Best SDS Drills

Updated November 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

21 Models Considered
6 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
302 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best SDS drills

Last Updated November 2019

A standard hammer drill can help you drill a hole in a wall when you’re putting up a shelf, but it isn’t built for heavy-duty drilling. If you want to make big holes in tough material, you need more power, and that’s when you choose an SDS drill. The other advantage with these high-performance tools is that the hammer action can be used on its own. Fit a chisel bit and you can turn it into a light demolition tool.

While the basic technology is similar across all SDS tools, there are different sizes, different power options, and a whole range of features to consider. If you’ve never used one before, picking the right model is not straightforward.

BestReviews has put together a collection of recommended SDS drills that showcase the best options in prince and performance. We’ve also added a comprehensive buying guide to explain the details.

The first SDS drill was introduced by Bosch in 1975. Though advertised as a “special direct system,” most people now call it a “slotted drive system,” a description of how the chuck works.

Key considerations

How an SDS drill works

There are several things that set a slotted drive system (SDS) drill apart from a standard hammer drill, including power, action, and chuck.

  • Power: Standard corded hammer drills run somewhere between 4 and 7 amps. Corded SDS models are usually between 8.5 and 12 amps, giving them the ability to drill holes in concrete and stone with comparative ease.
  • Action: You have three types of action: drill, hammer drill, and hammer only (which is why they’re often also called rotary hammer drills). The hammer-only action turns the SDS drill into an effective demolition tool.
  • Chuck: A standard drill chuck relies on friction to hold the bit in place. You can apply enough force tightening it by hand to keep it in place. The torque and impact created by an SDS drill are much greater, so friction alone is not enough to hold the bit. SDS bits have grooves in them, and the SDS chuck doesn’t rotate; it slides open and shut. Inside are sprung ball bearings which are forced into the grooves to provide a very strong lock.

SDS drill types

There are three types of SDS drill:

  • SDS: The original, now largely superseded
  • SDS Plus: An improved model, now the most common
  • SDS Max: A larger, heavy-duty model
     

While standard drills are now mostly cordless, the power demands of an SDS drill mean corded models are still very popular. However, there are also numerous cordless models, the best of which are a match with corded in terms of performance, though they do tend to require fairly frequent recharging. A second battery is something of a necessity if you intend to work for extended periods. If you’re buying a cordless model, we strongly suggest that you look for one with a brushless motor. These make much better use of the available battery power than brush motors. While 12-volt models do exist, we would opt for 18 or 20 volts.

Compact concrete crusher!

This is the power-user’s choice: the freedom of cordless with the performance of an SDS Plus corded tool. The powerful brushless motor maximizes battery life, vibration suppression makes for easy control, and the light weight reduces fatigue. It has great ergonomics, and there’s even a retractable hook to hang it from. If you already own DeWALT 20-volt batteries and charger, it’s quite a bargain. Even if you don’t, it’s still surprisingly competitive.

SDS drill features

Performance

You’ll see a variety of performance figures quoted. Impact energy can be given in foot-pounds (ftᐧlb) or joules (J), but direct comparisons are unhelpful because manufacturers use different methods to calculate them. Motor revolutions per minute (rpm), usually given as a no-load speed, and blows per minute (bpm) are more useful. Speed is usually variable by trigger pressure. Chuck size is also a good indication of performance, and it varies from 1 inch to 1.5 inches.

From what I can find, this is how the abbreviation for foot-pound is spelled, with a central dot and no periods.

Comfort and safety

  • Side handle: This is invariably supplied. It can usually be rotated through 360° to enable you to grip the drill at many different angles. A depth gauge is often incorporated.
  • Vibration control: Because of their action, SDS drills produce lots of vibration. On cheaper models, this can be tiring. Better machines use vibration control or suppression, an important feature if you’re going to be using one of these drills for several hours at a time.
  • Clutch: SDS drill bits can catch in uneven surfaces, which causes the whole drill to twist violently, potentially with enough force to tear it from your hands. Good ones have a clutch to prevent this. In the event of a snag reaching a preset pressure, the chuck stops rotating so you can free the bit before continuing.
  • Length: Some SDS drills can be quite long, which might be a problem if you’re working in cramped spaces. Compact models are designed to overcome this.
  • Weight: Overall weight is also a consideration, especially if you’ll be working above your head.
EXPERT TIP

SDS drills are often used in very dusty conditions, so regular lubrication is vital. Fortunately, it’s a straightforward job.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

The voltage of your battery is fixed by the demands of the tool, but ampere hours (Ah) vary. For longer run times, invest in the maximum Ah you can afford.


Staff  | BestReviews

SDS drill prices

Inexpensive: If you’re only going to use one occasionally or for a specific one-off task, buying a cheap SDS drill can be a good idea. Kits that cost $75 to $100 usually come with a small selection of drill and chisel bits.

Mid-range: There are dozens of high-quality SDS and SDS Plus drills, both corded and cordless, that cost between $150 and $350. This is the bracket where we expect most homeowners can find what they needed.

Expensive: Big, powerful, professional-grade SDS Max drills are at the top of the price range. You’re unlikely to find one under $400, and they can top $550.

Comprehensive and cost-effective

This is the tool to buy when you’ve got a few tough jobs to deal with and calling in a contractor would be too expensive. For a cheap SDS drill kit, it’s remarkably complete, with three drill bits, two chisels, and even spare brushes for the motor. Unusually, it also comes with a standard drill chuck. It may not be as robust as the more expensive models, but it’s a great value for the occasional user.

Tips

  • Use the side handle. An SDS drill is a powerful machine that can create tremendous torque. Always make sure you’ve got a good grip on it. Wherever practical, use the additional side handle. While the drill is designed to be ergonomic and manageable, it’s fair to say that this is not a tool for those who have physical limitations.
  • Take safety precautions. By its nature, using an SDS drill creates a lot of dust, and often sharp chunks of concrete or stone can fly off. Wear gloves, a dust mask, ear protection, and at a minimum some form of eye protection. A face shield is a better idea.
  • Take regular breaks. Even with good damping, these tools vibrate and shake. If you’re tired, you’re more likely to have an accident.

Bare tools can look like a bargain, but only if you already have a compatible battery and charger. If not, those things will cost extra and can add a hundred dollars or more to the price.

Other products we considered

We found a few other products in case the ones in our matrix don’t fit your needs. The Von Haus SDS Rotary Hammer Drill is an entry-level kit that comes with all you need in a nice, durable case. The 10-amp motor gives it plenty of power, and there’s vibration control, too, which isn’t always found on machines in this price range. Bosch invented this tool, so we thought we ought to include one of their cordless SDS drills. The Bosch GBH18V Rotary Hammer Kit doesn’t have the outright power of some, but it’s a lightweight, versatile device ideal for less demanding jobs. The Milwaukee 2712-20 SDS Plus Rotary Hammer is a tough tool from a well-regarded manufacturer. This bare tool option is a good price for a cordless, even when you add battery and charger.

Many entry-level SDS drills come boxed and may include a selection of drill bits and chisels. The same isn’t always true of high-end models, so you might need to purchase accessories separately.

FAQ

Q. Can I use SDS drill bits in a standard power drill?
A.
It depends on the size of the chuck. However, few standard drills have the power to drive large bits effectively. Additionally, a standard chuck doesn’t grip as positively as an SDS sliding chuck, so there’s a danger that in heavy-duty drilling situations, the bit might get stuck, and the drill chuck will just spin around it. It’s not really a viable alternative, and if the chuck should slip and then grab, it could be dangerous.


Q. OK, is there any way to use standard drill bits in an SDS drill?
A.
You can, but you’ll need to buy an SDS-to-half-inch chuck adapter (keyed and keyless are available). Once fitted, you can only use the rotary action of the SDS drill, not the hammer drill. These tools are just too powerful and would smash the smaller drill bits to pieces.


Q. Can I use the same bits in SDS, SDS Plus, and SDS Max drills?
A.
Yes and no! SDS and SDS Plus have 10 mm shanks and are interchangeable. SDS Max bit have 18 mm shanks, so they won’t fit. Also, be aware that bits for spline drive drills, which can look very similar to SDS models, won’t fit any of the SDS type. SDS Max is designed to replace the more powerful spline drive tools, but the bits are not interchangeable.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bob
    Bob
    Writer
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer

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