Chipping

Force Factor

–Medium Force–
Manufacturer......... Average Drilling Speed
Hitachi........................................ 11.08 seconds
Makita......................................... 13.14 seconds
Hilti............................................. 16.36 seconds
DeWalt........................................ 17.27 seconds
Bosch.......................................... 17.87 seconds
Metabo........................................ 19.11 seconds
Milwaukee................................... 20.67 seconds
–High Force–
Manufacturer......... Average Drilling Speed
Hitachi........................................ 10.52 seconds
Makita......................................... 12.00 seconds
Hilti............................................. 14.53 seconds
Bosch.......................................... 14.80 seconds
DeWalt........................................ 15.07 seconds
Metabo........................................ 16.35 seconds
Milwaukee................................... 16.79 seconds
–Extreme Force–
Manufacturer......... Average Drilling Speed
Hitachi.......................................... 8.85 seconds
Makita .........................................10.08 seconds
Metabo ........................................12.22 seconds
DeWalt ........................................14.15 seconds
Hilti .............................................15.60 seconds
Bosch.......................................... 15.65 seconds
Milwaukee................................... 31.71 seconds

The DeWalt, Hitachi, Makita, and Metabo have a very useful chipping function. I tested the demo capacity of these small tools with bull-point and cold chisels. The Metabo, Makita, and DeWalt were lighter-duty chippers, as expected for modestly sized tools. But the Hitachi amazed me–its superior piston effectiveness drilled a bull-point chisel 2 to 3 inches deep in the test concrete in mere seconds. Count on any of these models to pop up tiles and start holes, but expect more demo power from the Hitachi.

Tool Cases

All the hammers I tested came with plastic cases and met my requirement of fitting the tool with the side-handle on. They all easily withstood my "stand on and bounce" test, too. I really like the long-bit storage compartments in the Bosch, Metabo, Hitachi, and Makita cases–they keep bits from rolling around in the box. The Hilti and DeWalt cases only provided a dedicated area for short bits. The Milwaukee case was limited to storing six short bits in slots. The one-piece Bosch and Hilti latches appear upside down, so I suggest labeling the top of the box to make it obvious which end is up. The Metabo case was the only soft blow-molded model, which seemed oversized and a little flimsier than the rest; instead of an articulating hinge, it has thin plastic connecting the two halves at the bottom.

Manuals

I studied each tool's manual, looking for recommended usage techniques, technical details, maintenance and warranty information, and an obvious toll-free number. Each manual was fine. In addition, out west where I work, a Spanish-language section is important, and all but Makita included it (though they will have trilingual manuals soon).

Multi-Use Tools

The Hilti and Metabo models are the most versatile in the group. Hilti's bit holder is easily removable and can be effortlessly replaced for maintenance without tearing down the tool, or it can be exchanged with a high-quality keyless chuck accessory ($95) for smooth-shank bits. It also has a unique precision hammer feature that reduces the percussive force output. While the dial on the tool to engage this feature sent me to the instructions to figure out how to use it, it was perfect for drilling holes for Tapcon screws in soft brick on an old house remodel. The other hammers were too aggressive and over-sized the hole in this material.

Metabo's was the only hammer to come standard with an accessory keyless chuck–a nice feature that makes this tool capable of using both smooth-shank and SDS-Plus bits right out of the box. That, combined with its speed selection dial, made it the right candidate for stirring a 5-gallon bucket of paint at a nice slow speed. Both Hilti and Metabo have dual speed ranges in drill-only mode that make them useful as multi-purpose rotary hammers and drills. While all of the tools tested have a drill-only feature and you can purchase an accessory chuck for smooth-shank bits, they're not perfectly suited for heavy drilling and driving because of the clutch action. In fact, Makita's directions indicate not to use it with a hole saw because the clutch may engage too frequently. Besides, I have a spare 1/2-inch drill–my 10-year old hammerdrill.

Winners

On the jobsite, drilling and chipping performance are my top priorities. Performance in the timed drilling trials clearly determined the winners for me. For getting holes drilled with power to spare, the hands-down best performer was Hitachi. It won every single drilling trial and was great on site. Literally nothing I did could slow it down drilling or chipping. Makita earns a close second, taking second in every one of the trials. Hilti gains third with solid performances and great comfort. Bosch's dependable power took fourth with DeWalt close behind. The Metabo, while the most versatile multi-use tool, was a little slower than the others drilling and chipping. These are all followed by the Milwaukee model.

–Michael Springer is a designer-builder in Boulder, Colo.