Which Drills Can Be Used As Screwdrivers (And Which Can’t!)
In 2015, I distinctly remember installing some window shades and asking my dad if my corded drill could be used as a screwdriver. No, he told me, and he didn’t think I did enough handywork to justify purchasing a drill that would. Oh, how times have changed.
Cordless drills can generally be used as screwdrivers. Corded drills, however, usually lack a clutch and therefore cannot be used as screwdrivers, as they will strip the screw head after driving the screw.
There are a few more details than this, though, so keep reading to ensure your specific drill can drive screws.
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Can Corded Drills Be Used as Screwdrivers?
Most corded drills cannot be used as screwdrivers. In order to use a drill to drive screws, the drill must have two features:
- Variable Speed – Driving screws requires less power than drilling a hole, so slower speeds are necessary.
- Clutch – The drill must be able to sense tension, else it will continue spinning after driving the screw. This will strip the head of the screw, making it difficult to further drive the screw or remove it from the wood.
While many corded drills are variable speed, corded drills usually lack a clutch. They therefore make poor screwdrivers.
If you think your corded drill is one of the few corded drills with a clutch feature, it’s easy to check. Simply look for a torque adjusting mechanism. That looks like this on my Ryobi drill:
If your drill has a feature like this, then it probably has a clutch as well, and given it is also variable speed, can be used as a screwdriver.
Can Cordless Drills Be Used As Screwdrivers?
Most cordless drills are intended to be used as screwdrivers. Almost all cordless drills on the market have both variable speeds and a clutch, allowing them to drive and remove screws.
In order to drive screws using your drill/driver (another name for cordless drill,) you’ll need the appropriate drill bit for your screw. Usually this is a Phillips (+) or Flathead (-) bit, but sometimes there are fancier screws that require a t-star or other less common bit.
Pro Tip: When you purchase screws at your local home improvement store, check and see if they come with a free bit. T-Star and other shaped screw heads can make driving screws easier, so if those screws come with a free bit, they can be worth purchasing!
I also recommend grabbing a drill bit extender. They make driving screws much easier, and only cost a buck or two.
Once you’ve got these things, you’re ready to go!
How to Drive Screws Using a Drill
If this is your first time driving a screw using a drill, consider making a pilot hole using a small drill bit first. This will make it easier to drive the screw.
Once you’ve done that, place the hex end (6-sided end) of either the drill bit or the drill bit extender into the chuck of the drill, and tighten into place.
Make sure your drill is selected to turn “forward,” aka clockwise. Otherwise, the screw won’t enter the wood. If you’re not sure what’s selected on your drill, run it a little bit and see which way it turns. Your drill will have some sort of selector; these look different on every drill, but here’s where it is on mine:
Then place the point of the screw in the pilot hole, and align the drill bit with the head of the screw. Gently apply pressure to the screw using the drill, then start the drill at a slow speed. This should start driving the screw.
If you’re driving the screw into something like Ikea furniture, stop screwing as soon as the screw is fully into place. Over-tightening in this application can often crack the boards.
If you’re driving the screw into real wood, you might wish to countersink it, so that it is a little bit lower than the surrounding wood. In this case, keep applying pressure until the screw head has sunk into the wood.
When you’re driving the screw, if the screw gets stuck and doesn’t go all the way into the wood, adjust the torque adjustment knob (see first section) to a higher value. The drill will then apply more torque, driving your screw into the wood. (For softwoods, start your torque between 5 and 8, for hardwoods between 13 and 16.)
To remove screws, select the rotation adjuster so that the drill turns counterclockwise. Insert the drill bit into the screw head, and start the drill. This will reverse the screw out of the hole.
Can Impact Drivers Be Used as Screwdrivers?
Good news! The primary purpose of an impact driver is to drive screws. While an adapter (such as this one by Makita) can be used to in order for impact drivers to be used as drills, impact drivers are generally designed to drive screws.
Impact drivers only accept hex-shaped bits, meaning without an adapter, they can’t be used to drill holes at all. They also provide a higher amount of torque, and are lighter and smaller than drill/drivers, so they drive screws even more efficiently.
They’re also more expensive than a typical drill/driver. If you’re considering purchasing your first cordless drill, I’d recommend a drill/driver over an impact driver, simply because they’re more affordable and versatile.
Can Hammer Drills Be Used to Drive Screws?
Hammer drills are designed to drive screws into masonry. The hammer function is essential to this process, but isn’t so useful in other applications.
However, the hammer feature of the drill can be turned off, allowing hammer drills to operate as normal drill/drivers. Because of this, yes, hammer drills can be used to drive screws into a variety of materials, not just masonry.
Typically, hammer drills are heavy duty tools that are both heavier and more expensive than a typical drill driver. I would not recommend them for the average homeowner, unless you anticipate doing a significant amount of masonry work.
What’s the Difference Between a Cordless Drill and an Electric Screwdriver?
Electric screwdrivers as smaller tools with less power that are great for small spaces and driving screws into pilot holes. Cordless drills (also called drill/drivers) have significantly more power and versatility, and can drive screws into harder woods.
Electric screwdrivers also have a different sort of chuck than a drill/driver. In fact, it’s not a chuck at all, but instead a socket that only excepts hex-shaped drill bits. Drill/drivers, on the other hand, have a chuck that changes size and can accept a wide variety of drill bits.
Drill/Drivers and electric screwdrivers often fall into the same price bracket – under $100, with variation due to size, quality, and brand.
If you’re deciding between purchasing an electric screwdriver or a drill driver, know this: I do a lot of woodworking and home handywork, and I only own a drill/driver. The only reason I could see to purchase an electric screwdriver would be if I was planning to do a lot of work in small spaces.
Drill/drivers do everything electric screwdrivers can do, plus more. The only downside is the increased size and weight, which isn’t an issue in most applications.
What’s the Best Drill/Driver?
I have this Ryobi drill/driver, and I love it. It’s affordable, lightweight, and easy to use, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to any friend or family member.
That said, it’s not the fanciest or most expensive tool on the market, and it probably wouldn’t hold up to professional level use. If you’re willing to spend the big-bucks on your tool, I’d take a look at the Dewalt Brushless Compact Drill/Driver.
It’s a higher-priced drill/driver from a professional-level brand, but brushless drill/drivers tend to last longer. It also has a 1/2″ chuck, which is the larger chucks size that can accept a wider variety of drill bits. Finally, the Dewalt drill comes with two batteries, which is always a plus when you’re working on a project all day long!