The 10 Best Rotary Hammers
This wiki has been updated 24 times since it was first published in January of 2017. Whether you're preparing for some ambitious remodeling, heavy-duty demolition work, or just need to drive a few holes through concrete, nothing beats a powerful rotary hammer. Commonly referred to as hammer drills, we've included models with features like trigger locks, vibration-minimizing technology and variable speed control, to help you get the job done in a safe and efficient manner. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 11, 2020:
For this update, we removed the Makita HR4002, a fine option, but one that was similar to several other high-quality options on our list. We replaced it with the Milwaukee SDS Plus, adding a second battery-powered option to our collection. The main drawback of this model is that it’s a “bare tool”, which means that it doesn’t include a battery. This isn’t a big deal if you already have a collection of Milwaukee tools and have a supply of M18 batteries on hand, but if you don’t, you'll have to purchase one.
Even though rotary hammers and hammer drills are commonly lumped together in the same category, they are actually quite different, and should be used for different tasks. Instead of using the ridged, rotating disc that hammer drills use to produce their pounding action, rotary hammers use a piston mechanism instead, creating a lot more power. This durable design makes them much more effective and efficient at tackling heavy-duty masonry projects. Hammer drills are fine for drilling smaller holes in masonry, but they're usually not designed for that to be their primary job.
If you'd prefer a more versatile tool, this collection of hammer drills should provide a good amount of options to choose from. A big benefit of these tools is that they can also be used as a regular power drill.
Or, if you need more raw power than the rotary hammers here offer, these demolition hammers are heavy-duty enough to chew through even the toughest of materials.
Rotary hammers tend to produce a lot of dust and debris when used, so always make sure to wear a dust mask or respirator while operating them.
December 02, 2019:
With this category already being congested with a host of excellent options, there really weren’t too many modifications that needed to be made to our rankings during this round of updates. That being said, we did remove the DeWalt DCH133B, since our rankings already included a superior battery-powered option from the company, as well as a corded alternative. In its place, we ranked the Ridgid R5011. Ridgid’s overall reputation in construction industry has been gradually climbing over the past few years, and today they’re certainly a name worth considering when you’re looking for tough tools. They’re also well known for backing their power tools with a lifetime warranty.
We also eliminated the Hitachi DH38 and replaced it with the Metabo HPT DH38YE2. By this point, most fans of Hitachi will be aware that the company rebranded following a merger with Metabo in 2018, and are likely now looking for the new name. Metabo is a German company with a strong reputation for producing quality products, and has been in the industry since 1923.
A few things to keep in mind while you shop the category:
Corded vs. Battery Powered: The age-old question that haunts contractor’s dreams: Do I want to be stuck tripping over a power cord, or do I want to be stuck changing batteries intermittently? In this case, while dealing with a tool that’s often tasked with tough jobs like drilling through concrete, I tend to lean toward the former. However, my tendency doesn’t make the question any simpler. Are you frequently working on job sites without easy access to electricity? Do you already own an arsenal of compatible batteries and chargers from one of the companies we ranked? All these factors need to be considered when weighing this decision.
Ergonomics and Comfort: Spending the entire day chiseling raceways through some 50-year-old foundation is never going to be the best time, but a well-designed tool can help mitigate your resentment for the job. Look for offerings with features like the Bosch RH328VC – with a handle that rotates 360 degrees to help you find the perfect grip, or the DeWalt D25263K – with a torque-limiting clutch that helps prevent kickback.
Accessories: I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining the merits of a solid carrying case to you, but I will point out how nice the little extras can be on these machines. Many options in this category, including the Makita HR4002 and the Bosch Bulldog, come with a handy depth rod. The Metabo HPT DH38YE2 even comes with a convenient dust cover, so you end up inhaling less debris while you work.
What Makes A Rotary Hammer So Special?
The primary difference between the tools, however, is the means by which each achieves this pounding action.
If you’ve ever drilled a hole in something, you’ve probably noticed that you need to apply a little bit of force to the drill itself to get it moving through a given material, even if that material is something as simple as drywall or a soft type of wood. The harder the material, the more force you’ll need to get that drill to do its job. If you encounter a material that’s so hard you can’t get the drill to push through without significantly taxing the motor, then you’re probably going to need a stronger implement like a hammer drill or a rotary hammer.
Hammer drills and rotary hammers are often lumped into the same category, and this is understandable. Both tools add a hammering action to the backside of their bits, and that action is consistent enough to provide a lot of force when drilling through tough materials. The primary difference between the tools, however, is the means by which each achieves this pounding action.
Hammer drills use a pair of discs that look a lot like poker chips. As the motor turns, the ridges on the outside of the discs cause one another to spin and then separate, creating a force in the direction of the chuck. When using a hammer drill, you can usually turn the action on or off, using the tool as a lighter drill for softer materials, and ratcheting up the power when needed. That flexibility makes hammer drills very attractive to a lot of homeowners who don’t have much particularly difficult material through which they need to bore, but plenty of lighter tasks for which a rotary hammer might be overkill.
Where hammer drills fall short, however, is their overall power, which cannot attain the heights that a rotary hammer can offer. That’s because, instead of using a disc system, rotary hammers employ a crankshaft and piston not too dissimilar to what creates force in a car’s engine. When this piston slams into the chuck, it creates a lot more force than the disc system inside a hammer drill. If you do a lot of drilling through concrete, brick, and other masonry materials, there is no substitute for a high-quality rotary hammer.
What To Look For In A Rotary Hammer
When you’re shopping for a rotary hammer, it can be hard to tell what the important differences are at a glance. Many of these tools look incredibly similar, save for a given brand’s color scheme. But there are a few key differences that can make the purchase of one rotary hammer much smarter than that of another.
Our recommendation is to opt to more adjustability over less.
One of the most important aspects of a rotary hammer is its adjustability. Some units will boast a lot of easily adjustable aspects, while others might be more rigid. Whether you want a certain degree of adjustability may be a matter of preference. Some users believe that the more adjustable a model is the easier a time they’ll have tackling a greater variety of projects. Others see adjustment points as weak spots, the likeliest parts of a given model to break down over time. Our recommendation is to opt to more adjustability over less. Even if the unit lasts you a shorter amount of time, you will have gotten more use out of it, and had an easier time with it.
Among adjustable points are the chuck, handle, and depth gauge. Your chuck is always going to be adjustable, as it needs to accommodate a variety of bit sizes, but the breadth of sizes that can fit in its hole changes from model to model. The wider that range, the more you can do with the rotary hammer. Just make sure, if you’re purchasing your rotary hammer for a specific project, that the size bit you need falls into its adjustable range.
As for the handle, adjustability here can give you more comfortable drilling positions, especially if you’re working in tight spaces or at strange angles. If the handle can rotate all the way to the other side of the unit, that might make it much easier for a left-handed user to enjoy the benefits of the unit.
The depth gauge is an important point of adjustability, as well. These tools are rather powerful, and if you don’t want to drill past a certain point, you’ll need a little help. The depth gauge allows you to set a measured point at which the unit physically can’t move any further forward. Most depth gauges are marked with rulers to make this process even more accurate.
All of these adjustable aspects are important to a good rotary hammer. What may be even more important, though, is that they can be adjusted without the use of any additional tools. Being able to quickly set your depth, angle your handle, and swap out bits without digging around for an allen key can save you valuable time when on site.
A Brief History Of The Rotary Hammer
The technology behind the rotary hammer is essentially that of the screw, one of humanity’s simple machines. These originally consisted of little more than sharp stones ground into other materials by hand, and the use of such tools reaches back some 37,000 years. These eventually turned into manual rotary tools that gained additional power through the developments of steam, combustion, compression, and electricity.
Another Eurpoean company, Hilti, came out with a combination electro-pneumatic model in 1967.
Like many advancements in tool history, the addition of a hammering action to the drill is an advancement claimed by a number of inventors. The first known patent for such a tool came from Germany in 1914, but that model never went into production. Another German company, Bosch, went on to actually build and market a similar tool in 1932 that they called the Bosch Hammer.
Just two years after that, a US-based company, the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation, released their version of the tool, which was smaller and ran on electrical power, as opposed to Bosch’s pneumatic design. Another Eurpoean company, Hilti, came out with a combination electro-pneumatic model in 1967. Today, every major tool company offers some form of rotary hammer, most of which are electric, and a few of which are even cordless.