Launch Slideshow

Milwaukee M18 FUEL Raises the Bar for Brushless

Milwaukee M18 FUEL Raises the Bar for Brushless

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    Milwaukee Electric Tool

    M18 FUEL Sawzall. This brushless recip saw is one of the more promising new models. During a demonstration at the media event, I ran it against a corded Milwaukee Sawzall (not the Super Sawzall) and some competing cordless models, and it cut faster than all of them. Granted, the manufacturer got to choose which models to pit it against, but that it could come even close (not to mention surpass) a corded model was pretty impressive. The FUEL Sawzall weighs 8.9 pounds, has a 1 1/8-inch stroke, and goes 0-3,000 spm. Features include an adjustable shoe, an integrated LED light, and a hang hook that folds out of the way when not in use. The tool will be sold in multiple configurations: with two batteries (2720-22), one battery (2720-21), and bare (2720-20). Online price: two-battery kit $399; bare $199.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    This photo shows the results of a runtime test performed by Milwaukee before the media event. The pieces behind the saws are 2x12s that were cross cut by the saws and then nailed up the wall to show how many cuts each saw could make per charge. On the left is the new M18 FUEL model with a 4.0 Ah battery. The second saw is an M18 tool with an unknown battery—could be 3.0 Ah or 4.0 Ah. The third and fourth saws were painted gray to represent “Brand X” in the testing. Saw number three appears to be DeWalt’s 20V MAX model – probably with a 3.0 Ah battery. Saw number four is a DeWalt XRP model with a NiCad battery. Being selected as a “Brand X” tool is akin’ to being a member of the Washington Generals, the team the Harlem Globetrotters always play. If you’re a Washington General, you’re going to lose and possibly be made to look foolish. Almost every tool company does this; I was at DeWalt event over the summer and a Milwaukee tool was painted gray and got to be a Washington General.

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    Milwaukee Electric Tool

    M18 FUEL Circular Saw. This 6 1/2-inch brushless saw is an impressive machine. According to the manufacturer, it offers 30% faster cutting, 2X more runtime, and 3X more motor life than the competition. I can’t vouch for the saw’s runtime or life but having used it to make a few cuts through a triple layer of OSB, I can say it feels very much like using a corded saw. It weighs 8 pounds, has a no-load speed of 5,000 rpm, and bevels up to 50 degrees. Features include a cast magnesium shoe, magnesium upper and lower guards, a folding rafter hook, and an LED light. The saw is available bare (2730-20) and in one- (2730-21) and two-battery (2730-22) kits. Online price: two-battery kit $399; bare $199.

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    Milwaukee Electric Tool

    M18 FUEL Grinders. Cordless grinders have traditionally been one of the lamer cordless tools. They looked like grinders but were typically sold as cut-off tools, as they lacked the power and stamina needed for grinding. The FUEL grinders can certainly be used as cut-off tools, but they’re also credible as grinders. At the media event, I was able to run them against competing cordless models (Hilti and Makita—with unspecified batteries) and they clearly had more power. The FUEL grinders take 4 1/2- and 5-inch disks and are available with a non-locking paddle switch (2780) or a locking slide switch (2781)—for when OSHA’s not watching. Both tools weigh 5.8 pounds and have a maximum speed of 8,500 rpm. They are available bare (2780-20; 2781-20) and in one- (2780-21; 2781-21) and two-battery (2780-22; 2781-22) kits. Online price: two-battery kit $399; one-battery kit $299; bare $169.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    In this demonstration attendees were invited to bear down hard while grinding steel plate with different cordless grinder. The “Brand X” models appear to be from Makita (left) and Hilti (center). I tried all three tools and had little trouble stalling the two on the left. The grinder on the right is one of the new M18 FUEL tools. You could really lean into it and it wouldn’t stall the motor.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    This rig was designed to demonstrate cutting speed. The tools are turned on and then allowed to slide down in the fixture while cutting through steel. Cutting pressure is supplied by weights (the silver cylinders) at the top of each fixture. There was a timer but I don’t remember the times. The M18 FUEL grinder beat the “Brand X” tools. The corded grinder in the middle appears to be a Makita and the cordless tool on the right a 20V MAX DeWalt.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    Milwaukee cut openings through the forward housings of these tools to show that the M18 FUEL cordless grinder on the right has more or less the same gears as the corded model on the left.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    M18 FUEL High Torque Impact Wrenches. You’re looking at four different high-torque impact wrenches (HTIW) that share the same powertrain: battery, electronics, switch, motor, and gear reduction. They differ only in their chucks and impact mechanisms—differences that allow them to optimized to the key applications for each type of tool. From left to right they are the 1/2-inch friction ring model, 1/2-inch pin detent model, 3/4-inch friction ring model, and 7/16-inch Hex Utility Impact Drill (shown here without the hanging ring). See the next few slides for the details of each of these tools.

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    Milwaukee Electric Tool

    M18 FUEL Hex Utility Impact Drill. My first thought upon seeing this tool was, “What the heck is an impact drill?” Turns out it’s something I’d know about if I did utility work, where it’s necessary to drill holes through telephone and electrical poles. The idea behind this tool is simple: make it safer and easier to drive auger bits through thick timber. The impact mechanism negates the reaction force that can throw the operator for a loop when the bit jams or the drilling gets hard. The impact drill has a 7/16-inch hex chuck, a variable-speed trigger, and two different modes. Mode 1 delivers up to 300 ft-lbs of fastening torque, and Mode 2 up to 500 ft-lbs of fastening torque. The tool can be used for both drilling and fastening. Its most prominent feature (besides the chuck) is the ring on top for securing it to a lanyard to prevent falls. The Hex Utility Impact Drill is available bare (2756-20) and in a two-battery kit (2756-22). Online pricing: two-battery kit $499; bare $269.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    M18 FUEL1/2-inch HTIW with pin detent. A pin detent is the standard mechanism for attaching sockets—the same spring-loaded ball-bearing that is found on a socket wrench. The pin detent is designed to hold sockets firmly in place. The tool produces up to 350 ft-lbs of fastening torque in Mode 1, and up to 600 ft-lbs in Mode 2. This tool will be sold bare (2762-20) and in a two-battery kit (2762-22). Online price: two-battery kit $429; bare $219.

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    Milwaukee Electric Tool

    M18 FUEL 1/2-inch HTIW with friction ring. A friction ring does not hold as tightly as a pin detent, making it easier to change sockets—as might be done by a mechanic. The tool produces up to 100 ft-lbs of fastening torque in Mode 1, and up 700 ft-lbs in Mode 2. It produces up to 1,100 ft-lbs of nut-busting torque. This tool will be sold bare (2763-20) and in a two-battery kit (2763-22). Online price: two-battery kit $429; bare $219.

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    Milwaukee Electric Tool

    M18 FUEL 3/4-inch HTIW with friction ring. This tool has the same drive train and impact mechanism as the previous tool. The torque rating, though, is slightly higher—which is probably attributable to the greater mass and stiffness of the larger driver. This tool produces up to 375 ft-lbs of fastening torque in Mode 1, and up 750 ft-lbs in Mode 2. It produces up to 1,200 ft-lbs of nut-busting torque. The 3/4-inch HTIW will be sold bare (2764-20) and in a two-battery kit (2764-22). Online price: two-battery kit $499; bare $269.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    This photo shows the number of lags each high-torque impact wrench (1/2-inch friction ring models) could drive per charge in 4-by material. On the left is the M18 FUEL model with a 4.0 Ah battery. Next to it is an older M18 tool with a 3.0 Ah battery. The “Brand X” tools are from DeWalt. Tool number three is a 20V MAX—probably with a 3.0 Ah pack. Tool number four is an XRP model with a NiCad battery.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    Bonus photo #1. The media event was held in Milwaukee down the street from what had been the Pabst Brewery. I’m not sure about the building on the left—I think it was some kind of warehouse. The building on the right is the former brewhouse. It was recently converted to a high-end hotel.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    Bonus photo #2. Beer was once brewed in these giant copper kettles, which occupy a huge open space in the center of the brewhouse. The hotel rooms open onto walkways overlooking the kettles and the area is used as an event space.

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    David Frane_ToTT

    Bonus photo #3. At the end of the day they turned on the sign and for some reason it made me feel thirsty. Fortunately, our hosts thought to bring some beer—Pabst of course.

Like other makers of 18-volt pro-grade tools, Milwaukee ventured into brushless technology (its FUEL line) with impact drivers, drill/drivers, and hammer drill/drivers—the most common categories of cordless tools. With the launch of eight new FUEL models in October 2013, Milwaukee is extending brushless technology into cordless categories where it was not available before. Introductions include a recip saw, a circular saw, two grinders, an impact drill, and three heavy-duty impact wrenches.

The new FUEL tools are available in kits or bare. The kit versions include a case, one or two 4.0 Ah XC (Extended Capacity) packs, and a multi-voltage charger capable of charging M18 and M12 batteries. These tools are premium models and are more expensive than their brushed counterparts. That's to be expected given the higher cost of brushless motors, advanced electronics, and energy-dense batteries. In return for the expense, users of brushless cordless tools can expect greater runtime, longer life, and better performance than are available from brushed cordless models (for more on brushless tech, see Brushing Up On Brushless).

Milwaukee unveiled the new FUEL tools at a media event I attended this summer. While there, I was able to try most of them. In the coming months, we will follow up with actual testing of many of them. Click the photo on the left for specs, pricing, and my comments on the new FUEL tools.