Tool of the Week: Impact Driver


Image of a black and orange impact driver

In the final post on the series, Christina’s New Door, I’ll be highlighting one of my favorite tools, the impact driver. About eighteen months ago, I attended the Tool Library’s Handywoman for the Home series and was introduced to the electric impact driver. Since then, I’ve found the tool to be invaluable in both my home improvement projects and my outdoor construction projects.

An impact driver looks an awful lot like an electric screwdriver. However the impact driver in no way replaces the electric screwdriver. In fact, the two tools complement each other quite well. When doing most of my projects, I’ve got both right next to me.

The main difference between an impact driver and a screwdriver is that the impact driver has a lot more torque than a screwdriver. This tool is made for driving big screws into difficult places. I once built a raised garden bed using only screwdrivers, back in the days before the tool library existed. I had to drive two-inch hex bolts into one and a half inch fir boards with pre-drilled holes. My cordless screwdriver could only drive a bolt three quarters of the way into the board before the battery quit on me. The corded drill I had could do the job, but it was slow and laborious work. The next time I built one of those raised beds, I had my handy impact driver around. It could drive those hex bolts into the planks like it was driving the bolts into butter. I could do several at a time before the battery quit, and my shoulder didn’t hurt the next day.

While the impact driver has a lot more torque than a screwdriver, it lacks a few key features that prevent it from replacing the screwdriver. For one thing, most impact drivers are only one speed. Secondly, impact drivers use hexagonal shank bits, which means that the majority of bits won’t work with an impact driver. Finally, most impact drivers aren’t great at driving lightweight screws because of their increased torque.

When my brother and I got started on the door project, he told me that he wasn’t very fond of using impact drivers. He just didn’t see the point. The door project lasted a day and a half and by the end of the project, he had changed his mind about the impact driver.

We had started with an unfinished door, so we had to install all the hardware on it. Once we had the new door appropriately-sized for the frame, we started by taking down the old door and installing the hinges and drilling the necessary holes for the handle on the new door. Then, we took down the old door and put back up the old door, while we sanded and painted the new door. After the paint was completely dry, we again took down the old door and put back up the new door and installed both a deadbolt lock and a handle. At this point, those hinge screws had been removed and re-installed three times.

About halfway through the second door switch, the screwdriver battery died and I handed over the impact driver. He couldn’t believe how much easier it was to remove those screws with the impact driver versus the screwdriver. Plus, having both right there meant we could keep the screwdriver set up with the drill bit we used to pre-drill holes and then had the impact driver available to drive the screws into the door. Not having to constantly switch bits saved us some time and a lot of frustration as I have butter fingers and tend to drop bits often.

The next time you swing by the West Seattle Tool Library to pick up tools for your next project, consider checking out one of the five impact drivers we have available to give it a try. I imagine you’ll find it just as useful to have both a cordless drill and an impact driver by your side when doing most of your projects.

The West Seattle Tool Library has a collection of over 1,500 tools currently available, is free to use and run primarily on user donations. Our entire inventory is available online. For more information on becoming a member, please visit our website. If you are interested in volunteering at the Tool Library, please contact us at: library@sustainablewestseattle.org

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