When you shop through links on our site, we may receive compensation. This educational content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice or consultation.

Drill vs. Hammer Drill: What’s the Difference?

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

Modern power drills enable us to make holes in various materials quickly and easily, transforming the way we work. However, there will be times when a standard drill won’t be powerful enough.

When you hit an obstruction and can’t seem to get past it, it might be time to turn to a hammer drill, which uses percussive force to enhance its power. If you haven’t used one before, you might be unsure how it works or why it will make a difference to your drilling.

In this article, we will explore a standard rotary drill vs. a hammer drill to see what sets each type apart. This includes how they work, how they differ, and which jobs they will be suitable for.

Key Takeaways

  • Hammer drills are powerful and suitable for drilling into hard materials like concrete, stone, and brick.
  • Rotary drills are versatile and ideal for drilling into softer materials like wood, metal, plastic, and tiles.
  • Combination drills offer both rotary and hammer functions, making them a cost-effective choice for various tasks.
  • Always use the appropriate drill bit and power setting for the material you are working with to ensure success.

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 materials Making holes in harder 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

Drills have existed in some form for thousands of years but the modern handheld drill is also more than a century old. The drill takes its name from 17th-century middle Dutch — it derives from “drillen”, which means to bore or turn in a circle (1).

Drills are tools that are used to bore round holes in almost any material with the right motor and accessories. You can achieve this by either using a drill bit or a driver, secured by a chuck, with the type of bit determined by the material you are drilling.

Drills vary greatly in size, power, and speed, and some drills have a built-in hammer setting for more robust materials. These are called combination drills. There are also various types of handheld electric drills, including corded and cordless hammer drills.

What Do You Use a Drill For?

As their name suggests, drills are primarily used to make round holes in materials, typically wood. With the right drill bit and a powerful motor, it might also be possible to drill through plastic, composite, melamine, tiles, metal, and MDF. Drills are versatile tools that will help with any construction project and quick jobs such as mounting items on plasterboard or wooden walls.

Extra attachments can make drills even more versatile. It is possible to convert your drill into a knife sharpener, an electric polisher, a screwdriver, or a metal grinder.

If you are working with wood, a drill will speed up your tasks and help you achieve a neat, precise finish. It will even bore countersink holes and can mix paint, plaster, and grout for tiling.


  • Powerful
  • Ideal for fitting wall anchors
  • Makes neat holes
  • Speeds up many tasks
  • Precise


  • Noisy
  • Messy
  • Expensive

What is a Hammer Drill?

Hammer drills largely do what you probably expect of them, combining a hammering motion with a rotary movement for more effective drilling. The bit moves in and out with force, striking the material while also turning like a standard drill.

These combined movements help hammer drills penetrate tougher materials and this is the reason that they are sometimes called percussion drills. Percussion means striking one object with another using force. Hammer drills are loud, powerful tools.

What Do You Use a Hammer Drill For?

A hammer drill is used as an impact driver, drilling through dense, hard materials such as rock, concrete, stone, and brick. If you find yourself unable to make a hole with a standard rotary drill, a hammer drill might be able to do it for you.

Many modern drills offer rotary and hammer settings, or both at the same time. This means you will have the best of both worlds, using a standard drill but with the ability to hammer through any hard obstacles you encounter.


  • Powerful
  • Breaks through hard materials
  • Impactful
  • Versatile


  • Noisy
  • Vibrates
  • Hard to use it accurately
  • Messy

Drill vs. Hammer Drill

As a general rule, rotary drills are more suitable for drilling into softer or more delicate materials such as wood and tiles. Hammer drills are essentially the opposite, breaking through hard surfaces such as rock, stone, and masonry but with less precision.

However, there are some other differences. Rotary drills have a less pronounced chuck as there is no hammer action to take up extra space. They tend to be smaller and lighter than hammer drills. This makes them a better choice for working in tight spaces. As they have fewer components, they are also usually cheaper.

Hammer drills are heavier and their movement requires a larger chuck, which means they are generally longer than standard drills. They are heavier and more difficult to handle. They also make far more noise and are more expensive.

Finally, the combi drill is an amalgamation of the hammer drill and the standard rotary drill. Many drills sold in home improvement stores are combi drills as their versatility makes them ideal for the DIY community. A good combi drill will be able to complete the vast majority of drilling tasks in your home.

Combination Drills

The ability to switch between modes will help you save money as you won’t need separate drills for hammering and rotary drilling. A combi drill will also help you work more quickly as you won’t need to switch tools whenever you move from soft to hard materials.

Can You Use a Hammer Drill as a Regular Drill?

Hammer drills are unsuitable for standard drilling tasks due to their aggressive action. Using one to hang up a picture frame would be akin to swinging a sledgehammer at a walnut. Standard rotary drills have many uses because they are gentler and can also be used to drive screws, making them great general-purpose tools.

Hammer drills are best suited to hard materials such as stone, rock, and concrete. If you have a combination drill, you can switch between hammer and rotary modes to suit each material. Just remember not to use a hammer action on soft materials such as wood or you could damage them.


Do I Really Need a Hammer Drill?

When purchasing the right tools for home improvement projects, it can be confusing to determine which ones are essential and which aren’t.

Fortunately, when it comes to hammer drills, the answer is relatively simple – if you have a wide range of projects you may wish to undertake in the future, then yes, a hammer drill should definitely be added to your collection.

Hammer drills can make short work of drilling into concrete or masonry materials and significantly speed up larger projects that would otherwise require more intensive manual labor.

Also, a hammer drill may prove invaluable for other applications such as drilling large diameter holes into wood or sheet metal.

If you want renovations on any structure with hard surfaces or simply need more flexibility from your toolbox a hammer drill will benefit you in the long run.

Can I Use a Hammer Drill on Wood?

Using a hammer drill on wood can be very effective in certain situations, such as when you want to produce holes quickly and easily.

However, it is worth noting that the hammering action of a hammer drill can do damage to softer woods, so ensure you turn off the hammer function before you start drilling.

Always use the right combination of the drill bit and power setting for the material you are working with.

Make sure your drill bit is sharp and use light pressure when drilling if you want to maintain control and accuracy. These simple steps can help ensure a successful job using a hammer drill on wood.

Can I Use a Normal Drill for Concrete?

When drilling into concrete, you must use the correct drill bit and power tool for the job. While it is possible to use a normal drill for this task, it may not be the most efficient way to do so and can easily lead to a broken drill bit.

To give yourself the best chance of success with this project, you should purchase specialized tools and bits made explicitly for drilling into concrete.

Taking time to properly equip yourself with the right tools can save significant trouble in terms of time and effort wasted on a failed attempt.

Do Electricians Use Hammer Drills?

Electricians undoubtedly use one particular type of drilling tool: the hammer drill. Once considered a specialty, this versatile tool is essential for any electrician who needs to install cables or hardware into masonry material.

Although an electrician typically relies on an impact wrench or drill to drive screws and bolts into materials like stainless steel and drywall, a hammer drill is indispensable when working with masonry surfaces.

As such, yes, electricians use hammer drills and rely on them whenever they need to complete jobs requiring special care.

Which Hammer Drill Is Best for Home Use?

The DEWALT DW511 is a great choice for home use with its 7.8 Amp motor. The variable speed lets you adjust the drill’s performance based on your needs and the material you’re working with.

It’s only 4.3 lbs, which is great for ease of use and storage and the 360° side handle allows you to maneuver more freely. At the same time, drilling and the dual mode lets you switch between hammering and drilling to accommodate different tasks efficiently.

The DEWALT DW511 is a high-performing tool that makes it ideal for any home project.

Hammer It Out

Hammer drills and rotary drills have the same goal, making holes, but they function very differently. The percussive movement of hammer drills makes them the go-to tool when you need brute force to drill through hard materials. Standard rotary drills are versatile tools for everyday DIY and woodworking tasks and can perform various other roles with the right attachments.

If you want the best of both worlds, consider buying a combination drill. These tools can complete most of the tasks that hammer and rotary drills can, so you can save money by buying a combi drill instead of two more specialized drills.

Feedback: Was This Article Helpful?
Thank You For Your Feedback!
Thank You For Your Feedback!
What Did You Like?
What Went Wrong?
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.