Thirty years ago, I first learned how to drill through concrete or masonry. During college, I had to run mic cables at my dad's church. The job involved drilling a 1/2 inch hole in 12 inches of solid poured concrete. At the time, all I had was the new Black & Decker 1/2" drill – the one without the hammer function. After pushing hard for 40 minutes, I finally broke through. A few weeks later, I bought a Bosch 1/2" impact drill and it was a game changer. Today I have multiple sizes of hammer drills and impact drills to handle a variety of situations and applications.
Table of contents
- Rotary Hammer and Hammer Drill
- How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete, and Masonry Using a Hammer Drill and Impact Driver
- masonry bit
- How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete, and Masonry: Dusting
- How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete and Masonry – Techniques
- Clean up after drilling through brick, concrete and masonry
- Buying and Leasing Equipment
- How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete and Masonry – Summary
Rotary Hammer and Hammer Drill
Since some tool names might be counterintuitive to what you might expect, let's start by defining an impact drill versus a rotary hammer. Hammer drills add an oscillating mechanism to the standard bit, while rotary hammers use an actual hammering/impact mechanism to drive the bit back and forth in a more deliberate manner. Check out our linked articles for more details on how each method works.
Editor's note: When you're shopping for your next cord drill, you might want to pay a few dollars more and buy the hammer drill model. , well worth it if you end up needing to drill holes in brick or concrete. From installing a Tapcon or inserting a few plastic anchors into a concrete wall, a rotary hammer can significantly speed up your workflow over a drill.
Only rotary hammers allow you to switch off the rotary motion and use the impact motion alone. This is great for breaking, carving and scraping concrete and masonry with a tool with a point or chisel. Of the two, a rotary hammer drills through brick, concrete, and masonry much faster. Also, be aware that for materials other than concrete or masonry, putting the hammer drill in hammer mode will actually result in slower drilling.
How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete, and Masonry Using a Hammer Drill and Impact Driver
We are often asked about hammer drills vs impact drivers. While not specifically designed for drilling concrete, the impact properties of an impact driver allow it to drill into concrete like a hammer drill. In some cases, they may even drill faster due to their potentially higher RPM.
There are many factors that affect when a driver starts to kick in and when it starts to slow down. This means the age and humidity of the concrete, the drill you use, and the make/model of impact driver will all affect how quickly you can work. If you want to use your impact driver, DeWalt makes a great masonry bit set for them.
Masonry bits differ from those used for wood, metal, or plastic because they have carbide brazed to the end. This makes them easy to identify. The thicker the carbide, the more expensive the drill. The length of the drill bit is also important. I've found that a high-quality set of 6" bits, such as the Bosch Blue Granite Set, will last you a long time and should suffice for most people unless you need to drill deeper or have a larger diameter.
For larger sizes, though, I generally want to use a rotary hammer drill, not a hammer drill.
SDS and SDS Plus bits
Rotary hammers generally do not use masonry bits. To manage the extra torque they generate, these bits use different chuck styles called SDS Plus (SDS+) or SDS Max (for larger applications). There is a notch on the shank of the bit that locks into place when you pull back the release on the chuck. This makes it impossible for the drill to spin or loosen in the chuck like Jacobs keyless drill chucks for regular drills.
I recommend keeping a set of 6" SDS Plus drill bits no larger than 1/2" in diameter. You may also need a set of 12" long drill bits, up to the largest diameter your hammer can support. Although I occasionally need the 18" and 24" long SDS plus – I tend to buy as needed. All of these tools have been used in one way or another when installing computer network cables or monitors at the Polk Museum. I have also used it when installing outdoor sculptures.
Rebar cutting machine
Most concrete has some type of embedded reinforcement. A small pad can simply use fine wire mesh. Anything thicker than a few inches will likely include rebar. If you hit rebar while drilling, you have two options. You can drill a new hole or drill through the rebar in a different location. It takes a long time to drill through the rebar with an ordinary masonry drill bit. Fortunately, various manufacturers have created solutions for this. For that, we like the Bosch Rebar Cutter and the Diablo Rebar Demon SDS-Plus and SDS-Max bits. In these applications, they last up to 7 times longer than conventional concrete drill bits, making them well worth the investment. Bosch rebar cutters are for cutting rebar only, while Diablo bits can be used as your main cutter.
A core drill is like a hole saw for concrete. While you can drill small-diameter holes a few inches or less with a hammer drill, larger holes require different accessories. For these, you need to use a large diamond drill bit. These require core drills large enough to handle the torque and weight of these bits. The Milwaukee MX FUEL Core Drill is basically a wall mounted drill press. It's wireless, so it's expensive. There are even cheaper wired headphones on Amazon for around $500. Keep in mind that a 6" diamond drill can also run for a few hundred dollars. Usually, you can rent these tools. Tradesmen who regularly need to drill large holes in concrete tend to purchase these tools and maintain them properly.
How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete, and Masonry: Dusting
One of the problems with drilling in concrete and masonry is the presence of silica in the dust. Silica is a known carcinogen, which means it causes cancer. OSHA now regulates dust exposure levels. We made an article to help you figure out how to get into compliance. Many new hammer drills either have a vacuum attachment for the vacuum cleaner, or have a built-in vacuum cleaner.
If you need to drill a hole in concrete with a normal drill bit (without the hammer function), your best bet is to "accidentally" spill a drink inside the tool's opening. Then, tell your significant other that you need to buy a new power drill. This time a hammer drill! In case your spouse is watching and you can't do that, you have to do it the hard way. Push hard. Push as hard as you can without binding the drill. Who knows, you might get lucky and burn out your drill motor!
OK, now let's get serious.
If you feel like you're getting stuck (which can happen if you hit a rock), pull the drill back a few inches, then jerk forward while the drill is running at full speed. If you do this a few times, you can hopefully break the stones in the path of the drill. If you still feel like it's stuck, look at the tip of the drill. See if you see metal shavings. If you do, you may hit some rebar. Start a new hole. And keep up the good work!
There is one major mistake most people make when using a hammer drill. They push too hard. This is the opposite of a regular exercise. If you push hard, you prevent the vibration mechanism from working. You only want to apply moderate pressure, but not enough that you hear the tool slow down. Doing this, you'll drill the hole faster. As a secondary benefit, not pushing too hard and letting the tool do the work can improve battery life.
Before buying a rotary hammer, I used to drill 5/8" holes in concrete with a percussion drill. To drill a hole this large, start by drilling a 3/8 inch hole. We call this a pilot hole. Then, use a 1/2" drill bit to enlarge the hole and remove more material. Finally, use a 5/8-inch drill bit to complete the hole.
In most cases, we do not recommend using a hammer drill to make holes in concrete larger than 1/2 inch unless absolutely necessary. A rotary hammer can do the job faster.
You don't really have to press down on the hammer as hard when drilling. The weight of the tool alone is enough to drive it. You want the impact mechanism to be free to move back and forth without having to fight the concrete with you. This is what makes a rotary hammer melt concrete seemingly effortlessly. Your only job is to keep the drill at the correct angle. To help me keep it perfectly centered, I use pilot holes when drilling anything larger than 5/8" in diameter.
Clean up after drilling through brick, concrete and masonry
After drilling, don't blow it out. I used to put an air bubble on my hammer drill so I could blow the hole out without getting a dusty face. Today, OSHA requires that holes be vacuumed with a HEPA-compliant dust collector. A small cordless duster that is OSHA compliant is a huge help and should be on everyone's shopping list.
Buying and Leasing Equipment
My personal opinion is that everyone should own a cordless hammer drill. period. If you own a power drill, it needs to be a hammer drill, not a regular power drill. You never know when you'll need to hang a hook on a cinderblock wall, install a Christmas light stand on a brick, or screw a pad to your garage floor.
If you're in the trade, you probably need to invest in a decent hammer drill. Homeowners can usually rent a hammer drill from a local rental center or Home Depot. Smaller hammer drills are not that expensive. You can usually find a 7/8" hammer drill (without batteries) for less than $200. Many dealers buy small rotary hammers for daily use and only rent large rotary hammers when they need to drill large holes.
How to Drill Through Brick, Concrete and Masonry – Summary
Drilling concrete is not a difficult job as long as you have the right type of drill bit and the right bit for the job. Drilling concrete isn't as messy as it used to be if you follow OSHA dust regulations.