What is an SDS drill, and do you need one?

An SDS drill is a heavy duty drill that is specifically made for tough jobs such as drilling through concrete or demoing masonry. There is some confusion as to what SDS actually stands for but the general consensus is that it stands for a “Slotted Drive System.” SDS drills have three different modes, rotation only, hammer only, and rotary hammer. These three modes allow an SDS drill to be incredibly versatile and the mode you choose will largely depend on the specific job at hand. Below I will describe each of the three modes along with the benefits and different scenarios in which each would be used.

Rotation Only Mode

This mode works exactly like a normal corded or cordless electric drill. The chuck simply rotates with no hammer action present. This mode is most useful for drilling holes in wood or other softer materials that would not require the hammer action to get through. Another benefit of this mode is that is more precise than the other modes. The hole that you drill will be exactly where you start it, and there will be little to no vibration to potentially make the bit jump out of place.

Hammer Only Mode

This mode is the reason why people buy SDS drills, and is what set an SDS drill apart from other electric drills and impact drivers. In this mode the drill acts like an electric jackhammer and does not rotate. This allows you to put in a chisel tip which makes removing grout or other smaller scale demolition projects incredibly easy. The only drawback to this mode is the intense vibration that is produced by the drill. Over time this vibration can become uncomfortable, but recently new SDS drills have greatly reduced the vibration while being able to increase the hammer force.

Rotary Hammer

The rotary hammer mode acts almost exactly like an impact driver where it rotates but also has a hammering action. This mode is great, especially for larger lag bolts that smaller cordless impact drivers just can’t handle. I have also found that even with simple deck screws and SDS drill will drive them into the decking much faster and with less effort than a cordless impact driver.

SDS drills are expensive and you might be asking if they are worth the investment. In my opinion if you find yourself doing any of the following things often than an SDS drill is absolutely worth. If you find yourself doing demolition jobs, whether that’s tearing down a wall in a house or taking off a brick façade, an SDS drill in the hammer only mode with a chisel tip will make your life so much easier. Another job where I have found an SDS drill very handy is if I’m dealing with lag bolts. For example securing a 4×4 or larger post on a deck, or building large outdoor structures like a pergola. The last example of a task where an SDS drill can come in handy is if you find yourself working often with concrete or masonry. Whether that’s putting in a new driveway or outdoor patio or taking off a brick facade, an SDS drill will make drilling holes in the concrete a breeze and with a chisel tip you would be able to remove the bricks with very little effort. If you find yourself having to do these or any other similar tasks I would highly recommend seriously looking into investing in an SDS drill. The time it would save would cover the higher initial cost very quickly.