Rotary Hammer vs Hammer Drill: Differences and Comparison

Understand the differences between a rotary hammer vs hammer drill - their main features, and which is ideal for home improvement and which for concrete projects.

When it comes to drilling holes into concrete and masonry or handling heavy-duty tasks, rotary hammer drills and hammer drills are the tools you need. While regular drills can handle basic drilling, these specialized tools are designed to excel in demanding applications.

In this blog post, I’ll explore the essentials of rotary hammer drills and hammer drills. You’ll discover their primary uses, benefits, their differences, and similarities, and what sets them apart from regular drills. 

Rotary hammer drills and hammer drills are specifically engineered to tackle drilling into concrete and masonry with ease. Their powerful motors and hammering mechanisms deliver the necessary force to penetrate tough surfaces, making them essential tools for construction, renovations, and other heavy-duty applications.

Once you read through this article, you’ll have a clear understanding of the advantages and differences between rotary hammer drills and hammer drills. I’ll also share some useful tips and show some useful accessories that make working with these tools much easier.

With this information, it will be much easier for you to choose the right tool for your specific drilling needs and achieve the results you are looking for.

Corded Hammer Drill
Bosch Hammer Drill

What is a Hammer Drill and a Rotary Hammer?

A Hammer Drill is a versatile tool used for drilling into materials like wood, metal, and concrete. It combines rotation with a pulsating hammering action for efficient drilling. As for Rotary Hammers, they are heavy-duty powerhouses designed specifically for drilling into tough materials such as concrete and masonry. They offer superior power and impact for demanding projects.

Hammer Drill vs Rotary Hammer

  • Hammer Drills: Ideal for light masonry work, hammer drills are versatile tools that can handle drilling tasks in materials like wood, metal, and concrete. They work by combining rotation and a pulsating hammering action, allowing the drill bit to chip away at the surface while drilling. This mechanism enhances drilling speed and efficiency.

  • Rotary Hammers: When it comes to heavy-duty operations, rotary hammers (also known as rotary hammer drills) are the go-to tools. They excel in drilling into concrete, masonry, and other tough materials. Rotary hammers work by utilizing a more powerful hammering action, delivering increased impact energy to break through hardened surfaces.

These tools often offer multiple modes to accommodate various tasks. They typically include drilling-only mode for standard drilling, hammer-only mode for chiseling or breaking, and a combination mode that combines drilling and hammering action. This flexibility allows you to adapt the tool to different applications, making rotary hammers the preferred choice for demanding projects that require precise and efficient drilling in challenging materials.

Corded Rotary Hammer
Makita Rotary Hammer

Similarities and Differences Between Hammer Drills and Rotary Hammers

What are the similarities

Both hammer drills and rotary hammers share the ability to perform drilling tasks with a hammering action. This feature allows them to handle tougher materials more effectively than simple drills. Both tools are typically used for working on concrete and masonry. These activities include drilling holes in concrete, pulverizing concrete, or drilling holes in masonry.

The tools usually offer variable speed settings, enabling users to adjust the drilling speed according to the task’s requirements. This versatility ensures optimal control and precision during drilling operations.

Hammer Drill - hammer mode

What are the differences

  • Power and Impact: Rotary hammers are known for their superior power and impact capabilities compared to hammer drills. They deliver greater impact energy, making them suitable for heavy-duty applications and drilling into challenging materials like concrete and masonry.
  • Chuck Mechanism: Hammer drills typically feature a keyless chuck or a traditional three-jaw chuck, accommodating a wide range of drill bit sizes. On the other hand, rotary hammers often utilize an SDS chuck system. This specialized chuck allows for quick and easy bit changes, enhancing efficiency and impact energy transfer.
  • Size and Weight: Rotary hammers are generally larger and heavier than hammer drills. The increased size and weight offer more stability and control.
  • Depth and Speed: Rotary hammers can typically drill deeper holes and achieve higher drilling speeds compared to hammer drills.
  • Vibration Control: Rotary hammers often incorporate advanced vibration control features, reducing the impact of vibrations on the user. This helps minimize fatigue during prolonged drilling sessions.

Chucks and Bits

SDS plus Chuck System
SDS Plus

When it comes to chucks and drill bits, hammer drills, and rotary hammers have some key differences. In a hammer drill, you’ll typically find a standard chuck (keyless chuck, three-way adjustable chuck) that accepts regular drill bits, making it versatile for various drilling tasks. It’s like having a reliable all-rounder in your toolbox.

On the other hand, rotary hammers step up the game with an SDS chuck system. SDS stands for “Slotted Drive System” and offers enhanced functionality. With an SDS chuck, you can quickly and securely attach SDS drill bits (SDS-plus bits, SDS-Max bits). These specialized bits have a unique design that allows for efficient drilling and better energy transfer, resulting in faster progress and less strain on the tool.

These  are some of the typical types of chisels used for rotary hammers:

  • Point Chisel: sharp, pointed tip, ideal for breaking up concrete
  • Flat Chisel: wide, flat cutting edge, great for general-purpose chiseling
  • Tile Chisel: wide, angled blade, primarily used for removing tiles
Rotary Hammer Chisels
Point and Flat Chisel


One of the benefits of rotary hammers is that you can get a three-jaw chuck adapter for regular drill bits (smooth shank) that you can attach on top of the SDS chuck system. This will allow you to easily reuse all of the drill bits you already have in the shop.

Rotary Hammer Accessories
Changeable chucks

So, to sum it up, hammer drills accommodate standard chucks and can use regular drill bits, offering versatility for various projects. On the other hand, rotary hammers boast an SDS chuck system, allowing for quick and secure attachment of specialized SDS drill bits, making them ideal for demanding drilling tasks.

Rotary Hammer and Hammer Drill: Comparison Table

A simple side-by-side comparison table of Rotary Hammer vs Hammer Drill.

 Hammer DrillRotary Hammer
Hammering MechanismRapid back-and-forth motion using rotating and hammer (based on rotating clutch metal discs)Piston and cylinder mechanism for more powerful hammer action (based on compressed air)
Chuckkeyless chuck, three-way adjustable chuckSDS Chucks
Drill BitsStraight shank, hex shank bitsSDS bits (SDS-plus bits, SDS-Max bits)
ApplicationsWood, metals, soft concrete, and even masonryHard concrete, masonry (not suitable for glass, ceramics, wood, metal)
Drill Holes diameterSuitable for drilling smaller holes – up to 1/4-inch diameter in concreteSuitable for drilling larger holes – up to 2-inch diameter in concrete
PowerModerate level of powerHigh level of power
Weight and SizeLighter, smaller in size (4 to 10 pounds)Heavier, larger in size (14 to 18 pounds)
Costranging from $50 to $200 (The cordless option is usually more expensive)ranging from $150 to $600 (The cordless option is usually more expensive)


When it comes to cost, it’s important to consider your budget, what you’re planning to use the tool for, and the value you’re seeking.

  • Hammer drills are generally more affordable, with average prices ranging from $50 to $200, making them a suitable tool for any home improvements and those on a tighter budget. 
  • On the other hand, rotary hammers, offering enhanced power and durability, can range from $150 to $600 or more, making them a preferred investment for professionals or those tackling extensive drilling projects.

Remember to weigh your needs to find the perfect tool that fits both your budget and your drilling requirements.

Hammer Drill or Rotary Hammer: Which One to Buy?

When it comes to choosing between a hammer drill or a rotary hammer, it’s essential to consider your specific tasks and goals. Start by evaluating what you want to accomplish and the type of work you’ll be doing.

How many concrete holes do you need to drill, and what are their sizes and depths? Additionally, consider the time factor – how quickly do you need to finish the task? While a hammer drill with a masonry bit can handle smaller jobs, it might test your patience. Even a modest-sized hole in cement can take several minutes. Moreover, larger diameter drilling can strain a hammer drill. If you are planning on some heavy concrete drilling with lots of large holes, then go get a rotary hammer, it will make your life so much easier.

If drilling concrete is the job and you want a stress-free experience, investing in a rotary hammer is the smart choice. Remember, it’s all about matching the right tool to the job at hand, and will make a world of difference in your project. I hope this guidance helps you a bit in your decision!

I’ve put together a list of the best hammer drills/ rotary hammers on the market.
Best Corded Hammer Drills and Rotary Hammers on the Market

What Are The Top Picks For Hammer Drills?

These are some of the picks you can find the in list mentioned above. All of these are really great, I have tried and used many of these but my favorites are the Bosch GSB 13 RE, and the Makita HR2470 (HR 2475). See below why.

  1. Bosch 1191VSRK 120 Volt, 1/2 Inch: A reliable hammer drill from Bosch – excellent performance and durability
  2. Bosch 11255VSR Bulldog Xtreme: Exceptional power and durability
  3. Dewalt DWD520K Hammer Drill Kit: great for a wide range of drilling and hammer drilling tasks
  4. Skill HD182001 Hammer Drill: Affordable hammer drill – great quality for the price

Read the following tool reviews as they can help you in your decision process. I have been using both of these tools for a few years now, and let me tell you, they are simply amazing. I actually have both because they serve different purposes. These are my preferred ones and without a doubt, I would buy them again.

  • Bosch GSB 13 RE (hammer drill) – lightweight, very powerful
  • Makita HR2470 (rotary hammer) – exceptional power for any kind of heavy-duty task
Makita HR2470 Rotary Hammer Drill Review
Variable speed


To wrap it up, hammer drills are ideal for lighter tasks and occasional use, while rotary hammers are best suited for heavy-duty drilling in concrete and masonry. The most important aspect when choosing between these two types of drills is what task you want to use them for and what material you want to use them on. 

I own both tools and think everyone should have both in their workshop as well. 

Happy Drilling!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are rotary hammer drill bits compatible with hammer drills?

Rotary hammer drills typically utilize SDS Plus bits, which are not directly compatible with standard hammer drills. However, some rotary hammer drills offer the versatility to switch to a non-hammer mode, allowing the use of regular drill bits.

What should you avoid using a hammer drill for?

It’s best to avoid using a hammer drill for delicate materials like ceramic tiles, glass, plastic, or wood, as the powerful hammering action can cause damage.

Is an SDS drill the same as a hammer drill?

An SDS drill is a type of hammer drill. The main difference lies in the chuck mechanism. An SDS drill utilizes a specialized SDS chuck, allowing for easy and quick bit changes, as well as the improved transfer of impact energy. This feature mainly sets it apart from a regular hammer drill, making the SDS drill more convenient for heavy-duty tasks.

Do I need a hammer drill?

If you frequently work with hard surfaces like concrete or masonry, a hammer drill is an invaluable tool that provides the necessary power and impact to get the job done efficiently.

Can I use a hammer drill on wood?

While hammer drills are primarily designed for tougher materials like concrete, they can also be used on wood when equipped with standard drill bits. However, for precision woodworking, it’s recommended to use a regular drill to prevent any unnecessary damage.

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About the author, Lukas
About the author, Lukas

Meet the creator of AllFlavor Workshop! As a passionate DIYer and woodworking enthusiast, Lukas is always looking for ways to make things himself rather than buying them off the shelf. With a keen eye for design and a knack for working with wood, Lukas enjoys sharing his craft with others and helping them discover the joy of building. Whether you're an experienced woodworker or a novice looking to try your hand at a new hobby, you're sure to find plenty of inspiration and tips on AllFlavor Workshop.