When they first became available years ago, impact drivers were all the rage in Japan but it took a while for Americans to grasp what a terrific benefit impact drivers have over an electric drill when it comes to driving long screws into planks, especially decking. American companies like Porter Cable grasped the idea and started competing with impact drivers offered by overseas companies. The idea of impact drivers was begun long ago with the inventions of (1) the impact wrench, used in every automotive garage, and (2) the hammer drill used to power masonry bits into concrete and other extremely hard materials.
The technology that allows them to do this is sometimes referred to as “hammer and anvil” meaning that, unlike the simple twisting action of an electric drill, the impact driver literally pounds the screwdriver bit around as if being repeatedly being pounded by a hammer. This action gives these woodworking tools astonishing power that simply would not be achievable if the exact same screwdriver bit were chucked up in an electric drill with the same size motor and battery. An additional benefit is that there are hex shank drill bits available so that your impact driver can also serve as a quick-change cordless drill thus becoming one of your most multi-talented woodworking tools.
The first time I picked up an impact driver, a 12-volt Makita, I thought it looked like a toy. I then tried it out by driving a 3-inch deck screw into a 4 x 4 piece of fir. I was amazed as I watched (and felt) the tiny machine effortlessly drive the screw home, sinking the head lower than the face of the lumber. I had to remember to keep a lot of hand pressure against the tool so that the screw driver bit did not fly out of the screw head and tear it up. From that time forward, I have never been without one of these amazing machines nearby
In recent years, these drivers have been upgraded to the point of near perfection and this includes the batteries that power them. Battery voltage has grown from 9.6 volts to 18 volts and more. More than that, battery resilience has been greatly extended from what it was with the dawn of Lithium Ion technology and subsequent expansions on that. In fact, a major part of the actual cost of any impact driver, whether it comes from Makita Tools, Bosch or Dewalt is the battery or batteries that are included with it.
You may have discovered that most makers of cordless woodworking tools have started promoting so-called “bare tool bodies” meaning that they come with no battery or charger included and a greatly reduced price tag. The reason for this is that most manufacturers (but not all) have appreciated the fact that if they make all their tools run on a single18-volt Lithium Ion battery, they can sell more bare tool bodies while locking in their customer to their brand's products. Consumers love this because they do not have to keep laying out hard-earned income for shelves full of different batteries and chargers but, instead, can just buy the bare devices that share the same battery.
Several makers like Makita Tools have included two or more speed ranges in their impact drivers. Sometimes, too much muscle is not always helpful. You can damage small screw heads and snap off screw shafts. The more power used, the less battery life. Just because you have a 400 HP motor under the hood of your car does not mean that you drive around town with the accelerator pedal to the floor.
While a 12 or 14.4 volt impact driver will be adequate for most jobs, an 18 volt model is well worth the small increase in outlay. By now, you should have figured out that the reason that an impact driver saves you money is because it saves you time. . . and time, as you already know, is money.
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© 2010 Robert M. Gillespie, Jr.