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Best Cordless Impact Drivers

By: Amy Livingston on July 03, 2017

Impact drivers put more torque at your fingertips

Impact drivers can drive more screws at faster speeds than a cordless drill, and they are ideal for working with large fasteners or driving screws without a pilot hole. Though they look like drills, impact drivers are very different internally. While a cordless drill merely rotates, an impact driver combines rotation with a series of rapid, successive blows. This creates two to three times the torque of a cordless drill, allowing you to power through tough projects without straining your wrists or forearms.

While a cordless drill's chuck can be adjusted to hold a variety of bits, an impact driver has a fixed chuck that only holds hex-shanked bits. In the past, that limited impact drivers to just driving tasks, but manufacturers now offer drill bits, hole saws and other hex-shanked bits designed specifically for use with an impact driver. Using a fixed rather than an adjustable chuck also results in a more compact tool that can be used more easily in tight quarters.

However, an impact driver can't completely replace a cordless drill. For starters, impact drivers are noisier than cordless drills, so most can't be used without hearing protection. Most also lack a clutch, which means they are not a good match for delicate jobs where you don't want to drive a screw too deep or to inadvertently strip its head. But for heavy-duty fastening jobs -- like building a deck or laying a new subfloor -- 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.

No impact driver earns stronger recommendations from professional sources than the Milwaukee 2453-22 (Est. $135). Despite its compact size – just 6 inches long and 2.25 pounds -- this tool is capable of producing 1,200 inch-pounds of peak torque. In two separate comparison tests, this Milwaukee impact driver trounces the competition, driving 213 to 229 fasteners before its battery gives out -- roughly 50 more than its nearest competitor. Testers are also impressed with the Milwaukee's features, including a brushless, 2-speed motor and an easy-insert chuck that locks bits in place with a push. It's backed by an impressive five-year warranty, with the lithium batteries covered for two years.

There aren't that many reviews for the Milwaukee 2453-22 on retail sites, but the ones we found are overwhelmingly positive; for example, it receives a 4.8-star rating at HomeDepot.com based on nearly 100 reviews. Owners consistently describe this impact driver as powerful, sturdy, lightweight, and comfortable to use. They're also pleased with extras such as the battery life indicator, fast charger, and built-in LED light. Aside from a few who consider the 12-volt tool underpowered, most users don't have a bad word to say about this impact driver.

The Milwaukee's biggest drawback is its price tag. For homeowners on a budget, the Craftsman 17428 (Est. $60) might be a more attractive option. This 12-volt impact driver comes with a 1.3-Ah lithium-ion battery and a smart charger that can restore a charge in half an hour. It's about as light as the Milwaukee -- just 2.3 pounds with the battery ­ but not nearly as powerful, with a maximum torque of only 830 inch-pounds.

This Craftsman impact driver draws mixed feedback in professional tests. It's the worst overall in one independent review, with abysmal marks for speed and run time -- but even there, it gets excellent ratings for power and charging time. This, combined with its low price, comfortable handling, and responsive trigger, inspires Popular Mechanics to name it the Best Value impact driver. Owners at Sears.com agree, with 95 percent of the nearly 180 reviewers recommending this lightweight, compact, and sturdy tool. A couple of users say it's not powerful enough for their needs, but most owners consider it a good value.

An 18-volt impact driver may be a better tool for your big jobs

For most household jobs, a 12-volt impact driver (like the ones profiled above) has more than enough power. However, for heavy-duty fastening jobs, it's worth considering a larger 18-volt tool, which can drive even more fasteners on a single charge. The best-reviewed impact driver we found in this class is the DeWalt DCF887D2 (Est. $180). It takes the top score in a detailed comparison test at Pro Tool Reviews, driving more screws of different types than nearly all its competitors without a lot of heat buildup. Reviewers also gave it excellent ratings for ergonomics and overall value. Richard Romanski of Popular Mechanics also gives this driver top marks for its "combination of speed, power, and finesse."

The DCF887D2 has three speed settings, so it can handle both heavy-duty and delicate driving jobs with ease. It also features a brushless motor, a quick-load chuck, and three LED lights that illuminate your work area from multiple angles. The basic kit includes a charger and two 2.0-Ah lithium-ion batteries, but there's also an upgrade version, the DeWalt DCF887M2 (Est. $270), which includes 4.0-Ah batteries for longer run times between charges.

Hundreds of owners have reviewed the DCF887D2 and the bare-tool version, the DeWalt DCF887B (Est. $130), at Amazon.com, giving it overall ratings of 4.7 stars out of 5. They say this driver's three speeds make it incredibly versatile, and it can run for a long time on a charge. They also appreciate its light weight (2.2 pounds without the battery), compact design, and comfortable grip. However, we saw a few complaints about durability. Some owners say the chuck wobbles, and there are a few reports of tools breaking down within a few months after purchase. Fortunately, it's backed by a three-year warranty, which includes a free one year service contract that includes coverage for normal wear.

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