Impacts are Everywhere
Just about every trade I speak to has some use for an impact wrench and they are very frequently used – just listen for the characteristic ‘clacker-clack’ sound next time you pass a worksite. Some tradespeople even have a 12v tool for smaller tasks and an 18v for heavy duty stuff. In impact wrenches and drivers, as in other cordless tools, the adoption of Li Ion battery packs and EC or brushless motors has made these tools even more useful because they extend battery life, increase power and enhance reliability.
The launch of the new Flex Brushless IW EC 18v impact wrench puts it right into the mix of competing products in a very competitive market. So how does it stand up?
The kit I was sent came in a stackable Flex L-Boxx with custom inserts to hold the tool, two battery packs and the Flex smart charger. Also included are a magnetic bit holder and a belt clip that can be attached (or left off) to suit the user. There is quite a bit of space left in the box for a decent selection of sockets, and other driving options that I find tend to accumulate the more you use the tool.
I like the Flex L-Boxx option because the tool and batteries are easy to store, and you don’t have to fiddle with the lid to clip it closed while doing a small wrestle with the charger cord and other bits. Definitely something I can do without at the end of a working day, with the dark closing in and the cold starting to ramp up too.
One of the first things I noticed about the tool is that it follows the current demand for ultra-compact and powerful drills and impact wrenches and drivers. Without a socket slipped onto the half inch square drive on the nose, the tool measures just over 140mm in length and it stands just under 250mm high with a 5 Ah battery pack and about 220 mm with the optional 2.5 Ah pack - well within the parameters of the competition.
Flex has always been good at designing ergonomic and grippy bodies for its power tools and this is no exception. The main handle is perfect for my smallish hands, with slightly textured rubber in strategic places. There are also rubber ‘bumpers’ on the back, base and bottom to provide protection on the worksite.
Other things I like, and they can’t always be taken for granted, even on well- established brands, are that the battery packs have a battery charge indicator, they slide off and onto the tool easily on the robust slides and lock positively.
Also, the battery charger has a countdown timer on it that will tell you exactly how long you have to wait for a fully charged battery. My experience of Flex battery packs has also been that they are reliable and tough enough for trade use.
Forward/lock/reverse modes use the familiar push-through switch above the trigger and the trigger itself is speed sensitive and quite easily controllable. Every push of the trigger also switches on the bright LED light under the drive nose and it turns off automatically after 10 seconds. Releasing the trigger immediately engages the spindle brake to stop the rotation in an instant.
I could easily integrate this impact wrench into my tool kit as a powerful 18v impact wrench by simply getting a ¼ inch adaptor to fit over the ½ square drive. In this way, I could drive Pozi, hex and other screwdriving bits with all the oomph I could possibly need.
But that would be to miss the point of this tool. Scaffolders are increasingly using impact wrenches to speed up the process of tightening the large numbers of bolts they encounter every day. And when I showed the Flex to a couple of mechanics they were definitely interested, because they too have already adapted to using cordless impact wrenches in some situations where air-powered impact wrenches are too much of a hassle, a bit too big to fit or they are working where mains power is unavailable.
To make best use of its undoubted talents, the Flex IW has some refinements for more demanding users. On the base, just above the battery slides, is a small LED display with three settings. With the drill set in forwards mode the user can press the small white button to select High (250Nm/2500rpm) Medium (180Nm/2000 rpm) or Low 150Nm/1500 rpm) modes. I don’t think anyone could argue that having 250Nm available at the squeeze of the trigger is inconsiderable, even if undoing tight wheelnuts on your car. But to have the option of other settings for less demanding applications increases its Flexibility. (pun intended)
In reverse mode the tool has only one speed so there is no need to set it.
I tested this impact wrench in a number of situations driving shortish (50mm) screws into hardwood as well as some much longer 250mm long bolts and screws. It never ran out of steam and power but remained controllable in whatever mode I tried it in. It is compact enough to use as a small impact wrench in a regular trade toolkit, but will not be as compact as a ‘standard’ impact wrench because of the need for an adaptor which increases the hassle factor. An opening for Flex to design a smarter adaptor maybe?
I watched as a mechanic I knew tried it out removing wheelnuts from his car and his verdict was very positive. I guess this wrench will be on his ‘borrow’ list from me from now on. I also tried tightening and removing nuts of all sizes by changing the sockets. With either the belt hook in place or using a belt holster, a scaffolder could easily carry this tool aloft and it would make his job quicker and more efficient. I managed a whole day of off-and-on screwdriving on site using only ¾ of the 5Ah battery power available, so my guess is that two batteries would be easily enough to last a hardworking day.
So, if you want a hardworking and powerful impact wrench – the Flex IW should definitely be on your shortlist.
Aimed at: Pros and ambitious amateurs
Pros: Compact, brushless and powerful. Well made too. Lots to like.