Hammer Drill vs Rotary Hammer6 min read

So, you need a Hammer Drill. You thought it would be simple to buy one. But then you hopped online and discovered that there are way too many options. Different price ranges, brands, and models. Corded or Cordless? Hammer Drill vs Rotary Hammer? Exactly how much power do you really need? Turns out, the internet just gives you a lot more questions. 

We’re going to try to change that, at least a little. Let’s start by deciding if you need a Hammer Drill, or a Rotary Hammer. 

What Is a Hammer Drill?

A Hammer Drill is a lot like your standard Electric Drill. Except it has an additional hammer function that drives the drill bit back and forth while it is spinning. This hammer action makes it easier to drill into concrete, masonry and brick. 

Hammer Drill
Hammer Drill

What Is a Rotary Hammer?

A rotary hammer is a larger tool that looks a bit like a drill, and can be used as a drill. However, it can also be used for chipping, breaking and other things. It’s more powerful, and a more versatile tool than an ordinary hammer drill. 

Rotary Hammer
Rotary Hammer

Do You Need Either of Them?

The first thing you need to establish is whether you actually need a Hammer Drill or Rotary Hammer. If all you need are basic tools, check out this article which details the 9 most essential tools for DIY.

Here are the basics:

Hammer Drills and Rotary Hammers both make it easier to drill into masonry and concrete. A regular drill and the right bit will do the job for one or two holes, but it’s going to take a lot of “manpower”. Hammer Drills and Rotary Hammers take some of the work out of the job by literally hammering the bit as you drill. The Spruce have written a good guide on how to drill into concrete.

This hammering action makes the job of drilling holes into extremely hard substances a lot easier. Which is exactly what you need if you have anything more than a handful of holes to drill. 

Key Differences

The below video shows a Hammer Drill vs Rotary Hammer drilling into concrete:

On the surface, hammer drills and rotary hammers do the same thing. But they are vastly different tools. 

Size and Power 

The most obvious difference is the size. A Rotary Hammer is usually much larger than a Hammer Drill, and usually has a lot more power. 

Hammer Drills are perfect if you only need to drill a few holes into concrete, stone or masonry. But if you’re going to put the tool through a lot of punishment all day, the size and power of a Rotary Hammer is a significant advantage. 

Hammer Mechanisms

The below video details the hammering mechanism of the Hammer Drill:

A Hammer Drill has a chuck just like any other drill. Behind it though, there are two toothed discs. When you drill with the hammer action turned on, these discs turn into each other. The teeth lock, and when they do, the front disc pushes forward. The force of that action hammers the chuck and pushes the bit forward while it spins. Forward motion plus spinning makes a hammer drill a better tool for drilling into concrete and brick. 

The hammer action relies on pressure to work. If you’re not pressing against any surface, the discs won’t move, lock, or drive the chuck forward. Most Hammer Drills have a switch that can flip between regular drilling and hammer mode. So, if you switch out the bit, you can use it on wood or metal as well as masonry. 

A Rotary Hammer, on the other hand, has a piston built into the casing. The piston is attached to a crankshaft, just like you find in your car. The whole assembly moves back and forth. As it does, it forces air forward, and that air drives the bit into the material you’re making holes in. 

Rotary Hammers, unlike Hammer Drills, have a setting that has no spinning at all. They can drill too, and hammer and drill, but they can also hammer away like a mini jack hammer if necessary. 

If a Rotary Hammer is set to hammer, it also won’t stop until you take your finger off the trigger. The hammer action doesn’t depend on pressure to work, so the chuck and bit assembly will keep hammering until you cut the power. 

Further Differences

Deciding whether a Hammer Drill or Rotary Hammer is better really depends on what you want to do. And how often you do it. 

Functionality 

A Hammer Drill makes drilling into brick, concrete blocks and stone easier. It can do a good job on a few holes into concrete at a time. But if you’re looking for something that will blast through concrete many times a day without breaking a sweat, this is probably not it. 

Rotary Hammers, on the other hand, can take the beating. A good one can drill into and even chip away at concrete all day. They’re a whole lot tougher, and that’s why they’re often used by contractors. 

However, Rotary Hammers are a lot more powerful than hammer drills. So, it takes a practised hand to use them correctly. If you’re not careful, you can damage materials.

So, the answer to which one is better really is ‘it depends.’ As far as longevity and power goes, a Rotary Hammer wins hands down. But if you need something that can handle more delicate work, a Hammer Drill might be better. Or, if you’re like many pros, you could decide to get both, so you have the best of both worlds. 

Bits

Nope. Rotary hammers and hammer drills cannot share bits. 

A Hammer Drill can use any normal drill bit. But if you’re going to be drilling into hard substances like concrete, you should get the best quality masonry bits you can afford. Buying cheap bits might seem like a saving, but you’ll just have to replace them later. See the many different types of drill bits and their uses. 

Rotary Hammers have a chuck option called either an SDS-Plus or an SDS-Max. These don’t need a chuck key like a regular drill, but you will have to buy the right bit for the type of chuck you have. Chuck options also depend a lot on the tool itself. Which makes it a little trickier to get the right bit for a rotary hammer. If you’re not sure, you should always ask a tool specialist. 

Which One Is Better?

A Hammer Drill can do everything you can do with your regular drill. You can turn off the hammer and use it to drill into wood or metal. Or you can turn on the hammer and use a masonry bit to drill into stone, concrete, or brick. They can take very thin bits too, so they can be used for delicate and precision work. 

Versatility

A Rotary Hammer does all that but can also do a lot of other things. You can use it as a chisel or to break up and remove old tile. Or put it to work breaking up hard clay soil or to chip away concrete. You can even use it to scale rust or build up off metal. 

But, while a Rotary Hammer is definitely versatile, it’s not great at precision drilling. So if you’re not going to have a regular drill too, it might not be right for you.

Cost 

Rotary Hammers cost more than Hammer Drills. But as with any tool, whichever you choose, you should always buy the best you can afford. It’s better to have a great quality Hammer Drill than a cheap and nasty Rotary Hammer. There are many brands to choose from – see the most trusted brands and who owns them here. 

If you need a Hammer Drill or a Rotary Hammer, you’re doing more than pottering around the garage. It’s just a fact that cheap tools are not made to go the distance. If you buy the cheapest Hammer Drill you can find, you need to expect that it’s not going to be able to work all day. 

Likewise, if you’re going to buy a Rotary Hammer, you’re choosing it because you need a workhorse that can get the job done. The cheapest model on the shelf is not going to get that done. 

If you’re not a contractor, you don’t need a top of the line or professional grade tool. A good mid range option from a well-known brand should get the job done. 

There are also cordless options for both of these. Some might use the same batteries as your other tools, so you can save on spare batteries that way. 

Ease of Use

Whether you opt for a Hammer Drill or a rotary hammer, you need to know that they’re going to feel different to use. If you’re used to a regular drill, take the time to practice a little before you work on any actual projects. 

Most people find that the first few times they use these tools, they have to find the sweet spot for pressure. Too hard, and you can damage the surface you’re working on. Too soft, and it’ll bounce all over like a pogo stick. 

You will also benefit from having a few smaller bits. Pilot holes are an exceptionally good idea when you’re using either of these tools. 

Final Verdict 

There really is no battle between a Hammer Drill and a Rotary Hammer. That’s like asking if an SUV is better than a pickup. 

They’re both great tools, and they both have pros and cons. It really depends on what you need to do, and how often you need to do it. What really matters is the brand you choose, and that you get the features you need. 

Consider if you need a more delicate, precision tool or something that gets through pretty much anything. Then research the best brands and models and buy something that has a great reputation. If you choose the right tool for the job, you’ll never go wrong. 

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