A manual impact driver is a tool that delivers a strong, sudden rotational force and forward thrust when struck on the back with a hammer. It is often used by mechanics to loosen larger screws (bolts) and nuts that are corrosively "frozen" or over-torqued. The direction can also be reversed for situations where screws have to be tightened with torque greater than a screwdriver can reasonably provide.
Manual impact drivers consist of a heavy outer sleeve that surrounds an inner core that is splined to it. The spline is curved so that when the user strikes the outer sleeve with a hammer, its downward force works on the spline to produce turning force on the core and any socket or work bit attached to it. The tool translates the heavy rotational inertia of the sleeve to the lighter core to generate large amounts of torque. At the same time, the striking blow from the hammer forces the impact driver forward into the screw reducing or eliminating cam out. This attribute is beneficial for Phillips screws which are prone to cam out. It is also excellent for use with the Robertson square socket head screws that are in common use in Canada. It is less beneficial for slot head screws and is not beneficial at all for most other types.
Electric, often cordless, impact drivers provide rotational hammering action and are used to drive screws. They do not provide the forward thrust that a manual impact driver does.
Millions of craft workers are thankful to Canadian Peter Robertson for inventing the square-head screw that bears his name. The Robertson screw represented a significant advance in the history of fasteners for two practical reasons: it is self-centering (that is, the screw is almost impossible to be driven off-centre because of the indented squared notch into which the screwdriver fits snugly) and the screw can be driven with only one hand.