The first power tool was invented in 1895, a massive 16.5-pound electric drill designed by German engineering company C&E Fein. Underpowered and unwieldy, it started a revolution in power tools, and a century later, what is available is extensive and varied.
When choosing between air tools vs electric tools, it can be hard to figure out what’s going to work best for you and your project. For the purposes of this discussion, the electric tools are the battery-powered type, not the corded type.
Let’s consider a couple of average 1/2″ drive impact wrenches, how do they stack up?
Air Tools vs Electric Tools: Pros & Cons
|Power||Up to 950 lb•ft max working torque, 1,295 lb•ft breakaway torque.||Up to 700 lb•ft working torque, 1,200 lb•ft breakaway torque.|
|Weight||About 4.5 lb, not including air-hose weight.||Around 7.2 lb, about 40% heavier. Could get tiring to use long-term.|
|Size||Usually about 7″ x 10″ not including hoses and fittings. Swivel joints can help, but they also can reduce power output.||Usually about 8.8″ x 10.7″ longer head makes some cramped locations difficult to access.|
|Portability||You are limited by the length of your air hose. Longer hoses increase reach, but also reduce power.||No limitations. You can take it anywhere, even to the driveway, parking lot or down the road.|
|Expense (MSRP)||About $70 less, but doesn’t include hundreds of dollars in quality air hoses and an air compressor.||About $50 more, which includes a couple of batteries and a charging station. No need to buy hoses or an air compressor.|
|Cleanliness||Air hoses drag on the ground, and if you drag it over your hood or inside the car, it will leave marks.||Unless the tool is left on the ground, it will stay relatively clean. It won’t leave any “footprints” in your car.|
|Longevity||You can rebuild your impact wrench every few years (either from a service or DIY). Don’t forget to regularly oil the air motor for max power and max life.||Some shy away from rechargeable batteries, but we’ve seen new Li-ion and NiCad rechargeable batteries last over five years. Always keep them fully charged.|
|Convenience||Air compressor is always on. As long as you have a big enough tank, you have unlimited power.||Batteries only last so long, so you may have to switch them out when they are exhausted. With constant use, you may have to wait for a battery to charge. Just always have two in chargers ready to go.|
Depending on your needs, you may want both air and electric tools. In the end, it all depends on how and how often use you plan on using your tools. If you know you’ll never use your power tools outside the garage, and you have plenty of use for other air tools, buying a compressor is a good investment.
If you need to take your tools with you, battery-powered tools are more portable and battery packs are interchangeable. Some electric tools are absolutely indispensable, like small 1/4″ or hex impact wrenches, which are so powerful, compact and versatile you can use them for issues in the car, tractor, ATV, home, garage and yard. Plus, you don’t have to drag an air hose all over the place.
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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Ben has been taking things apart since he was 5, and putting them back together again since he was 8. After dabbling in DIY repairs at home and on the farm, he found his calling in the CGCC Automobile Repair program. After he held his ASE CMAT for 10 years, Ben decided he needed a change. Now, he writes on automotive topics across the web and around the world, including new automotive technology, transportation legislation, emissions, fuel economy and auto repair.