How to Use an Impact Driver
Many people go most of their lives using a power drill for their woodworking or other projects without ever knowing that an incredible tool like the impact driver exists. Once they discover this handy tool, they don’t know how they went so long without one.
If you’ve recently discovered the impact driver and want to start taking advantage of its features for your projects, then this guide can help you learn how to use an impact driver correctly. From understanding the difference between its characteristics and those of a drill to learning how to drill screws the right way with one, we’ve got you covered in this handy guide to the impact driver.
1. Understand the Difference Between an Impact Driver and a Drill
You might think that these tools do mainly the same type of work because they look like almost the same tool on the surface. However, there are some essential differences between an impact driver and a drill that make them two separate tools that are equally as helpful.
Before you invest in an impact driver, make sure you understand the differences between one and your drill to make sure it’s right for your project:
- Uses. A power drill is for both drilling holes to place screws and other objects in your project and for driving screws into the project. An impact driver does not drill holes, but instead drives bolts and screws.
- Materials. A power drill works best with materials like wood, plastic, drywall, and other materials that could break under a lot of impact. An impact driver is best for dense materials, like hardwoods, that could use a little more power to drive screws.
- Movement. While power drills have a chuck that rotates to drill holes and drive screws, the impact driver both turns and offers a powerful hammering motion that helps drive screws through dense materials.
- Handling. Impact drivers tend to be more compact than drills and more comfortable for the user. The hammering action can help the tool direct its power to the screw instead of to your wrist, which is why people like using them when they need to drive several screws in one project.
- Price. Impact drivers are usually more expensive than drills because of the strength and versatility they provide.
2. Read the Manual
Before using any power tool, it’s necessary to read the owner’s manual. Our guides offer general instructions for using these tools safely, but the manual will give you specific instructions for operating your impact driver, understanding its settings and functions, and getting the most out of your new tool.
Familiarize yourself with the terminology of the parts of your impact driver, like the collet (this may also be called a chuck, depending on the manufacturer), trigger, grip, and forward/reverse switch. Hold the tool and practice using it without power according to the manual’s instructions before you begin working with it.
Understand the Functions
Your owner’s manual should explain the settings your specific model has and how to switch between various features. We’ll explain a few of them here for clarity.
The forward/reverse switch makes it possible for you to drive and remove screws. Sliding the switch to the forward position will drive the screw into your material, while setting it to the reverse position will help you remove screws. Most drivers will also have a neutral position that locks the trigger.
Most impact drivers also have a speed control trigger that allows you to control how fast or slow the bit turns your screw. By pulling the trigger slightly, you’ll start at a slow speed. Pull the trigger further and your bit should move faster.
3. Put on Safety Gear
When working with most power tools, the best way to prevent yourself from injury is to wear the appropriate safety gear. An impact driver is no exception since it deals out a significant amount of power as it drives screws.
Safety glasses are especially important. As impact drivers drive screws and bolts into surfaces, there’s always a chance that shrapnel, like wood splinters or metal pieces, detach from the material. Safety glasses keep your eyes protected from foreign objects as you work.
You should also consider wearing lightweight, durable, and snug gloves to protect your hands in case of slippage as you drive screws with your impact driver.
Also, remember to wear snug-fitting clothing to avoid your clothes getting caught in your driver as you work.
4. Check the Settings
Now it’s time to learn how to use an impact driver safely. The first thing you’ll want to do before you turn on the power for your driver is to check your specific model’s settings.
If you want to drive screws into the material, check that you’ve set the switch to the forward position. For removing screws, set the switch to the reverse position.
If your impact driver has a speed setting rather than a speed control trigger, set the appropriate speed. You might want to start at a low speed and work up to a higher one once you feel like you have good control of the tool.
5. Choose the Right Bit and Install It
Photo by LawPrieR licensed under CC BY 2.0
Impact drivers can come with a variety of bit types that can accommodate various kinds of screws and bolts.
The easiest way to determine what type of bit you need is to look at the head of your screw and examine its shape. Although most screws have either a slotted or Phillips head, others may have shapes like stars, squares, or hexagons.
Match the tip of the bit with your screw’s head and work your way through the sizes to find one that fits snugly in the space.
Installing a bit on an impact driver is usually easier than doing so with a drill, which sometimes requires a tool to open the chuck and insert a bit.
Remove the battery from your impact driver. Hold the driver with one hand underneath the head of the driver and pull out the collet.
Using your other hand, place the bit in the collet as you hold it out. Release the collet and the locking mechanism should grasp your bit with a firm hold.
6. Load the Screw
Once your bit is installed, you can get your screw ready to drill. Use your dominant hand to hold the drill and pick up the screw with your other hand.
Hold the screw so that its head meets the tip of the drill bit. Hold as close to the head of the screw as possible as you lower your impact driver down for the screw’s tip to meet the material you’re working with.
You’ll need to hold the screw in place until your impact driver helps it break through the surface, so be sure to keep your fingers out of the way.
7. Drill the Screw
Pull the trigger slightly until the collet begins to rotate and turn the screw. Continue holding the screw in place until it engages within the material.
You can gradually increase the speed by pulling the trigger or increasing the speed using a control if your impact driver has one.
Use gentle pressure on your impact driver as it moves the screw further into the material. You shouldn’t have to press on it or use much arm strength.
Once the screw head gets close to the surface, you can slow down the speed by pulling your finger outward and slightly releasing the trigger.
8. Remove the Bit and Store the Driver
To remove the bit from your impact driver, you’ll repeat the technique you learned in step 5 to install it.
Remove the battery from your impact driver. Pull the collet out with one hand, which should release the bit from the driver’s jaws. Remove the bit with your other hand and then release the collet to its original position.
Place the bit in its storage case. Place the battery on its charger and store your impact driver in its storage case or another safe place.
9. Using Your Impact Driver to Remove Stripped Screws
One of the best uses for an impact driver is for removing stripped screws. Your impact driver can sometimes take the place of a screw extraction kit.
Place the impact driver on its reverse setting. Use a drill bit that fits the head of the stripped screw, only slightly larger so that it fits snugly in the head. Position the bit on the stripped screw.
Hit the handle end of the impact driver with a hammer, which will cause the driver’s torque to engage and rotate the stripped screw in reverse, making it loose and easier to remove manually.
Conclusion: How to Use an Impact Driver
With the help of this guide, you now know how to use an impact driver correctly and safely. Remember to become familiar with your specific model by reading the owner’s manual first, and then follow our simple step-by-step directions to get you using the impact driver with ease.