Adam holds a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Linguistics, and creative writing has always been his greatest passion. For more than 25 years he's been working for several well-known automobile and travel magazines as an editor and expert consultant, but when Adam started his writing path here, at WisePick, it turned out that he's capable of writing practically anything about everything.
Initially being an engineering specialist, Tom has never stopped learning and acquiring other knowledge and skills. Now he’s involved in technical support for a well-known household appliances manufacturer, so no wonder he knows everything about almost everything you buy for your home.
Last updated: July 03, 2021
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An air impact wrench is one of the most important tools found in any mechanic’s toolbox. This handy power tool is able to accommodate sockets of various sizes to quickly loosen and tighten lug nuts, such as are commonly found on wheels and other heavy machinery. Since this tool is so frequently used, finding the best air impact wrench is extremely important for streamlining your workflow and preventing overtightened nuts that can cause issues down the road. Plus, since air impact wrenches are putting out a ton of torque, you need to be sure to have one that is going to get the job done safely and without breaking down.
One of the most important features of any air impact wrench is the drive size, which determines what types of applications your wrench will be good for. A ½” impact wrench is suitable for most car repairs, such as taking off wheels, as well as most worksite and home jobs. Additional considerations are the torque and speed of your air impact wrench, which determine to what force you can tighten a bolt and how quickly the wrench will turn the bolt on the threads. In our review, we took all this into account.
To narrow down the huge market for air impact wrenches, we spent hours reviewing technical specifications and customer feedback for a wide variety of wrenches. We found nine air impact wrenches that stood out from the pack, summarized in the table below with the features that make them unique. Continue reading for full reviews, complete with pros and cons, of each air impact wrench. Our buying guide covers everything you need to know when choosing the air impact wrench that is right for your needs, and finally we highlight our overall favorite picks.
Users rave about this air impact wrench from well-known and respected toolmaker Ingersoll-Rand. This wrench offers the most torque of any ½” air impact wrench that we reviewed, at 1,350 ft-lbs of torque. Users appreciated that the wrench is still suitable for smaller jobs, however, thanks to the fact that the output torque has four power setting that are easy to switch between. Despite this outsized amount of power, the pistol-shaped wrench weighs in at only 4.6 pounds and can rotate at speeds of 8,500 rpm, putting it on par with less powerful and more expensive competitors. However, note that it is also one of the louder wrenches in our review – with an output noise of nearly 100 dB – and will certainly require ear protection when in use.
The wrench comes with a two-year warranty from Ingersoll-Rand, but the design is durable enough that few users report needing to activate the warranty. The housing is nearly unbreakable, while the hammer is encased in titanium to reduce weight while ensuring stability.
This compact air impact wrench from AirCat is slightly larger than the comparable compact wrench from Ingersoll-Rand and has a lower power output, but makes up for these downsides with user-friendly features. The wrench can output 900 ft-lbs of torque, and for light work can actually be faster than the 35MAX from Ingersoll-Rand, since it spins at up to 9,000 rpm. Users loved the ergonomically designed grip on this tool, especially when using it for longer periods. Plus, this wrench uses AirCat’s noise reduction technology to operate at under 90 dB, which makes it much more pleasant to use for extended periods even with ear protection.
Another nice feature on this wrench is a convenient forward-reverse switch. It is located on the rear of the wrench and makes is easy to adjust and operate the wrench.
The wrench comes with a two year warranty, although users did not report any issues with durability.
What are its best features?
Simple to operate and adjust
What could be improved?
Slightly bulkier and heavier than comparable compact wrenches
Users love this extraordinarily powerful ½” drive air impact wrench form NitroCat. The power is thanks to the twin clutch mechanism, which differs from the twin hammer mechanism found on most other impact wrenches. Although users find it to be somewhat slower – 1–2 seconds per bolt – they also note that it feels as easy to take off rusted, stuck-on bolts as it does to take off clean new bolts with this driver.
The construction of this impact wrench is also very clean and designed with user-friendliness in mind. The grip is ergonomic and the wrench weighs in at only 4.5 pounds, while the built-in exhaust in the rear of the gun prevents debris from flying up towards your face. The Kevlar housing is not only durable, but also helps to keep noise down. At only 86 dB, this is one of the quieter air impact wrenches we reviewed – especially impressive given the power output. The wrench comes with a two-year warranty and NitroCat makes a rebuild kit in case you need to service it after years of use.
What are our favorite features?
Powerful thanks to twin clutch mechanism
What could be better?
Somewhat slower at tightening bolts than twin hammer wrenches
This ½” drive air impact wrench from Ingersoll-Rand is designed to be lightweight and compact. As such, the power output is nothing to write home about – 650 ft-lbs of torque – but the compact design means you can place that torque in difficult-to-access spots without resorting to an uncomfortable inline impact wrench. Instead, users found the pistol grip on this wrench to be extremely comfortable and the 2.4-pound weight to be almost negligible compared to other wrenches. Despite the small size, the wrench is still relatively loud at 96 dB. The wrench also has a three-speed power regulator for precise bolt adjustments, although users felt that the trigger was somewhat sensitive to the touch. For this reason and the lower torque, some users recommended that this supplement a larger ½” drive wrench rather than serve as your only ½” air impact wrench.
The wrench comes with a two-year warranty but is designed with rugged durability in mind and most users do not report issues with the wrench arising from frequent use.
This ½” drive air impact wrench from Dewalt is a staple of toolboxes thanks to its modest price point and solid power output. The wrench offers 650 ft-lbs of torque and can spin at up to 7,500 rpm so that you can complete your work relatively quickly. The adjustable power regulator makes it simple to set your output power so you don’t accidentally overtighten bolts and strip the threads.
Although much of the specifications are similar to the 231C from Ingersoll-Rand, this wrench weighs over a pound less and comes with a three-year warranty as opposed to a one-year warranty. Although the design does not have metal showing, don’t let that fool you – the wrench is extremely durable and some users report taking it out every day to work on cars for years on end without the wrench breaking down. The only downside is that in case anything goes wrong, it is not possible to take the wrench apart to address the issue.
If you’re looking for an air impact wrench that can get the job done but don’t want to spend money on a higher-quality wrench, this tool from Campbell Hausfeld is a great choice. At under $50, it’s hard to beat the price on this wrench. Users are consistently pleasantly surprised at how well this budget wrench performs, although the 550 ft-lbs of torque appears to be an optimistic power rating. The three-speed adjustable control allows more precision over tightening and loosening bolts. Plus, users appreciated the ergonomic and comfortable rubber grip and did not mind the heavy 5.2-pound weight when holding the wrench for extended periods.
The downside to this low-priced wrench is in the construction quality. Users found that the chrome on the hammer housing scratches and rusts relatively quickly, and in some cases users noted that an internal part would come loose and cause a rattling sound. Although the wrench comes with a one year limited warranty, note that the wrench is not designed to be as durable as its more expensive counterparts.
At a more introductory price than the 2235TiMAX, this air impact wrench from Ingersoll-Rand is perfect for most auto repairs and small mechanical repairs around the house. The ½” drive is able to put out up to 600 ft-lbs of torque thanks to the dual hammer mechanism and can rotate at up to 8,000 rpm to get your work done quickly. Users found the tool extremely easy to use and ergonomic despite the slightly heavy 5.8-pound weight and appreciated that the output power is fully adjustable thanks to a control knob on the back of the wrench. Despite the lower output power, this impact wrench is just as noisy as its larger cousin and will require ear protection whenever using it.
The wrench comes with a one-year warranty from Ingersoll-Rand, although the tools is designed for durability and serviceability. The tool uses a two-piece construction that makes it easy to access the internal parts in case anything goes wrong, although users rarely had problems as long as they oiled the wrench frequently.
This ½” air impact driver by AirCat is the twin hammer mechanism cousin of the NitroCat wrench and delivers a similar feature set. The wrench is extremely powerful within its class with an output of up to 800 ft-lbs of torque and a free spinning speed of 8,000 rpm. Users loved how well this wrench works at loosening rusted out bolts with little difficulty and its ability to run at extremely high air pressures up to about 170 psi. At only 4.5 pounds, the tool is relatively ergonomic and easy to use for several hours without fatigue. One of the best features of this wrench is the noise reduction, which works so well that the wrench routinely operates between 82 and 86 dB.
One of the downsides to this wrench is that it uses non-standard NiMh batteries, which can be difficult to replace without ordering through AirCat in case you need additional batteries. In addition, some users felt that the one year warranty was not long enough given that some internal parts may break only after moderate use.
The only 3/8” wrench in our roundup, this air impact wrench from Dewalt is designed for smaller household jobs and is more limited in the range of jobs it can perform compared to a ½” wrench. The wrench provides only 300 ft-lbs of torque but is able to spin at an impressive 11,000 rpm speed. In addition, the wrench is equipped with a knob for easy power adjustment on the rear and an exhaust port on the bottom to keep debris and hot air away from your face. Since the tool uses a smaller hammer, it is also relatively small and lightweight even compared to compact ½” drive wrenches – it weighs in at only 2.8 pounds.
The wrench comes with a three-year warranty, which is nice given that many people with a 3/8” wrench will not be using it very frequently and may take a while to notice issues. Dewalt also added shock-resistant bumpers inside the housing to reduce the wear and tear on the hammer and extend the life of the tool.
Why did it make our list?
11,000 rpm speed
Lightweight and compact
What is not ideal about it?
Low 300 ft-lbs torque limits usable range
Things to Consider
Now that you’ve learned more about our nine favorite air impact wrenches on the market today, how do you choose the wrench that’s right for you? Our buying guide will cover everything you need to know about air impact wrenches, the benefits of using one, and what features to look for when choosing an air impact wrench for your toolbox.
How does an air impact wrench work?
An air impact wrench uses compressed air to spin a motor, which then transfers energy to a rotating mass. That mass carries a large amount of momentum, allowing it to act as a hammer – it applies force transferred from the momentum to an anvil, creating a torque force that is delivered onto a recalcitrant nut. The exact mechanism of the hammer and anvil differs between different air impact wrenches – some use dual hammers to increase the amount and frequency of torque, while others use a clutch to deliver more power and thus more torque to the anvil.
Benefits of using an air impact wrench
There are advantages to using an air impact wrench when it comes to either tightening or loosening bolts. When tightening bolts, an air impact wrench allows you to precisely control the total amount of torque that your nut is being tightened to. This, in turn, prevents overtightening – which is common when tightening by hand – that can lead to stripping out the threads over exerting excessive force on the underlying structure. When loosening bolts, there is almost no bolt that a properly sized impact wrench cannot loosen. Unlike attempting to loosen a bolt by hand with a manual wrench, an air impact wrench can free stuck or rusted-out bolts or bolts on screws with stripped threads where it is extremely difficult to get traction.
Things to consider when choosing an air impact wrench
Certainly, the most important thing here is what you need it for. This will have a great impact on what drive size you need, as well as how powerful – and how durable – you need it to be. If you plan to make extensive use of an air impact wrench, go with an ergonomic design and a light weight. And, naturally, don’t forget about ear protection if you decide on a more powerful yet noisy item.
One of the most important things to consider when choosing an air impact wrench is the drive size, which ranges from ¼” to 1”. Smaller drive sizes less than ½” are typically used for lighter work and provide lower maximum torques, while sizes greater than ½” are typically used for heavy-duty work such as truck repair and industrial construction.
½” wrenches, which covered most of our review, are the most popular drive size because they offer a good balance between power, versatility, size, and cost. A ½” drive air impact wrench offers plenty of torque for nearly all car repairs as well as removing nuts from nearly anything you’re likely to find around your garage or a construction site, but don’t provide so much power that you’re likely to overtighten.
However, choosing your drive size determines the types of projects that you will be able to work on, so be sure to strongly consider how heavy-duty the work you’ll be using your air impact wrench for is before settling on a drive size.
Torque and speed
The torque and speed of your air impact wrench together determine how much force you can exert on a bolt and how quickly you can tighten or loosen it. Torque is the amount of twisting force that your air impact wrench exerts onto a bolt. More torque is typically better in this case, since it means that you can deal with larger bolts that are more stuck or need to be tightened to a higher force. However, also be sure to look for an impact wrench that comes with adjustable torque settings. This allows you to more tightly control the force you are exerting when tightening a bolt so that you do not overtighten it, as well as helps you meter the amount of compressed air you are using when working on jobs that do not require full torque.
The speed determines both how fast you can screw on and unscrew bolts as well as how well your impact wrench will work for loosening extremely stuck bolts. A higher speed wrench will work better for loosening stuck bolts since the hammer can strike the anvil more frequently. Note that higher wrench speeds often come at the cost of a lower torque – when in doubt, opt for the wrench with the higher torque.
Dimensions and weight
The dimensions and weight of your air impact wrench are secondary considerations, but still important. A heavier wrench will be more tiring to hold if you are working with your wrench for long periods of time, which can make it more difficult to work and even lead to accidents if your arm is fatigued enough. The dimensions of the impact wrench matter for accessing bolts that are placed in hard to reach areas. A wrench with a long barrel or an ultra-compact wrench may be able to get at bolts that a bulkier wrench is not able to. Although all of the wrenches that we reviewed use a pistol-style construction, inline air impact wrenches are available for reaching bolts that these wrenches cannot access.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a silent air impact wrench – these tools make a lot of noise and ear protection is necessary when using any of them. However, different impact wrenches produce varying amounts of noise. In particular, AirCat and NitroCat wrenches are particularly good at reducing noise and their wrenches are 10 dB or quieter than comparable wrenches from other manufacturers.
The build quality is an important consideration when choosing an air impact wrench since these tools are not inexpensive and typically see frequent use – all while the hammer and anvil are generating tremendous forces inside the tool. For this reason, most air impact wrenches use reinforced housings made either of metal or a material like Kevlar over most of the body, and some use an additional material over the anvil. The best way to spot whether a particular air impact wrench has issues with build quality, especially internally, is to check customer reviews, since users will note immediately if something is wrong with their wrench.
Also be sure to check for an ergonomic grip. Most impact wrench users are using these tools frequently for long periods, so having a grip that is comfortable to hold can make a big difference in usability. Some air impact wrenches also offer one-handed use by placing the adjustment knobs near the front of the wrench or under the trigger.
Warranty and price
Since an air impact wrench can be a big purchase, having a manufacturer’s warranty is a great way to back up your tool. Most manufacturers offer warranties ranging from one to three years, and you may want a wrench with a longer warranty if you do not use it frequently since it will take longer to identify problems.
Also know that while higher priced impact wrenches typically come with more features or better construction, you don’t need to break the bank to find a great impact wrench that will work for you. Many budget impact wrenches are available that will work well for intermittent use, even if they may not hold up to frequent use for many years as more expensive wrenches should.
Our overall top picks were the Ingersoll Rand 2235TiMAX, the AIRCAT 1055-TH, and the NitroCat 1200-K. Both the 2235TiMAX and the 1200-K provided best-in-class torque, making them among the most versatile and useful wrenches in our roundup. Users also raved about the ergonomic design of both of these wrenches and greatly appreciated the noise reduction on the 1200-K. Both wrenches also come with two-year warranties for peace of mind and are constructed well enough that users report getting years of use out of them without issues. The AIRCAT 1055-TH was our favorite ultra-quiet air impact wrench, and also we loved its ergonomic handle. Although it is somewhat bulky, many people admit that it is quite comfortable to use for hours to come. Between these three wrenches, the Ingersoll-Rand 2235TiMAX was our pick for the overall best air impact wrench on the market today because of its powerful drive, versatile power settings, and ergonomic design.