A rotary hammer drill, also known as a pneumatic hammer drill or simply a rotary hammer, is a tool designed to drill into thick concrete and masonry. This drill bores large-diameter holes into tough materials and can even be used for demolition applications. The pneumatic hammer action is what gives this tool the power it needs to force drill bits into all types of materials and surfaces.
What to look for in a rotary hammer
Like other power tools, rotary hammers come with a variety of different components. Before heading to your local department store to pick one up, you should consider the following features to get the best rotary hammer that fits your specific needs.
Power tools nowadays either come with motors that use brushed carbons or don’t (brushless). Generally speaking, brushless models are superior since they produce less heat which results in improved battery efficiency and more work per single charge (cordless power tools). However, don’t skimp out on brushed motors since they don’t just work perfectly in the field, but they’re much less expensive than their brushless counterparts.
In addition, you should pay attention to the power and speed delivery of the rotary hammer. Speed is measured using RPM which shows how quick the bit rotates. This is done for drilling and hammer drilling applications. BPM (blows per minute) measure how many “hammer blows” are delivered while the bit spins. The extra blows allow for better penetration in hard surfaces like concrete and masonry.
Finally, pay attention to the impact energy (measured in Joules) since it shows how much energy is delivered while drilling and hammering. Typically, for home projects like tiling, concrete destruction, and other renovation projects, your rotary hammer should deliver around 1,500 RPM, 5,000 BPM, and 3 J.
In general, rotary hammers can come with two or three modes. The first two models are rotary drilling and rotary hammer drilling modes. The rotary drilling mode is suited for working on materials like wood which don’t require powerful hammer-blows to make holes, whereas the rotary hammer drilling mode is designed for use on concrete, masonry, and other hard substances that need the extra strength, or hammer blows, to bore holes.
The third mode is the chiseling mode which is typically used for light breaking applications like bathroom tile renovations. Depending on what you need your rotary hammer to do, you may just need the first two modes or all three.
Rotary hammers are fitted with different chuck from the standard power drill. The rotary hammer comes equipped with an SDS (special drilling system) chuck which is made of durable plastic. Their lock accessories are the key to keeping large-sized drill and chisel bits in place.
The two most common SDS sizes are the SDS-Plus and the SDS-Max. The SDS-Plus is the smallest standard chuck for rotary hammers. They typically use drill bit sizes of between 5/32 inches to 1-1/8 inches and core bits of up to 4 inches in diameter. Most, if not all, entry-level rotary hammers for home use come with SDS-Plus chucks.
Which rotary hammer to get
Because the market is saturated with a large number of power tool manufacturers, each producing different rotary hammer models, it can be a challenge to pick one that works best for your line of work.
To help you in your search, we’ll provide you with our pick of the top 5 best-performing rotary hammers. Keep in mind that we keep things in general terms, and these tools may or may not be the perfect solution for your specific needs.
5 DEWALT DCH133B Rotary Hammer Drill
The DEWALT DCH133B is a powerful cordless rotary hammer that comes with a brushless motor. The motor produces less heat and uses less power so you can get more work on a single charge. DEWALT boasts that this tool is best used for drilling into concrete with a thickness between 3/16 and 5/18 of an inch. This is a dual-mode model so it won’t be of any use for chiseling tasks.
It comes with an SDS-Plus chuck, and operators can attach bits as large as 1 inch for drilling and hammer drilling jobs. The one-gear transmission of the DCH133B can deliver up to 1,500 RPM, 5,500 BPM, and 2.7 J.
4 Bosch RH228VC SDS-plus Rotary Hammer
The Bosch RH228VC is a corded (8-foot long) rotary hammer that comes with a brushed motor (less efficient heat dissipation but much less costly than brushless motors). The motor delivers up to 1,230 RPM, 5,460 BPM, and 3 J, so most, if not all, hammer drilling jobs through concrete and masonry are completely doable. This is another dual-mode tool so there’s no chiseling option (two-mode models require at most, 2.5 J so you’re getting a super-powerful motor with unusable potential).
This tool performs much better on concrete and can drill up to 1-1/8 inches in the tough material. It features a moderate ¾-inch chuck so your work is limited to how far small ¾-inch drill and core bits (up to 2-3/4-inch in diameter) can take you.
3 Makita HR2475 SDS-Plus Rotary Hammer
The Makita HR2475 is a corded (10-foot long power cord) rotary hammer that features a 7.0 amp carbon brushed motor. Thanks to the engineers at Makita, the carbon brushes are designed to have an extended life so users can get more work done in between maintenance intervals. The HR2475’s motor delivers up to 1,100 RPM, 4,500 BPM, and 2.7 J, which should be enough for most wood, metal, and concrete drilling jobs.
This rotary hammer model is designed to pierce up to 1 inch in concrete. The HR2475 is a 3-mode rotary hammer (includes “hammering only” or “chiseling” mode). It comes with an SDS-Plus chuck that accepts ¾-inch drill, chisel, and core bits. It’s a bit slower than the other models on this list, but it’s a great entry-level rotary hammer for most home projects.
2 Bosch 11255VSR SDS-plusRotary Hammer
The Bosch 11255VSR SDS-Plus BULLDOG is another DIY-er’s rotary tool. This is a corded-electric (8-foot long cord) model that features a 7.5 amp motor that delivers up to 1,300 RPM, 5,800 BPM, and 2.7 J. Speed and power are controlled using the touch-sensitive variable speed trigger for when operators need to in soft materials like wood. This is a 3-mode that lets users chisel away pieces of rough material.
The BULLDOG comes with a ¾-inch SDS-Plus keyless chuck for easy bit swapping. This rotary hammer model is built to pierce through concrete as thick as 5/8 of in a 1-inch diameter hole. You can attach thin wall core bits as large as 2-5/8 inches.
1 DEWALT D25263K D-Handle SDS Rotary Hammer
Finally, the rotary hammer model that takes the crown is another DEWALT-made model – the D25263K. This is a corded (9-3/4-foot long power cord) model that features an 8.5 amp brushed motor that delivers up to 1,450 RPM, 5,350 BPM, and a super-powerful 3 J. This lets users attack a wide number of drilling and hammering tasks at home and even in professional settings.
This is another 3-mode model that comes with a chiseling mode, and the 3-J impact energy makes is extremely easy to do. In addition, it comes with the largest-sized chuck you’ll ever find in an SDS-Plus chuck rotary hammer (1-1/8 inches) so with the large drill and chisel bits, you know you’ll get work done in no time.
It’s clear that the rotary hammer is nothing compared to industrial-grade jackhammers, but for home projects like bathroom renovations or breaking up concrete driveways and pathways, they are definitely more than capable.
While researching the best rotary hammer model to fit your every need, it’s important to pay attention to the unit’s motor – whether it’s brushed or brushless, corded or cordless, as well as how much speed and power it delivers.
Other important points of consideration are how many modes or functions it can perform (whether it comes with a hammer-only/chiseling mode or not) and the size of the chuck (SDS-Plus for home projects, and SDS-Max generally for commercial applications). There are numerous rotary hammer models out there so take your time in researching which model best suits your requirements.
The five rotary hammer drill models we picked for our list are all for light- to medium-duty renovation, construction, and demolition tasks, though users may find them suitable for industrial use to a certain degree.
Although all five models perform admirably in the field, the rotary hammer we picked as our number one all-around model is the DEWALT D25263K. It comes with a 1-1/8-inch SDS-Plus chuck – the largest-sized chuck available for SDS-Plus chucks – and delivers tremendous speed and power for all sorts of work (up to 1,450 RPM, 5,350 BPM, and 3 J).
You should note that the DEWALT D25263K is the best-performing 3-mode tool, but if you’re in the market for a rotary hammer without hammering-only mode, then the Bosch RH228VC is the unit to go with. If you need an extremely portable tool without being limited cords, then the cordless DEWALT DCH133B with a brushless motor (power- and time-efficient) is your best choice. Once again, our picks are all relative to your specific needs.