electric vs. pneumatic jack hammer

Pneumatic vs Electric Jack Hammer: Which One Do We Really Need?

view-the-highest-rated-jack-hammers Pneumatic vs Electric Jack Hammer: Which One Do We Really Need?
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I don’t actually know much about demolition and I usually just use hammers, pry bars, etc, but when more is needed which do I get: a  pneumatic or electric jack hammer?

After doing my own “jacking around,” if you will, with various light demolition jobs for a friend of mine, I learned quite a bit about destroying stuff during remodeling.

  • First of all, there is definitely a lot of truth in the expression “a lifetime to build, a moment to destroy.” It often doesn’t take much effort do permanently damage or break stuff. Everything from household items to collectibles are easy fodder for instant and even permanent destruction–heck, even relationships can be irrevocably torn apart in an instant, or freak accidents can strip a life away in an instant.

The lesson here is to be careful or we’ll break something–including ourselves–right? Well, kind of. There’s a second part:

  • I have also realized that if my actual desire really is to break something apart or destroy it, it’s not always that easy. Just ask any girl who attempts to say “No thanks” to the persistent colleague or classmate who asks her out all the time. She’s doing her best to avoid a conflict but she really, really wants and needs him to get the message–but he’s so much like Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber: he believes that “a one in a million chance” is still a chance.The long and short of the matter is that if the jack hammer is too light then that concrete slab will laugh in your face. Simultaneously, if it’s too weak then it’ll dance and flutter around better than an impromptu Fred Astaire performance.

So, maybe you have the same types of questions I did:

1. Should I just go ahead and buy a jackhammer, or pick up a rental from Home Depot or my local hardware store?

2. What type should I get and/or what type is easiest to use: air/pneumatic or electric?

I decided to dig into this before making a decision and see what I could come up with. After looking into it a bit more and chatting with some people more knowledgeable than I am, I think that I was able to gather enough information in order to help you narrow down how to pick the best thing for you.

I’m going to get started with some basics for those of us who are–ahem–like I have been for most of my life: demolition by hammer.

Jackhammers are Powerful Tools.

While this may be a “no duh” moment for you, but it was definitely one of those learning experiences for me.

Most of my experience comes from lighter, more manageable, and handheld tools such as cordless drills, socket wrenches, impact drivers, and a varied list of power tools. Basically, when I get my hands on even a rotary or hammer drill, it’s a bit outside of my normal, everyday tool comfort zone so it takes a bit o’ getting used to. However, the first key is to not be intimidated, stick with it, and eventually you’ll get a natural feel for how it works.

I think that the first important thing I’ve learned to remember is that a jack hammer without raw power and, preferably, good weighting, is not only a waste of money but also a source of impending frustration. The power and weight they offer are vital when demolishing old concrete, pavement, and other hard or unmanageable surfaces.

These are definitely some of the many reasons why this bad boy is one of the most common, leading tools in the construction and even do-it-yourself industry, because it makes repair, remodeling, and corrections not only possible but even expedient. I want to give you an example!

Many years ago when I was a young buck–well, I’m not old now, but I digress–I did some interior remodeling work for a friend of mine–a builder whom I’ve mentioned in other articles. He was notorious in his family and friend circles for constantly being in a state of remodeling or building, but not for the homes he worked on for others–it was always HIS home! As a result, much of the work I did for him involved tearing crap out and destroying things so that it could either be replaced or opened up.

One day he asked me to basically completely tear out this bathroom which belonged to the master bedroom. However, he wanted something more spacious so we took out a nearby wall, making the utility room smaller, and set to the task of not only tearing out the old tiles (wall tiles, too, with led backing—I HATE that stuff!) but also tearing up portions of the foundational slab to move plumbing. Some of this I worked on by hand–well, most of it, actually, much to my chagrin.

When I first looked at that bathroom I thought that I should be able to have it all cleared out in a day. The reality, however, was quite different, and I pushed him to get me better tools because a hammer, chisel, and pry bar just wasn’t going to cut it. Knowing this, you can begin to understand why the power AND weight combination of a jack hammer is not only important but key in demolition for both results and efficiency.

Jack Hammers

Pneumatic and electric jackhammers alike are used in the professional construction world, their technology having been steadily increased throughout the years to a significant level and are quite common for even us everyday Joe or Jane consumers. What once used to be mostly found within a city or construction crew’s arsenal, demolition hammers have now become easily accessible and affordable for the common Jack or Jill of all trades.

Today, while there are other options, there are two main types of jackhammers on the market which are utilized daily and most regularly, which are electric and pneumatic. I believe that in order to accurately select which of these tools would work best for you and your desired application(s), then it would definitely benefit you to understand the differences between them.

Whether you’re buying this tool for yourself or as a gift, why not take the time skim over this guide right quick in order to understand the differences between these electric and air ground-pounders so that you’re able choose the right one!



A pneumatic jackhammer is able to effectively get the breaking task done by using high-pressure air from a nearby air compressor. The air compressor itself is typically powered by a diesel engine in order provide the sufficient amount of force needed by the demolition tool.

This particular unit is comprised of the following setup:

  1. A compressor drive
  2. A centrifugal clutch
  3. A diesel engine

When using a pneumatic demo hammer such as this, it will require the correct materials for application, as well as proper accessories in order for the tool to work properly and efficiently.

When pressurized gas is utilized for the application of the jackhammer, it creates a solid, strong motion which results in a cheaper and equally powerful tool when compared to the electric hammers. Pneumatic devices are leading tools in the industry for this reason, and have been for decades. How many times have you gone out on the town only to hear an air impact wrench ripping off some rusty lug nuts or an air-powered electric sledgehammer pounding away at an asphalt street? Countless, I’m sure.

The Pneumatic setup has two speeds:

  • Idling
  • Maximum

Quite simply, an air jack hammer is idling when the clutch is disengaged and is at the maximum when the clutch is engaged whilte the compressor is running. Think of it like this: when you put the pedal to the metal in a Lamborghini Aventador, it will GO GO GO GO GO!

While we weren’t blessed with the sheer power and heavenly beauty (not to mention sexiness) of the Lamborghini until the 1900s, the pneumatic jackhammer has its roots much further back, in 1849, when these types of tools were first beginning to be introduced.

Early pneumatic tools were powered with a type of reciprocating compressor which ran on a crankshaft. Modern ones, however, utilize air which runs on fuel.


When To Use Pneumatic

An air jack hammer is primarily used when (and best for) digging a hole, especially in a dense, tough material such as asphalt or concrete. They are also excellent for use in mining, excavating, quarrying, and tunneling as well and are indeed the go-to tool for such applications.

Popular and common uses for pneumatic include road, pavement, and highway work, anything involving rocks, boulders, or stones, and personal and commercial excavation purposes.


Here are some safety tips:

  • Wear proper body protection such as shatter-resistant safety goggles, steel-toed boots, and sturdy, protective clothing.
  • It is a must to always wear good ear protection to prevent hearing damage; high-quality, noise-canceling earplugs are recommended as common earplugs are often not enough to properly protect your ears.
  • It is not a good idea to use a jack hammer for extended periods of time, so remember to take breaks or occasionally switch out with someone else.
  • If your tool seems to have a defect or is damaged in some way, be sure to get it checked out before resuming use.
  • Prior to firing it up (even if recently used), make sure that all parts are securely fastened and in normal working condition.
  • It’s important to remember not to hammer the material after it has been cut. To do so could lead to serious bodily injury and damage to unintended surfaces or areas.
  • Always remember to barricade the work area and be aware of your surroundings so that no one–especially children or small animals–can wander in haphazardly without you knowing about it. A little bit of thought and preparation beforehand goes a long way.


latest?cb=20161106214639 Pneumatic vs Electric Jack Hammer: Which One Do We Really Need?
This is what it feels like to listen to a pneumatic jack hammer without ear plugs

To be completely honest, the first thing I think of when a pneumatic jackhammer is mentioned is the Grinch. Remember the part of How the Grinch Stole Christmas where he’s talking about all the “Noise, noise, NOISE!?” Well, similarly to the Who’s in Whoville, air tools produce a lot of it and the hammers are the worst of the bunch. Modern pneumatics don’t produce as much noise as their predecessors, however they still check in at around 100 decibels.

This is definitely a factor you should still consider when deciding if a pneumatic is a tool you should be using.


Electric jackhammers work very similarly to a pneumatic, of course, because they are built for essentially the same job. Unlike the pneumatic however, they have electric motors and function using power from a nearby power outlet rather than having to depend on a local, strong air compressor setup.

The electric uses a motor which rotates the crank, or cam if you will, and then converts the motor’s spinning motion. This pumps a piston and forces small air cushions to push back and forth within the mechanism.

One of the most notable features of this style of tool is the absence of a separate compartment for air which, obviously, it doesn’t need! All of the required power for this implement of controlled destruction comes directly from within the tool itself, much like what we could say about one of my favorite people of all-time, Bruce Lee (if ever there was a person of controlled destruction, it was him–just check out this amazing balance while sparring!). Beast mode, if ever there was one.

But I digress…

The slight downside to this is that it makes the electric a good bit heavier. You really can’t push down too much when using this tool due to the fact that the design itself lends itself naturally to that very thing.

When It’s Best To Use Electric

While the electric JH is powerful, its electric motor still doesn’t compare in performance to the air compressor action that a pneumatic provides.

This is why you will commonly, more often see electric jackhammers for home-based or portable jobs, such as house interior remodeling work, do-it-yourself, personal driveways, backyard projects, and more.

Unlike the pneumatic, an electric is highly portable and quite easy to use–surprisingly easy for both the beginner and seasoned air tool user alike. You simply connect the right chisel head or implement, plug the tool into an electrical socket, place it on the desired spot to be “cosmetically modified,” and GO.

This is another reason why it’s not only easier to use this tool inside of a home, but has additional safety benefits as well.


The same safety features mentioned for the pneumatic above also apply to the electric. However, there are a few additional safety tips:

  • Check the cord for tears or frays periodically and before using.
  • Never use a wet electric tool.
  • If the area to be demolished is moist or wet and nothing can be done to change that, ensure that the hammer is plugged into a proper safety outlet with breaker for such a task (consult with an expert beforehand!).
  • Perform a quick check on the plug and outlet to make sure they’re in good working condition and have no shorts or defects.


Electric jackhammers are significantly quieter than pneumatic. For this reason, most construction companies have been switching to electric.

So…Should You Choose a Pneumatic or an Electric Jackhammer?

Both types are effective and versatile, with each offering both its advantages and disadvantages, so there’s no way to tell you one way or the other without knowing your intended use. However, here are some points to consider before you make your choice and literally pound the pavement.


What exact job or jobs do you need your tool to do? Will it require a tremendous amount of power? Will you be using the tool for a long time for many jobs in the future or just for a small, short project?

If your job requires a lot of power or extended, regular use, then it’s best to choose a pneumatic.

Use a air jackhammer if you’re going to perform any commercial excavation services, digging through asphalt or concrete, mining, quarrying, or tunneling and boring. Since it runs on air pressure and packs the highest wallop, a pneumatic can dig through these tough surfaces more easily and efficiently, which is best for both the user and your business–not to mention the happiness of the client at how quickly you get the job done.

An electric is also very powerful; however, it runs on electrical energy and is not pressurized with air for that special type of driving power.

An electric is best used if you’re doing any short-term remodeling in or around your home or any task that doesn’t require major power or extended use for months or years to come. Furthermore, the price point of the electric will be notably lower when you start checking them out and comparing.


If you’re about to buy or rent a jackhammer and don’t want to worry about carrying an abundance of heavy equipment, then it will be best for you to choose an electric. This is the case, of course, if you don’t need the larger amount of power that the air tool can provide.

Remember that all of the mechanisms required for an electric to function are contained within the tool itself, save the electric power supply. A pneumatic requires a separate air compressor and hose. While the electric is typically a good bit heavier, you definitely won’t need as many components like you would with a pneumatic.


It’s also quite possible that you’ll be using the hammer in a zone with noise regulations, such as a residential area or similar. If this is the case and the job isn’t too extensive or tough, then it’ll be best to use an electric. Even though they also produce a considerable amount of noise, there really isn’t much of a comparison here because the electric is much quieter than the pneumatic could ever be.

However, if you need the extra power, don’t mind the extra equipment, and noise restrictions aren’t bothering your neighborhood Grinch, then go for the air hammer!


If you’re working or are going to be working on a construction site or anything commercial-based, it’s far and away more efficient and professional to use a pneumatic. These are commonly used at construction sites and for good reasons, so don’t try and reinvent the wheel unless you have a good reason to do so.

Again, electric jackhammers are commonly used at the home for their convenient, easy, affordable, and portable usability, and you can easily buy them at online or at local retailers.


Both require protective gear and common sense safety information, of course. However, electricity-based tools do come with added safety hazards while the pneumatic can be more damaging to your hearing.

In this case, both types have the same degree of cautions.

Which One is Best: Pneumatic or Electric?

These tools are powerful, versatile, and excellent, and can be used for a variety of construction, excavation, or mining tasks. They can be used for personal or commercial use, and have easy-to-follow safety standards.

While there are some other choices on the market, the two most popular types today are pneumatic and electric. These tools have different pros and cons and work best with what’s situational, depending on what YOU need, so choose the tool that best fits YOUR needs!

If you need additional help, educate yourself on other DIY tools.