Impact Driver vs Hammer Drill vs Drill Driver: What's the difference?

Impact driver vs hammer drill vs drill/driver: what’s the difference? Here’s a cordless drill infographic to help you know:

Cordless drill woodworking infographic impact driver vs hammer drill vs drill.
Cordless drill woodworking infographic to help you know the difference between the impact driver, hammer drill, and drill/driver.

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They’re everywhere.

Those cute stubby little impact drivers that look like “baby” drills.

So you might be wondering:

What exactly is an impact driver and what should you use it for?

And what about hammer drills? Are they the same as impact drivers? And what, exactly, do you do with a hammer drill?

Impact Driver vs Hammer Drill vs Drill/Driver

Here’s the deal:

First and foremost: an impact driver and a hammer drill are not the same thing.

Okay, so what’s the difference? Can a hammer drill be used as a regular drill? And where does your plain old drill/driver that’s been around forever fall into the mix?

Cordless Drill Guide

Let’s start with what you know:

Cordless Drill/DriverThe Traditional Drill/Driver

The corded version of this tool has been around forever. And these days you can get cordless drills just as powerful as their corded counterparts.

The drill/driver is the most versatile of the three tools we’re discussing. They’re good for both drilling holes and for driving screws and bolts.

The keyless chuck on the traditional drill/driver accepts both round- and hex-shank drill bits and screw-driving bits, as well as hole saws, rotary sanders, wire-wheel brushes, and other accessories.

They have a clutch to prevent stripping screws or sinking them too deep. Many have several clutch settings. These are for driving, not for drilling. The clutch makes the driver stop when a certain amount of resistance is reached. This allows you to control the torque so you can drive a large lag bolt or even the smallest screw.

They are affordable. If you’re on a budget, this is the first tool you should buy.

A 12 volt drill/driver is sufficient for most woodworking applications. However, if you’re going to be working on construction-type projects like decks or sheds, you might want the higher power of the 18 volt drill.

Cordless Hammer DrillThe Hammer Drill

This tool looks pretty much like the regular driver/drill. In fact, most hammer drills have settings to use them as regular drills. If they don’t have this setting, then they’re pretty much only useful for drilling into hard surfaces.

So, do you really need a hammer drill?

As a woodworker, probably not.

Hammer drills can only be used for regular drilling and driving if they have that setting. If not, don’t use them for driving or for drilling in wood or other soft materials. The hammer action can mess up your screws and destroy your wood.

How does a hammer drill work?

Hammer drills are needed for drilling into concrete, brick, masonry, and the like. The mechanism works much like a jackhammer. It’s as if someone is “hammering” on the back of the drill to drive it into the material as you’re drilling it.

If you think you’ll be drilling into stone, brick, concrete, or other masonry, then go ahead and get the drill/driver with a hammer drill setting. Unless you’re a contractor or a mason, it’s unlikely you’ll need a separate hammer drill.

Cordless Impact DriverThe Impact Driver

The impact driver is specifically designed for driving screws and bolts. It provides extra bursts of torque when needed. Instead of a keyless chuck, it has a collar that only accepts hex-shanked driver bits.

Imagine if you’re trying to change a tire and the lug nut is stuck. You might try pounding on the lug wrench for a quick burst of torque to break it free.

This is how an impact driver works. If you’re driving a long screw into a hard piece of wood, it will sense when the screw is encountering resistance and provide that extra burst of torque. It will continue driving the screw where a regular driver will stall out.

Besides not stalling out, impact drivers are easier on the wrist because the concussive action transfers most of the torque directly to the screw.


As a woodworker do you need an impact driver?

You can live without it, but if it’s in your budget, it’s a great tool to have. There are many kits available with both regular drill/drivers and impact drivers included.

Drill vs Driver vs Hammer Drill

Use this table to help you choose between a traditional drill, an impact driver, and a hammer drill
MDF and
Particle Board
Brick, Masonry,
Concrete, etc.
Holes 1/2 inch or lessTraditional DrillTraditional DrillTraditional Drill or
Impact Driver
Traditional DrillHammer Drill
Holes 1/2 inch or largerTraditional Drill or
Impact Driver
Traditional Drill or
Impact Driver
Traditional Drill or
Impact Driver
Traditional DrillHammer Drill
Screws shorter than 1.5 inchesTraditional DrillImpact DriverImpact DriverTraditional Drill or
Impact Driver
Impact Driver
Screws 1.5 inches or longerImpact DriverImpact DriverImpact DriverImpact DriverImpact Driver
Lag boltsImpact DriverImpact DriverImpact DriverImpact DriverImpact Driver

See our cordless drill buying guide for tips on choosing the right drill for you. USA, LLC


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