Photo: MichaeL Springer
Left: Hilti's optional dust removal system is powered by the tool's motor. Right: Milwaukee's accessory chuck allows the use of standard bits.
Photo: MichaeL Springer Left: Hilti's optional dust removal system is powered by the tool's motor. Right: Milwaukee's accessory chuck allows the use of standard bits.

I'm a general contractor, and, more importantly, a toolaholic. My small construction company in Southern California does mostly residential remodels and additions, with an occasional new custom home.

I had the opportunity to try out the Hilti TE 7-C and the Milwaukee 5363-21 rotary hammers while working on an addition to my own home. For this fairly average addition, my crew and I found ourselves reaching for these tools a lot more than I had expected we would. We used the tools to punch a large hole in my existing foundation for a 3-inch sewer line to pass through, to drill at least 30 holes for dowels into the existing foundation to tie into the new slab, to demo old concrete front steps (drilling a few dozen 1-inch holes to fill with a highly expansive agent for breaking up concrete), and, in hammer-only mode, to strip form boards and break up stucco.

In addition, we used the tools for a variety of smaller chores–such as drilling through the existing stem wall in the garage to feed a ground wire outside from my electric panel, drilling anchor holes for my A/C unit, and installing a hold-down for a roof support post. Our ability to use these tools for so many tasks proved right off the bat how versatile they are.

Along the way, we also checked out their power, comfort, and features.

Power. Both the Milwaukee and the Hilti are rated as being capable of drilling holes in concrete up to 1 inch; however, my experience with these tools showed that this is pushing the limits. When I used 1-inch bits for drilling the demo holes in my front steps, I found that although I could drill them, it was very slow-going compared to a larger hammer I own. Also, the tools had a tendency to bog down some with the 1-inch bits and to get stuck, engaging their clutches. I did find that the Milwaukee seemed to have a little more power under strenuous use. If you frequently drill holes larger than 3/4 inch, I would recommend a larger rotary hammer.

Smaller holes, on the other hand, were a breeze. I currently own what I thought was a very nice rotary hammer until I tried these new ones. My 15-year-old model is now sadly inadequate. I found that both the Milwaukee and the Hilti could out-drill my old tool at a rate of three holes to one. It's also worth noting that my old roto hammer is almost the same size and style as these two, except that it's slightly heavier and with fewer features. For their intended uses, I would conclude that both the Hilti and the Milwaukee are very capably powered machines.

Comfort. While the Milwaukee came out on top for power, the Hilti was the clear leader in comfort. The Hilti had a more comfortable feel with more cushioning on the grips and a much smoother operation. Both tools are well-balanced and fit my hands well; the Hilti, however, has a much softer side handle coated with thick rubber, as opposed to the hard plastic side handle of the Milwaukee. The Hilti also has a wider trigger that pulls straight back instead of pivoting, spreading the pressure to my second and third fingers and allowing me to drill more comfortably for extended periods of time. The Milwaukee has a unique spring-suspension rear handle designed to reduce vibration, but I'm not sure how much it helped.

Both models were very light and manageable; I could use either with one hand. And true to their compact designations, their small size (relative to other rotary hammers) made them easy to get into tight spots.

Features. Both the Milwaukee and the Hilti have more features than I was used to with my old rotary hammer, including reverse, which is convenient if you get a bit stuck in a hole. Both have drill-only, hammerdrill, and hammer-only options. They also have a position on the dial that allows a chisel to be positioned at any angle and then locked into place. This is nice if chipping must be performed in tight quarters.

Both tools also have a snap-in, pull-to-release bit holder, which is very handy for one-handed installation of bits but can be difficult for one-handed removal. My older model has a chuck that must be twisted one-quarter turn to the open position before the bit can be pulled out, which leaves the chuck in the open position until the bit change is completed and the chuck is twisted shut. This old system is much easier for the one-handed bit change.

The only problem I had with the Milwaukee was that the small clip that holds the depth gauge in place, a piece of spring steel within the gauge-locking mechanism, somehow fell out and was lost, rendering the depth gauge unusable. The Hilti depth gauge operates by turning the side handle to open and close a clamp around the depth gauge bar. It performed without any problems.

Accessories. Milwaukee sent an SDS Plus chuck adapter for use with standard drill bits. This was useful in both of the tools when set to drill-only mode for drilling small-diameter holes, but when I tried drilling larger holes with a self-feeding plumber's bit, I found that the clutches kicked in too often for either tool to be much use as a strong drill. I think, however, that this feature would be very convenient for adding retrofit foundation bolts, such as when an engineer wants to convert an existing wall into a shear wall for seismic purposes, as I could quickly switch from wood bit to concrete bit when drilling through the sill plate into the foundation with only one tool.

Hilti sent a vacuum attachment that is powered by a motor-shaft extension protruding from the bottom of the motor housing. With its specific "PTO" drive, it only works on the Hilti tool. Its suction kept down airborne dust while drilling. It worked very well as long as the hole was at a right angle to the concrete. Any other angle caused the vacuum shroud near the bit to lose contact and reduce suction. I didn't find much use for the vacuum attachment on this project; however, I can imagine that it would come in quite handy during interior remodeling applications.

All in all, I fell in love with both tools and would feel comfortable recommending either to anyone in the market for a compact, L-shaped rotary hammer. Both are well-built, useful machines.

Hilti TE 7-C: $398; TE DRS-M dust removal system: $199. 800-879-8000.

Milwaukee 5363-21: $350; 48-66-1370 chuck adapter: $40. 800-729-3878.

–Matthew Steadman is a builder and remodeler in San Pedro, Calif.