Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (2022)

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  • Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (1) Pete Ortiz
  • Last updated:
Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (2)

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (3)

Wrenches are some of the most basic tools that any craftsman, automotive mechanic, or home repairman needs to have in their toolkit. But while wrenches are standard tools, manual wrenches can be difficult to use when it comes to certain tightly installed nuts and bolts.

This is especially true when performing maintenance or repair work on vehicles or larger structures. Sometimes, nuts and bolts are installed so tightly that it’s simply impossible for you to loosen or remove those nuts and bolts using muscle power alone. Even when you encounter regular nuts and bolts, it’s often easier to use a power tool instead of undoing all those bolts by hand.

Enter: impact wrenches. These capable tools provide the same fast response and excellent results as electric drills do for manual drills or screwdrivers. But while all impact wrenches can be helpful, it’s important to know the difference between electric and air impact wrenches so you know which one you should choose.

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (4)

Quick Overview of Impact Wrenches

An impact wrench looks similar to an electric drill, but they serve different repair and maintenance purposes. An impact wrench uses a power source to drive a hammer hidden in its interior, which strikes an anvil that is connected to the square driver of the impact wrench. That hammer causes the driver to turn, applying powerful force to any nut or bolt that the wrench may be attached to.

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (5)

In this way, the impact wrench can perform the same function as a regular wrench but with much higher power and without requiring muscle strain on your part. Most impact wrenches can turn nuts and bolts in incremental bursts of power with each pull of the tool’s trigger.

Electric Impact Wrench Overview

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (6)

Power Source

An electric impact wrench, as the name suggests, is powered by electricity. Electric impact wrenches come in either corded or cordless varieties. Corded electric impact wrenches provide more power than their cordless counterparts, and they can usually remove larger sizes of bolts, nuts, and certain types of screws. However, corded electric impact wrenches are a little more cumbersome.

Portability & Power

Cordless electric impact wrenches are incredibly portable and are usually smaller in size. Thus, they’re ideal for taking with you from worksite to worksite or for use in hard-to-reach places. However, cordless electric impact wrenches can run out of power quite quickly and are usually not as powerful as the other types.

Trigger Type

Both types of electric impact wrenches may come with variable triggers, which offer you greater control over the turning speed of the tool. This can make electric impact wrenches better for precision wrench work, especially for beginners.


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  • More portable than air impact wrenches
  • Many models come with variable triggers
  • Easy to use
  • Better for use in cramped or narrow spots


  • Not as powerful as air impact wrenches

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (7)

Air Impact Wrench Overview

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (8)

Power Source

The big difference between air impact wrenches and electric impact wrenches is that air wrenches use compressed air to power the internal hammer and turn the driver. Rather than relying on an inner motor, the compressed air does all the work. This necessarily means you need a powerful air compressor plugged into the impact wrench for the tool to function.

Portability & Power

Because of this, air impact wrenches are usually better for stationary work or use at a single worksite. Auto mechanic garages and similar places are great spots for air impact wrenches. Although air impact wrenches are definitely more cumbersome than cordless electric impact wrenches, they usually deliver more power. So, they’re better for taking care of bigger nuts and bolts.

Trigger Type

While air impact wrenches don’t usually have variable-speed triggers, they’re pretty easy to operate and you can adjust the power of an air impact wrench by adjusting the attached air compressor.


  • The most powerful type of impact wrench
  • Great for stationary work or garages
  • Never runs out of power in most cases


  • Can be bulky/difficult to move
  • No variable triggers

RELATED READING: Impact Driver vs Impact Wrench: Which is Best for Your Needs?

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (9)

When to Use an Electric Impact Wrench

All types of impact wrenches can be used for a variety of construction or repair tasks. They’re most commonly used in the automotive industry. But here are some times when it’s best to have an electric impact wrench compared to an air impact wrench:

  • For multiple worksites (i.e., when you need portability)
  • For indoor repair work
  • For working in cramped conditions
  • When you don’t have space for an air compressor
  • If you’re a beginner
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The last condition is important since electric impact wrenches are easier to use than air impact wrenches. You only have to learn how to work a single tool instead of the wrench and an additional appliance.

Another Great Electric Impact Wrench in 2022

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (10)

PORTER-CABLE Impact Wrench, 7.5-Amp, 1/2-Inch (PCE211)

  • 1/2-Inch Electric Impact Wrench Comes With 7.5 Amp Motor For Heavy Duty Applications
  • Porter-Cable 1/2 Inch Impact Wrench Has 450 Ft-Lbs Of Torque For Installing And Removing Heavy Fasteners
  • 2,200 Rpm & 2,700 Bpm Of The Corded Impact Wrench Provide Fast Application Speeds

When to Use an Air Impact Wrench

Air impact wrenches, thanks to their higher average power, are best thought of as the workhorses of the impact wrench category. Here’s when you should prioritize these tools over their electric counterparts:

  • When you have multiple, super-tight nuts and bolts to take care of
  • In an automotive repair shop/garage
  • In a home garage with plenty of space
  • At a long-term worksite without portability needs
  • When money isn’t an object

While this last case isn’t universally true, air impact wrenches are almost always more expensive than electric impact wrenches. This is doubly true if you don’t already have a solid air compressor and need to purchase one to go with a new air impact wrench.

Another Great Air Impact Wrench in 2022

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (11)

Ingersoll Rand 231C 1/2” Drive Air Impact Wrench – Lightweight, Max 600 ft-lbs Torque Output,...

  • Classic Choice: Lightweight And Easy To Maintain, This Impact Wrench Is A Reliable Choice For Auto Hobbyists And Professional Mechanics...
  • Reliable Performance: The 231C Air Impact Wrench Delivers A Maximum Torque Of 600 Foot-Pounds, And Offers Enough Power To Install And...
  • Adjustable Power: Its Adjustable Power Regulator Lets You Easily Adjust Power Output Needed For Your Task At Hand; The Twin Hammer...

Electric vs Air Impact Wrench: Which One To Choose? | House Grail (12)


All in all, the question of electric vs air impact wrenches is somewhat straightforward: do you need portability or power? If you need to be able to move your wrench from place to place, go with electric. If you only need an impact wrench at a single location, an air impact wrench is your best bet.

Either way, both types of impact wrenches can make your repair or maintenance work much faster and easier. Remember to consider your budget and experience level before making a final decision and you’ll be set!

Featured Image Credit: Pixabay


    • 0.1 Quick Overview of Impact Wrenches
  • 1 Electric Impact Wrench Overview
    • 1.1 Power Source
    • 1.3 Trigger Type
  • 2 Air Impact Wrench Overview
    • 2.1 Power Source
    • 2.3 Trigger Type
      • 2.3.1 When to Use an Electric Impact Wrench
    • 2.4 Another Great Electric Impact Wrench in 2022
      • 2.4.1 When to Use an Air Impact Wrench
    • 2.5 Another Great Air Impact Wrench in 2022
  • 3 Conclusion

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Are electric impacts stronger than air? ›

Air and electric impact wrenches do have their differences. An electric model is typically cordless, cheaper and more portable. On the other hand, an air impact wrench packs WAY more power, but does need to be attached to an air compressor.

Which is better an impact drill or an impact wrench? ›

In most cases, you get more power (torque) from an impact wrench compared to an impact driver. However, some impact drivers in the 18V/20V max class have more power than compact impact wrenches, especially on 12V platforms.

Are electric impacts any good? ›

Electric Impact Wrench Overview

Corded electric impact wrenches provide more power than their cordless counterparts, and they can usually remove larger sizes of bolts, nuts, and certain types of screws. However, corded electric impact wrenches are a little more cumbersome.

How do I choose an impact wrench? ›

Things to consider when buying an Impact wrench:
  1. Power – Do you need to be able to control the torque (turning power) that is applied? ...
  2. Size – You need to consider what size of bolt you need to work on. ...
  3. Chuck size – All impact wrenches have a square drive chuck. ...
  4. Power source – 18v machines are for heavy duty use.

Why are air tools better than electric? ›

Cost: Air tools provide low-cost maintenance and operation because they have fewer moving parts and simple design. Safety: Air tools reduce the danger of electric shock and fire hazard. They also run cooler and cannot be damaged from overloading or stalling.

Is electric or air tools better? ›

Air tools are kind of the older school way of doing things. They usually provide more power and more speed than a cordless tool. The air-powered tool is significantly faster. It also has more hits per revolution than the electric one does.

Is it worth getting an impact wrench? ›

An impact wrench can prove incredibly useful for successfully completing a wide range of tasks – from home DIY projects to car repairs or other bits of work. In some cases, it can even be an essential tool to get the job done. So, it's important that you're able to find one that's right for your project.

Can you drill holes with an impact driver? ›

You can make small holes in light-gauge steel and soft wood with an impact driver using a standard hex-shank drill bit, but if you want to make holes larger than ¼ inch in heavy steel, hardwood, or pressure-treated lumber, you need a bit rated specifically for an impact driver.

Do you need to pre drill with an impact driver? ›

A regular drill is all you need. Impact drivers are for driving screws very quickly, not drilling holes.

What size air compressor do you need to run an impact wrench? ›

As a simple rule of thumb, the airflow from the air compressor must be at least 3/2 times the minimum requirement of the impact wrench. For example, a 1/2″ drive Impact wrench usually has a requirement of about 5 CFM airflow at 90 psi. So, the airflow rating of the air compressor at 90 psi should be 3/2 * 5 = 7.5 CFM.

Why are cordless impacts more powerful than corded? ›

Typically, both corded and cordless impact wrenches provide the same amount of utility and comfort. But, a cordless type comes with a battery pack, which can make it a little heavier. On the other hand, corded impact wrenches aren't as heavy as the cordless ones. They can easily be operated with both hands.

Do you need an air impact wrench? ›

Though you may be able to work one loose with a normal wrench, it is going to take time, effort, and may end in injury. An air impact wrench has the power and ability to quickly remove these machine tightened nuts and bolts to make for a much easier process and help get your projects much faster.

Will impact wrench break bolts? ›

Impact wrenches are designed to break bolts loose or torque them up with extraordinary power capabilities making them perfect for nut running. The hammering action from an impact wrench can make bolting work much easier for the operator, specifically when loosening any stubborn bolt.

What is the strongest cordless impact wrench? ›

Ingersoll Rand's W9000 series 1-inch cordless impact wrenches are the most powerful models by a wide margin. Boasting 3000 ft-lbs of breakaway and 2200 ft-lbs of fastening torque, no one else comes close.

What's better impact driver or wrench? ›

Impact drivers offer less torque than impact wrenches, but they have more torque. This torque is however a price. The use of an impact wrench is limited to the removal and installation of heavy-duty bolts and nuts. Impact wrenches are too powerful to drive screws or drill small holes.

Can an impact wrench be used as an impact driver? ›

If You Use an Impact Wrench, You REALLY SHOULD HAVE THIS ...

Are impact drivers better than drills? ›

The impact driver is much stronger than a drill in terms of the way it can deliver that extra torque to break loose stuck bolts and screws or drive them deeper into the material.

Can I use an impact driver to remove lug nuts? ›

Can an Impact Driver Remove Lug Nuts? Yes, technically. You would need to use a hex shaft to square drive adapter in order to attach a lug nut socket to the tool. However, an impact driver may not have enough torque to break loose a lug nut that's rusted/frozen or over tightened.


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