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SDS Plus vs SDS Max_ A Beginners Guide to Concrete Drilling, Chipping & Demolition Tools

by Bryan Barrows June 26, 2019

SDS Plus and SDS Max are two different types of drill bits that are most commonly used in rotary hammers, or roto hammers. A roto hammer is  the bigger and  tougher  brother of the smaller hammer drill. Simply put, a roto hammer packs a more powerf ul punch and is able to drill into almost anything. To facilitate the drilling, these two different drill bits are installed to rotary hammer drills. Both drill types are specifically engineered to tackle multiple construction and demolition tasks which, a mong others, include drilling into concrete and breaking concrete.   

There are different stories as to where the term SDS came from--the most popular of which being that it originally stood for ‘Slotted Drive System’. There is also another popular version  in which SDS stemmed from the original German phrase ‘ steck dreh sitzt ’ which literally translates to ‘insert, twist,  fit’ . One more version has it that SDS was originally coined by Bosch as it refers to their then proprietary Special Direct System techn ology--a term that was introduced the SDS technology to the international market.  


A Brief History of Spline, SDS Plus, and SDS Max   

spline sds plus

Even to this day, there remains a bit of confusion when it comes to what types of bits work with which type of drills--and  what is best for each job. So let’s start at the very beginning when there were all kinds of hex and tapper bits of all sorts of shapes and sizes; that was until spline was introduced in the US as a sort of universal shank that everyone could use for prac tically every kind of job. Coincidentally,  around the same time that s pline  was gaining popularity in the US, another type of drill bit--the SDS drill bits manufactured by Hilti and Bosch--were already widely used in Europe (Hilti & Bosch).   

SDS techno logy was unique during its time in that it allowed the bits to be locked in place securely without stifling the necessary up and down movement of the drill. The SDS system is already popular in Europe when it was introduced to the US market. Fast forward t o today, and people are still unclear about the specific differences of the few available SDS tools, bits, and connection systems.   

The first SDS was originally engineered by Bosch in 1975.  Then came the SDS Plus which is an improvement on the original S DS system. But Bosch designed the newer SDS Plus system in such a way that it remains backwards compatible with the then still popular SDS bits.  

Even with the popularity of the SDS Plus system, spline remain to be a formidable solution for the larger bits  necessary for heavier work. But then the SDS-Max was engineered specifically to replace the spline drive for larger drills. The then new SDS-Max system sports comparable strength and functionality to spline but with improved connectivity that is practical ly derived  from the same technology of the smaller SDS Plus bits.  But as opposed to SDS Plus, SDS Max is designed for the heavier, more demanding masonry work. While SDS-Max eventually became a popular option for many construction professional, it wouldn’ t be able to completely replace spline. And it is for this reason that we now have both types of tools and bits on the market--although, there are significantly more SDS Max bits and tools out there.  

Both spline and SDS Max are very similar in terms of si ze, but if you are shopping for a shiny new concrete drilling or chipping equipment, you are better off getting SDS Max over spline mainly because you’ll have more options to choose from. As far as we can tell, the only sensible reason why we still have bo th is because people with older bits and equipment are still holding on to their spline drives which are not going anywhere anytime soon.   


SDS Plus vs SDS Max Bit Sizes   

The most fundamental difference between SDS Plus and SDS Max lies in terms of size.  SDS Plus bits are generally thinner and smaller than SDS Max bits. Here are the numbers: SDS Plus shanks have a diameter of 10 millimeters; SDS Max shanks have a diameter of 18 millimeters. Thinner SDS Plus is generally for lighter duty work--mostly for dr illing smaller holes; SDS Max is for heavier duty work--for drilling larger holes.  

SDS Plus and SDS Max tools generally tend to have either one, two, or  three capabilities. There are  tools that are designed with drill only modes; these are tools that exc lusively use rotation to drill through materials. There are tools designed with hammer drilling mode; these are tools that combines the rotation with a hammering action; hammer drills are used to drill through materials that are too tough for regular rotat ion-only drills.  There are tools that are engineered with chip-only or demolition mode; these are tools that specialize in chipping away or breaking up masonry.  

Most of the SDS Plus, and a few of the SDS Max tools have drill-only, hammer drilling, and ch iseling modes. The remainder of the SDS Max tools are practically demolition hammers that only sport a powerful chiseling function. If you are a home improvement hobbyist, engaged in the occasional lighter duty work, a multi-mode SDS Plus tool is  you  best  bet. On the other hand, if you are a professional who does heavier duty masonry work day in and day out, then a more powerful SDS Max tool or even demolition hammer (if you don’t need to drill holes, may be the tool that makes the most sense to you.  

SDS P lus feature four large drives or grooves (with two open grooves and two closed grooves) with locking balls that are connected to the grooves. SDS Plus can be used interchangeably with  older SDS. The SDS Plus typically drill a hole  with a 1 and 1/8 inch in  diameter. It is the most common shank types with a length of 10 mm which is installed 40mm into the chuck when used.  

SDS Max is the drill bit of choice for larger hammer drills--capable of drilling a holes with a diameter than that of the SDS and SDS Plu s. SDX Max also functions as chisels which are perfect for heavy-duty applications like chipping, chiseling, bushing, cutting, and digging. As opposed to the SDS or SDS Plus, the SDS Max sports three open grooves and a locking segment in place of locking b alls. SDS Max sports an 18mm shank which is installed 90mm into the chuck when used.   

Because of the larger, beefier dimensions of SDS Max drill bits are bigger, they generally cost more in price compared to SDS and SDS Plus drill bits. Because of the she er difference in size and design, the SDS Max is not compatible with both SDS and SDS Plus tool. The SDS Max’s major advantage over SDS plus is its added power, strength, and functionality.  

Both SDS Plus and SDS Max require different hammer body equipment. Thankfully, with clever engineering, there are adapters/connectors that are designed to compensate for the differences in both size and design so that both SDS Plus and SDS Max can be used  in the same tool.   


When to use SDS Plus; When to SDS Max   

The most practical and pragmatic method of understanding the shared similarities and fundamental differences between SDS Plus and SDS Max is to have two of these tools side-by-side so you can subj ect them to the same series of drilling and chipping application. Unfortunately, many people don’t really have the tools, time and energy to do so. For many people, the learning curve comes from experience--learning when they brought the wrong tool for the  job-.  

The fundamental difference between SDS Plus vs SDS Max becomes fairly obvious when it comes to drilling to drilling applications. When you are engaged in repetitive heavy-duty work--when drilling larger diameter holes for instance--there’s no doubt  that SDS Max tools will get you to where you want to be much faster. There is a lot more to SDS Max than just drilling and chipping. Among the most overlooked use of SDS Max tools is digging--especially when working with hardened soil, clay soil, and any  undisturbed soil that isn’t sandy or loose.   

Ther e are occasions, however, when  SDS Max just packs too much power than what is necessary for the job. For jobs that don’t require excessive vibrations, using SDS Plus tools will allow you to surgically remo ve the materials to minimize the risk of damaging surrounding structures around the work area that need to be preserved.  

If you want a more definitive understanding of the kind of power and performance that both SDS Plus and SDS Max brings to the table, t hen you might want to try to drill and make steady progress with your SDS Plus tool. If you are able to do so, then what is required of the job is probably well within SDS Plus territory. If instead of progress, you feel as if the whole drilling process is n’t getting you anywhere anytime soon, then chances are that it’s probably time to bring in the bigger guns in the SDS Max.  


When to Use a Hammer Drill   

Hammer drills make things a touch more complicated. A power tool that also specializes in concrete dri lling, a hammer drill practically operates like a regular power drill with rotational motion but with an integrated hammer action mechanism that allows it to deliver fast and hard hammering blows that drill and break through materials like stone, brick or  wood. A hammer drill is a good piece of equipment for anyone who’s looking to step up when a regular drill just isn’t cutting it.   

If you’re a homeowner, an occasional home improvement hobbyist, or even a professional who only needs to drill very small di ameter holes into masonry, then you might get by with a hammer drill.   

Note that hammer drills generally use conventional chuck and bits--meaning the chuck has to be tightened down onto the bit. Among the many advantages both SDS Plus and SDS Max bits is  that both remain securely installed into the chuck requiring periodic tightening.  


When to Use a Jackhammer   

There are occasions when even SDS Max doesn’t pack enough punch to break up a patio, concrete stairs, or really any structure that’s built from th ick slabs of concrete. In this occasion, you will find a jackhammer to be most useful. Jackhammers generally use 1 1/8″ hex bits that are specifically built take on extremely tough masonry work that would prove to be too much with a less powerful and less  durable power tool.   

A jackhammer is designed to power through even the toughest high PSI concrete. If you are working with less than 6″ of concrete, a proper jackhammer will go through it like it’s made of paper.   

Note, however, that there are three big gest disadvantages that come with all the power and brute strength of a jackhammer-- jackhammer  aren’t cheap; jackhammers aren’t easy to transport; jackhammers aren’t best for surgical work which means that if you’re working around delicate surfaces, then a  jackhammer might prove to be a touch too powerful to avoid unnecessary collateral damage.   


The Dangers of Silica Dust   

Whether you are a home improvement hobbyist working on your home project over the weekends, or a constructional professional that works on site day-in and day-out, it is crucial that you understand just how dangerous exposure to silica dust is to your gene ral health. There is a reason why OSHA standards makes it mandatory for professionals to comply with their Silica Dust Standard--and it would be in the best interests of home improvement hobbyists and other DIYers to take the necessary precautions in order  to avoid excessive exposure to this health hazard.  

When it comes to a host of masonry applications, it is cutting and grinding concrete that exposes someone to the most copious amounts of silica dust. This does not mean, however, that the relatively smal ler amount of silica dust produced during drilling and demolition should not be a concern. The key equipment in minimizing silica dust exposure are going to be some sort of dust collection apparatus. This is widely available across different manufacturers  as just about all the major players in the power tools market offer dust collector products designed to capture and contain silica dust and keep you and those around your work area from developing breathing problems.   



At the end of the day, b oth SDS Plus and SDS Max tools are designed to make your work with masonry easier--and both are equally capable of getting you the results you want, given that you use the right tool for the job.   

When it comes to investing in SDS Plus tools vs SDS Max tools, rotary drill, hammer drills, and even jackhammers, it is generally better to be over equipped than under equipped. Take demolition jobs for instance. A task that might be manageable with SDS Pl us in half an hour is  actually in most cases a ten minute job with the use of an SDS Max tool. Similarly, another job that might take a while to be completed with an SDS Max tool can be fairly quick work with a jackhammer.   

The truth is that it’s fairly s traightforward. If you find yourself spending more time and energy than necessary with your masonry project, then you might want to consider stepping up to a more powerful piece of equipment. We hope that we have provided you all the relevant information a nd a more comprehensive understanding of SDS Plus tools and SDS Max tools. When it comes to choosing between the two, the old adage applies--“don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. ”.  So don’t make sure you don’t bring an SDS Plus tool if the job demands for m aximum power; don’t bring an SDS Max tool if you’re working with relatively light materials. We get that concrete is tough and it’s this inherent toughness and lasting durability that makes it survive time and the elements. It is for this reason that worki ng with concrete isn’t exactly like cutting butter but with the proper tools, it shouldn’t be an all too difficult task either.  

Bryan Barrows
Bryan Barrows

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