Electric Vs. Air Impact Wrench: Let’s Find Out What You Need!

Whether you are a professional working in an auto repair shop or a mere DIY’er whose projects revolve around tightening and loosening nuts and bolts, you will concur with me that unless you have a decent tool at your disposal, it’s no surprise to get stuck at some point in your job for hours or even the whole day.

To break through those stubborn and rusty screws and nuts, you need a tool that’s going to produce a tremendous amount of torque, and that’s where an impact wrench comes in. This piece produces a massive amount of turning power along with short-burst concussive blows, saving you a great deal of strain when tightening or loosening hex-head bolts, lag screws, and nuts.

However, just like with any other handheld tool, there are a series of things you need to decide on before you settle for a specific model of an impact wrench. You have to factor in the RPM, torque, and ultimately, electric or air-powered.

So, when buying an air impact wrench, should you go for an air impact wrench or an electric impact wrench? Well, in this article, we will take a close look at each of these versions. We will compare the performance and where each of these versions is more appropriate than the other. Let’s get started right away!

Air Impact Wrenches

An air impact wrench is a type of impact wrench that uses air as the power source. It uses the same working criteria as any other pneumatic tool. Therefore, if you’ve in the past worked with air-powered tools, whether a nailer, ratchet, sanders, or any other, you most likely have an idea of how an air impact wrench works.

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Like all other pneumatics, an air impact wrench runs on compressed air. That means you will need a reliable source of air supply (air compressor) and have the tool connected to it every time you are using it. If you don’t have an air source already, you will need to buy one.

You can choose a low or high-capacity air compressor depending on the number of tools you want to run as well as the length of your work sessions. A larger collection of air tools will require a compressor that can hold more gallons of air. Also, longer working hours mean you need an air tank that can accommodate more air.

Electric Impact Wrenches

When talking about the electric variety, it’s worth knowing that wrenches belonging to this category can either be battery-operated or plug-in versions. Battery-operated models are exactly as the name states— they get their power directly from a battery. In other words, you have to install a battery (rechargeable) for you to use them. They are also called cordless impact wrenches.

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On the other side, plug-in models are those that obtain energy directly from a power outlet. They don’t use batteries, so you have to stick around a power source when using them. They are almost similar to air impact wrenches in terms of maneuverability, convenience, and applicability. As a result, throughout this article, we will use the term “electric impact wrench” to refer to the cordless variety.

Air Impact Wrench Vs. Electric Wrench

Even after knowing how each of these types of impact wrenches works, you may find it a bit hard to settle for one when leaving out the other.

Sure, they all work well for loosening and tightening nuts and bolts. However, no one type is going to work perfectly for every situation. That’s why you have to evaluate the nature and scope of your work before you forego one model for the other. It’s after looking into these areas that you can tell what variety better conforms to your requirements.

So, what do you factor in when deciding on whether to buy an electric or impact wrench? Well, that’s what we are going to examine next.

Power

The first comparison criteria when deciding between the two versions is the amount of torque each can generate. Torque is simply the rotational force or the turning force of the impact wrench. We use foot-per-pound to measure the torque of an object. A higher amount of torque translates to more muscle for fastening and loosening nuts and bolts.

Now, coming back to the two classes of impact wrenches, air impact wrenches deliver more power than their counterparts. Therefore, air-powered tools will come in handy for applications that require a high amount of turning force.

However, that doesn’t mean an electric impact wrench won’t suffice for such applications. In fact, most of the cordless impact wrenches have torque ratings above 250 foot-pounds, more than you need to bust even large rusty bolts and nuts.

Nevertheless, one thing that has for long acted as a drawback to the electric models is that they don’t maintain a consistent amount of power output throughout use. I mean, when using electric impact wrenches for demanding applications, you may notice the aggressiveness of the tool diminishing as the battery runs out.

You may also not use them for extended periods unless you have an extra battery and charger. But if you have shorter work sessions and are patient enough to wait as the battery recharges, the electric version may work for you.

With that said, holding other factors constant, an air impact wrench is the most appropriate for extended use and for applications that require an enormous amount of torque. Provided you don’t change the setting, the power you get at the beginning won’t change as you go on with your project.

Cost

The next factor that will help you decide on the variety to choose is the cost. Like when buying any other tool, it’s advisable to stick to your budget when shopping for an impact wrench.

When you examine the price tag of the two impact wrenches, you likely will notice a significant difference. An air impact wrench costs way less compared to the electric models.  Actually, a decent model may cost you less than $200.

More power for less cost— right? Well, not exactly! Here is the catch— with the air impact wrench, you’ll need to buy an air compressor, filter, pipes, lines, and other additionals if you don’t have them already in place. That will make the total ownership cost to shoot beyond the one you’ll need to pay for an electric version.

However, once you have the air compressor and other fittings in place, you won’t incur the same expense in the future. That’s because all these fittings will serve as a universal power source for all your air tools.

On the side of electric impact wrenches, you won’t incur any cost outside the one you pay for the tool. However, the amount you shell out for the machine itself is more than you will pay for an air impact wrench, just as aforestated. Here, you may part with about $500.

Durability

The other factor that could serve as a tie-breaker for the two types of impact wrenches is the lifespan of the tools. We all agree that durability depends on the level of maintenance and the build quality of the specific piece.

That’s why some electric wrenches will last longer than others of the same caliber, even under the same level of maintenance and use. The same applies when talking about air impact wrenches.

However, there are a few attributes about air impact wrenches that make them generally more durable than the electric variety. For instance, they don’t have lots of components like the electric models. Fewer parts mean they are less likely to break down, and that translates to a longer lifespan.

Also, the air impact wrenches serve in a specific location. That means if you have the fittings in your workshop, you can only use the impact wrench within that area (well, unless you are ready to haul the whole set up where you want to go). And as we all know, carrying a tool around exposes it to risks of damage.

Additionally, one thing worth knowing about an electric impact wrench is that the battery deteriorates with time. I mean, a lithium-ion cell loses its ability to hold power the more you keep charging it, and that means you may need to buy a replacement with time. Unfortunately, finding a replacement option isn’t as always easy as it seems. Sometimes the manufacturer may change the battery design, and that renders the tool useless.

However, that doesn’t mean that battery-operated impact wrenches can’t last for a long time. They can, only that some attributes and circumstances minimize their chances of surviving through many years.

Noise Level

Like any other power tool, impact wrenches produce noise when in action. Again, the noise level may differ slightly from one option to another, even for the ones of the same caliber. For instance, you may find one electric impact wrench producing more noise than another battery-operated model of the same size.

Nevertheless, when comparing air impact wrenches and electric impact wrenches, the pneumatic variety is generally louder than the counterpart. That makes noise level a perfect comparison criterion if it means a lot to you.

The design and power source of the air impact wrenches makes them noisier than the other variety. After drawing air from the compressor and using it, the tool ejects it through the exhaust port, a process that results in more noise than in an electric model.

However, the noise difference may not be as significant between the two models. But if the little difference means a lot to you, then an electric impact wrench should be the version that’s more appropriate for your needs.

Weight

When buying a power tool, one factor you can’t afford to underestimate is the weight of the product you buy. It’s the weight that’s going to determine whether you are going to enjoy single-hand operation or not.

The heft will also have a say on the period you can use the tool without developing hand fatigue. It’s a very crucial aspect you can’t afford to overlook, especially if you don’t like taking breaks more often when working.

When comparing the two types of impact wrenches, one variety, the electric impact wrench, in particular, weighs more than the counterpart. That means you may need to use both hands to control it with precision.

If you want a tool that you can use for only a short period, then weight may not be a big deal. However, if you are wondering what type between the two options will support all-day use, then avoid buying the electric version at all costs.

The extra weight of the electric model is from the battery. Remember you have to attach the battery to the tool for you to use it. An impact wrench doesn’t need room for battery, and that’s why they come in a more compact design that’s more convenient to control for extended hours.

Portability

Portability? Yes, it’s the next thing we are going to examine. Weight and portability go hand in hand, but they don’t always lean in the same direction. I mean, lighter weight doesn’t always mean better portability.

Don’t agree with me? Well, the two types of impact wrenches are cases in point. Although the air impact wrench weighs less than the electric version, it’s less portable.

Of course, the low-weight design gives the pneumatic variety a headstart over the other model. Nevertheless, the fact that it works when only connected to a source of air kills its portability. Actually, leave alone serving you outside, this tool may not reach the corner farthest from the air supply source, especially if you are working in a large shop.

The electric model weighs a little more than the pneumatic version. However, it’s a standalone unit, so you can bring it along wherever you want. With that said, if you are looking for a tool that will be of help the next time you need to change your car tire by the roadside, or maybe one that will allow you to work on a project outside your air shop, then an electric impact wrench best fits the bill.

Additional Features

While extra features aren’t among the first things you will look out for when buying a power tool, they may define the level of user experience and enhance the usefulness of the power tool.  After all, we all want the best bang for the buck when shopping.

Now, if you want lots of bells and whistles in your impact wrench, consider the electric type. Some of these models can come with vital features like LED flashlights. Well, that will mean you can work with it in the dark without the need for an external source of lighting.

Air impact wrenches on the other side don’t come with any additional functionalities. That said, they have a more simple design and are more convenient to maneuver when using them within the scope of their functionality.

Comparison Table: Electric Vs. Air Impact Wrenches

Comparison CriterionAir Impact WrenchesElectric Impact Wrenches
PowerVery powerfulLess powerful
CostMore affordableMore costly
Initial set upExpensiveNo initial setup needed
DurabilityMore DurableLess Durable
Noise levelVery noisyFairly Noisy
WeightLightweightQuite heavy
Convenience/PortabilityUser tethered hence not portablePortable
Additional FeaturesNo special featuresIt may come with a few bells and whistles like an LED flashlight

So, Do You Buy Electric or Air Impact Wrench?

As we’ve seen, it’s unfair to single out one model as best over the other. Each of the two varieties has some areas where it outshines the other. Therefore, whether to buy an air-powered tool or an electric model will depend on the one that leans more towards meeting your needs.

If you spend most of the time working around the shop, an air-powered model is more appropriate. However, if you don’t always work from the same place, an electric impact wrench carries the convenience you need in your projects.

Final Thoughts

Both electric impact wrench and air impact wrench go a long way to make life easier, both for professionals and hobbyists. However, each has its own strengths and weaknesses, and that’s why you need to be considerate of the one you choose.

Although they do the same work, the two varieties don’t offer the same level of portability, convenience, power, and durability. That’s why if you can, get the two types. However, if your budget only supports one, evaluate the pros and cons of each.

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