June 18, 2021

Professional Tool Reviews for Pros

Types of Drills – Know What Drill to Use When

Best 12v cordless drill

Knowing the Different Types of Drills Helps You Pick the Right Tool for the Job

In its simplest form, a drill is a tool that uses rotation or a chipping motion to make a hole. That’s a wide-open definition and includes everything from dental drills to tunnel boring machines. We’re going to focus on the types of drills we commonly use in construction and around the house.

Before we get too far into it, though, let’s get a couple of technical definitions straight. A drill makes holes using a drill bit. A driver fastens screws, bolts, and other fasteners using a driver bit. Most people think of both types of applications when considering a drill. So for our purposes, we’re going to group them together.

Common Types of Drills and When to Use Them

Drill Driver

What it Does

The basic drill driver has a chuck that opens and closes around a bit. No matter what power level it has, the only thing it does is spin clockwise and counterclockwise. Some drill drivers also have a clutch that lets you mechanically set the amount of power it transfers when you’re driving screws.

Skil 20V Brushless Drill Review - PWRCore 20 Compact DL529302

When to Use it

Use a drill driver for basic hole drilling in plastic, wood, and metal. The size of the hole you’re drilling determines how powerful a drill driver you need. The manual has specifications in it that tell you what sizes it can handle.

These types of drills are useful for driving fasteners in plastic, wood, metal, concrete, and just about anything else, though some may require you to drill a pilot hole first.

Hammer Drill (Hammer Drill Driver)

What it Does

A hammer drill, or hammer drill driver, has the same basic design as a drill driver with a hammer mechanism added on. This mechanism pushes the bit in and out to chip away at concrete while the motor spins the bit. Most hammer drills let you select hammer drilling, drilling, or driving with the clutch. In other words, you can turn the hammering off and use it just like any other drill driver.

Skil PWRCore20 Heavy-Duty Brushless Hammer Drill Concrete Drill

When to Use it

Hammer drills are the do-everything tools of the drill world. Use it for drilling and driving in plastic, wood, metal, and concrete/masonry. Just be aware that most hammer drills are rated up to 1/4″ max for concrete drilling. You may also want a vacuum and shroud to keep from inhaling silica dust and avoid silicosis.

Rotary Hammer (Combination Hammer)

What it Does

A rotary hammer, or combination hammer, is the hammer drill’s big brother. They range in size from a little larger to much larger than a hammer drill. These use a more robust hammering/chipping mechanism to deliver far greater power than a hammer drill. They usually come with at least 2 modes: chipping and hammering with rotation. Some give you the option of rotation only, but few Pros use it, even though it’s capable of drilling through wood and metal.

Bosch Bulldog Rotary Hammer GBH18V-26DN

Chipping does exactly what it sounds like—it uses a chipping bit to pound like a jackhammer for demolition. Hammering with rotation is the mode you use to drill a hole in concrete, asphalt, brick, stone, or other masonry.

When to Use it

Use a rotary hammer when you need to drill holes or break up concrete, asphalt, stone, brick, or other masonry up to 2″ or so.

Impact Drill (Impact Driver)

What it Does

First up in our “it’s not really a drill” line is the impact drill. More appropriately, it’s called an impact driver. Instead of using a forward chipping mechanism, this has a rotating hammer and anvil mechanism inside. As it turns, the hammer violently strikes the anvil to give it much greater turning force than and standard drill.

Many drill bits are now “impact ready” with 1/4″ hex shanks, allowing you to drill with your impact driver. It’s not as smooth as a drill driver, but it’ll get the job done.

Bosch GDR18V-1800CN Brushless Impact Driver

When to Use it

Impact drivers are the screwdriving champions of the construction world, driving screws faster than a standard drill driver. While you can use it to drill holes with the right bit, many Pros use a drill/impact driver combo kit so they don’t have to switch bits while they work.


Core Drill

What it Does

A core drill is a drill on steroids. It’s basically a large motor, sometimes attached to a frame that holds it steady while it drills. It turns a core bit—a cylindrical bit that creates a core to remove instead of grinding out the entire hole. All it does is spin the bit. There are no hammering, chipping, or driving applications.

Concrete Core Drill Bit System US Saws Core EZ

When to Use it

Turn to a core drill when you need to make large holes in concrete—even 5′ in diameter!

Ground Auger (Earth Auger)

What it Does

A ground auger, or earth auger, is another powerful drill-only tool that uses AC or gas power to turn the motor. This uses an aggressive, wide bit that tears through the ground and removes dirt faster and easier than a post hole digger or shovel.

Stihl BT 131 Earth Auger Review

When to Use it

These types of drills make your life easier when you need to make a hole in the ground or ice. Use it for setting posts of all types and ice fishing.


What it Does

While not technically a drill, powered screwdrivers work in the same manner as a drill. These usually have an inline design instead of a pistol grip and have lower power than a standard drill driver. They spin the chuck clockwise or counterclockwise and are primarily useful for driving small screws. While they are capable of drilling small holes, they’re not the best tool for that job.

When to Use it

Powered screwdrivers are best on small and/or delicate fasteners that don’t require the torque of a standard drill driver. They’re great for working in electrical boxes, setting switch plates and anywhere else you could use a handheld screwdriver.

Drywall Screwdriver (Drywall Screwgun)

What it Does

Drywall screwdrivers are also not technically drills and are purely a driving/fastening tool. These often spin at higher RPMs to quickly set screws. While sharing the basic design of a pistol grip drill, these sometimes have a grip directly behind the motor and a lock on to let you work faster. Professional models often have collated magazines that allow you to automatically feed screws as you go and speed up the job tremendously.

Makita XSF03 cordless 18V drywall screw gun

When to Use it

The name says it all, drywall screwguns help you quickly install drywall sheets. Models that can handle longer screws also make deck-building a breeze.

There are many other types of drill out there that we don’t have the time and space to cover. No matter what job or project you have lined up, they all trace their roots back to when humans first learned how to rotate a pointed stone back and forth to make a hole in another object. When you look back even 100 years, it’s amazing how far drills have come!


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Nenad Militarevic

Very good article. You have my thanks.


I’m glad that I came across this article, explains way more clearly the differences in drills than any other thing. Came here from your youtube video.


Thanks for the guide. Milwaukee needs to offer an M18 1/4″ Hex Screwdrivers, M18 clutched screwdriver and M18 inflator. M12 series don’t fit big hands and we’re already lugging around M18 batteries in our kit. Fuel drill overdrives the hell out of small screws and bolts in softwood. We may pick up a Is the 2801 compact brushless non-fuel drill driver for delicate work.


Great post. Appreciate the rundown

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