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Home Improvement F.A.Q.

When to Use a Hammer Drill

Posted by Arthur Beam on

Did you ever try driving a screw into concrete with your regular old power drill? The results probably weren't too good, because your power drill simply isn't strong enough to bore into concrete, stone or masonry. The right tool for the job is a hammer drill.

Hitachi DV20VB2 3/4" Corded Hammer Drill

What's the difference between a hammer drill and a power drill?

The various types of drills on the market, such as your standard power drills,  impact drivers, rotary hammers and hammer drills, can be a little confusing to the newbie. A hammer drill is similar in design to your standard power drill/driver, including the traditional three-jaw chuck, but it features an additional mechanism which drives the drill bit forward with a pulsing, hammer-like action as it rotates. This feature is what delivers the extra power you need for driving a drill bit into materials like light concrete, block, brick or other masonry. The blows pulverize the material and the rotation of the bit drives the material out of the hole along the flutes of the drill bit.

Some hammer drills can be used for a wide variety of tasks because they have a switch which allows you to choose between the standard rotary mode and rotary plus hammer mode. In the standard rotary mode, you can use your tool for all of the standard drilling and driving you might do around your home, like fastening wood to wood. Switch it to rotary plus hammer mode and it's ready for installing shelves on a concrete wall or attaching an electrical box to concrete block. 

The more powerful  Rotary Hammers are strictly for drilling into concrete. They're generally used by contractors for drilling holes for fastening applications intended to bear heavy weight, and for chiseling. They're sort of like a mini jackhammer, specifically designed to hit the surface with full power and drive the bit or chisel as hard as possible to waste no energy.

Should I buy a cordless or corded hammer drill?

DeWalt DCD985L2 20 Volt Cordless Hammer Drill

The most obvious benefit of a cordless hammer drill is its reach-anywhere convenience and maneuverability. When brute force is needed, there is no substitute for a corded hammer drill, and you obviously don't have to worry about the juice running out halfway through the job. If you're typically going to perform lighter masonry or block work for short periods, then a cordless model will be sufficient. Which you choose should depend on how often you're using the drill and what kind of muscle the job requires (typically an 18V cordless model can handle most jobs, if you aren't drilling hundreds of holes).

A hammer drill is sufficient to drill holes up to 1/2" in diameter. For holes larger than 1/2", and for certain kinds of concrete applications, you should upgrade to a Rotary Hammer, which is a specialized tool for drilling and chiseling in concrete. They are typically heavier and more expensive than a standard hammer drill. 

Note that most hammer drills are never used for driving screws,  only for boring holes. Use an impact driver for driving screws and fastening in concrete and masonry. Some hammer drills are also drivers (hammer drill/drivers), so choose carefully.

Check out our selection of  cordless hammer drills and corded hammer drills.

What kind of drill bits do I use in a hammer drill?

Most hammer drills accept a smooth-shank masonry bit in a standard chuck. A masonry drill bit is easy to identify - it has a flat, chisel-type end and typically runs 6 inches in length, but can also be found in 3 inch and 4 inch lengths.

The standard configurations for hammer drill chucks are SDS+ and SDS-Max. Bits designed for use with SDS+ chucks are for drilling holes from 5/32 to 1⅛ inch. SDS+ chucks will also accept carbide-tipped hole cutters up to 4-inches, and chipping and chiseling attachments.

Bits designed for use with the SDS-Max chuck are for heavy duty applications using Rotary Hammers. SDS-Max chucks accept ½" to 2'" carbide bits and hole cutters up to 6". They can also hold demolition, chipping and chiseling attachments.

Check out the video below from The HandyGuys on when and how to use a Hammer Drill.

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