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Makita's well-placed work light turns on when you pull the trigger, which is good for dark spots.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Vibration. For rotary hammers, vibration is surprisingly isolated by the way the hammer mechanism operates. Unlike a hammerdrill's system of two serrated discs rotating against each other–actually a vibration-causing mechanism–the rotary hammer's impact comes from pneumatic force. A piston on one end of a cylinder compresses air, which slides a striking hammer at the other end into the back of the bit, limiting vibration in the tool body. All the tools operated comfortably except Milwaukee's. It vibrated the most and was uncomfortable to operate, especially with larger bits.

Balance, Grip, & Triggering

Balance. Each tool was well balanced and easy to maneuver to work straight-on or overhead. If I have to nitpick, Metabo's was a little front-heavy, and the heaviest overall, making it slightly harder to aim when starting a hole on a vertical surface.

Grip. You can hold these rotary hammers two ways: pistol grip or in-line. In the pistol grip, you hold the tool fully by the handle, pulling the trigger with your index finger. In-line, you open your palm on the back of the tool, keeping it in-line with the bit, pulling the trigger with your ring and pinkie fingers. All of the models except Metabo provide rubber surfaces and grooves for in-line gripping, which I like. The Metabo has grooves but no rubber grip.

Side Handles. All side handles were satisfactory. Hilti's and Metabo's are rubber coated and the most comfortable.

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A large, easy-to-activate trigger and rubber-padded grip make the Hilti the most comfortable to operate.

Credit: Photo: David Sharpe

Triggering. The Hilti was by far the most comfortable to grip, with a large, easy-to-activate trigger accessible in both grips. Makita and DeWalt felt good, too. I could reach their trigger with two fingers in-line, even with gloves on. And, when you pull the Makita's trigger, a handy work light comes on, which works well for dark spaces.

I have larger-than-average–sized hands, but some of the triggers were hard to reach when holding them for in-line operation. Hitachi's reverse switch obstructs the trigger a little; with gloves on I could only reach it with my pinkie. Bosch's trigger was pinkie-only even without gloves. Metabo and Milwaukee both have readily accessible triggers, but both handles felt much too wide, which made holding them in-line less comfortable. On the Milwaukee, I also could really feel it vibrate holding it in-line. Metabo's trigger spring was stiff, making using it in-line difficult, and the reverse switch hit my finger in the pistol-grip position.