The best thing about owning your own garage is taking care of repairs yourself.
Who needs to pay someone else for work that you can do yourself?
Corroded lug nuts that haven’t been moved for years can be nearly impossible to budge by hand, which is not to mention bolts that are tucked away in spaces too tight to fit a breaker bar. Air impact wrenches are the tools with the power for that job, but there are so many to choose from.
How can a DIY mechanic choose the best air impact wrench for the job?
We asked ourselves that question, and that’s why we’ve rounded them up and reviewed the cream of the crop this year.
We weeded out the 10 wrenches that are the leaders in the market today and then narrowed them down to the best overall impact wrench in our final verdict. Along the way, we’ve laid out our research on what makes an air impact wrench a good choice and what doesn’t.
This is a great deal for home mechanics who aren’t rebuilding ancient machinery full of corroded bolts that haven’t been moved for decades. An air ratchet is a good tool for getting into narrow spaces and saves you the aggravation of manually removing and installing those hard-to-reach bolts.Read Our Review
Types of Air Impact Wrenches
Air impact wrenches are fairly standard in form and function, being designed for a very specific purpose.
What you will find is that air impact wrenches are divided into classes based on the size of their anvil, which is the spinning square bar that holds a socket on its end. This is because the amount of torque that an air impact wrench can deliver is limited by how much the anvil can handle without breaking.
Air impact wrench kits is a category to watch for if you’re new to air impact wrenches. Kits often include a set of sockets and an air ratchet along with a small impact wrench in the Mini or 3/8-inch size.
Mini air impact wrenches come with anvils of various sizes, often 1/2-inch. They are designed with miniature housings to fit into tight spaces.
Air impact wrenches for lug nuts are often this size because there’s typically no need for more torque. They often come in butterfly or pistol grip styles.
This is becoming the standard size for home use because it’s large enough to deliver the heavy-duty power that a home mechanic is likely to need.
3/4-inch air impact wrenches are intended for heavy industrial or farm equipment use. These impact wrenches can handle larger bolts and deliver enough power to break them loose.
1-inch impact wrenches are becoming less common as 3/4-inch impact wrenches have improved their performance. You will find them used for heavy equipment repair and assembly.
How We Chose the Best Air Impact Wrench
Maintenance at home or on the farm is a challenge without the right tools when you need to do some heavy-duty work on old cars or farm equipment. Check also the other tools we’ve reviewed that will help homeowners: backpack leaf blowers, professional chainsaws.
We rounded up 10 air impact wrenches that are on the market today, casting a wide net to save you the time you’d spend hunting for the best impact wrenches yourself.
We put each air impact wrench through its paces. We found the hardest, most rusted lug nuts we could use to test which impact wrenches had the most power in the real world and not just on paper. We also tested each impact wrench over an extended period to find their breaking point.
What else did we factor in?
After the power and longevity tests, we took stock of all the other features that make using an air impact wrench more or less convenient for the hard-working mechanic. When we added it all up, we made a list of the top 10 and put them head to head.
This is the amount of force the wrench can apply to a bolt when turning it. Generally speaking, the drive size of the wrench dictates how much torque it can deliver, which is limited by the air flow your compressor can provide. The rest is determined by the design of the wrench.
Impact wrenches are able to break bolts loose fast because they use a mechanism that hits the bolt rapidly rather than applying constant torque. This jolts the bolt and knocks it loose. The impacts per minute spec for an impact wrench gives you an idea of how quickly it can do that compared to the next impact wrench.
This is how fast the impact wrench will turn when there’s no resistance from the bolt. It dictates how fast you can screw and unscrew bolts when you aren’t breaking them lose.
The hammer is the mechanism that hits the wrench’s anvil and jolts the bolt that you’re working on. The best impact wrenches today boast a twin hammer design that hits the anvil in two places instead of just one, increasing the force of each impact.
Air impact wrenches have always had the drawback of being loud. Most of the noise comes from the high-pressure air flowing through the wrench.
Newer impact wrenches have begun to address this to keep their noise level under the decibels that can damage your hearing. Innovative ways to silence the air flow have yielded safer, OSHA-compliant tools for the workplace.
How do they make quieter impact wrenches?
It’s all about how they route the air as it leaves the wrench. Some eject the air out the bottom of the wrench’s handle, which has the added benefit of protecting your face from flying debris. There are also mufflers that have been added to air impact wrench designs that quiet them significantly.
How do air impact wrenches stack up on the portability scale?
The air hose can be the biggest source of difficulty with air impact wrenches. Beyond that, though, the width and length of the wrench are going to dictate how small of the space it can fit into. We considered this factor carefully and thought about the day-to-day use of the wrench you would expect when choosing the one that’s best for you.
The weight of an impact wrench will determine how tiresome it is to use for extended periods of time. It also has some effect on how much force the user has to apply to keep it steady when breaking a bolt loose. We thought about the typical uses you might have planned for the impact wrench and how long you would expect to carry it around during the day.
Air impact wrenches are light on maintenance. Most recommend adding a couple drops of special air tool oil to the wrench’s air inlet every day to keep the moving parts lubricated between uses.
How to Use an Air Impact Wrench
What other tips can we give you?
- Always wear protective goggles to prevent eye injuries. The compressed air often blows up towards your face as it exits the impact wrench. Any debris that it carries could cause serious injuries.
- Thread bolts by hand. You’ll avoid the trouble of a bolt jamming or stripping if you get it started before torquing it with the impact wrench.
- Don’t over torque bolts. It’s easy to strip them out or break them when too much force is used.
- Only use sockets designed for the impact wrench.
Electric vs Air Impact Wrenches
Electric impact wrenches typically provide a bit less power than an air impact wrench, though they make up for this by being more convenient. There’s no need to have an air compressor to use an electric wrench, so it’s more popular for use at home.
An electric impact wrench still has the awkwardness of a cord to manage when moving around a workspace, but it’s less bulky and more flexible than the air hose that trails behind an air impact wrench to its compressor.
Air vs Cordless Impact Wrenches
Cordless impact wrenches are the most recent development in impact wrench technology. They use rechargeable high-voltage batteries to deliver power approaching that of corded impact wrenches.
As the technology continues to improve, their power output is getting closer to being equal to corded electric impact wrenches.
The convenience of cordless wrenches makes them great for working away from a power outlet, such as in a driveway or on the road, and who wouldn’t like to be rid of cords in tight spaces?
Air Impacts - VS - Cordless Impacts (Pneumatic - VS - Battery Powered)
Video about Air Impacts - VS - Cordless Impacts (Pneumatic - VS - Battery Powered)
Every air impact wrench will come with a warranty that covers damage to the wrench that happens during normal use. This is a valuable insurance policy that will save you the cost of repairing or replacing the wrench if it does fail.
Remember, though, that the damage can’t be the result of accidents or negligence on your part for the warranty to cover the cost. How long a manufacturer covers these costs is a factor to consider when buying any tool that’s going to break with use.
For a single air impact wrench, your air compressor should provide a minimum of 6.5-7 CFM at 90 PSI for the average 1/2-inch impact wrench that needs 5 CFM. If you plan to run more than one impact wrench simultaneously, then you’ll need to add together the CFM each of them needs. Your compressor should be able to deliver more than the sum of them to run them all at their maximum power settings.
PSI stands from pounds per square inch and measures the amount of air compressed into a given space. PSI is a measure of stored air, not continuous air flow. CFM stands for cubic feet per minute. This measures the amount of air is flowing at a given moment. CFM is what determines how much power an air impact wrench will have at its disposal. PSI determines how long your air compressor can deliver that CFM before it needs to recharge.
Air impact wrenches are designed to deliver high torque output as fast as possible. They are ideal for any job that involves removing and reinstalling many lug nuts, such as changing tires on a car. They are also great for removing stuck bolts that haven’t been moved for years in tight spaces. It saves the mechanic the exhaustion of using a breaker bar all the time.
A lug nut that isn’t stuck can require 100 ft-lb of torque to move. Air impact wrenches deliver much higher amounts of torque to deal with difficult jobs and for speed. Remember that it’s best to apply only the amount of torque recommended by manufacturers when installing bolts. Stop torquing the bolt before it is tight and use a torque wrench to tighten it to its specification.
The Final Verdict
To be honest, any of these 10 wrenches that we’ve reviewed could be the best air impact wrench. What sets each of them apart from the pack could be a pro or a con depending on what your needs happen to be. That said, though, we’ve tried to take an objective point of view to choose the most well-rounded air impact wrench of the bunch.
So, which did we choose?
The winner of our review workshop was the Ingersoll Rand 2235QTiMAX, and its Amazon customers agree in their reviews. It edges out the competition and proves the adage that you get what you pay for. Sure, the 2235QTiMAX is higher priced compared to the other air impact wrenches we’ve reviewed, but that’s to be expected for a titanium-built tool.
What really sold us on Ingersoll Rand’s 2235QTiMAX?
It was the fact that it delivers on all the key points that makes an air impact wrench in the 1/2-inch size class a high-performance tool. It reaches a loosening torque of 1,300 ft-lb at 1,200 impacts per minute and delivers 900 ft-lb of reverse torque. That’s as much power as you can get from this size tool.
With a titanium case, it’s light in your hand, and it isn’t the noisiest impact wrench you’ll find on the market. On top of that, the 2235QTiMAX is reliable and backed by a 2-year warranty, instead of the usual 1-year warranty.
All these features added up to the most well-rounded, heavy-duty air impact wrench available.