I recently made this post related to using a Dewalt drill with a gardening auger. We have very rocky ground that is pretty hard to cut into, even with this auger.

I just purchased a Dewalt DCD996B hammer drill, thinking it might be a better choice for driving the auger. But now I am wondering whether or not a hammer drill with clutch engaged (drive mode) is any different than a normal drill? Obviously the hammer mode would be most effective, but it is also the most risky, since if the auger hits a root, my hands and arms are going to get pulled hard. Any thoughts on the best configuration here? I'm thinking: use the hammer drill with low speed, high torque, and high clutch setting (so it only slips for the strongest resistance).

  • Rocky ground will be tough with most things. The more power, the more you might get hurt. Sometimes hand tools are the best, hit a rock you move over a bit.
    – crip659
    May 5, 2021 at 21:43
  • How big (diameter) is this auger? And have you tried soaking the ground to soften it up prior to drilling? May 5, 2021 at 21:46
  • 1
    You just need a big powerful motor, not necessarily a hammer-drill. The caveat is that the more torque, the more chance of you losing control when it gets stuck (or maybe you will spin and the drill stays put...) Using the clutch would be a good safety idea, but you will need to get a feel for the setting because it depends on your body strength. May 5, 2021 at 23:20

5 Answers 5


A hammer drill just adds vibration (up and down) to the rotation, which for concrete drills that have a hardened tungsten tip, makes them drill effectively through concrete (and stone for that matter). It would do nothing for an auger.

  • On the contrary, where I live (California), the soil can be very dry and hard. Using an auger attachment to my drill, I can't drill very deep into the soil. Turning on the hammer drill mode helps a lot.
    – jamesdlin
    Jun 17, 2022 at 0:26

I have used an earth auger in just a standard cordless drill. I would not expect that a hammer drill would provide any benefit, but I haven't tried it. AFIK a standard gasoline post hole auger doesn't hammer so I figure that hammering isn't necessary.

My wife got a 2.75 inch diameter auger so she could plant small plants quickly. I find it is tough going in our heavy clay soil and I doubt it is good for the drill. Maybe this is why our 18 V Lion Craftsman drill gives off an ozone smell, or maybe it is just old.


I wonder if you are confusing an impact drill with a hammer drill.

An impact drill will "hammer". or impact, in the direction of rotation. A rotational hammer will hit hard to make a drive bit rotate through high resistance at low rpm.

In contrast, a hammer drill contains ridged rotary disks that cause an axial vibration upon a drill bit, causing the bit to hammer and rotate into the workpiece.

As an aside, a rotary hammer drill applies axial hammering action to the bit. And it can hammer without rotating the bit.

If anything, an impacter may be more useful for cutting with an auger through tough roots and thick soil, but I have never tried this.

  • Neither of the linked drills are impacts. May 6, 2021 at 14:30
  • @AloysiusDefenestrate yes correct, and maybe it's an impacter that OP needs. We don't know what led OP to try a hammer drill on an auger. Maybe someone used an impacter (which I could see as viable) but OP got a hammer drill (which I don't see viable) confusing the two.
    – P2000
    May 6, 2021 at 14:58

Hammer mode won't help you in the slightest unless you get a huge hammer drill like a Hilti TE-76 and use large hammer drill bits. This still won't help you much as even a hammer drill can bind when hitting the edge of a rock. Actual high quality hammer drills typically have a safety overtorque that is not adjustable. I suspect what you actually have is a drill with hammer drill function, which is different. Compared to an actual hammer drill it gives shorter faster baby hits, and is only really good for drilling 1/4" to 3/8" holes in soft or delicate materials like brick or cinder block or porcelain tile. Any serious hammer drill built in recent years is easy to spot because they have an SDS chuck that only takes SDS bits. You can look up what those are, but suffice to say your augur is probably a regular bit, your chuck a regular chuck, and your drill a regular drill with very limited hammer function. And I looked it up and sure enough that's what you've got.

This application is also significantly more abusive than a drill chuck torque limiter is meant for. You would be better off being careful on the trigger finger and bracing the drill well. I'm not a huge fella and I've taught this to 130lb people, but if you hold the drill like an idiot and hold the trigger when you should let go, a good cordless drill can break or sprain your wrist. If you hold it properly, a 130lb person can completely overpower the drill for the 1/2 second required for a very slow thinking person to release the trigger. If you brace properly you might get a small bruise if you make a huge mistake, but better that than a broken wrist or rapidly wearing out a brand new drill.

Ok how to do it? Put the second handle on your drill securely 90 degrees left of the trigger handle if it has one and you're right handed. Opposite if you're a lefty. Otherwise use your second hand to brace the body of the drill. Make sure your elbows and knees are bent at least a little and put the point of the augur down on the ground. Depending on height, think about which way it will twist the drill if the bit locks up and brace the drill securely on your hip, thigh or ankle. Drilling hip level for example, I put the trigger handle between my legs and the auxiliary handle in front of my left leg. In order to twist, the drill has to push against both of my legs and all the muscle in my arms and core. Sorry drill, I win. Once the hole is started enough to keep the tip straight, continue drilling, but keep the drill spinning (Max speed on high torque/low speed mode is usually about right) and brace strongly against rotation while you slowly apply downward pressure. If you don't apply too much pressure, it will bounce against smaller rocks and knock them loose and allow it to apply more force to a smaller amount of root when it hits. If you do hit something that binds, pull the bit, use a prybar to derock your hole if necessary, and pop the drill into high speed an spin it fast while lowering it very slowly into the hole to tear the roots. Once you're digging through dirt again, pop it back to high torque. Bracing a drill this way is actually very similar to what makes gas powered post hole augers "safe"(They're still pretty risky feelin' and it can be nice to have 3 people on a 2 person drill for a 12" hole unless your people are pretty big, but the principle is the same).

If you're cutting big roots or a significant amount of them, it may pay to sharpen parts of your augur or switch to a hole saw for thick roots. If you hit a hard or big rock with a hole saw and don't pull back immediately it will ruin it very rapidly. If you know how to sharpen one, typically there will be enough damage to only allow one sharpening.

To be clear I'm not ragging on your drill. DeWalt is a decent brand and that particular drill is comparable to my favorite. I was disappointed when I found it took an unacceptable amount of time to put even 1/4" holes in decent concrete, but when working in cinder block and brick it saved me the trouble of packing a second drill. A good SDS hammer drill has a decent chance of shattering tile instead of putting a hole in it, especially drilling near the edge, so I was absolutely delighted to find that the more rapid, softer hits helped it powder delicate materials like tile without shattering them. This saved me the trouble of packing actual tile cutting bits.

  • This would be a better answer if you called the SDS drill by its proper name: "rotary hammer drill". May 6, 2021 at 14:34
  • @AloysiusDefenestrate OP's drill is technically a rotary hammer drill, so SDS is what makes the difference here. Where I live non-rotary hammer drills are called chippers rather than drills, although two of mine are both so I'd still call them a hammer drill. What I'm differentiating is a tool made to drill that happens to have hammer drill function and a tool build specifically and solely as a hammer drill. There are SDS chipping tools like the Hilti TE-905 electric jackhammer that are non-rotary, but I wouldn't call them a drill because they don't drill.
    – K H
    May 6, 2021 at 23:44
  • Sorry, was being North-American-centric. Here, the OP's drill is just a "hammer drill". An SDS drill that rotates is a "rotary hammer drill". An SDS chuck thing that doesn't spin is a chipper or a jackhammer. May 7, 2021 at 3:52
  • @AloysiusDefenestrate Canadian here. No worries.
    – K H
    May 7, 2021 at 4:33

Dissenting from pretty much all of the other answers, where I live (California), the soil can be very dry and hard. Using an auger attachment in my cordless drill with its normal settings, I can't drill very deep into the soil. Past a few inches, the auger will not dig any further.

Maybe my auger bit is cheap and terrible, but turning on the hammer drill mode helped a lot to break up the packed, hard soil, and using it enables me to make significantly deeper holes.

  • I'm (OP) in Cali too. East Bay Area. But since making this post I've just starting using a mattock which works way better for loosening up the rocky soil.
    – The111
    Jun 18, 2022 at 1:28

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