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Rotary Hammer vs. Hammer Drill

In the world of construction and DIY, power tools are essential. Among these tools, the rotary hammer and the hammer drill are popular choices for drilling into hard materials such as concrete, brick, and stone. Despite having similar names and purposes, these two tools are distinct in function, design, and appropriate usage. To help you understand the differences and make an informed decision, this article will delve into an in-depth comparison between rotary hammers and hammer drills.

What is a Hammer Drill?

What is a Hammer Drill

A hammer drill is a power tool designed to drill into hard materials like brick or concrete. It works by producing a rapid hammering action, typically thousands of blows per minute, which pulverizes the material while the drill bit rotates to remove the debris. This hammering action is produced by two ridged metal discs that click together, generating the impact.

Hammer drills are typically used for light to medium-duty tasks. They are ideal for drilling holes in masonry for things like wall plugs, screws, or small anchors. You can also use a hammer drill as a regular drill by disengaging the hammer function, making it a versatile tool for both drilling and driving screws.

What is a Rotary Hammer?

What is a Rotary Hammer

A rotary hammer, also known as a rotary hammer drill or SDS (Slotted Drive System) drill, is a more heavy-duty power tool. Like a hammer drill, it also combines rotation and a hammering action to break through hard materials. However, instead of metal discs, a rotary hammer uses a piston mechanism, which results in a much more powerful hammering action.

Thanks to this powerful mechanism, rotary hammers are suitable for more demanding tasks such as drilling large holes, chiseling, and demolition work. Even though they are larger and heavier than hammer drills, they are often easier to handle when performing heavy-duty tasks due to their efficient energy transfer.

Differences between Rotary Hammer and Hammer Drill

Rotary Hammer vs. Hammer Drill

1. Mechanism and Power

The main difference between these two tools lies in their mechanism and the power they deliver. A hammer drill uses a mechanical process where two ridged metal discs click together to create the hammering action. On the other hand, a rotary hammer uses an electro-pneumatic hammering mechanism, where an electric motor powers a crank to move a piston back and forth, creating a powerful hammer blow.

Because of this difference in mechanism, a rotary hammer can deliver significantly more power than a hammer drill. This makes a rotary hammer more suitable for heavy-duty tasks and long periods of use.

2. Versatility and Functionality

In terms of versatility, a hammer drill is a bit ahead of a rotary hammer. A hammer drill can be used as a regular drill by disengaging the hammer function, making it suitable for both drilling and driving screws. It can also handle light masonry work.

On the other hand, a rotary hammer is less versatile but offers more functionality. It usually comes with a switch that allows you to choose between drilling, hammer drilling, and chiseling or demolition mode. Some models even offer a variation of these modes, such as rotation-only mode for standard drilling, hammer-only mode for chiseling, and rotary hammer mode for drilling into masonry.

3. Size and Weight

Another significant difference is the size and weight of these tools. Hammer drills are generally smaller and lighter, making them easier to handle and maneuver, especially for overhead or tight-space work.

Rotary hammers, however, due to their robust construction and powerful mechanism, tend to be larger and heavier. This can make them more tiring to use for extended periods, especially for overhead work. But they often come with a side handle for better control and balance.

4. Bit Type and Changing System

Hammer drills typically use standard round-shank drill bits, making them compatible with a wide variety of bits available on the market.

Rotary hammers, in contrast, use special bits with an SDS shank. SDS bits are designed for heavy-duty use and offer a more efficient hammering action. They are also easier to change thanks to the tool-free bit changing system of SDS drills.


In conclusion, the choice between a rotary hammer and a hammer drill depends on the nature of your tasks. If you need a versatile tool for drilling and occasional light masonry work, a hammer drill is a great choice. However, if you are dealing with heavy-duty tasks like drilling large diameter holes in concrete or demolition work, a rotary hammer is the tool you need.

Both tools have their unique advantages and are both indispensable for anyone dealing with construction or heavy-duty DIY projects. Understanding their differences and capabilities will help you choose the right tool for your needs.

Remember, safety should always be your primary concern when using power tools. Always wear appropriate protective gear, including safety glasses, gloves, and hearing protection, and ensure you understand how to operate the tool safely before starting any project.

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