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Impact Driver vs. Hammer Drill

Impact drivers and hammer drills: Know the difference.

With such a wide choice of power tools, how do you tell if you need a hammer drill or an impact driver? At first glance, both look similar, although impact drivers are shorter with stubbier noses. And there are other subtle differences as we shall discover.

We take a detailed look at hammer drills vs. impact drivers to show you what the differences are and when you should use them.

Impact Driver vs Hammer Drill

Hammer drills exert downward force on the drill bit, while impact drivers provide rotational torque to drive screws and bolts. Hammer drills are excellent for drilling through masonry and hard materials. Impact drivers remove rusted bolts and have a wider use in the home or garage.

Impact Driver vs. Hammer Drill Comparison Chart

Features Impact Driver Hammer Drill
Use Drive or remove screws and bolts that require high torque. Drilling through masonry and hard materials.
Mechanism Rotating hammer action. Up and down hammer action.
Driving Force Electric. Electric/Electro-pneumatic.
Torque No torque control. Adjustable torque.
Design Short and stubby. Similar to electric screwdrivers. Similar to rotary drills. Long handles and nose. Rotary hammer drills are bulky with two handles.
Speed 2,000 to 3,500 RPM 2,000 to 3,000 RPM
Chuck ¼-inch hexagonal socket 3-jaw/SDS chuck

What Is a Hammer Drill?

Hammer Drill
Photo by: Dewalt

A hammer drill is a hand-held power tool that uses a hammer action to drive holes through tough material. The drill bit rotates as well as pushes back and forth, to cut into rock, concrete, metal, and masonry. This hammer action is a key difference when compared to an impact driver.

Looking at a hammer drill vs. impact driver, an impact driver can be used to drill hard materials. However, it is better suited to driving screws and bolts into solid matter.

Typically, the drill you buy from the DIY store will have a switch to enable you to switch between rotary and hammer action. On a job site, though, you are more likely to find a dedicated hammer drill because of the intense nature of the workload.

What Do You Use a Hammer Drill For?

Hammer drills drive holes in concrete, brick, stone, and other robust materials. You can use a hammer drill to make holes in softer material like wood, but why go to the expense of a hammer drill when all you need is a rotary drill?

Hammer drills combine the repeated blows of the percussive movement in a forward direction. As a result, they make light work of almost every dense material.

Do You Need a Hammer Drill for Concrete?

If you want to drill concrete, you will need a hammer drill. This is especially true if you are drilling through older concrete. Older concrete tends to be harder with uneven rocks and pebbles embedded inside.

You can use a rotary drill and a masonry drill bit if you are hanging something on your concrete wall inside, as that is a little softer. However, make sure you take it slowly to avoid burning out the motor.

Also, some impact drills have hexagonal attachments that give them the ability to drive through masonry.


  • Drills through hard material.
  • Switch from rotary to hammer action.
  • More versatile.
  • High-torque.
  • Can drive screws and bolts.


  • More expensive.
  • Heavier.
  • Better suited to drilling.
  • Easy to lose the chuck key.

What is an Impact Drill/Driver?

Impact Drill/Driver
Photo by: Dewalt

An impact drill is a powerful tool that operates in a similar way to a hammer drill. Impact drivers are smaller with stubbier noses. Both devices use percussive power, but an impact driver works with the rotation, adding extra torque when needed, for a firmer grip.

This key difference makes impact drivers the perfect choice for removing rusted bolts and screws. They’re also excellent for driving thicker or longer screws through hard material, including concrete.

Another difference between Hammer drill vs. impact drivers is that hammer drills use a three-jaw chuck key to secure drill bits. An impact driver has a quarter-inch hexagonal socket.

What Do You Use an Impact Driver For?

Do you have a rusted bolt that just won’t shift or a screw that has set into the hole? An impact driver provides the rotational force to dislodge them. You typically find impact drivers in garage workshops. They are excellent at removing over-torqued bolts from vehicles.

Can an Impact Drill Go Through Concrete?

The simple answer is yes, but only if you aim to drill a quarter of an inch hole. Because impact drills are high-torque power tools, they have the strength to do it. Still, it is advisable to use a hammer drill for a better result.

If you only want to drill one or two small holes in the concrete, you might understandably be tempted to use an impact driver. If so, make sure that you follow some basic steps.

1. Use an Impact Drill Masonry Bit

Get a complete set of masonry bits because you will need to increase the diameter of your hole as you progress.

2. Mark the Center of the Hole

Mark the hole and use the smallest masonry bit and apply gentle force. When you feel the drill bit start to bite, reduce the pressure.

3. Increase Drill Bit Size

If the bit starts to bind in the hole, increase the drill bit size by one increment. As with drilling into concrete with a hammer drill, if you hit obstacles, use a hardened nail and give it a few taps with a hammer to break the blockage.

4. Keep Increasing Drill Bit Size

Increase the drill bit size by one-eighth of an inch until you have the required diameter and depth.

This method of using an impact drill to cut through concrete is not ideal. It is slow, labor-intensive, and less precise than using a hammer drill.

One of the golden rules of DIY is to know what tools to use for each specific job. So if you want to drill through concrete, use a hammer drill. The hammering action, combined with the rotational power of the masonry drill bit, is far more efficient and made for the task.


  • High-torque.
  • Drives bolts and screws.
  • Removes rusted bolts and screws.
  • Can be used as a drill.
  • No chuck key.


  • Limited on what you can drill.
  • Better suited to driving screws.
  • Not as precise as a hammer drill.
  • Not as versatile.

Can an Impact Driver Be Used as a Hammer Drill?

You can use an impact driver as a hammer drill in so much as it drives hexagonal masonry drill bits through the hard stock. Impact drivers also drill through hardwood and other materials. However, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

By far, the best tool for drilling through dense material is a hammer drill. Impact drivers are high-torque tools for driving screws and bolts into dense stock.

Deep Impact or Hammer Time?

Hammer drills cost more, so we get that the temptation to save yourself dollars is great. A hammer drill is likely to be used a lot less around the home than an impact driver. But consider renting a hammer drill for the few times you need one.

Drilling into masonry requires a precision tool, especially as the risk of veering off course with the hole is high. Likewise, if you need a tool to twist out a rusted bolt, an impact driver is the right choice. They are cheaper, easy to use, and far more useful for regular DIY use.

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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.