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Drills vs. Hammer Drills: What's the Difference?

Want the best drill for the job? Know when to use a drill or hammer drill

We’ve all been there. You are drilling into a surface and you hit a blockage. The drill is spinning, but you are getting nowhere fast. It could be time to switch to the hammer drill.

Hammer drills make light work of robust surfaces and materials because of the way they work. They come in all varieties, and you can even get cordless hammer drills.

It’s time to put a drill vs. hammer drill under the spotlight to see what makes them so different.

Hammer Drill or Drill: Which is the Best?

Hammer drills drive round holes into stone, brick, concrete, and any other tough material. Drill drivers drive screws into softer materials as well as drilling round holes in wood and plaster. Hammer drills have a higher torque. They work by percussive movement which drives the brill bit up and down while rotating at the same time.

Quick Comparison Chart

Key Features Drill Hammer Drill
Weight 5 to 7 pounds 10 to 15 pounds
RPM/BPM 1,000 to 1,500 RPM 4,000 to 5,000 BPM
Suitable for General-purpose drilling in softer or fragile material Harder and more robust materials
Cost $ $$
Noise (dB) 95 to 100 125 to 135
Material Wood, metal, plastic, tile Concrete, stone, masonry
Size Smaller and more compact More cumbersome in size

What is a Drill?

Photo by: Dewalt

If you know your early 17th-century middle Dutch — and we’re sure that you do — you will know that the word drill derives from “Drillen,” which means to bore or turn in a circle. So, as we are fond of saying, the clue is in the name (1).

A drill is a boring tool that makes round holes in all manner of materials. You can achieve this by either using a drill bit or a driver, secured by a chuck, and you choose your bit depending on the content you are drilling.

Drills vary in size, power, and speed, and some drills have a hammer setting built-in for robust material. These are called combination drills. Electric handheld drills also come in all varieties, including corded and cordless drills.

What Do You Use a Drill For?

You would use a drill to make round holes in the material, most commonly wood. With the right drill bit, it is possible to drill through plastic, composite, melamine, tiles, metal, and MDF. Drills are also excellent when you are undertaking construction projects or hanging items to plasterboard walls.

You can even convert your drill to act as a knife sharpener, an electric polisher, a screwdriver, and a metal grinder. All you need are the right attachments.

If you are working with wood, a drill will speed up the job and create a more precise and neater finish. It will even bore countersink holes and mix paint, plaster, and grout for tiling.


  • Powerful.
  • Ideal for fitting wall anchors.
  • Make neat holes.
  • Speed up process.
  • Precise.
  • Accurate.


  • Noisy.
  • Messy.
  • Expensive.

What is a Hammer Drill?

Hammer Drill
Photo by: Dewalt

If a standard drill rotates and bores a round hole, think about what a hammer does. It moves up and down with force, creating an impact on the object in its path. So, a hammer drill is a tool that both rotates to bore round holes, but also reciprocates to create impact.

All the force culminates behind the chuck to drive the bit forward while rotating at the same time, creating a battering ram effect.

Hammer drills are sometimes called percussion drills. Percussion means to strike one solid object with another solid object using force. All that extra force translates into a noisy power tool that creates a loud ratcheting sound that echoes through the walls.

What Do You Use a Hammer Drill For?

A hammer drill has the sole job of impact driver, drilling through dense and hardened material like rock, concrete, stone, and brick. Anything that requires force to bore a round hole will need a hammer drill.

The good news is that hammer drills typically come as a setting on your standard drill. It means that you get the best of both worlds because you can switch between the two when needed.


  • Powerful.
  • Breaks through hard material.
  • Creates impact.
  • Versatile.


  • Noisy.
  • Vibrates.
  • Harder to guide.
  • Messy.

Drill vs. Hammer Drill

So, you’ve gathered by now that rotary drills are better for use on softer or more delicate materials like wood and tiles. In comparison, hammer drills prefer the challenge of hard surfaces like rock, stone, and masonry.

But there are other differences. Rotary drills have a less pronounced chuck because there is no hammer action to add extra size. Also, rotary drills tend to be smaller and lighter than hammer drills. This makes them a great choice when you have limited space to work.

Rotary drills are also less expensive.

Hammer drills are heavier, and because the hammer action comes from the type of chuck, they have a more pronounced profile when compared to standard drills. This makes them heavier and harder to handle. They are also a lot noisier!

Hammer drills are also more expensive to buy.

Finally, there is the combi drill, an amalgamation of the hammer drill and the standard drill. Most drills sold in home improvement stores are of this variety because they are ideal for the DIY community and everyday use.

Combination Drill

Having the ability to switch between modes is a cheaper option because you don’t need two separate drills. Plus, it ultimately speeds up the task. You don’t need to stop and swap drills when you change from soft to hard material.

Can You Use a Hammer Drill as a Regular Drill?

Hammer drills are not suitable for regular drilling because they are aggressive. It would be like taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Drills have many uses because they are gentler and can double up as drivers.

Hammer drills work best on hard surfaces like stone, rock, and concrete. If you have a combination hammer drill, you can switch the mode from hammer to rotary when swapping between jobs. Still, hammer action is ineffective when drilling softer material like wood.

Now We’ve Hammered It Out

So, you can see that hammer drills are very different from regular drills. They are the go-to tool when you need a bit of brute force drilling harder materials. The drill is more of a multi-use tool for everyday DIY and woodworking, as well as acting as a driver.

If you want the best of both worlds, try using a combination drill. That way, you can switch actions dependent on the job you are tackling.

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Headshot of Mark Weir

About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.