The Best Cordless Impact Drivers of 2020
Best Overall Cordless Impact Driver
The Makita XDT13 is one of our favorites. When it came to loosening tight nuts, this model quickly conquered in our experiments. We are big fans of the length of this tool — from front to back it is one of the shortest models that we've seen, which allows for the user to tighten long fasteners between studs or other confined spaces. The XDT13 has a long-lasting battery that is used for a variety of other tools made by Makita. Also, if fastening speed is a concern of yours this model is a solid option.
It's a bit of a letdown that the Makita XDT13 only has one speed as this detracts from its finish or light-duty capabilities. It is also very loud so if you're worried about sound levels it would be wise to go with a quieter model.
Read Full Review: Makita XDT13
Best 12 Volt Cordless Impact Driver
Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20
The Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20 is the best cordless impact driver that we've found in the land of 12-volt battery-powered tools. This impressive little driver essentially fits in your pocket. Not only is it compact — it's light, comfortable to hold, and easy to use. Our favorite thing about the M12 Fuel is that it kept up with, and in several instances outperformed, drivers with substantially more voltage and girth. On top of that, Milwaukee offers a fantastic array of tools built on the M12 Fuel platform, so you may only need to buy one battery and charger for a fleet.
The M12 is not without its flaws. Despite its tiny size and light weight, it is still very loud. Also, this model is far from the most affordable cordless impact driver that we tested. If you don't mind a tool that's a little more cumbersome it might be worth it to get a cheaper model that might not be able to squeeze into tight spaces like this one can, but ultimately offers the same performance.
Read Full Review: Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20
Best Bang for the Buck
The BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 offers a great ratio of performance to investment. It is a great option for someone who will only be using their driver for light duties or the occasional DIY project. Don't let the lower score fool you, it's still a great product — it just got left behind during our testing when compared to the professional-grade models. For the majority of household tasks and small projects the BLACK+DECKER will achieve the results you are looking for.
That said, the BDCI202 does fall significantly short when compared to the best of the best. Its torque is so-so, and it is not especially fast. Its battery life is lacking, and it's not the most convenient driver to use.
Read Full Review: BLACK+DECKER BDC120C
Why You Should Trust Us
Here at GearLab, we strive to offer the most accurate and thorough reviews for our readers as possible. We purchase all of the products that we test at full price, and we never accept any demos or freebies of any kind from manufacturers. The GearLab cordless impact driver review team is comprised of Ross Patton, David Wise, Max Mutter, and Austin Palmer. Review Editor Ross has spent countless hours with an impact driver in his hands during his years working in the HVAC industry as well as building custom features for a world-class snowboard park. Senior Review Editor David grew up using power tools and also has a degree in mechanical engineering from MIT. He has also used a plethora of tools for a multitude of projects including deepwater surveying robots. Austin, our senior research analyst, has plenty of experience with impact drivers from his experience working on oil rigs in Texas as well as being an avid DIY specialist. For this category, we also left the lab to spend some time testing at our friend Chris Liscola's workshop to get his opinion on the drivers. Chris has 30 years of construction experience under his belt and has been creating his own custom live-edge wood slab furniture for more than a decade.
In order to make the most accurate assessments about which cordless impact drivers are truly the best for which applications we researched the subtleties of their design, how they work, found out which features are gimmicks, and which ones are must-haves. We then referenced thousands of user reviews and purchased all of the top models. To test them side-by-side we drove several hundred fasteners to exhaust the batteries and measure speed. We maxed out each driver's torque, measured the noise they produce, and then carefully inspected each one for any tiny detail that might set it apart or give it an advantage over the competition. To complete the test we spent dozens of hours with them away from the lab working on projects ranging from fastening TV mounts to interior walls, to changing furnace air filters, to assisting with the construction of custom furniture.
Analysis and Test Results
In order to determine which models are the very best, we spent days on end looking at user reviews and the claims of the manufacturers for these products, then purchased the most promising models for an extensive hands-on comparison. After dozens of different assessments and weeks of testing, we arrived at five weighted rating metrics in which to group our findings and results — speed, torque, convenience, battery life, and sound.
Unlike many categories of power tools, there is not anything close to an unequivocal parallel between price and performance when it comes to cordless impact drivers. The results of our research taught us that there are several models that outperform the most expensive impact drivers in every way. We also now know that the most affordable tools in this review can handle a very reasonable workload, especially for light-duty and finish applications.
We think that the BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 is an excellent light-duty impact driver for small jobs and projects around the house. It is a fantastic tool that will barely put a dent in your bank account, which is why it received our Best Buy award. However, it should be noted that the BLACK+DECKER scored much lower than heavy-duty, high-performance models in all of our assessments, so if you're a professional, a serious DIYer, or you just know that you put a beating on your tools then we'd suggest you go with a model that earned more points. Our Editors' Choice award winner, the Makita XDT13, is one of our highest-scoring models in nearly every metric and costs substantially less than models it easily outperformed.
One of the primary benefits of owning an impact driver is the increased efficiency and project workflow. In this regard, speed is crucial. For professionals, as the saying goes, time is money. If you're a DIYer, the last way you want to spend your limited free time is waiting for a tool that lags during a project. For these reasons, we decided to let this metric account for 35% of the total score.
To determine the various speeds of each model, we clocked a dozen individual time trials per driver using multiple types of screws and lumber. We began with a stack of sheets of plywood that allowed for ample room to completely sink a 3-⅝" ledger screw — we took five time trials for each model for this test. We then used the same ledger screws, but this time we used a stack of 2x12 boards in order to test an alternative wood, this time taking 7 trials. Finally, we drilled 11/32" pilot holes into the 2x12s in order to accommodate a ½" x 3" lag bolt. For this experiment, we clocked how long it took each tool to completely drive the bolt, and then how long it took to remove it.
The DEWALT MAX XR DCF887B, Makita XDT13, Milwaukee M18 2850-20, and the Ryobi P238 were each awarded an 8 out of 10 after our series of assessments. The Makita, DEWALT MAX, and M18 all tied for both the plywood ledger screw test and the lumber ledger screw test at 4 seconds and 3 seconds respectively. The Ryobi was barely slower on the plywood at 5 seconds but also had a calculated average of 3 seconds for the 2x12 trials.
The Ryobi put up the fastest time for driving the ½" x 3" lag bolt at 14 seconds and then was able to remove it in 6 seconds. Just behind was the Makita that also took 6 seconds to remove the fastener, but showed a tad slower time of 15 seconds to sink it. The M18 was barely behind at 16 seconds to install and 7 to back it out. The DEWALT MAX was slower at driving, it took 18 seconds for this test, but it made up for it with a time of 5 seconds for removal.
The only driver that earned a 7 out of 10 for the speed metric was the Ridgid R86038. After 5 trials of driving ledger screws into plywood, it showed an average of 6 seconds. For the ledger screws into lumber tests, it was much faster and averaged 3 seconds per screw. When it came to the lag bolt test the Ridgid took 19 seconds to drive it and 9 to remove it.
When compared to most standard drills, torque, or twisting force, is a critical differentiator for most impact drivers. The motors on these tools are designed to allow quick rotational bursts of force that deliver an extra boost of tightening power. The amount of torque that each model offers can be the difference between the tool being able to handle the job or not, so we allotted 25% of the total score to the metric. To test torque we welded several ¾" bolts to an I-beam that would be next to impossible to shear off with an impact driver. We tightened nuts onto each bolt using a torque wrench to determine the number of foot-pounds of force each driver could loosen. Next, we used each model to tighten the nuts for a total of five seconds and then used the wrench to determine the torque that each driver delivered.
The torque wrench that we used for testing maxes out at 300 foot-pounds of force, so we determined that models that could both reach and break a minimum of 300 foot-pounds should earn a 10 out of 10 for the metric. The Ryobi P238 and the Ridgid R86038 were both able to achieve this standard. The Makita XDT13 was only able to reach a torque of 285 ft-lbs while tightening, but it was so quick at breaking 300 ft-lbs that we opted to award it a 10 out 10 as well.
A couple of points behind the top scorers are the Milwaukee M18 2850-20, the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887, and the PORTER-CABLE PCCK647 that all scored an 8 out of 10. The M18 averaged 245 ft-lbs while tightening, while the DEWALT MAX was just behind at an average of 238 ft-lbs — both of these models were able to break 300 ft-lbs in under two seconds. The PORTER-CABLE had a slightly higher tightening average than these two models at 257 ft-lbs, but when it came to breaking 300 ft-lbs it took this model nearly 10 seconds to pass the test.
Convenience is an important element of impact driver efficiency. Therefore, we dedicated 20% of the total score to this metric. To reach a numeric value for convenience we examined the subtle differences between each model including the bit holders, the functionality of the quick connect hex head collet, the quality and performance of the LED lights, and any other additional features.
We had 3 models score a 7 out of 10 for this metric — the Ryobi P238, the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887, and the Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20. All three of these models are equipped with switches to select between different RPM settings.
One of the best bonus features that we found on the Ryobi is the innovative chuck. Not only is it a quick connect, inserting a bit into the driver cocks a spring-loaded disconnect that makes it very fast and easy to use.
This model comes with a bit holder on the front of the handle and also includes a magnet plate for holding additional bits or fasteners. The RPM switch for this model is located on the back of the driver which makes it very easy to see and access.
The DEWALT MAX has a similar style of LED lights to the Ryobi, and we also love that it has a short total length which makes it easy to use in tighter spaces.
Our favorite two things about the Milwaukee M12 Fuel are its small weight and small size. This model is about as compact and light as they come, which is ideal for those who don't have much storage or pros who want to limit the weight of the tools they drag around. We also found that this model is great for being able to drive into a weird angle and hard to reach places.
We awarded a 6 out of 10 to the Makita XDT13 for this metric. It's awesome that the Makita is so short — from front to back it's only 126mm. Regrettably, this driver is devoid of RPM setting controls.
To wear out the impact drivers we alternated between sets of sinking 14 ledger screws and 1 ½" x 3 " lag bolts and repeated this process until each battery was effectively dead. Some of the drivers showed impressive lifetime, others — not so much. Because a short battery life can be extremely inconvenient and annoying when you're fully committed to a project we decided that this metric ought to account for 15% of the total score.
The Makita XDT13 did a good job of driving 5 sets of 14 ledger screws as well as 4 lag bolts in and out but eventually ran out of sauce while loosening the 5th lag bolt of the experiment. We gave this driver a 9 out of 10 for this metric.
Tied at 7 out of 10 for this test — the Ridgid R86038 and the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887 each died on the 5th lag bolt after driving 14 ledger screws 5 times.
While the Ryobi P238 couldn't quite keep up with the top models during our battery test assessment, it still outperformed most of its adversaries. It got through 42 ledger screws and drove the lag bolt three times, but when trying to remove the lag bolt on the third round the battery died.
As far as noise is concerned, impact drivers just are not that awesome. They are loud. Period. Nevertheless, we decided to run some experiments and include the results in our overall assessment of these tools. We used an SPL meter to measure the average decibel level that each model produced while in operation.
Unfortunately, nearly every impact driver basically failed this metric because they all emit such an absurd amount of noise. The only driver that was somewhat bearable was the Bosch PS41 — we measured an average of 86 decibels with the SPL meter during the noise testing for this model.
Earning a 5 out of 10 for this metric, the DEWALT DCF809 Atomic emitted 92 decibels while in use. All of the other impact drivers were so insanely loud in this assessment that we chose to score them terribly low.
We hope that we have provided you with the in-depth information that you need to make an informed decision in choosing the impact driver that is the perfect fit for your applications and needs.
— Ross Patton, David Wise, and Austin Palmer