Rotary hammer vs. drill: what’s the distinction?

So you’re in the hardware store looking for a new cordless drill and you see a few options that look almost the same. The only difference you can see is that it is called a hammer drill, or more precisely, a percussion drill. In fact, a closer look at the impact drill vs. drill comparison shows that these two tools remain very similar. In fact, many look identical except for the internal hammer mechanism.


It is this hammer drilling mechanism that sets this tool apart from a drill bit. It might justify why you’d want to spend a little extra to get it.

10 second summary

A hammer drill adds a mechanism that gives the drill a cutting motion while drilling, and adds very little weight and length. For an additional $ 10-20, our tests will get you about 25% faster drilling in concrete.

You can also find more information in our articles on Rotary Hammer vs. Impact Wrench and Rotary Hammer vs. Rotary Hammer.

Hammer Drill vs. Drill Bits: Physical Differences

To make a hammer drill, most manufacturers start with a drill driver and add an impact mechanism behind the drill chuck. In most cases it adds a small amount to the overall length and a few grams in overall weight, and if you look at the two side by side you may not even be able to tell the difference.

Modern drills and impact drills have clutch settings and drill settings. If you’re looking at a hammer drill, it has an additional hammer mode that you can toggle to.

On some models, the mode changes are separate from the clutch collar and on others they all stay on one collar. Regardless, the hammer mode is almost always right next to the drill mode. Even with rotary hammers with electronic settings, the clutch, modes and gears are still mechanical switches and adjusting rings on the head.

The hammer mechanism introduces a forward and backward cutting motion, similar to the action of a hammer drill. With the best rotary hammers, this action can happen more than 30,000 times per minute!

Hammer Bits vs. Drill Bits: Impact on Performance

When drilling a hole in concrete or masonry, you need to activate the striking mechanism. It is possible to drill without them and still make good progress. In our tests, rotary hammers run around 25% faster on average.

We recently ran a test with a 1/4-inch multipurpose drill bit in our Milwaukee M18 Fuel hammer drill. In standard drilling mode, it took about 8.5 seconds to drill to the desired depth. When it was put into percussion drilling mode, it only took about 6.5 seconds.

Rotary hammer vs drill |  Skil PWRCore20 Robust brushless rotary hammer concrete drill bit

2 seconds doesn’t seem like a big deal. However, if you are using larger bits or need to drill lots of holes it will make a huge difference.

You will also notice a huge difference in sound when drilling in hammer mode. In addition to the sound of the bit, there is a quick hum from the striking mechanism.

You should never use hammer mode when drilling in wood, metal, plastic, or any other material. The cutting movement does not help drill faster in these materials. In some cases, it will slow you down and add a lot of vibration to the experience.

Final thoughts

Most hammer drills only charge a $ 10 to $ 20 premium over the drill / driver model. Even if you don’t drill a lot of concrete, it’s a handy feature if you come across it. Since there is hardly any (more) loss of weight or size, we recommend that you spend a little more to get it.

Do you like the look of the rotary hammer we used in the photos? It’s the Skil PWRCore 20 brushless hammer drill. Get the kit on Amazon for ~ $ 150.

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