During our quest to find the best cordless impact drivers of 2020 we bought and tested the 13 most promising models on the market to put in a head-to-head, hands-on, battery-powered tool showdown. We measured, weighed, and timed dozens of variables but also looked for tiny details such as the usability of the bit holder as well as the pattern and effectiveness of the target lights. We subjectively judged the comfort and ergonomics of each driver, but we also beat the heck out of them by effectively maxing out their torque capabilities.
The Best Cordless Impact Drivers of 2020
Best Overall Cordless Impact Driver
Kobalt KID 324B-03
The Kobalt KID 324B-03 is one of the best impact drivers that we've gotten our hands on, and we'd recommend it for heavy-duty jobs . When it comes to battery life this model excelled during our testing process — it was able to drive more fasteners on a single charge than all of the other models in our review. The Kobalt also delivers a phenomenal amount of twisting power, able to tighten ¾" nuts to 300 ft-lbs of torque with ease. Despite its ability to crank fasteners down as tight as the best models, it's also a great tool for lighter jobs and finish projects thanks to its "finish" setting in addition to 3 different RMP settings.
The KID 324-03 is not without its flaws. For one, it's on the bulkier and heavier side of the spectrum in a tool category where many manufacturers are doing their best to slim their models down. It also lacks a quick insert on the chuck which has become one of our favorite features because of the added convenience and increase in productivity.
Read Full Review: Kobalt KID 324B-03
Another Fantastic Cordless Impact Driver
Of the long list of impact drivers that we've reviewed, the Makita XDT13 is one of our favorites. When it came to loosening tight nuts, this model quickly conquered 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. Unfortunately it is 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, but not only is it compact — it's light, it's comfortable to hold, and it's 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 large team of tools.
The M12 is not without its flaws. Despite its tiny, light size it's still very loud. Also, this model is far from the most affordable cordless impact driver that we've gotten our hands on. If you don't mind a tool that's a bit more cumbersome it might be worth it to get a cheaper model that, at the end of the day, performs similarly to this model except for the ability to squeeze into tight places.
Read Full Review: Milwaukee M12 Fuel 2553-20
Best Bang for the Buck
The BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 doesn't exactly offer superb execution, but for someone who will only be using their driver for light duties or the occasional DIY project, it offers a great ratio of performance versus money spent. 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 offers ample performance.
That said, the BDCI202 does fall significantly short when compared to the best of the best. Its torque is so-so, and it's not especially fast. It has fairly weak battery life, and it's not the most convenient driver to use.
Read Full Review: BLACK+DECKER BDC120C
Why You Should Trust Us?
Here at TechGearLab we strive to offer the most accurate and thorough reviews for our readers as possible. To ensure that there is zero bias in our reviews 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 TechGearLab 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, as his dad was a general contractor for 30 years. He also has an education in mechanical engineering from MIT and has 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 certain categories, we like to also look to outside sources to gain some input to add to our own in-house expertise. We 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 determination as to which cordless impact drivers are truly the best for which applications we researched the subtleties of their design, how they work, which features are gimmicks, and which ones are an absolute must-have. 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 their speed, 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 in any way. 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 are the very best cordless impact drivers 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, 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 voluminous 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.
If you are looking for a light-duty impact driver for small jobs and projects around the house, we think that the BLACK+DECKER BDCI202 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. One of our Editors' Choice award winners is the Makita XDT13. This driver is one of our highest-scoring models in nearly every metric and costs substantially less than models it easily outperformed. Our other Editors' Choice award went to the Kobalt KID 324B-03. Luckily for consumers, the price tag on this tool is not that high considering the insane performance it offers — this model is quite the value.
One of the primary benefits to owning an impact driver is the increase to the efficiency and workflow of your project, so the speed at which the tool performs is crucial. For professionals, a tiny bit of difference in speed can be the determining factor as to whether or not you'll be turning a profit for the day. 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 5 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 to in order to test with an alternative type of wood, this time we took 7 trials. Finally, we drilled 11/32" pilot holes into the 2x12s in order to accomodate 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, Kobalt KID 324B-03, 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, Kobalt, 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 Kobalt put up the fastest time for driving the ½" x 3" lag bolt at 13 seconds and then was able to remove it in 5 seconds. The Ryobi was only a smidge slower — it took 14 seconds to drive the lag bolt and 6 seconds to remove it. 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 with the M18 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 by tying the Kobalt at 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.
A great feature that impact drivers offer is their large amount of twisting force, also known as torque, when compared to most standard drills. The motor 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 Kobalt KID 324B-03, the the Ryobi P238, and the Ridgid R86038 were all able to conquer this feat. 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 models that had perfect scores were 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.
With the idea of improving workflow in mind, convenience is an important element that an impact driver possesses — 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.
The RPM switch for this model is located on the bottom where you can effortlessly slide between its 3 different modes.
Two of the best things the Milwaukee M12 Fuel has going for it are its compact size and low weight. This driver is one of the smallest and lightest that we've ever seen, which is a huge score for people who have limited space or professionals who want to keep their kit small.
The Kobalt KID 324B-03 and the Makita XDT13 both earned a 6 out of 10 for the convenience metric. We really like that the Kobalt has 4 RPM settings, but we found the controls a bit challenging to manage. The Makita is lacking variable RPM settings, but we loved that its total front to back length is so short — it's a mere 126mm long.
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 Kobalt KID 324B-03 displayed spectacular performance during our battery testing period, so we awarded this model an 8 out of 10 for this portion of the overall score. The Kobalt completed 5 sets of driving 14 ledger screws and 1 lag bolt in and out, and then finally called it quits after sinking 7 more ledger screws.
Earning a 9 out of 10 for the battery test is the Makita XDT13. This model successfully drove 5 sets of 14 ledger screws and also drove 4 lag bolts in and out but finally ran out of juice while removing the 5th lag bolt of the test.
The DEWALT MAX XR DCF887 and the Ridgid R86038 tied for a score of 7 out of 10 for the battery metric. Each of these drivers were able to drive 5 sets of 14 ledger screws and then died while driving the 5th lag bolt.
The Ryobi P238 didn't have the most amazing battery life when compared to models with the strongest batteries during our testing period, but we'd like to mention that it still did better than the majority of the competition. It was able to drive 3 sets of 14 ledger screws and it was able to sink the lag bolt on the 3rd set, but failed to remove it.
When it comes to noise, there's no getting around the fact that impact drivers are terribly loud. To measure decibels we used a sound pressure level meter in close proximity to each driver while in operation.
Regrettably, almost all of the impact drivers that we tested in our review produced a ridiculous amount of noise. The Bosch PS41 was the only model that we tested that was even remotely tolerable on the ears, it emitted an average of a mellow 86 dBa during our sound pressure analysis.
Considerably far behind the Bosch PS41 was the DEWALT DCF809 Atomic, earning a score of 5 out of 10 for this metric, this model produced an average of 92 dba while in use. The other models in our review were so terribly loud that we had no choice but to give them a very low score.
Here at TechGearLab, it is our goal to provide you with the most accurate, in-depth product reviews as possible. At this point, we hope that we have done just that, and that you'll be able to trust our knowledge, experience, and testing methods to choose the impact driver that is the perfect fit for your applications and needs.
— Ross Patton, David Wise, and Austin Palmer