What is a Rotary Hammer? Why Use SDS Rotary Hammer Drill? (2023)

You need the right tool for the right job. But with so many tools on the market, it can be difficult to choose the right one for your needs. For remodeling and construction work, one of the best tools is the rotary hammer. But what is a rotary hammer? How can it be used? How is it different than a hammer drill and what makes it such an important tool for your toolbox?

What is a Rotary Hammer Drill?

A rotary hammer operates in much the same fashion as a drill. However, unlike a standard cordless drill that simply spins the drill bit into the material, this power tool uses a hammering action designed to break up concrete. So, as the drill goes into the concrete the pulsing action of the rotary drill breaks the material apart at the same time.

What is a Rotary Hammer? Why Use SDS Rotary Hammer Drill? (1)

A rotary hammer drill has three key features when compared to a drill driver or hammer drill.

  1. It is a heavy duty tool with pulsating hammering blows at the end of the drill.
  2. They are equipped with SDS chucks that allows the drill bit to move in-and-out.
  3. You can use a rotary hammer to drill with hammering motion, drill only mode, and hammer only mode to use with chisel bit for demolition work.

The rotary hammer is the perfect tool for drilling into hard materials such as concrete because it can effectively punch holes without tearing the material all up. A rotary hammer should not be mistaken for a demolition hammer which is specifically designed to break up concrete into smaller pieces. Or a combination hammer that can either break up concrete or drill holes into it.

A typical rotary hammer is used on concrete and masonry surfaces. The hammering action allows for the bits and dust particles generated to be expelled from the material through the flutes of the drill bit itself. The breaking-up action is not widespread, it is confined to the area that is being drilled. This is because a percussive force is needed to break apart the looser concrete and masonry material to allow for clean holes to be created.

What is an SDS Rotary Hammer Drill?

The difference between a standard hammer drill and a a rotary hammer equipped with SDS is subtle but important. The term SDS stands for Slotted Drive System. Here you have slots at the shank of the drill instead of plain round shank that is found on regular bits. The major difference is that a rotary hammer with an SDS chuck allows you to attach SDS bits designed for better results when using the hammer function.

What is a Rotary Hammer? Why Use SDS Rotary Hammer Drill? (2)

You may have seen an SDS rotary hammer on large construction or demolition sites with unusual-looking bits that include scaling chisels, cold, tile, or even large clay spades which resemble shovels at the end of the drill. The spade can be used for digging into floors or other hardened surfaces. The SDS allows for greater grip and works well with the hammering action.

The original SDS design is now mostly replaced by SSD plus and there is even a SDS max version that is suitable for bigger SDS chuck. The addition of these chucks makes an SDS rotary hammer even more powerful, durable, and versatile in terms of what can be attached.

Because a rotary hammer has a range of uses, it is important that you select the right size for your needs. This will be based on the size of the holes you need to be drilled into the concrete. So, you will need to evaluate the job first, then go out and get the right power tool for you.

What Is a Rotary Hammer Used For?

The primary use of a rotary hammer is to punch holes in concrete to allow for the passage of wires, cables, bolts, and other materials as may be needed for a specific job. It also depends on the type of drill bit that was used in the hammer itself. While most are drills designed to create small holes, there are other bits that are chisel-shaped to chip away at specific areas.

What is a Rotary Hammer? Why Use SDS Rotary Hammer Drill? (3)
Tool in Picture: Bosch 11255VSR – Click to See Price

Because of how the hammering action breaks up the masonry or concrete, jams are infrequent. This is because the material being punched through tends to fall apart into small bits that are removed through the drill bit itself. However, if the rotary hammer should strike a harder surface, such as reinforced metal for example, then it could be jammed and require special tools to remove the bit. This is why carrying vise grips or a monkey wrench can be most helpful during construction or demolition jobs.

What you get from a rotary hammer will depend in large part on what you paid for it. You may find some models for at little as $50 or less while more robust versions sell for $225 or more. The cheaper versions are designed for light use. Perhaps when you need a small hole drilled into the mortar, brick, or similar substance. They do not have much power but can drill a little into concrete if needed.

More expensive versions are larger, more powerful, and can easily drill into concrete up to an inch or more depending on its design. The more the amps, the more powerful and more expensive the rotary hammer will be.

Why Use a Rotary Hammer Drill

It may seem from the first inspection that a rotary hammer is rather limited in its applications. While you would not want to use this power tool for standard drilling, it is a versatile device designed for construction or renovation use.


The powerful rotary hammers, particularly those with SDS chucks, can drill holes quickly into masonry and concrete. This assumes you use the larger, more powerful versions. Creating holes quickly means you can get the job done faster. Plus, the chuck allows for the quick switching of drill bits, so you can tackle different attributes of a job one after the other.


Because rotary hammers deliver rapid pulses, they are designed to be quite durable and strong. This means that they will stand up to many hours of use with far less wear and tear compared to a standard rotary drill.

Drill or Hammer Only

In addition to the drilling and hammer motions which are usually done at once, some versions of rotary hammers allow you to just drill or just hammer.

What is a Rotary Hammer? Why Use SDS Rotary Hammer Drill? (4)

For working on a job site, this means you can use one tool to do at least three jobs. The rotary hammer can operate like a standard drill when needed for drilling holes into many different types of material. Plus, you can use the hammering action to chip away at masonry or concrete by using special bits at the end.


Masonry and concrete are not the only materials that can be subject to the action of a rotary hammer. This device is often used to scale metal, remove tile, and even break up soil depending on what bit is being used. The versatility of this device means that it can be used for a wide range of materials limited only by the bits that are available.

Choosing the right rotary hammer for your needs starts by evaluating the job you want it to perform. If you are only using it occasionally for light work, then a samller hammer drill may be a perfect choice. This is especially true if you are drilling into masonry or the mortar which is easier compared to concrete.

However, if you are going to be using the drill more frequently, such as on job sites or for major renovations, then you will need the larger, more powerful rotary hammer drill designed for such work. You may want to consider an SDS version for demolition work as it can use specific bits designed to tear apart larger sections of material.

In addition, consider the size of the holes that you need to create as this will also dictate the type of SDS rotary hammer drill that is needed for use. A good rule of thumb is to choose a rotary hammer that has plenty of room for expanding to work with the larger drill bits. In other words, err on the side of going bigger instead of trying to push a smaller drill to create holes at its maximum capacity.

Back to Contents

  • What is a Rotary Hammer Drill?
    • What is an SDS Rotary Hammer Drill?
  • What Is a Rotary Hammer Used For?
  • Why Use a Rotary Hammer Drill
    • Fast
    • Durable
    • Drill or Hammer Only
    • Materials


  • Hammer Drill for Tile Removal
  • Hammer Drill
  • Can a Hammer Drill Be Used as a Regular Drill?
  • Demolition Hammer vs. Rotary Hammer vs.…

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