Best Impact Driver of 2020
Best Overall 18V Cordless Impact Driver
Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20
The Milwaukee M18 FUEL is a top-notch impact driver. During our speed trials, it put most of the rest of the field to shame. When it comes to torque, it maxed out a 300 ft-lb wrench, both tightening and loosening nuts onto ½" bolts that we welded onto an I-beam. We love its compact size — this tool can squeeze into tight places with ease. The M18 FUEL has four RPM settings; three speeds, and a specific setting for finish work.
The main drawback that we found with the Milwaukee M18 FUEL is that its battery life isn't quite on par with the longest-lasting models. If battery life is a crucial purchasing factor for you, it might make sense to upgrade to a larger Milwaukee battery or go with a different brand altogether. Also, this model is loud. Nearly all impact drivers are incredibly noisy, but the M18 FUEL is above average.
Read Full Review: Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20
Another Great 18V 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, allowing the user to tighten long fasteners between studs or other confined spaces. The XDT13 has a long-lasting battery that is compatible with 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, easy to use, and comfortable to hold. Our favorite thing about the M12 Fuel is that it kept up with (and in several instances outperformed) drivers with substantially more girth and voltage. To top it off, 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 light weight and tiny size, 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 may not be able to squeeze into the tight spaces that 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 an excellent option for someone who will only use 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 most household tasks and small projects, the BLACK+DECKER will achieve the results you're seeking.
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, and found out which features are gimmicks vs. which ones are must-haves. To test them side-by-side, we drove several hundred fasteners to measure speed and exhaust the batteries. 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 changing furnace air filters, fastening TV mounts to interior walls, and assisting with custom furniture construction.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine which models are the very best, we spent days on end researching each model and manufacturer claims 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. Our research results taught us that there are several models that can outperform more expensive models in certain aspects. 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 found the BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 to be 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. However, it should be noted that the BLACK+DECKER scored much lower than high-performance heavier-duty models in all of our assessments. 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. The Makita XDT13 is one of our highest-scoring models, easily outperforming some models that cost substantially more. Our favorite model, the Milwaukee M18 FUEL, is one of the most expensive. However, the high cost can be offset if you already own Milwaukee batteries or if you buy the impact driver in a kit with other tools. If you're in the market for a 12V version, the Milwaukee M12 FUEL is well worth the price considering its outstanding performance.
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. For this test, we took five time trials for each model. 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 seven trials. Finally, we drilled 11/32" pilot holes into the 2x12s 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 Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 was the king of the speed tests, earning a 9 out of 10 in this metric. While driving ledger screws, it averaged a mere 3 seconds. When we timed this model driving and removing the lag bolt, it easily destroyed the competition, taking 12 seconds to tighten the bolt and only 4 seconds to remove it.
The DEWALT MAX XR DCF887B, Milwaukee M18 2850-20, Makita XDT13 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.
At 14 seconds, the Ryobi put up one of the faster times for driving the ½" x 3" lag bolt, and then removed 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 2850-20 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 five 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.
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 this 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 Ridgid R86038, Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20, and Ryobi P238 were all able to achieve this standard. The Makita XDT13 could only 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 PORTER-CABLE PCCK647, Milwaukee M18 2850-20, and the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887, all scoring 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 quality and performance of the LED lights, the functionality of the quick connect hex head collet, and any other additional features.
The only model to earn an 8 out of 10 in the convenience department was the Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20. This model offers a quick-release chuck, a belt hook, and a bit holder. Additionally, it has four RPM settings, and we found the button to be easy to press and in a great location. One of our favorite aspects of this model is its size — it is only 116mm.
We had three models score a 7 out of 10 for this metric — the Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20, the Ryobi P238, and the DEWALT MAX XR DCF887. 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, located on the driver's back, is 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 size and light weight. 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 driving into weird angles and harder to reach places.
We awarded a 6 out of 10 to the Makita XDT13 for convenience. 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, repeating this process until each battery was effectively dead. Some of the drivers showed impressive battery life. 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 should account for 15% of the total score.
The Makita XDT13 did a good job of driving 5 sets of 14 ledger screws and 4 lag bolts in and out, but it 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. The Milwaukee M18 FUEL 2853-20 also earned a 7 out of 10 for battery. This model completed four sets of the ledger screws and the lag bolt but died after driving four ledger screws on the fifth go around.
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 are just, well, 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. Noise accounts for only 5% of a product's total score.
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.
The DEWALT DCF809 Atomic emitted 92 decibels while in use, earning a 5 out of 10 for noise. 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 needs and applications.
— Ross Patton, David Wise, and Austin Palmer