Looking at the drill aisle in your local hardware store can present an overwhelming variety of options. Not only do you have to choose the best brand of drill, but there are so many different types—regular drills, hammer drills, impact drivers. It’s a lot to wade through.
Can a Hammer Drill Be Used as a Regular Drill?
For now, we’ll save impact drivers for another day and focus on one of the most common drill questions we hear: can you use a hammer drill as a regular drill?
The simplest answer is, in most cases, yes. But that doesn’t always make it the best tool for the job. There are situations in which using a hammer drill gives you a huge advantage, but there are also times when a hammer drill is overkill. It can even be unwieldy and difficult to work with. Let’s take a deeper dive into the differences between the two, and which one is the right choice depending on your needs.
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All drills have a rotary motion. What sets hammer drills apart is that, in addition to rotating, they also have a forward thrusting motion. As the drill bit spins, it vibrates rapidly front-to-back, and this “hammering” action gives the drill extra power to punch through tough materials. It doesn’t move back and forth a lot—typically just a fraction of an inch—but these fast, hard impacts allow you to drill through things like brick and masonry with ease.
Hammer Drill Modes
Most high-quality hammer drills have multiple modes, or settings. In addition to the “hammer drill” setting, which provides a combination of impact and rotation, there is often also a “hammer” setting (just impact) and a “drill” setting (just rotation). In this way, a hammer drill can also be used as a regular drill in situations where the hammering motion is not needed.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Hammer Drills
If you’ve ever tried to drill through concrete, brick or stone with a regular drill, then you already understand the advantage a hammer drill offers. Simply put, it gives you more power to drill through tough stuff. And because the “hammer” mode is easily turned off, hammer drills can also be used to drill through softer materials like wood.
But there are disadvantages to hammer drills as well. Because they are more complex, have more moving parts and must be more durably built, they’re generally more expensive. Hammer drills are also bigger and heavier than regular drills, and often have a side-mounted handle that you can use to control and stabilize the drill while you’re using it.
For delicate work that requires precise drilling, a hammer drill isn’t the best tool for the job. And if you’re drilling through delicate material that can easily shatter or crumble, such as ceramic or plaster, a hammer drill can actually damage the surface.
Referring to non-hammer drills as “regular” drills is a bit of a misnomer—hammer drills are really just a type of regular drill—but for the sake of comparison, let’s assume that by “regular drill” we mean any drill that has rotation only. These are the most common drills that the average homeowner uses for day-to-day household drilling projects. When you need to make a hole or drive a screw through soft materials like wood, drywall, plaster, plastic or even some metals, a regular drill will do the job nicely.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Regular Drills
Regular drills are lightweight and easy to use. They’re also relatively inexpensive, and can handle most jobs that require a drill. They especially excel in situations that require some precision and dexterity, like drilling delicate screws, or making very small holes that need to be precisely placed. Because regular drills are also small and lightweight, they’re also great when you need to work in a tight space.
The downside of a regular drill is, of course, lack of power. While most regular drills have an adjustable clutch that lets you increase or decrease the torque, this isn’t always enough when the material you need to drill through is extremely hard. Regular drills struggle to make it through concrete, stone and brickwork in particular.
Choosing Between Hammer Drills vs. Regular Drills
Hammer drills and regular drills each excel in certain situations, and and they each have their place in any handyman’s too arsenal. But if you only want one, or only have the budget for one, the choice really comes down to what you plan on using it for the most.
If you anticipate needing to drill through brick, concrete or stone, it’s worth investing in a hammer drill. You can always turn the hammer mode off and use it as a regular drill in situations that call for a lighter approach. But if you don’t expect to need to drill through anything tougher than wood on a regular basis, then a regular drill will more than fulfill its purpose.