Traditionally, auto mechanics have used pneumatic impact wrenches to get the job done. As the world moves farther down the path of battery power, cordless impact wrenches provide a viable alternative. When it comes to a cordless vs pneumatic impact wrench, is one really better than the other?
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- Round 1 – Weight: Pneumatic
- Round 2 – Power: Pneumatic
- Round 3 – Maintenance: Cordless
- Round 4 – Convenience: Cordless
- Round 5 – Price: Draw
- Final Call – Split Decision[/alert]
Cordless Vs Pneumatic Impact Wrench: Weight
A pneumatic impact wrench has a distinct advantage over comparable cordless in weight. Because they’re relatively simple tools and use air for power, they don’t weigh a whole lot next to a cordless model with the.same power.
The pneumatic doesn’t have an internal motor or a ton of wiring. Most importantly, it doesn’t need to stay connected to 2-pound batteries.
With either style, the more power you get, the heavier the tool. Cordless impact wrenches increase their weight more dramatically. While a 150 ft-lb cordless model might only weigh a little more than an impact wrench, high-torque models can exceed 8 pounds.
On the other hand, a high-torque pneumatic impact wrench will be closer to 4-1/2 pounds.
Round 1: Pneumatic
Cordless Vs Pneumatic Impact Wrench: Power
For years, the power question had a pretty clear answer – the top cordless model wouldn’t dream of competing with the top pneumatic.
It’s a little less cut and dry these days. For the last few years, we’ve been seeing comparable numbers between the two, at least for most applications.
For instance, Ingersoll Rand’s newest high-torque cordless impact wrench can generate 1500 ft-lbs of nut busting torque. Meanwhile, Chicago Pneumatic’s CP7783 1″ pneumatic impact wrench is generating 1,770 ft-lbs of torque. With numbers like these, cordless has effective light-, mid-, and high-torque models.
That’s great, well done, cordless.
It’s still nowhere near a pneumatic 2-1/2″ drive with 10,000 ft-lbs of forward torque and 20,000 ft-lbs of nut-busting. Better luck next time, cordless.
Round 2: Pneumatic
Cordless Vs Pneumatic Impact Wrench: Maintenance
Maintenance is not particularly challenging for either design. A cordless impact wrench requires virtually none since there are no brushed to change out. A pneumatic impact wrench just needs a little oil.
However, maintaining your compressor requires oiling, draining the air tank, keeping everything free of moisture, and making sure the tank still holds air properly. Years after your purchase, it will need a new tank.
Likewise, while your cordless impact drill could last years, batteries have a shelf life. After 3-5 years, those expensive lithium-ion batteries will need replacing. It’s not exactly maintenance per se, but you’ll still need to plan for it.
Round 3: Cordless
Cordless Vs Pneumatic Impact Wrench: Convenience
With a cordless impact wrench, you pick it up, attach your socket and go to work. Pneumatic requires you to attach a hose, possibly to both the tool and the compressor and charge up the compressor before grabbing your socket and getting on it.
If you’re a mobile mechanic, the convenience factor is even greater. Three power levels of impact wrenches with a couple of batteries to power all of them instead of a generator, compressor, and hose? Absolutely!
At first glance, this is a no-brainer. Until you forget to charge your battery. Waiting a couple of minutes for the compressor to reach full pressure is much less time than waiting for a battery to charge.
If you grab a kit with two batteries, you can charge one while using the other. Even with just one battery, put it on the charger every time you finish at the end of the day. There’s no battery memory for lithium-ion like there is with Ni-Cad, so there’s no reason to use it all up before charging.
Round 4: Cordless
Cordless Vs Pneumatic Impact Wrench: Price
The costs of manufacturing a pneumatic impact wrench aren’t as great as when a company makes a cordless model. Internally, a pneumatic tool is relatively simple, especially when compared to the motor, wiring, and computer systems in a cordless impact wrench. Those things all cost more money to make, and more money to buy.
Most brands will sell their cordless tools as a kit so you get a battery or two and a charger with it. It’s not uncommon for a cordless impact wrench to run 50% to 100% more than its pneumatic counterpart.
It seems like this makes pneumatic a shoo-in for the win, but you still need a hose and compressor to run your impact wrench. If you’re using mid- and high-torque models, you’ll need more than a $200 big box store compressor and that adds a lot of cost to your investment.
Your compressor should outlast the life of your batteries. But the price of a large shop compressor will also buy a whole lot of batteries.
In the end, cordless might be the better buy for DIYers where pneumatic makes more sense for Pros.
Round 5: Draw
When you add it all up, going purely cordless or pneumatic depends on your situation. Like I said before, cordless make more sense for DIYers and pneumatic makes more sense for Pros.
However, Pros can’t ignore the convenience side of cordless nor the three solid tiers of performance levels. But who said anything about sticking with just one or the other?
In the end, a blend of cordless and pneumatic will suit most Pros just fine, while DIYers can get away with just cordless. As it is with nearly every tool comparison, it’s going to boil down to your personal preferences. The best one for you is going to be the one that gets the job done reliably and fits in your budget and space.
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