What’s the Difference Between a Drill and a Driver?

What’s the Difference Between a Drill and a Driver? – Types of Drills and Their Uses, Brushed vs Brushless Drills, and more…

Damn! My drill just died. 🙁 I need a new drill! I now have all kinds of questions like “What’s the difference between a drill and a driver?” or “Brushed vs brushless drills, what’s the difference?” or “What are the different types of drills and their uses?

My Old Cordless Drill - Difference Between a Drill and a Driver

My old dead drill.

I want to document the entire journey and the decision making process. The same kind of process you might be about to go on. Save some time… and benefit from my research! I’m in the exact same boat as you. Let this be a real life case study that will help you.

My intent will be to outline the important factors, narrow down the top choices, then make the decision on the best drill/driver for my needs.

Let the journey begin!

The first thing I discovered is that it’s not just about “drills” anymore. There’s a couple relatively new kids on the block, and one of them is the “Impact Driver” which I’ll discuss below. I know, I know, maybe I’ve been living under a rock for a while… I haven’t had to buy a drill for quite a long time, but I don’t remember seeing much “impact drivers” back then. I see them everywhere now however.

SPOILER: I picked a both a Drill and Impact Driver. Read on to discover why!

What’s the Difference Between a Drill and a Driver? – 3 Types of Drills and Their Uses

So what’s the difference between a drill and a driver? An Impact Driver, a Drill, or a Hammer Drill… they all sound kind of similar right? But they have some differences.

Traditional Drill/Driver

This is probably what most people think of when they hear “drill” and it’s my baseline comparison point. Generally, the drill/driver is a decent and versatile option for most “everyday” things around the house, and even for contractor level tasks. Drill holes, drive screws… it does most things. The humble drill has been around for a long time, and has evolved from being corded and with a chuck, to cordless and chuckless.
One thing to note about the Drill is that is has a clutch, so you can adjust the settings on where the driving will cease once a set level is reached. This can be great for fine control with finishing carpentry, etc.

Another thing to note is that a Drill can accept both a smooth rounded bit, or a hexagonal shaped bit with it’s chuck.

For certain tasks however, the drill might not be the optimal choice.

Check Prices of Drills on Amazon!

Hammer Drill

The Hammer Drill looks a lot like a traditional drill, but it operates and bit differently, and also often has a handle coming out of the side of it.

Imagine while drilling, somebody was hitting the back of the drill with a hammer. That’s basically what’s happening… rapidly. There’s a mechanism inside the drill that does this action. This helps the drill push farther into the material being drilled. This can be really good for certain applications such as concrete and masonry.

I’ve decided to leave the Hammer Drills out of this guide however, as it’s just not something I think I’ll need for everyday household use. It’s a specialized tool that I’m sure is great for specific jobs out there (like concrete and masonry)… but I just think it would be overkill for average household duty.

Check Prices of Hammer Drills on Amazon!

Impact Driver

As mentioned above… I’ve been seeing the Impact Driver around a lot lately. It seems to be a popular tool these days! And with good reason.

An Impact Driver isn’t like a regular Drill/Driver and isn’t like a Hammer Drill… but it’s slightly a bit of both. Let me explain.

First, it doesn’t have a chuck. Instead, it has a hex socket. So you can’t use smooth rounded bits, they need to be hex bits.

Next, like the Hammer Drill it has a bit of the action of someone hitting it on the back with a hammer. But the hammering mechanism inside delivers rotational force as well, so you don’t need to push as hard. More torque and force are delivered through the drill bit because of this action. Almost as if there was a wrench clamped onto the bit, and the wrench was being hit with a hammer in a sideways direction in rapid little taps. It’s fast repeated micro taps in the rotational direction, and in the downward driving direction at the same time.

This action can be fantastic for driving longer fasteners, where a regular Drill might run into some challenges. Where a regular Drill/Driver would back off a bit once it feels resistance, an Impact Driver starts to kick in it’s “impact”/hammering action.

One great thing about an Impact Driver is that it is less likely to strip a screw, either going in, or if you’re trying to remove a stubborn or seized screw. How many times have you tried to remove a screw that’s in really tight? Well, an impact driver is going to give a rotational hammering action to help remove the screw, which is insanely helpful!

Like most drills it also has a variable speed trigger so you can control the easing in or out when drilling. This offers some control when you need to back off the driving a bit so you don’t go too far.

But that said, one disadvantage is that it can lack the finer control and “feel” that a drill would have in more delicate situations. There is no clutch to stop it once a certain resistance is reached. For example, if you’re doing some finishing carpentry and the exact depth of the screw matters, you might want to use a drill instead to ensure finer control and that you don’t “over” sink the screw. But if you’re laying down subflooring, or doing decking, or framing, an Impact Driver can be the workhorse you want.

Another disadvantage worth mentioning is that they are louder, especially when the hammering mechanism kicks in. But it’s not that bad, certainly not as bad as a Hammer Drill.

Check Prices of Impact Drivers on Amazon!

Difference Between Impact Driver and Hammer Drill

You might be wondering “a Hammer Drill and an Impact Driver sound pretty similar, what’s the difference?” The main difference between an Impact Driver and Hammer Drill is the direction that the extra force is being exerted in. A Hammer Drill is more like a Jackhammer as it exerts extra force in the downward direction of the drill bit, whereas an Impact Driver has less exclusive downward force but also has sideways rotational force.

Impact Driver Bits VS Regular Bits

This is a topic that is a bit controversial within the tool community. There are many folks that claim that “special Impact Driver bits” are a waste of money, and that you’ll be better off with standard bits.

After doing some research into this, and taking into account feedback from people that are “heavy users” of Impact Drivers, it seems that like many things in life… it depends.

Impact Driver bits are designed to have a degree of “pliability” in between the bit head, and the part that connects with the driver. This area can be called the “ShockZone” (as with Milwaukee line).

One way to explain this is using the comparison of a tree branch. If a tree branch was completely hard and brittle, it would break easily with a little gust of wind. But instead, Nature has designed the tree branch to be slightly flexible… so instead of breaking with a gust of wind, it simply bends a bit and returns to normal.

This might not be a perfect analogy, but hopefully enough to get across the idea.

An Impact Driver bit is designed for intense high torque applications, such as metal to metal fastening, where maximum torque from the driver is demanded. In these situations, and Impact Driver bit will outlast the standard bit.

For everyday needs, such as screws into wood, a standard bit will most likely outperform the Impact Driver bit.

Impact Driver vs Drill – Which is Better?

As you’ve probably figured out from the sections above, it’s not a matter of “better” – but rather, which is more appropriate for the job at hand.

An Impact Driver will serve you well when it comes to the brute force job of driving screws in, and getting past that resistance point. It can work well for long screws, or situations where the material would be tough for a regular drill to get through.

A traditional standard drill will offer you finer control for situations where nuance and precision are called for. For example, finishing carpentry.

Brushed vs Brushless Drills

The technology for the brushless motor has been around since the 1960s, but was mostly used within the industrial world. In the 2000s Makita was the first to introduce brushless motors into some of their commercial products.

Some of the differences between a Brushed and Brushless motor are:

  • Brushless motor has no brushes and no commutator
  • Magnet locations and windings are reversed
  • Instead of brushes and a commutator, a circuit board routes the energy delivery to the windings

Some of the benefits to the Brushless motor:

  • “Smarter” in that electronics can adjust according to task. It can adjust the current depending on the resistance it senses. In comparison, a Brushed motor will always run as fast as it can.
  • Brushless can be more powerful in general. Copper windings can be larger (because they are on the outside of the motor arrangement). Because a Brushless motor is also more efficient (no energy loss caused by friction of physical contact), there’s more power.
  • More durable and longer lasting.

Downside (right now):

  • You guessed it… Brushless motor technology can cost more than it’s Brushed counterpart. Brushless is approximately 30% more costly to make than Brushed.
  • But like many other things, as technology and tools advance, the cost will surely come down to more “non-pro level” prices. Right now, the cost would be more “pro-level” for those that are looking for the higher end tools.

Cordless Drill Batteries – NiCad vs Lithium Ion

Most tools will come with Lithium-ion batteries these days, but you can still get NiCad. There’s several differences between the two, but I’ll make it easy… just get the Lithium Ion tools. If you want to know more, keep reading.

Nickel-cadmium

  • Suffers from a “memory effect” (need to use a NiCad until totally dead to avoid this effect)
  • Heavier weight
  • Can last for about 1000+ cycles
  • Cheaper

Lithium-ion

  • Resists the “memory effect”
  • Much lighter weight
  • Can last for about 1000+ cycles (same as NiCad)
  • More expensive

Both NiCad and Lithium-ion will last for about the same number of cycles. But the Lithium-ion will provide greater voltage, will be lighter, and a charge will usually last longer (sometimes twice as long).

The basic equation might look something like this:

Lighter, lasts longer, more expensive (Lithium-ion)
or
Heavier, lasts shorter, cheaper (NiCad)

Voltage

It’s also worth mentioning the voltage designations. You’ll notice for example that some drills that compete against each other are 18V or 20V. Well, 18V and 20V are basically the same. When you have a 20V system, it’s 20V max / 18V nominal… but of course 20V is the higher number so it sounds better in terms of marketing. So for example, Dewalt is 20V until you actually pull the trigger, at which point it drops to 18V. So the Dewalt 20V is really in the same category as the Milwaukee M18.

Brushless Drill Comparison

Is seems that the general consensus is that:

  • Milwaukee
  • Dewalt
  • Makita

(in 18v and 20v), are the best pro drills you can get for basic and heavy duty usage.

Of course there are a variety of other premium brands to pick from, such as Metabo, Bosch (blue line), Hilti and Fein. These would likely serve you well too.

But in my research, it seems to come down to two heavy hitters that constantly get compared against each other. Milwaukee and Dewalt

And specifically their larger more powerful lines, the Dewalt 20v and the Milwaukee M18 FUEL systems.

Dewalt 20V VS Milwaukee M18

DRILL / DRIVERS IMPACT DRIVERS
Dewalt 20-Volt MAX XR 1/2 in. Compact Drill/Driver (DCD791B) M18 FUEL™ 1/2″ Drill/Driver (2703-20) Dewalt MAX* XR 1/4″ Impact Driver (DCF887B) Milwaukee M18 FUEL™ 1/4″ Hex Impact Driver (2753-20)
Power (V) 20V MAX (Cordless) 18V (Cordless) 20V MAX (Cordless) 18V (Cordless)
Motor Brushless Brushless Brushless Brushless
Battery 20V MAX* XR Lithium-Ion M18™ REDLITHIUM™ 20V MAX* XR Lithium-Ion M18™ REDLITHIUM™
No Load Speed 0-550/0-2,000 RPM 0-550/0-2,000 RPM 0-1,000/ 2,800/ 3,250 RPM 0-3,000 RPM
Peak Torque 620 in-lbs 1,200 in-lbs 1,825 in-lbs 1,800 in-lbs
Weight 3.0lbs 3.14 lbs 2.0 lbs 2.1 lbs
Length 6.9” 7.50″ 5.3″ 5.25″
LED Light 3-Mode LED Yes Yes Yes
Cost Pro Level Pro Level Pro Level Pro Level
Tool Warranty 3 Years 5 Years 3 Years 5 Years
Ratings Very High Very High Very High Very High
Price Check Amazon Price Check Amazon Price Check Amazon Price Check Amazon Price

Conclusion

There’s a lot to consider here. For me, it comes down to the following criteria:

  • Motor: Brushless looks like the way to go.
  • Battery: Lithium-Ion looks like the best option.
  • Reputation: This is a huge factor for me. I really believe in the power of reviews and feedback.
  • System of Tools: What system are you buying into… what other tools can use the same batteries?
  • Warranty: To me, this says a lot about how much the company themselves believes in their product.

Taking all these factors into consideration, here’s how I feel it breaks down…

  • Motor:
    Both Dewalt and Milwaukee have brushless. So tie on this factor. However, for the drill/driver, it looks like Milwaukee has more torque.
  • Battery:
    Both Dewalt and Milwaukee have Lithium-ion battery systems. Tie here as well.
  • Reputation:
    Both have excellent reputations. It really seems very divided in terms of popular opinion. But if I’m being completely honest, I feel like I see just a bit more reverence for Milwaukee, especially from the “pro” users (people in the trades). I feel like Milwaukee has the edge on this one. Advantage, Milwaukee.
  • System of Tools:
    Both Dewalt and Milwaukee have other tools that utilize their battery system. So I’d say basically a tie here. It might come down to what particular tools you’re looking for.
  • Warranty:
    It looks like Milwaukee wins on this one with their 5 year warranty, VS the Dewalt 3 year. Advantage, Milwaukee.

Now, other people might feel differently for their own reasons. But for me, I feel more drawn to the Milwaukee M18 FUEL drivers. I feel like they have an edge with their excellent reputation, reviews, longer 5 year warranty, and I also based this off of reading and watching various user reviews on YouTube and Amazon.

It looks like the Dewalt would be an excellent choice as well. They are both excellent choices… I’m just giving my personal choice on this based on the slight edge I’m seeing.

Here’s my winner, the awesome Milwaukee M18 FUEL system!

I hope this has answered your question “What’s the difference between a drill and a driver?” Leave a comment below if you have any questions, or if you have any experience with any of the tools mentioned!

Thanks for reading.

Be sure to check out my other posts on Garage Organization:

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