The DeWalt 20 volt impact driver has quickly become the go-to tool for professional routesetters. On the National setting circuit there are so many DeWalt impacts around that one might think the crew is sponsored by DeWalt (sadly, not true). National Chief Routesetters Chris Danielson, Mike Helt and Jeremy Hardin all use the DeWalt.
In fact Jeremy Hardin, who may be the most efficient setter in the country — he has the distinction of setting the fastest World Cup boulder problem in American history with a time of 25 minutes — uses one every day in his role as Head Setter of Sport Rock Climbing Centers in Virginia.
Hardin says, “I use it everyday, stripping and setting about 200 feet per day, usually all on one charged battery. That’s either 20 routes per week or 75 boulder problems.”
The 20 volt DeWalt impact comes in at only 2.8 pounds but delivers an impressive 125 ft-lbs of torque. The machine speeds along at 2800 RPM which translates to about 1 – 2 seconds per hold attachment. If you use it for stripping alone it would be worth the cost.
The DeWalt cordless impacts are available in 12v, 18v and 20v. The 12 volt is plenty strong for light duty setting (once a week or less). Though pushing numerous set screws through the wall will quickly tire the little guy out. The ergonomics of the entire line is superb, well balanced and perfect for work at height. The 18 and 20 volt feel and perform basically the same, so for your best value go for the 20 volt.
One of the best features of the impact is the ability to plug in a 1/4″ hex bit with one hand; there is no need to pull back the quick connect coupling before inserting the bit. With this feature it is safer to change bits on a ladder and should result in fewer drops from height.
The battery capacity on the DeWalt is as good or better than other impacts popular with setters (e.g. Makita, Hitachi). A 30 minute charge will completely refresh the battery allowing for no down time. The 20 volt battery comes with an on-board charge indicator which allows for the routesetter to determine how much juice is left before jugging all the way to the top of the wall.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention the 3 LED lights that surround the driver, allowing for a clearer view of the t-nut. This feature is great for those dark corners and making sure the bolt is going in straight. It’s also good for late night disco parties! The 12 volt’s lighting is better than the 20 volt but who cares, we don’t set in the dark anyway.
“The tool’s adjustable power settings are something I never thought I’d like as much as I do. While an impact driver typically delivers ground-poundin’ power and see-ya-later speed, it’s not always the right tool for smaller stuff like setting hinges—especially those with tiny screws like cabinet doors or piano hinges. That doesn’t stop me from using them for this work, but I have to try really hard to go really easy on the trigger with other tools. With the DeWalt, I can both dial down the setting and the triggering as needed, making this micro work a snap—and making the DCF 895L2 nearly an omni-tool on my projects.”
Although we don’t have much use for piano hinges we do have a need to save those weak t-nuts and aged wood in older facilities. The power-down settings can also be used for older, brittle foot holds or for work with inferior strength Philips-head screws.
The low setting is 950 RPM and 500 inch-pounds of torque. The middle setting is 1,900 RPM & 900 inch-pounds of torque, and the high setting is 2,850 RPM and 1,500 inch-pounds.
The 20 volt impact is the first of DeWalt’s line to utilize “brushless” technology. Instead of us trying to tell you what brushless means check out toolguyd.com for a complete breakdown.
It turns out that the main difference for end users is that the motor uses electricity more efficiently and lasts longer before burning out. Usually a motor has metal brushes touching it, and those motors add heat and friction during use, draining the battery and reducing motor life — the driver has 150% more motor life than competing brushed drivers, according to DeWalt. Brushless motors also have more torque per weight and per watt than brushed.
Is the tool perfect? No. The DeWalt seems to have a recurring problem with the front housing, which can become loose. This is a problem heard from many setters that use the impact on a day to day basis.
In fact Hardin says, “The only problem seems to come from a snap ring in the ‘chuck’, I’ve had this happen twice, about once a year. It’s a cheap $11 part but the down time during repair can be awhile. I abuse the hell out of the drills though, from using the back as a hammer to working on heavy truck equipment, to dropping it off ladders and such. We’ve even dropped one off a ladder 35-40 feet directly onto concrete and the drill just shrugged it off like it was nothing, it actually got better with the fall! We call it ‘turbo drill’ now and it seems faster than a normal one.”
To alleviate some of the down time from this housing problem is to take the tool to an authorized DeWalt dealer for a replacement or repair, which will typically be done while you wait.
The possible negatives do not outweigh the positives of this tool, and for a retail price of $199 at most big box hardware stores it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to set faster and have more energy at the end of the day.
Choosing to add an impact driver to your setters toolbelt can be an intimidating proposition. You’ve heard the rumors about blown-out t-nuts and hours spent behind the wall after an inexperienced setter came through with an impact. We’re here to tell you that those rumors are completely true. Impacts require a fair level of experience to be done properly. But like every tool worth having, a little training can go a long ways.
For the true professional that wants one tool to rule them all there can be no doubt the the DeWalt 20 volt is the machine of choice.