An impact wrench is a handy tool to have. It can save you loads of time and effort when removing stubborn nuts and bolts that you may not be able to loosen by hand. These tools are available as either electric-powered or pneumatic (air-powered), so what’s the difference, and which one is best?

Electric impact wrenches are more portable and user-friendly than air impact wrenches, and sometimes cheaper. Air impact wrenches have more power than the others, and you can keep using them for long periods without running out of power. But, you need an air compressor to use an air impact wrench.

Electric Impact Wrench vs. Air Impact Wrench: What’s the Difference? 

Electric impact wrenches and air impact wrenches differ in a few ways. The main difference is their power source. Electric impact wrenches have an electric motor powered by a battery or power cord. Air impact wrenches are powered by pressurized air from an air compressor. 

Both do the same job but they operate differently. Each type of impact wrench can be used across a variety of settings and applications, so most people just have a preference for one or the other. 

When it comes to price, electric impact wrenches are typically less expensive than air impact wrenches. However, you can find either type across many different price ranges. You can find them for around $100 or up to $1,000 or more for professional units. 

Still, when you purchase an air impact wrench, you also have to consider the cost for an air compressor if you don’t already have one. Those can be quite expensive, adding hundreds of dollars to the price for your tool. 

Electric Impact WrenchAir Impact Wrench 
Power SourceBattery/Power CordAir Compressor
Trigger TypeNon-VariableVariable
Portability PortableNot Portable
Price Less ExpensiveMore Expensive
WeightLighterHeavier

What Is An Electric Impact Wrench? 

An electric impact wrench is powered using electricity to operate an electric motor. It can be corded (meaning you have to plug it into an outlet for electrical power), or cordless (meaning it’s powered using a battery). 

In most cases, anyone with an electric impact wrench has a cordless type. These are typically smaller and a little less powerful than corded tools, but they’re much more convenient and less cumbersome. Plus, you don’t have to stay within a certain distance of your outlet while using the tool. 

Still, there are pros and cons of both corded and cordless electric impact wrenches. While battery-powered units are more portable and versatile, you can only use them for as long as the battery power holds up. 

That means you may have to stop in the middle of your job to recharge or change the battery, which can be inconvenient, especially if you’re using it in a professional or commercial setting during a time crunch. 

mechanic using Electric Impact Wrench
mechanic using Electric Impact Wrench

Advantages and Disadvantages of an Electric Impact Wrench

Depending on your intended use, there are pros and cons for each kind of tool. Here are some things to consider when it comes to the electric impact wrench: 

Pros

  • Rather small
  • No added equipment required
  • Available in cordless
  • Portable

Cons

  • Less powerful
  • Corded variety requires access to an outlet 
  • Limited power/time per use (cordless)

What Is An Air Impact Wrench?

An air impact wrench works the same as an electric impact wrench but it’s powered by compressed air instead of an electric motor. The compressed air operates the tool’s internal hammer with significantly more power than you’ll find with an electric impact wrench. 

To use any air-powered tools like an air impact wrench, you’ll need an air compressor. If you only plan to use the impact wrench occasionally, it may not make sense to purchase the tool and a large air compressor. However, if you plan to use it regularly, it could be a worthy investment. 

Advantages and Disadvantages of an Air Impact Wrench

Just like there are pros and cons to using the electric impact wrench, there are advantages and disadvantages to the air impact wrench, too. Of course, how much these pros and cons affect you will ultimately depend on your application and preferences. 

Pros

  • More powerful 
  • Fewer internal components (fewer parts to malfunction)
  • Ideal for professional use 
  • Unlimited power/use 

Cons

  • Larger and bulkier
  • Requires an air compressor 
  • On expensive side
  • Less Portable
  • Tend To be Noisy

Who Should Use an Air Impact Wrench? 

Impact wrenches make jobs much easier, and they’re commonly used in construction, automotive, and manufacturing applications. If you work in a garage, you likely use these tools every day. 

Air impact wrenches are typically more powerful than their electric-powered counterparts, meaning they’re better suited for commercial and professional applications. 

Here are some other situations where an air impact wrench might be your best option: 

  • You need to remove extremely tight nuts and bolts (i.e., automotive applications)
  • If you’re working in a body shop or garage
  • In a commercial setup with a lot of space to work
  • Stationary work 
  • You need to be able to use the tool for long periods without stopping

The only time you may not choose an air impact wrench is when portability is a big concern, or if you don’t want to purchase an air compressor. 

Air Impact Wrench

Remember, you’ll always have to be connected to your power source (air), meaning you’ll be limited to your air hose length. So, if you need to be able to take your impact wrench on the go or you want to be able to use it all around your house, you may want to consider a cordless electric impact wrench instead. 

Or, you may need to purchase a smaller, portable air compressor to use with your air tools when you want to be able to move around to do your work. 

When Should You Use an Electric Impact Wrench

There may be some situations where an electric impact wrench is the best tool for the job. Even though both pieces of equipment work in the same way and are used to do the same tasks, there are some slight differences that can affect your decision. 

Electric impact wrenches are good for both home use and commercial or professional settings, so it really comes down to preference and a few factors to determine which one is best for your job. 

Here are some situations where an electric impact wrench may be ideal: 

  • You need portability
  • Working on-the-go
  • You don’t need high-power torque
  • You don’t have an air compressor 
  • You only use the impact wrench occasionally 
  • Home hobbyist/DIY project use 

Other considerations for using an electric impact wrench include the unit’s weight and comfort during use. A cordless unit weighs less and has less vibrations than an air impact wrench, so they’re normally more comfortable to hold and use for longer periods. 

Still, larger units with more powerful batteries may be bigger and heavier than their smaller counterparts. 

Another consideration is noise level. Since air compressors can be loud while they’re running, if you want something quiet you’ll need to go with an electric impact wrench. These don’t require a compressor, meaning you’ll only have to deal with minimal noise during use. 

The Bottom Line: Which Impact Wrench is Best? 

Deciding which impact wrench is best for you ultimately depends on your intended use and application, as well as some of your personal preferences. Whether or not you already own an air compressor is also a big factor to consider. 

Since purchasing an air compressor can be a pretty big investment, it may not make sense to buy an air impact wrench if you also have to buy a compressor. However, if you already have an air compressor, buying an air impact wrench may be a worthwhile investment. 

How often you plan to use the wrench and how you plan to use it are also considerations to help you decide which kind of tool to buy. 

If you plan to use it regularly either for home use or professionally, it may be best to purchase an air impact wrench. Similarly, if you plan to use it for extended periods or need it to run indefinitely without losing power, an air impact wrench may be your best option. 

However, if you only plan to use it occasionally or just to do a home improvement project every now and then, an electric impact wrench would likely be sufficient. 

If you go with an electric model, you’ll also need to decide if you want a corded or cordless design. In any case, if portability is a big concern, you’ll probably want to go with an electric (cordless) impact wrench instead of a corded design or air impact wrench. 

Remember, air impact wrenches have to be connected to your compressor, meaning you’ll have to account for the air hose length and you’ll need to be close to your compressor at all times. If you don’t have a small, portable air compressor, portability may be a concern. 

So, before you purchase your impact wrench, think about your preferences and how you plan to use it. Then, you can make the best decision for your situation and invest in the best tool for you.