The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of gear

How We Tested Cordless Impact Drivers

Monday August 10, 2020

Here at TechGearLab, we love getting our hands on new power tools. When we decided to review impact drivers we immediately got down to researching and brainstorming different ways that we could measure, test, and generally beat the heck out of them to find out which ones are suited for heavy-duty jobs and which ones are better for easy household tasks. Read below for an intensive description of our methods of assessment.

The torque delivered by the Ryobi is top-notch.
The torque delivered by the Ryobi is top-notch.

Speed


Impact drivers are primarily used to increase productivity on a project, so we opted to dedicate 35% of our total score to how quickly they perform their duties. We divided this metric into three sets of tests. Before running each speed test we slightly drained each battery to avoid taking measurements during any initial power spikes after a full charge, which some of these tools are prone to show.

Plywood and Ledger Screws


For our initial speed assessment, we stacked enough sheets of plywood to accommodate the full length of a 3-⅝" ledger screw. We drove each screw the tiniest bit to eliminate any user error during the timing of the drive. We then performed 5 individual trials per impact driver and took an average of the measured times.


2x12 Boards and Ledger Screws


To acquire some numeric scores using an alternative wood, we employed some standard Douglas Fir 2x12 boards and the same ledger screws as the plywood test. The ends of each board seemed to be either especially tough or especially easy to drive into, so we chose not to time using those sections of wood. Also, because we weren't able to see any knots on the lower boards we decided to run 7 trials rather than 5 in order to throw out any outliers before we took an average of the 5 trials that were closest together.

The M18 is very fast at driving fasteners.
The M18 is very fast at driving fasteners.

2x12 Boards and Lag Bolts


Because impact drivers are often used for larger fasteners, we wanted to see how they did driving lag bolts.


For this test, we used 2x12 boards for our testing medium as well as some ½" x 3" lags. Due to the large diameter of the bolts, we knew that holes needed to be predrilled — we used an 11/32" bit. The scores for this assessment were based on how fast each model could drive the bolt, then tiebreakers were decided by the removal time.


Torque


One of the greatest benefits of using an impact driver is they offer a ridiculous amount of torque. Because this is an important aspect to consider while buying one of these tools we determined that this metric should account for 25% of the total score. To test torque we considered two elements — how many foot-pounds each driver can achieve and how many they can break.

The DEWALT XR produces spectacular torque.
The DEWALT XR produces spectacular torque.

To test the twisting power of each model we welded grade 8 ¾" diameter bolts to a steel I-beam in order to have something we could really crank on. To determine how much torque the tools can produce we first wore the batteries down a bit using ledger screws to avoid any power spikes when they're fresh. We then used each driver to tighten a washer and nut to the bolts for 5 seconds and conducted 5 trials per model. We checked the foot-pounds that each nut was tightened to with a torque wrench, and took an average of the trials after dropping any outliers.

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To test breaking power, we used the same I-beam setup but this time we tightened the nuts to a set number of foot-pounds and then tried to loosen the nuts with each driver. Increasing by 25 foot-pounds at a time, we recorded the maximum torque that the tools could break up to 300 foot-pounds.


Convenience


Impact drivers may look alike at first glance, but they come with a very wide array of features that can really affect the overall convenience when using the tool. Some users may want a no-frills, straight forward model while others may want all of the bells and whistles they can get — we dedicated 20% of the total score to convenience. For this metric, we conducted some quantitative analysis for elements such as size and weight, but in general, this metric was scored with a series of yes or no questions as to whether or not they have certain features followed by a subjective judgment of how useful these features truly are.


Nearly all impact drivers have an LED light to help light up the fastener, but they are not all created equal. Some of the drivers include one dull bulb while others come with a set of bright lights that illuminate the target of the driver. We took note of which drivers have lights, how bright they are, and how long they stay lit.


Each impact driver has a hex head socket for attaching various bits. Some of them are easier than others to operate, we paid close attention to the differences.

Inserting a bit into the chuck of the Ridgid cocks the spring-loaded quick-eject feature.
Inserting a bit into the chuck of the Ridgid cocks the spring-loaded quick-eject feature.

The impact drivers in our review come with an array of features and accessories including belt clips, bit holders, and magnets to hold bits and hardware — we paid close attention to the quality and functionality of these features and adjusted scores accordingly.

This is one of the only models that we've seen that includes a wrist band.
This is one of the only models that we've seen that includes a wrist band.

Battery


The battery life of a power tool can be very important to both professionals and DIYers. It's beyond frustrating to have your driver die when you're on a ladder, holding a piece of material that's ready to be fastened, or 95% done with a certain job — For these reasons we chose to let this metric account for 15% of the total score.


To test batteries we first drove 14 ledger screws, then the lag bolt in and out, and alternated between these two sets until the impact driver wasn't able to move any fasteners anymore. To eliminate any overheating issues, we cycled through the list of drivers in between each 14 ledger screw/1 lag bolt set. Some models have RPM selector switches — we noted the different types, locations, and functionality of each different design.


Noise


There's no way around it — impact drivers are loud. Although they may all seem to emit a similar amount of noise, we have found that this is not the case. Some of them produce sound levels that are bearable, others are outright painful. We have found enough variance from model to model to dedicate the final 5% of our total score to this metric. To measure noise we used a sound pressure meter to associate a decibel level to each impact driver in our review. We took 4 readings per model while driving ledger screws into plywood as fast as we could, then took the average of the results.


Conclusion


Our goal at TechGearLab is to put products through the toughest, most in-depth test that we can. Hopefully, this article has given you the confidence to make your purchasing decision based on our testing.