

Do I need special bits for an impact driver? 

Most impact drivers require specialty driver bits. Some of your standard drill bits may fit into the impact driver chuck. However, they’re not built to withstand the torque of an impact driver and may break under pressure. 

When should you not use an impact driver?

As a general rule of thumb, you should only use an impact driver to drill long screws and large fasteners into hard materials. You shouldn’t use an impact driver if: 

  • You’re working with short screws or small fasteners

  • You need to drill holes

  • You’re driving fasteners into soft materials

  • Your project calls for precise hole size or placement

  • You need to use drill attachments like cleaning brushes, mixers, or sanders

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.