Bit Holders. Technically, they're called "bit holders," even though everyone calls them "chucks." Either way, these tools all use SDS max bits for drilling and chipping, and they all work well. That's no surprise, considering they're nearly identical. All of the manufacturers provide grease for the bits and holders, too.
Boxes. These tools are heavy enough by themselves. A box loaded with bits, chisels, and the tool itself easily weighs 20 to 30 pounds. Considering the amount and the weight of the iron we carry with these tools (plus the oil and a rag) a good box is necessary.
Here's my box rating criteria: For starters, any box that takes me more than two seconds to determine which side is up has a problem. In addition, a box must be durable, easy to open and close, and spacious enough for all of the accessories. All of the boxes are cast plastic and seem tough enough, except for Milwaukee's, which is metal. Hilti's box is strong and well organized, but for the life of me I can't tell up from down?it looks identical both ends up. Milwaukee's all steel box is strong, but, invariably, steel boxes rust?especially around concrete dust?and without fail someone stands on them, permanently buckling the lid, which fouls the latches.
Bosch and Makita lead the pack with sensibly laid out, easy-to-use boxes; you can even tell which end is up. DeWalt and Metabo have adequate boxes, too; however, the plastic partitions inside the DeWalt box look like they could be a little sturdier.
Exhaust. Exhaust air from the cooling fans inside the tool can blow out and kick up some dust. The air exhausts through the bottom of the tool; in other words, if you're drilling straight down, it blows toward your legs. On all of the tools except the DeWalt, I could really feel their concentrated exhaust and see some dust being kicked up. The DeWalt spreads out the exhaust over a larger area; it's not as concentrated and kicks up less dust. This is a good feature, too, when drilling or chipping near the ground or in a corner.
Picking a winner here requires some serious head-scratching. The top three tools are fantastic, but different. For overall power and smooth performance?especially straight down drilling and chipping (the vast bulk of our work)?I like the Hilti TE 76-ATC. It's got serious power, low vibration, great switches, and the electronic torque control.
The Makita HR4000C and Bosch 11241EVS tie for second. If we did more horizontal work I'd pick up either tool in a heartbeat. The Makita isn't quite as powerful as the bigger guys, but its compactness, versatility, and dual handles are great. It's also very comfortable to operate. The Bosch drills a little faster than the Makita and is a little bigger and heavier; it has vibration isolators that really work and a good box, too. It's a well thought-out tool and comfortable to use. The list rounds out with Metabo, DeWalt, Milwaukee, and Hitachi.
Erik Elwell is a Manhattan-based contractor specializing in high-end commercial and residential remodeling.
Tools of the Trade has arranged with the companies in this test to donate their tools to Habitat for Humanity.
(Thanks to DrilTec for supplying the bits, chisels, and chipping irons for this test.)