What's the Difference? Hammer Drills, Impact Drivers, and Cordless Drill/Drivers

What's the Difference? Hammer Drills, Impact Drivers, and Cordless Drill/Drivers

Stroll down the power tool aisle at the hardware store and you'll see a variety of drills and drivers that look fairly similar. Don't be fooled: Each has subtle differences geared to accomplish different jobs. Whether you're in the market for a jack-of-all-trades drill or you have a more specific project in mind, learn how cordless drill/drivers, hammer drills, and impact drivers differ before you buy. This guide places them side by side-hammer drill vs. impact driver vs. drill-to help you sort out what you need for your to-do list.

Most people will buy a cordless drill/driver as the first tool in their kit because it's well-rounded enough to get nearly any household task done, whether you're hanging a curtain rod or assembling a piece of furniture. You can even use different types of specialty bits to do a variety of tasks like stir paint, make pocket screws, cut large holes for can lighting, and more.

It can handle larger screws quicker and more efficiently than a cordless drill/driver, making it a better choice for woodworking projects involving lots of large fasteners, like building a pergola or bookshelf. Quality impact drivers are the most specialty item of the three, as they are typically only used for driving screws. You can fit them with ¼” hex-shank drill bits for making holes, but they're generally not as precise as a cordless drill/driver.

You might turn to this tool if installing new house numbers on your stone-veneered exterior wall or hanging shelving on an interior brick wall. They don't just bore holes into masonry, though: Hammer drills also typically have a setting that turns off the hammer function, so with the proper drill bits, you can use them for the same tasks you'd use cordless drill/drivers for. However, even with the hammer function turned off, most people don't use them as their regular drill/driver because they tend to be bulkier and heavier.

A cordless drill/driver uses continuous rotational force to drive a screw into a surface. An impact driver also uses rotational force, but it's coupled with bursts of quick force in the direction of the rotation, which helps to drive the screw. Similarly, a hammer drill uses rotational force, but creates a more powerful hammering or pounding force to drive the screw straight down, as if you were driving a hammer into the back of the drill.

Impact drills and cordless drill/drivers have a similar rotary motion behind their force, but impact drills have more torque-that is, the rotating force of the drill-in order to drive screws faster and more efficiently. That means when driving a large fastener, you'll have to exert less energy of your own, and if you're working on a large project with multiple fasteners, this will be a lot easier on your wrist.

Cordless drill/drivers have an adjustable chuck, which holds the bits in place; that means you can use either standard or hex-shank types of bits to drill or drive. Most hammer drills also accept these same bits but require a special carbide-tipped bit specially designed for masonry work. Impact drivers do not have an adjustable chuck and can only be used with ¼” hex-shank drill and driver bits. Bits should be impact-rated to stand up to the force of the impact driver.

Cordless drills/drivers will be the most cost-effective option, beginning around $30 and running as high as $100, depending on a wide range of features like voltage and battery run time. In comparison, similar impact drivers start at around $50 and can cost well over $100, also depending on how advanced the features are. You may also find these two products bundled together for some savings, since they're both good tools to keep on hand if you're just starting to build your tool collection.

It may be wise to rent a hammer drill if you only need it for a one-off job here and there, because they're the priciest. Cordless models can start in price around $70 with basic features and power and without masonry bits. Renting one, on the other hand, will run you about $40 for an afternoon's work.