If you’re drilling into seriously dense materials, your standard drill driver might not cut it. Materials like concrete, tiles, and stone need extra force from a drill, and even the most powerful drill drivers lack it. These types of projects call for the best cordless hammer drill, which will cut through these tough surfaces.
The best cordless hammer drills do two things simultaneously: they spin a drill bit while a small gear inside the drill forces a weight forward, striking the back of the chuck. The force carries through to the tip of the bit. This force helps the drill bit chip away small bits of concrete, stone, or brick while the grooves in the bit remove the resulting dust. The tips below for choosing the best cordless hammer drill will help you find a suitable tool for your projects.
- BEST OVERALL: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Hammer Drill Kit (DCD996P2)
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: CRAFTSMAN V20 Cordless Hammer Drill Kit (CMCD711C2)
- BEST FOR HEAVY-DUTY: DEWALT 20V MAX XR Rotary Hammer Drill (DCH133B)
- BEST FOR MEDIUM-DUTY: Makita XPH07Z 18V LXT Cordless Hammer Driver-Drill
- BEST FOR LIGHT-DUTY: Makita XPH03Z 18V LXT Cordless Hammer Driver-Drill
- BEST COMPACT: Bosch Bare-Tool PS130BN 12-Volt Ultra Compact Driver
- BEST ROTARY: DEWALT 20V MAX SDS Rotary Hammer Drill (DCH273B)
Before You Buy a Cordless Hammer Drill
While most of the best hammer drills can pull double duty as standard drill drivers, they’re not for everyone. Even smaller hammer drills will have heavier-duty components inside, which means they are substantially heavier than even the best cordless drill. They also have a lot more torque than light-duty drills, so if you’re new to power tools, don’t be surprised by their power.
If you’re not drilling into concrete, bricks, stone, or masonry, you probably don’t need a cordless hammer drill. You can save a bit of money by going with a standard drill driver for most of your projects. However, if you find yourself mixing concrete or paint often, you might decide that the extra torque hammer drills can offer will help speed up the task.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Cordless Hammer Drill
The following features make certain hammer drills stand out from the crowd. Understanding how these tools work will help you make an informed decision and determine if you need one of these torqued machines.
Hammer drills are for drilling holes in masonry. A standard drill and drill bit will barely scratch the surface of a porcelain tile, concrete walkway, or stone countertop. These materials are too dense for the cutting edge of a standard bit. A hammer drill fitted with a masonry bit will bore through these same surfaces easily: the hammer function drives the tip of the bit into the surface, creating stone or concrete dust that the drill bits’ grooves remove from the hole.
With that said, hammer drills are best suited for drilling holes in these materials:
Keep in mind that you need to use masonry bits to get through these surfaces. These bits have wings on the tips to help remove the dust, and their points are a slightly different shape—more chisel-like than a standard bit. Also, standard drill bits will dull or break almost immediately if you’re able to penetrate the surface of a masonry material. You can find masonry bits in kits like this one for purchase separately.
There are two types of motors available in power tools: brushed and brushless.
Brushed motors rely on the “old school” technology for electric motors. These motors use a “brush” to send power to a coil. The coil, attached to a shaft, begins to spin, creating power and torque. It’s relatively low-tech as far as electric motors go.
Brushless motors are more high-tech and far more efficient. They use sensors and control boards to send an electrical current to the coils, spinning a magnet attached to a shaft. This method produces significantly more torque and uses far less battery power than a brushed motor.
If you have to drill a lot of holes, it might be worth the extra expense of purchasing a brushless hammer drill. Brushed hammer drills get the job done at a cheaper price tag, but will probably take more time.
RPM, Torque, and BPM
When it comes to speed, you should look for a drill with a maximum RPM speed of 2,000 or more. Though you probably won’t need that much speed to drill through masonry materials, this speed allows you to use the tool as a drill driver when it’s not boring holes through concrete and brick.
Torque is also important since you can use a stout hammer drill to drive lag bolts and screws into dense materials to fasten concrete anchors and such. However, many manufacturers don’t use “foot-pounds” as a metric anymore. Instead, they use “unit watts out” or UWO, which is a complex measurement of drill power at the chuck. A drill with at least 700 UWO should serve most of your purposes.
Above all, beats per minute, or BPM, should be the hammer drill shopper’s priority. This unit of measurement describes how many times the hammer gear engages the chuck per minute. A hammer drill with a BPM rating of 20,000 to 30,000 is ideal for most drilling scenarios, though heavier-duty models might offer lower RPM in exchange for increased torque.
Because hammer drills create so much torque, or UWO, users need a way to regulate how much of that torque makes its way to a fastener. Too much torque can break a fastener or driver bit before you can drive it into the material.
To control torque output, manufacturers use adjustable clutches in their drill drivers. Adjusting the clutch usually requires you to twist a collar at the base of the chuck to the correct position, though that position is always different from tool to tool and is dependent on the type of drilled material. For example, a dense hardwood might require a high clutch setting (as long as the fastener can handle it), while a softwood like pine will require less.
There are two types of chucks to become familiar with: 3-jaw chucks and SDS chucks.
Almost all drill drivers and drill presses—light- and medium-duty hammer drills included—use 3-jaw chucks. They clamp down on a round or hexagonal surface when you twist the chuck. Three-jaw chucks allow you to use a wide range of drill bits and driver bits, which is why they’re nearly universal on drill drivers. They come in 1/2-inch and 3/8-inch sizes, with the larger size being more heavy-duty.
Rotary hammers use SDS chucks. These bits have grooved shanks that lock into place. SDS is a German innovation, and it stands for “Steck, Dreh, Sitz,” or “Insert, Twist, Stay.” The reason these bits are different is because rotary hammers provide massive force, requiring a more secure method of holding onto a bit.
Battery Type & Life
The main types of batteries that come with any cordless power tool are nickel-cadmium (NiCd for short) and lithium-ion (Li-ion). Lithium-ion batteries are replacing NiCd because they’re more efficient and last longer during use and in overall lifespan. They’re also considerably lighter, which can be a factor when you’re already hauling a heavy hammer drill about.
Battery life during use typically measures in amp-hours, or Ah. For light-duty drill drivers, 2.0Ah batteries are more than sufficient. When you’re slamming a bit into masonry, however, you might want your battery to last longer. In these cases, look for batteries with amp-hour ratings of 3.0Ah or more.
You can purchase batteries separately with increased amp-hour ratings if needed. Some manufacturers sell batteries with as much as 12Ah.
Size & Weight
When you’re shopping for the best cordless hammer drill for your needs, consider the project you’re using it for. The project will have a lot to do with the size and weight of the hammer drill that you need.
For example, drilling through porcelain wall tiles doesn’t require much torque, speed, or BPM. A light-duty, compact, and lightweight hammer drill weighing around 2 pounds without the battery will do the trick. On the other hand, drilling large holes for structural anchors in concrete will require a much larger, heavier hammer drill, possibly even a rotary hammer, which can weigh as much as 8 pounds without the battery.
For most DIY applications, a medium-duty hammer drill is an excellent choice since it can tackle most projects. Although, keep in mind that it will be significantly heavier than a standard drill driver (often as much as twice the weight), so it might not be ideal as the only drill driver in your workshop.
Our Top Picks
Armed with this background knowledge of cordless hammer drills, the following list of products for drilling through tough materials can help you find the right tool for your projects.
The DEWALT 20V MAX XR Hammer Drill Kit is an excellent choice for an all-around capable hammer drill. It features a 1/2-inch 3-jaw chuck, a 3-mode LED light, and a powerful brushless motor. This hammer drill, which weighs in at about 4.75 pounds, can run at speeds up to 2,250 RPM, which is more than enough for most drilling or driving projects. Switch it into hammer drill mode and you’ll benefit from up to 38,250 BPM, turning brick and tile into dust quickly and easily.
This DEWALT hammer drill produces up to 820 UWO, but you can fine-tune its output with the 11-position clutch. It comes with a 5.0Ah 20V Li-ion battery, which produces up to 57 percent more run time than brushed motors, since it’s coupled with the brushless motor. Users choose between three speeds, though the variable speed trigger will help to regulate the speed as well.
Those looking for a reasonably priced hammer drill that can handle most projects around the house may turn to the Craftsman V20 Cordless Hammer Drill. This drill has a 2-speed gearbox that produces a top speed of 1,500 RPM, sufficient for most light- or medium-duty projects. When it comes to boring holes in brick or concrete, this cordless hammer drill produces up to 25,500 BPM—more than respectable from a value-priced model that weighs just under 2.75 pounds. It also has a 1/2-inch, 3-jaw chuck.
Although the torque numbers are a little low at 280 UWO, that’s easier to overlook when you consider that this kit also comes with two 2.0Ah Li-ion batteries and a charger at a price point where other hammer drills are tool-only products. The Craftsman drill also features a built-in LED work light above the trigger.
Really tough materials call for really tough hammer drills. The DEWALT 20V MAX XR can handle the job, with its classic D-handle rotary hammer design. While its 1,500 RPM speed is average for a rotary hammer, it produces 2.6 joules of energy when hammering into a masonry surface—quite a bit of force from a cordless hammer drill. This tool has a brushless motor and a mechanical clutch. You can set this drill in one of three modes: drill, hammer drill, or chip, the latter of which allows you to use it as a light-duty jackhammer to chip concrete and tile away.
This DEWALT model creates 5,500 BPM per minute, while the D-handle and included side handle provide a secure grip and push this drill through some rigid materials. Its compact size helps you perform heavy-duty work in small spaces. This drill comes as a standalone tool weighing about 5 pounds, for those who already have a fleet of 20V MAX XR batteries, or you can purchase it as a kit with a 3.0Ah battery and charger. Do keep in mind that rotary hammers have SDS chucks, meaning you’ll need special bits like this set.
Makita’s XPH07Z LXT Cordless Hammer Driver-Drill deserves a look when shopping for a medium-duty brushless drill driver that will handle most general projects. This hammer drill weighs just over 4 pounds and it has a 2-speed gearbox that produces up to 2,100 RPM. It has a 1/2-inch, 3-jaw chuck as well. Since Makita hasn’t moved to the UWO rating, the company states that this drill creates 1,090 old-school inch-pounds of torque (roughly 91 foot-pounds). It produces 31,500 BPM as well, allowing you to work quickly on tough masonry materials.
This Makita hammer drill comes as a tool-only purchase or in two different kits: one with two 18V 4.0Ah batteries or with two 5.0Ah batteries. All three choices come with a side handle for additional grip and leverage.
Simply put, light-duty hammer drills still need to drive the point home, and the Makita XPH03Z gets the job done. This model features a 1/2-inch, 3-jaw chuck, dual-LED lights, and plenty of speed and BPM. This drill produces up to 2,000 RPM, with a BPM speed of up to 30,000, allowing you to tackle light-duty jobs like drilling through wall tile and grout lines effectively. When it comes to torque, this Makita produces up to 750 inch-pounds, or around 62 foot-pounds.
Even though this is a light-duty hammer drill, it still comes with a side handle to improve your grip and control, as well as a depth-stop to keep you from crashing the chuck into your work surface when your bit makes it all the way through. This is a tool-only purchase, but you can buy a 2-pack of Makita 3.0Ah batteries separately (available here). With these batteries, this lightweight Makita drill weighs just over 5.1 pounds.
Bosch must have kept “big things in small packages” in mind when designing the Bare-Tool 1/3-inch hammer drill/driver. This 12V hammer drill with a 3/8-inch autolock chuck is small enough to keep in your tool belt (weighing under 2 pounds as a bare tool) but powerful enough to chip through concrete and tile. It has a top speed of 1,300 RPM, produces 265 inch-pounds of torque, and has 20 adjustable clutch settings, making this light-duty drill driver seriously versatile. When switched into hammer mode, it produces 19,500 BPM, allowing you to bore through tiles, concrete, and brick with a lightweight tool.
This is a tool-only purchase, ideal if you already own a few Bosch 12V batteries. However, you can purchase a 6.0Ah battery separately (available here).
Traditionally, rotary hammers are large and heavy, making them a burden in your toolbox and a bit unwieldy, but this isn’t the case with the DEWALT DCH273B Rotary Hammer Drill. This heavy-duty rotary hammer has a standard pistol-style grip, so it’s as compact as most medium-duty machines. It’s lightweight at only 5.4 pounds without the battery. Yet the brushless motor still provides up to 4,600 BPM and a top speed of 1,100 RPM.
Though the speed and BPM aren’t the highest values on the market, this rotary hammer produces 2.1 joules of impact energy, sending your drill bit or chisel as deeply into a masonry surface as much larger models. The DEWALT DCH273B has an SDS chuck, a brushless motor, a side handle, and a depth-stop. You can purchase this hammer drill without batteries if you already have several 20V MAX DEWALT batteries in your lineup, but it’s also available for purchase with a 3.0Ah battery.
FAQs About Your New Cordless Hammer Drill
If you’ve never used a hammer drill before, you might have some questions about the drills and how they work. You’ll find some of the most frequently asked questions and their answers listed below to help point you in the right direction.
Q. Can a hammer drill be used as a chisel?
You can use a rotary hammer as a chisel, but you can’t with a hammer drill. Rotary hammers have a mode that doesn’t spin the bit while hammering, making it ideal for chipping and chiseling.
Q. Can I turn the hammer drill part off and use it as a regular drill?
Yes, all hammer drills function as a drill driver, though they might be overkill for most projects around the house.
Q. Why is my hammer drill not hammering?
Here are a few reasons why your drill may not be hammering;
- You’re not putting enough pressure on the bit. The drill needs to feel some resistance from the bit to hammer it into the material.
- Your drill isn’t in hammer mode. There might be a dial on the side of the drill or a collar at the top of the machine that allows you to switch the drill into and out of hammer mode.
- Your hammer gear might have broken. Most likely this is due to age or misuse, but it’s best to check into a new one if this is the case.