A Manual Impact Driver Helps Kiss Stuck Screws Goodbye

If you live near the Rust Belt and work on cars, you’ve run into a pesky screw held in an assembly with the best thread locker ever—rust. Now, there are a handful of ways to get the job done: You can try your hand at a traditional screwdriver, strip the head of the screw and then break out your drill and knock the head off of the fastener. That’s not the best way, but it’s the way it has to go sometimes. You can also break out a torch, get things hot and hopefully break that rust bond free. That can’t always work because of the fastener’s location. The third, and what should be your first choice: Grab an impact driver and liberate your assembly from the rust’s oppression.

These tools offer some percussive maintenance to help shock the fastener loose from the corrosion. While you’re hammering on the impact driver, it also will twist the bit to the direction you desire … generally lefty loosey. This twisting motion, combined with your hammering, is often enough to get the screw loose without doing any serious damage. Most manual impact drivers also sport a three-eighths-inch or half-inch anvil to hold an adaptor, which also means you could put a socket on these and try to loosen a stuck hex cap screw. That’s not really what most people use it for, but whatever gets the job done.

Now, you might think that your battery-powered quarter-inch impact driver can get out any screw that you might run into. But consider the nature of the manual impact driver’s twisting action while also being hammered, and you start to understand why a manual impact has a lower chance of camming out of the screw head and stripping the fastener. Add a little valve lapping compound to the bit for added grip, and you’re setting yourself up for success. Oh yeah, and you’ll never need to charge the battery.

Manual Impact Drivers: Free Screws from Rust

When I run into a stuck screw and my Wera drivers can’t budge it loose, I reach for this. The Lisle Impact driver might not be the best and its bits probably won’t last as long as those from a tool truck, but for the handful of times a year I really need an impact screwdriver—my Lisle gets it done. The box said this is made in the U.S.

The Koken Attack Driver might be the best impact driver in the game, and its price reflects that. This Japanese-made tool is about three times as expensive as the Lisle next to it. While it might be nicer to use, it’s up to you if you think you need the best hand impact that money can buy.

This Craftsman number is also imported, but it is cheaper than the Lisle or the Koken. Add to that the ease of the Craftsman warranty, and this impact driver might be the one for you.  

OK, so this isn’t exactly a manual impact driver. Though, if you’ve got an air hammer at home, it might be your best bet. Instead of using a hammer to manually add some percussion, this tool uses the hammering action of your air tool to help shake things loose. You’re manually required to guide the fastener left or right, but that’s easier than swinging a hammer.

Like most tools, there are plenty of entries in the manual impact driver game. That, of course, means that you can spend as much or as little as your budget allows. Personally, I’ve used budget impact drivers from 40 years ago (thanks Dad!), relatively new ones from Snap-On and a handful in between. For my own box, I’ve settled on Lisle. All have successfully taken multiple hits from the hammer and helped me get the job done without resorting to more destructive methods.

You’re not going to need one of these every day (if you’re not working in a shop), but when you do it’s good to have one on hand.

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