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Hammer Time: Tools for Concrete Drilling and Demolition

There seems to be a specialized tool available for just about every concrete-related task, but if you’re not quite sure what you need, the number of options out there can be overwhelming. Think through your next job. Are you going to be drilling or breaking concrete? If you’re drilling, how many holes do you need, how big should they be and in what kind of concrete? 

With the answers to those questions in mind, read through the following information so you know what exactly to grab on the next trip to your local Lowe’s store.

Hammer Types

Hammer Drills: Basic-Duty Drilling

•    A hammer drill is handy for drilling a few, smaller diameter holes in lower-density concrete and block. These tools generally make use of a mechanical cam, which can be engaged and disengaged to allow for rotary hammering and rotation-only mode. If you need to drill more than a handful of holes in higher-density concrete, consider stepping up to a rotary hammer. 

•    Optimal Bit Range: Straight shank up to ½-in

•    Core Bit Range: Not Applicable

•    Example: Bosch HD18-2 (Lowe’s Item 617600)

Rotary Hammers: Drilling Workhorses

•    The go-to tool for most pros working with concrete. A rotary hammer is primarily used for drilling, anchoring and light chiseling. Rotary hammers generally use an electro-pneumatic hammer piston to generate impact, which allows them to last longer, hit harder and operate in a hammer-only mode. This makes for a handy companion when performing chiseling tasks such as pulling up floor tiles.  

•    Optimal Bit Range: SDS-plus 1/8-in through 1-1/4-in

•    Core Bit Range: Up to 3-1/2-in

•    Example: Bosch 11255VSR (Lowe’s Item 31527)

Combination Hammers: Drilling & Light Demo

•    Combination hammers allow for bigger holes through tougher concrete, or for when you need to step up your chiseling game to light demolition. These tools use larger, harder-hitting electro-pneumatics to generate their impact and provide rotary hammer and hammer-only modes, but they typically don’t offer rotation-only mode. 

•    Optimal Bit Range: SDS-max ½-in through 1-3/4-in 

•    Core Bit Range: 4-in through 6-in

•    Example: Bosch 11264EVS (Lowe’s Item 139458)

Demolition Hammers

•    Demo hammers don’t drill because there is no rotation of their bits. They’re built to break, chip and chisel. Available in a variety of sizes, demo hammers hit hard but are versatile enough to work on vertical surfaces.

•    Optimal Bit Range: SDS-max Hammer Steel

•    Core Bit Range: Not Applicable

•    Example: Bosch 11321EVS (Lowe’s Item 588273)

Breaker Hammers

•    The hardest of the hard-hitters, and they are used for breaking up concrete and other demolition tasks. They make quick work of pulling up tile and are great for breaking up slabs of concrete. However, due to their mass, they’re usually unwieldy when it comes to working on anything other than horizontal surfaces. 

•    Optimal Bit Range: Hex Collar Hammer Steel

•    Core Bit Range: Not Applicable

•    Example: Bosch 11335K (Lowe’s Item 295016)

Modes of Operation

Masonry and concrete drilling tools allow users to select different modes of operation depending on the task at hand. 

•    Rotation Only: This mode can be used in hammer drills when you need to drill an occasional hole in wood or metal, or it can be used on rotary hammers when nearing the completion of a through-hole to minimize/prevent “blowout” (a rough finish around the exit of a through-hole).

•    Rotary Hammer: This mode is optimal for drilling in concrete. The tool creates an impact that is transferred through the drill bit to chip away at concrete. The debris is then scooped up and removed from the hole with help from the spiral action of the drill bit’s rotating flutes. 

•    Hammer Only: In lighter tools, this mode can be pivotal for accelerated chiseling and chipping. In heavier tools, this mode might be your last resort for breaking up concrete rather than drilling through it.   

Drive Systems

Concrete tools are available in a number of different drive-system variations. Drive systems refer to the type of accessories the tools use, and they should be carefully noted to ensure you’re pairing the right accessories with the right tools.

•    Straight Shank: These bits look similar to standard drill bits, but they have a smooth, cylindrical shaft. It’s not uncommon to find straight shank hammer drill accessories, but they typically can’t handle the added torque and impact generated by a more powerful tool. Note that the use of straight shank accessories is not recommended for drilling holes larger than ½-in. 

•    SDS-plus & SDS-max: In both the plus and the max SDS systems, bits are designed to accommodate several detents, allowing tools to impart significantly more torque on the bits than is transferred via a straight shank. SDS-plus accessories are generally used with rotary hammers, whereas SDS-max accessories are built for more punishing demo hammer tasks.

•    Spline: While capable of handling high amounts of rotational torque, spline accessories can’t transfer impact as efficiently as SDS accessories, which is why we’ve seen their steady decline over the last decade or so. 

•    Hex Collar: Hex collar accessories, also known as “hammer steel,” are big and heavy and are designed to take a beating while working with breaker hammers. These accessories, which consist of chisels, cutters, spades, points and drivers, can typically be mounted only in a single direction and are normally held in place by redundant ball-detent and retaining-collar systems.

This primer should help address the basics when selecting the tool that’s right for you, but this is by no means an exhaustive list of considerations for your next concrete tool purchase. Features such as dust collection and vibration reduction are extremely important to consider as well. 

Need further assistance? Don’t hesitate to reach out to a Tool World or a ProServices associate on your next trip in-store.


This content is sponsored by Bosch Power Tools.

Be sure to join the Lowe’s ProServices LinkedIn Group to read additional content and interact with other Construction/Trade and MRO professionals.

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