These 10 Cordless Impact Wrenches Allow For More Mobility
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Historically, impact wrenches were predominantly pneumatic, or air powered, which left them squarely in the domain of professional mechanics. To run a typical 1⁄2-inch pneumatic impact wrench, you usually need an air compressor putting out close to 100 psi—a significant investment.
The good news is that cordless, battery-powered impact wrenches have gotten better as battery technology improves, which has brought prices down and made them viable alternatives to their pneumatic cousins. In fact, cordless impact wrenches have a tremendous advantage: mobility. Not being tied to a compressor with an air hose, these tools can easily go wherever they’re needed.
We tested a range of impact wrenches—from a heavy-duty, high-torque model down to a compact, medium-duty model—and subjected them all to the same challenges to identify their strengths and weaknesses. Read on for some buying advice, followed by our findings and reviews of the best impact wrenches.
The Best Cordless Impact Wrenches
What You Need to Know About Impact Wrenches
How They Work
Unlike cordless drill/drivers and impact drivers, which excel at drilling holes and driving screws, the impact wrench is specially designed for tightening and loosening various hex-head bolts, nuts, and lag screws. It employs both rotational force (torque) and short-burst concussive blows (impacts) to deliver an unparalleled amount of power. For example, most cordless drill/drivers produce about 50 foot-pounds of torque, and the average impact driver delivers about 125 foot-pounds. By comparison, cordless impact wrenches can easily produce torque outputs of over 250 foot-pounds, which is more than enough muscle to power-drive the fattest lags and bust loose rusty, corroded nuts.
However, all that brute strength isn’t very useful if you can’t control the tool. Fortunately, impact wrenches are extremely comfortable to use because the concussive blows smoothly transfer most of that high-energy torque directly to the fastener, not to your hand, wrist, or arm. As a result, the twisting motion—known as reactionary torque—that you feel when using an electric drill is virtually eliminated.
Batteries: Volts and Amp Hours (Ah)
All things being equal, higher voltage will give you more power—but there are cases for lower voltage. With smaller batteries, 12-volt impact wrenches are more compact. This makes them good for smaller jobs, working overhead, or getting into tight spaces. Tools with 18 and 20 volts have less difference between them. Generally, 18-volt tools with advanced features and capabilities make them more versatile and easier to use.
Amp hours (Ah) equals the number of amps that the battery will discharge, continuously, for an hour. Think of amp hours like the volume of a gas tank—a bigger number equals more gas.
IPM vs. RPM
Impacts per minute (IPM) increase as revolutions per minute (RPM) increase. And high RPM help drive nuts or bolts faster, while IPM kick in harder as the resistance increases.
What are we talking about when we say size? The most common size impact wrenches are ½-inch drive models—those with a square anvil measuring ½ x ½-inch, that accepts ½-inch sockets. There are also smaller ⅜- and larger ¾-inch drive models, with the latter being for heavy vehicle maintenance, agricultural equipment, or other industrial uses.
Among half-inch impact wrenches, there are also tool body sizes—generally, full, compact, and sub-compact. If the tool isn’t labeled specifically compact or sub-compact, you can assume, it is a full-sized model. Full-size impacts will have larger, longer tool heads, with beefier internals, and thus higher torque specs. They’re great for removing stubborn, rusted nuts and bolts. However, these bigger tools may not fit in the spaces where they are needed.
Compact and sub-compact impact wrenches have shorter, less bulky, tool heads that fit into tight spaces better. Because they are smaller, they don’t have the high torque specs of the larger models, but they have more than enough for most assembly/disassembly tasks the average person might encounter. Their size and capability for common tasks makes compact impact wrenches incredibly versatile.
How We Tested Impact Wrenches
Every impact wrench on this list has been thoroughly vetted and evaluated by our test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience operating these tools to determine the best options. We chose practical tasks that most people might need to accomplish with these impact wrenches. The first was removing and replacing lug nuts. Lug nuts removed were torqued to the recommended spec at 165 foot-pounds on a Ford F-250 Super Duty pickup truck—with compact wrenches, we removed them from a car torqued to a slightly lower spec of 150 foot-pounds. Standard sized wrenches were also used to remove, or break free, rusted nuts and bolts on an old piece of farm equipment. While compact wrenches were used to remove and then replace new, 9/16-inch, grade eight bolts tightened to 200 foot-pounds. We evaluated them on performance, price, comfort, value, and versatility to determine the best impact drivers that will meet the needs of a wide range of people.
M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
Models like this Milwaukee are the heavy hitters when it comes to impact wrenches. They’re bigger, heavier, and torque-ier (1,400 foot-pounds for the M18 Fuel here). All that torque requires a lot of power, so the M18 comes with two, big 5-Ah batteries. Removing lugs nuts on our F-250 Super Duty was no challenge for this impact wrench. It barely hesitated breaking them loose. Judging by the amount of battery charge consumed in our test, a full day of changing tires should be possible with the two batteries. Four modes, three different speeds, and Bolt Removal mode means it’s easy to set the speed/torque for the job. And that Bolt Removal mode is a pleasure to use; it backs off the speed and torque once a nut or bolt breaks loose so that it doesn’t run off the end and go flying. When it came to the rusty old bolts on the farm equipment, the M18 broke them free without much effort, and using the Bolt Removal mode also helped prevent damage, spinning the nuts off over-rusted threads. The M18 impact wrench is an effective tool for seriously big jobs like heavy equipment repair, industrial maintenance and repair applications, or any other task with big, tough nuts and bolts.
Atomic 20V Max Compact 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
Using DeWalt’s Atomic 20V Max in a drive mode optimized for timber screws, we were able to drive lags bolts just a little faster than with the other models—having the highest torque specs also helped driving speed. Like the Milwaukee, the Atomic 20V Max has a mode for bolt removal and fastening that prevents both runoff and over-tightening—plus two speed settings. When repeatedly tightening similar fasteners, like lug nuts, we were able to get a feel for getting them all within 5 to 10 foot-pounds of spec. While the DeWalt was the most powerful, it was also the loudest model we tested.
18V One+ 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
Ryobi’s 18V One+ hits a price point that’s hard to beat, at the same time accomplishing everything we asked of it in testing. When we used it to remove lug nuts, it impacted for a little more than a second before breaking them loose and spinning them off. It only took slightly longer when we removed rusty bolts on a farm implement. We also drove 6-inch lag bolts into pressure-treated lumber. We found the three speeds were most useful when trying to avoid over-tightening fasteners. The lack of a brushless motor means we wouldn’t expect it to stand up to daily use, but this is a capable tool that will help get a lot of projects done around the house.
M18 FUEL Compact 1/2-Inch Compact Impact Wrench
The M18 Compact Impact Wrench handled every task in our test. With three drive modes that regulate speed, we found a setting suitable for most jobs. A fourth mode, bolt removal—perhaps our favorite—breaks bolts free and then slows down to prevent runoff or over-tightening. With repeated use, and checking with a torque wrench, we found it was relatively easy to get a feel for tightening bolts and nuts to spec. Three LEDs around the anvil supplied ample light in dark conditions. The M18 Fuel is available with a detent pin anvil, as tested, or a hog ring.
20V Max XR 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
We could tell the DeWalt 20V Max XR was a beast when we picked it up. High-torque impact wrenches tend to weigh more because they have beefier components required to handle the forces involved in transferring all that torque. This is no exception, weighing 7.2 pounds with one of the two big 5-Ah batteries clipped to the bottom—the heaviest impact wrench in the test. The weight does give the impression it’s well built and can take some abuse though. Removing the lug nuts on the F-250 Super Duty was seemingly effortless, the Max XR breaking them free in a fraction of a second. We tried it in all three speed settings, with the highest removing them the fastest. We had to get a feel for when to back off the trigger and let the tool’s momentum spin the nut off—do it too late and the nut could run off the stud at high RPM and fly out of the socket. Working on the rusty farm implement felt like a perfect job for the Max XR. The rusted nuts and bolts were no match for it—the only issue was being able to reach a couple of them because of the size of the wrench. DeWalt’s high-torque impact wrench would be a natural fit for auto, truck, or tractor repair out in the field or on the roadside.
PCC740LA 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
This mid-range wrench is engineered and priced to satisfy a wide variety of workers, from DIY homeowners and backyard mechanics to pro contractors. We particularly liked its over-molded rubber handgrips, 1⁄2-inch hog ring, and 4-Ah battery.
18V SubCompact 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
The only subcompact model we tested, the Ridgid 18V, is smaller and lighter than the others. While we found it easy to handle overhead or in tight spaces, it couldn’t break free a 9⁄16-inch, grade-8 bolt tightened to 200 foot-pounds, although it did at 175. Similarly, it struggled for us with a ½ x 8-inch lag bolt, but a smaller ⁵⁄16 x 4½-inch was not a problem. Despite this, the Ridgid was capable on tasks like removing lug nuts tightened to 150 foot-pounds. We were pleased with its bolt-tightening mode, which prevents over-tightening by shutting down at about 20 foot-pounds.
20-Volt 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
With no speed or drive mode settings, Hart’s 20V 1⁄2-inch impact wrench is about as simple as it gets. The good news is that it’s all that many folks will need. During our testing, we found it could pretty easily perform many common tasks, and there wasn’t one thing it couldn’t do. We were able to break loose large, rusty nut and bolts on an old piece of farm equipment, as well as remove lug nuts on the F-250 farm truck. We also drove some lag bolts into pressure-treated lumber. It doesn’t have a brushless motor, so it might not stand up to daily use, however it may be ideal for homeowners with an occasional need for an impact wrench. If you’ve already invested in Hart 20-volt tools, this tool could be a good choice for you, because it doesn’t come with a battery or charger. (They’re available separately if you need them.)
M18 Fuel 3/8-Inch Impact Wrench
While our test is geared more towards half-inch tools, Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel 3⁄8-inch mid-torque wrench never skipped a beat. We used a 1⁄2-to-3/8-inch adapter to remove and replace the lug nuts on our F-250 Super Duty pickup—a job it easily completed. We were also able to break free large, rusty nuts on our old farm equipment. This impact wrench has four mode settings. The first three step up both RPM and IPM, with the third hitting max on both. The fourth mode, Drive Control, is the one we really like, though. When driving, it limits torque to 35 feet-pounds, so there is no risk of over-tightening fasteners. When removing a fastener, it starts off at full torque, then backs off the RPM when the fastener has broken loose, preventing spinning off at full speed and sending the fastener pinwheeling away. The compact body and three LEDs on the face of the tool make it a good option in tight, dark spaces. This is a professional-grade tool, designed to stand up to daily use, but also an option for homeowners with frequent projects. We’ve turned to this tool several times since testing, as its size and torque are useful for a wide range of jobs.
Rand W7150-K2 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
Ingersoll Rand was building air wrenches decades before other companies even considered battery-operated power tools. It shows in this light but heavy-duty model.
XWT13RB 1/2-Inch Impact Wrench
Makita engineers succeeded in packing a lot of power and features into this diminutive wrench, making it the ideal tool when working in tight spaces. We also love its dual LED work lights and super-efficient brushless motor.
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