You’ll find an impact wrench in every mechanic’s toolbox, and it’s one of the best affordable tools every DIY enthusiast should have, whether it’s working on your car or doing chores around the house.
While you probably already have a few hand wrenches in various sizes, those tools can only help you so far before you need more power and torque. Similar to how we explained above why everyone should have an impact driver, an impact wrench is just as important and you should get one sooner rather than later.
Walk into any hardware store and head over to the power tools section, and you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by all the options. And that’s because most tools have a specific purpose. Below, we’ll go over what you need to know about an impact wrench, how it’s different from a screwdriver, and when to use one.
What is an impact wrench?
If you’re a beginner or new to using power tools, an impact wrench may look like a power drill, but they’re completely different. An impact wrench is a socket wrench power tool designed to deliver high torque with minimal effort on the part of the user.
Instead of using a wrench and socket set, use an impact wrench to manipulate nuts and bolts. Those could be the lug nuts on a car tire, the heavy-duty bolts on a swing set or patio cover, or even the bolts on the house foundation. An impact wrench replaces your manual wrench with a cordless power tool to make jobs quick and easy. And if you ask any mechanic, they’ll probably tell you to buy an air impact wrench.
Also, an impact wrench or driver is different from a drill in that it doesn’t just turn a bolt or nut. Instead, it hits the bolt with much more power and torque, making it capable of handling the toughest jobs.
Impact wrenches have a powerful motor, a spring, a toothed hammer, and a bar-shaped anvil. When you activate the trigger, the motor spins like a drill. However, with something like a tightened car wheel nut, there is a lot of resistance. An impact wrench feels that resistance and the spring will engage like a clutch and pull back, spinning the hammer until it turns the anvil, then releasing with tons of force.
Instead of simply unscrewing the bolt, it twists and “impacts” the hammer and bolt, easily breaking their tight grip. It’s hard to explain, so here’s a video showing how it works.
You can feel and hear the toothed hammer snap and bang during use, which is why impact wrenches are so much noisier than a typical drill. All that power and torque is what makes an impact tool so capable.
Several years ago, after I started working on my off-road truck, I quickly realized that I needed an impact wrench to do the hard work for me. Once you get one, you won’t be able to imagine doing any job without it.
impact wrench vs. Impact Drivers: What’s the Difference?
If I wasn’t clear, an impact wrench and a screwdriver are two completely different tools, even though they look similar. A power drill or impact driver is what you use to drive screws like a Phillips head screw around the house. Usually these can use several different adapters or hex bits for various projects.
And while yes, you can use a socket adapter and drill for wrenching tasks on nuts and bolts, it’s not efficient, especially for tough jobs. An impact wrench is specifically for tightening and loosening nuts and bolts, especially large or tight bolts and nuts.
A drill works with screws and bits, while an impact driver is for screws. An impact wrench is for nuts and bolts.
Your impact wrench can’t use any of the accessories of a power drill, which means it can’t drill holes or manipulate screws. There is nowhere to add a bit or Phillips head. Instead, they usually come with a 3/8- or 1/2-inch square output shaft (male end) for sockets. Then, use different sizes of sockets that fit with nuts and bolts. You will also want a good impact socket that is more durable than hand tool sockets.
When to use an impact wrench?
You should probably know exactly when to use an impact wrench. They are useful in any application that requires greater force or when a manual wrench is not enough. Anytime you’re dealing with tough nuts and bolts, like that 10mm bolt that’s rusted on a car, or the lug nuts on your tire, you’re going to want to get out your impact wrench and use all that power, torque, and “shocks.” ” button on the tool to release it.
Anytime you need a manual wrench may be a good time to use an impact wrench. Make sure it’s not too powerful or adjust the power level of your impact wrench for the specific job. My Ryobi impact wrench has three speeds. As a result, I can turn the volume down for smaller jobs or go full throttle to traverse a 2×4 in the backyard.
The most common use for an impact wrench is for auto repairs and removing lug nuts. Yet the entire auto industry uses them, not to mention heavy equipment repairs and large construction projects.
For example, a few years ago, I built and installed a wooden deck patio with slots in my backyard and assembled it with durable bolts instead of wood screws. An impact wrench is ideal for making a job like that faster and easier.
The thicker the bolt and the tighter the nut, the more you’ll want to use an impact wrench.
What impact wrench to buy?
In closing, I wanted to recommend some solid impact wrenches for all you DIYers and home mechanics out there. However, it is important to mention that most impact wrenches are similar to everyday consumers. You can buy a Ryobi, Bosch, DeWALT, Milwaukee or any other brand and love everything it offers.
Depending on the brand, you may get minor differences in features, such as built-in LED lights that light up when you pull the trigger, different motor speeds, etc. However, they will differ in terms of power and torque. Any reputable brand will work if you need an impact wrench for small jobs around the house, but if you’re looking to do some serious mechanical work, you’ll want something built to handle the job.
Also, if you already own a specific brand of power tool and some battery packs, you’ll want to stick with that brand. That way, you’re not buying additional battery packs and you’ll be able to grow your collection without spending extra money.
You will also want to decide what size socket you want on the impact wrench. Most come in 3/8-inch and 1/2-inch sizes, and depending on the job or sockets you already have, they will help you make that decision. I have a powerful 1/2-inch impact wrench, and if I need a smaller 3/8-inch socket, I have an adapter.
Either way, here are some impact wrench options worth considering:
Ryobi ONE+ HP 18V Brushless Cordless Compact 3/8-Inch Impact Wrench Kit
A great place to start is with this compact impact wrench from Ryobi. It comes in a smaller 3/8-inch size that fits most sockets, drives nuts and bolts easily, and is perfect for small jobs. It’s lightweight, compact, affordable, and comes with a battery and charger.
If you already own something from the Ryobi line and it has a battery, buy just the tool and spend even less.
DeWALT 20V MAX XR 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench Set
Again, there are countless brands, all with great options. However, DeWALT is one of the best in the business. It’s a well-known manufacturer that offers great products, a good warranty, and a lot of different tools that all run on the same battery pack.
While you can find a more affordable 1/2-inch impact wrench from a brand like Ryobi or others, this is a high-torque, high-powered 20V tool with plenty of power.
Milwaukee M18 FUEL Brushless Medium Torque 1/2-Inch Cordless Impact Wrench
Another solid choice is anything with the Milwaukee name on it. I am not here to discuss which brand is the best as everyone has a preference. That said, Milwaukee is targeting the automotive market with many of its products, and they’re designed to handle tough, dirty, and greasy jobs.
This tool-only impact wrench is perfect if you already have something from the M18 line. However, if this is your first tool, you’ll also need to purchase a battery and charger.