what is a hammer drill

What Is a Hammer Drill? Will It Be Suitable With Your DIY Projects?

Last Updated on January 10, 2023

You can buy many types of corded and cordless drills. One fantastic type of drill is the hammer drill. It is a specialised impact drill that is used for driving through concrete and other heavy surfaces. But what is a hammer drill, and how does it differ from a regular drill? What can it do, and how can you use one? We answer all of these questions in the below guide!

Explaining the Mechanics of a Hammer Drill

A hammer drill or rotary hammer uses a back and forth hammer action, which is great for driving through tough surfaces. This type of drill still has the various features of a standard drill, like drivers, a chuck, and a motor, and it also uses drill bits.

However, the drill driver of a corded hammer drill utilises two motions to power the drilling process. Firstly, the chuck still secures the bit in place, and the bit rotates. However, the bit also has a hammering motion. It retracts and extends backwards and forwards at an impressively fast rate. It is recorded in blows per minute.

This hammer motion creates an impact on the surface and effectively drives out material to create holes. The impact and power from this action are what allow hammer drills to tackle tougher materials such as concrete. A standard drill would not be able to create holes or drive screws in concrete in the same manner.

In all other aspects, hammer drills operate like standard drills. You can get a cordless drill or corded drill, and these tools are also known as rotary hammer drills. You can use a hammer drill for standard drilling processes too. For this, the tool often has two mode selections – standard and hammer. The standard mode simply utilises a rotating action, whereas the hammer mode will activate the powerful hammer action.

Hammer Drill vs Regular Drill – Which Is Better?

Why should you consider purchasing a rotary hammer drill instead of a standard cordless drill or corded drill? We have listed the pros and cons of both of these drivers below so you can see a simple comparison:

Hammer Drills

If you intend to drill heavy surfaces like concrete, rotary hammer drills are the best choice. There is no better option and hammer drills out-perform standard drills every time for heavy materials. Also, a rotary hammer drill is more versatile. This is because it can be used for heavy surfaces, but it can also be used as a regular drill!

The downside is that this type of drill driver is usually more expensive. They can also be larger and heavier to use. Also, you may find that there is not as much choice of hammer drill drivers compared to regular drills from manufacturers like Dewalt and Bosch. Finally, they can initially be trickier to use before you have built your confidence up.


  • Fantastic for making screws and holes in tougher material
  • More versatile and can tackle a wider range of surfaces
  • Great for tougher DIY tasks


  • Generally more expensive to buy
  • Can be larger and heavier
  • Can have a steeper learning curve


Standard Drills

When looking at a standard drill vs hammer drill, standard rotary drills are usually cheaper. Also, you can find a wide range of manufacturers like Dewalt, Bosch, and Makita, who provide fantastic cordless or corded drills. This type of drill is also easier to use, and it should present an easier learning curve.

On the downside, these drills are not ideal for heavy impact work. They do not have as much power and therefore are not suitable as a drill driver for working on heavy-duty surfaces like concrete. As a result, they may not be as versatile.


  • Generally cheaper
  • More choice and variety of models available
  • Can be easier to use


  • Not as versatile
  • Not ideal for tackling tougher surfaces like masonry and concrete

How to Use a Hammer Drill

You now know the difference between a regular drill vs a hammer drill and what this tool does. We can now move to usage and how to drill holes with a hammer drill. It is a simple tool to use once you understand the process and a few simple tips. However, it will require practice, and as you continue to use the hammer drill, your confidence and skill should grow. We have split the usage into three categories – settings, drill bits, and drilling action:

Torque and Speed Settings

Before switching the rotary hammer drill on, you should read the instruction manual fully. The instruction manual will explain how the tool works and what features it has. It will also explain how to change the torque and speed settings if available.

Armed with knowledge, you can now adjust the torque and speed settings. It is important to understand the difference between torque and speed – they do not mean the same thing. Speed relates to how fast the drill bit spins or how fast the hammer action works. In contrast, torque relates to the power of the spinning action or the hammer action.

For example, you can set a drill to have a lower torque setting but a faster speed, or you could set a hammer drill to have a high torque setting and a slower speed. There is no set value that you should set. However, when drilling holes in wood and other softer objects, you could use a higher torque and speed setting without damaging the drill.

Alternatively, when drilling holes in concrete, higher torque settings and a slower speed are ideal. If you set the speed too fast, it could burn the drill out. Also, a higher torque setting means greater power when tackling tougher materials such as concrete.

Using the Correct Drill Bit for the Job

a man drilling a wall

When using any type of drill, you must give thought to the bits. Hammer drills also have a range of bits available, and it is important to have a good selection of bits to tackle various DIY jobs. If you use the wrong bit, you could damage the material, the bit, or the cordless drill itself. There are three main types of drivers available for hammer drills:

  • Metal drill bits
  • Wood drill bits
  • Concrete or masonry bits

Metal bits generally have a partially ground tip and are made from high-speed steel or sometimes have a titanium coating. These can be used to drill through materials like copper, zinc, brass, and aluminium.

Wood bits have a long tip in the centre of the hex shank and two prongs on either side of the centre tip. This configuration allows the bit to easily drive through wood without splitting the material.

Concrete or masonry bits are much tougher and thicker. They are made from dense material and are specialised for making holes in bricks, concrete, and other tough surfaces.

Applying the Correct Pressure and Drilling Action

There are two main actions that allow you to drill holes. Firstly, there is the action of the drill hammer – the screwing and hammer action. Secondly, there is the pressure you apply. You must apply pressure to the hammer drills when making holes – this is what drives the drill forward and creates the holes.

However, the level of pressure you apply is important. If you don’t push enough, the drill won’t move, and you won’t create a hole. However, if you drive too much heavy pressure on your tools, you risk damaging the drivers and bits. You could also burn out the drill motor.

A level application of pressure is ideal – be firm but gentle and drive consistent pressure without forcing the drill through the materials. It will ensure a smooth and simple drilling process. As you use hammer drills and other tools, you will gain a feel for how hard you can push and what drive pressure you should apply.

Tips for Using a Hammer Drill

Now that we know more about hammer drill uses and exactly what they are, let’s finish with some general tips. These tips will help improve your skill when using hammer drills. They should also improve the longevity of your power tools and ensure they last for many years:

Have a Varied Set of Drill Bits for Different Tasks

Many people make the mistake of using the same drill bits for different types of drilling tasks. It is a sure-fire way to damage your drill and wear down the drill bits quickly. Remember this – not all shank drill bits are useful for all types of materials.

For example, if you tried to use a standard bit to tackle hard materials like concrete, it would wear down quickly and even break under strain. If you need to drill hard materials, consider a set of masonry drill bits. Masonry drill bits are tougher and made from denser material that can easily drill holes in brick and concrete.

If you have a set of different bits (including masonry bits), you can easily tackle different materials and get the best usage from your hammer drill.


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Clean and Maintain Your Hammer Drill Often

As with any power tools, cleaning and maintenance are vital. If you never clean your hammer drills or inspect their parts, the tool could get damaged, and its efficiency could be decreased.

For cleaning, you should first wipe down the whole drill and casing to remove any dirt and dust particles. Also, it is important to remove the drill bits and chuck and clean these out thoroughly. Shavings from the holes and drilling can easily build up inside the chuck and inner mechanisms of the drill, and this can cause blockages. Also, if the bit becomes clogged with dirt, it may not drill as effectively.

Keep the drill bits in a storage container if you have one, so they are safe. Plus, detaching the drill bits from the chuck after usage ensures that they will not get broken.

Have a Second Person With a Vacuum When Drilling

Anyone who does DIY tasks or works in construction will understand that drilling can be incredibly messy! You are literally boring out holes in surfaces – the material you bore out and drill has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, it’s usually all over the floor and surrounding area! It can be a chore to clean up afterwards.

There is a simple way to reduce the mess from drilling, regardless of the type of drill. Have a second person stood next to you holding a vacuum. The vacuum should be powered on, and they should position the nozzle next to the hole you are drilling. The suction of the vacuum will immediately remove any debris and dust. This not only reduces the required cleaning afterwards, but it also helps you see better when you are driving screws and drilling holes!

Always Wear PPE and a Dust Mask

Safety is important when using any type of DIY tool. Injuries are commonplace, especially for those who are inexperienced. Therefore, we advise wearing PPE when driving screws, drilling holes, and generally using an impact drill (or any power tool).

Even if you are experienced and confident in your skills, you should still gear up! When using a corded hammer drill or cordless hammer drill, wear a dust mask and safety goggles. It will make sure you do not breathe dust particles in and protect your eyes. Also, consider wearing protective gloves. As the saying goes – it is better to be safe than sorry!

Pour Water Over the Drill Bit and Hole During Drilling

Did you know that water can be a powerful tool if you use an impact drill? Regardless of the material – whether wood or metal, or concrete, water can help speed up the process and prevent the drill from overheating.

All you have to do is pour a little water over the drill bit and around the hole when drilling. During the hammering action and drill process, the bit, chuck, and mechanisms become incredibly hot and have a lot of friction. This friction and heat can cause the hammer drill to overheat. Therefore, pouring water over the bit and holes reduces the temperature and reduces any friction!

Scale Your Masonry Bits and Steadily Enlarge the Hole

Although the hammer mode is incredibly effective, we advise using a scaling method when drilling holes. First, use a smaller masonry bit – smaller than the hole you wish to make. Make a hole using your cordless drill in hammer mode with this smaller tool.

With a smaller pilot hole created, you can then use a larger masonry bit to enlarge the hole. As most of the material has already been drilled, the second process should be easier and quicker. You may want to repeat this process 2-3 times – each time using a larger bit until you have created a hole at the desired size.

Trying to drill immediately using the correct size bit can often reap poor results. For example, you could overheat the hammer drill, or you could damage the hammer bits. This scaled approach works much better for tougher surfaces.


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Hammer Drill FAQs

Here are some questions you may be asking yourself before you get started on your next DIY project.

Can You Use a Regular Drill for Driving Screws or Holes Into Concrete?

Yes, but it is not advised. If you want to do this, a masonry drill bit is a must-have as this is a tougher drill bit that can tackle concrete easily. However, the hammering action from a hammer drill is much more effective for drilling in concrete.

Can Hammer Drills Be Used Like Standard Drills?

Yes, they can. Most hammer drills also have a standard rotary hammer setting, where you can have a standard screwing motion without the hammer action. It means you can use a drill hammer to make holes in wood and other softer materials. In most instances, the tool will have a hammer mode and a standard mode. You simply need to switch between the two modes when tackling different surfaces and projects.


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Can You Get Both Cordless or Corded Hammer Drills?

Yes, there are both varieties available, and each has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, a cordless drill offers greater flexibility and manoeuvrability. Alternatively, a corded drill has no reliance on rechargeable battery packs.

Time to Get an Upgrade

Once you know what is a hammer drill and how to properly use one, jobs you once found intimidating will no longer phase you. Take the time to get to know your power tools to utilise their full potential.

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