Impact drivers are ideal for working with large fasteners or driving screws without a pilot hole, and they can drive more screws at faster speeds than a cordless drill. Though they look like a drill, impact drivers are very different internally. Instead of rotating -- like a cordless drill -- an impact driver uses a series of rapid, successive blows when it senses resistance. This creates two to three times the amount of torque of a cordless drill, allowing you to power through tough projects without straining your wrists or forearms.
In place of the keyless chuck, which can be adjusted to hold a variety of bits, impact drivers have a fixed chuck that only holds hex-shanked bits. In the past, that limited impact drivers to just driving tasks, but makers now offer drill bits, hole saws and more with hex shanks that are designed specifically for use with an impact driver. Using a fixed rather than a keyless chuck also results in a more compact tool, one that can be used more easily in tight quarters.
However, impact drills can't completely replace a cordless drill. For starters, they are noisier and heavier than cordless drills. Most also lack a clutch, which means they are not a good match for delicate jobs where you don't want to drive s screw too deep or to inadvertently strip its head. But for heavy-duty fastening jobs -- -- like building a deck or laying a new floor -- mechanics, contractors and homeowners say an impact driver makes the job faster and easier. The best cordless impact drivers are compact for easy handling, have a battery with adequate run time and have good trigger control.
Among impact drivers, we saw terrific feedback for the Bosch PS41-2A (Est. $125). Among experts, it's one of the top two cordless impact drivers in a roundup of compact 12-volt lithium-ion impact drivers at Pro Tool Reviews and it wins an Editors' Choice award from FamilyHandyman.com. In the later review, it's judged to be the lightest and most compact impact driver in a group test. Despite being a 12-volt tool, it also delivers the second most torque in a field that includes several 18-volt drivers. User feedback is also top notch. At Lowes.com, for example, it garners 4.8 stars following nearly 120 reviews. Roughly 97 percent say that they would recommend this cordless impact driver to a friend. Reviews are drawn from Lowes.com customers as well as those that post on the Bosch web site.
In addition to good torque (rated at 960 in.-lbs.) light weight (2 pounds) and compact size (the driver's head is just 5.4 inches long), the Bosch PS41-2A has a few nice extras. Notably, there's a "fuel gauge" that lets you keep track of the battery power you have remaining. There's also an LED light ring that users say comes in handy when working in dark recesses or other areas where lighting might not be adequate. The Bosch PS41-2A includes 2 lithium-ion batteries, a charger and a carrying case. You can also just get the bare tool (no battery or charger) with an insert tray to fit Bosch's L-Boxx tool box system as the Bosch PS41BN (Est. $90).
While 12-volt impact drivers are sufficient for most jobs around the house, an 18-volt cordless impact driver might be a better choice for heavy-duty fastening jobs. In that case, the Hitachi WH18DSAL (Est. $140) is well worth considering. Feedback is a little more limited than for the Bosch PS41-2A, but is almost exclusively positive. It earns a recommendation and Best Buy status from one independent professional reviewer. Positives include "impressive speed, plenty of power, 40-minute recharge and easy handling." User reviews tend to be glowing -- a 4.7 rating at Lowes.com for example, with 97 percent saying that they would recommend the tool. Though there are fewer reviews at Amazon.com, satisfaction is once again high with 34 of 40 posting granting the WH18DSAL a perfect 5 stars.
Though judged lightweight for its class, the Hitachi WH18DSAL is bigger (7 inch driver head) and heavier (3.3 pounds) than the Bosch PS41-2A, but it delivers much more torque (1,280 in.-lbs.), perfect for jobs like driving heavy screws into a backyard deck. There's a built-in work light, but no battery gauge. The cordless impact driver's price includes two lithium-ion batteries, a quick charger and a carrying case. The warranty is also exemplary -- lifetime on the tool and two years on the battery (the PS41-2A is covered for three years, with the first year including free tool replacement if the impact driver fails).
For homeowners on a budget, the Craftsman 17428 (Est. $60) might be worth considering. It's one of the lowest rated impact drivers in one independent test, with reviewers complaining that its low price does not make up for its low performance. But that ruling stands in stark contrast to other opinions. In a round-up of 12-volt impact drivers by Popular Mechanics, this budget Craftsman impact driver earns a Best Buy rating. It's an especially good choice for those who own other Sears Nextec tools as it uses the same batteries and charger as the rest of that platform, though a battery, charger and case are included in the price. Easy handling and a responsive trigger are named pluses. Owners are near ecstatic. At Sears.com, where the impact driver draws just under 90 reviews, with no user rating it less than 4 stars. Feedback indicates that with a rated torque of 830 in.-lbs., the Craftsman 17428 isn't an impact drill for heavy-duty work; however, it fills the bill perfectly for those who want an inexpensive tool for household jobs.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best cordless drills
Editors discuss the different types of cordless drills, and alternatives such as cordless screwdrivers and cordless impact drivers. Top performers and top values are named.
If a cordless drill or impact driver is overkill for your budget and your needs, consider a cordless screwdriver instead. We look into the details and make our recommendations.
Not sure what you need to consider before buying a cordless drill, impact driver or screwdriver? This guide will help make finding the right tool and model easier.
There are lots of expert and user reviews of cordless drills and similar tools. Editors used these to help identify the best choices. Reviewers are ranked by their helpfulness.