Now that DeWalt has launched their Xtreme Compact brushless 12V series of tools, it’s a great time for a little one-on-one. So for this edition of the Pro Tool Reviews Thursday Throwdown, it’s DeWalt vs Milwaukee 12V impact driver – place your bets!
Editor’s Note: Be sure to check out our best cordless impact driver article for our top picks.
This is not our average shootout. We’re going to go point by point to see how these two impacts compare and call the winner as we go. Just keep in mind that everyone has different priorities. One might rack up more points, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best impact driver for everyone.
As always, we welcome your constructive comments, and let us know why you prefer DeWalt or Milwaukee when it comes to their 12V impact drivers. Also, keep in mind that while we have invested hundreds of hours collecting head-to-head data, it’s impossible for us to test every possible scenario.
DeWalt vs Milwaukee 12V Impact Driver
Let’s meet today’s competitors.
In the yellow corner, we have the DeWalt 12V Brushless Impact Driver
- Model: DeWalt DCF801
- Power Source: DeWalt 12V Max batteries
- No-Load Speed: 2850 RPM
- Max Torque: 1450 in-lbs
- Impact Rate: 3600 IPM
In the red corner, it’s the Milwaukee M12 Fuel Impact Driver
- Model: Milwaukee 2553
- Power Source: Milwaukee M12 batteries
- No-Load Speed: 0–3300 RPM
- Max Torque: 1300 in-lbs
- Impact Rate: 4000 IPM
Both of these impact drivers make massive improvements over their previous versions. DeWalt comes in at 5.1″ long and 7.4″ tall without its battery. Milwaukee sits at 5.2″ long and 6.8″ tall.
Measuring with a digital caliper, the actual difference in length is just 0.054″ with the advantage to DeWalt. Essentially, it’s a tie. Milwaukee gets the nod for having a more compact overall footprint thanks to its shorter height, but height isn’t going to matter as much as length to most users.
We measured both impact drivers on a digital scale with and without their compact 2.0Ah batteries. DeWalt weighs in at 1.74 pounds bare and 2.23 with its battery. Milwaukee is 1.78 pounds bare and 2.19 pounds with its battery.
Seeing as how we’re talking about a difference in weight of just 0.06 pounds, either way, this is a tie.
Both of these impact drivers have features that cover the basics. But what about going beyond the basics?
- Motor: Both tools have brushless motors.
- Collet: Milwaukee has one-hand bit insertion, DeWalt has one-hand insertion and bit ejection.
- Battery: DeWalt uses a slide pack, Milwaukee a pod-style—the difference affects handle design.
- Speeds: Both tools use electronic speed controls. DeWalt has 2 speeds plus an assist mode, and Milwaukee has 3 speeds and an assist mode.
- LED light: While both impact drivers have an LED light, DeWalt uses a more effective 3-LED ring.
Your winner here mainly boils down to whether you want a more effective LED light or an extra speed to work with. We’re calling this one for Milwaukee for the extra speed versatility, but we’re not going to judge if the LED is more important to you.
We have two ways to test impact driver power. In our fastening test, each impact driver fastens a hardened nut onto a bolt and we use a digital torque wrench to measure how much force it requires to break it. This test method does not give the same results as the manufacturer’s specification testing.
It takes an average of 579 in-lbs of torque to break what DeWalt fastens. However, it takes 804 in-lbs to break Milwaukee’s efforts.
While Milwaukee has a significant advantage, DeWalt has the second-highest fastening torque of all the 12V impact drivers we’ve tested.
In our second test, we proof-load the same hardened nuts to specific intervals and see how much breaking force (nut-busting torque) each impact driver has.
Here, DeWalt breaks 1800 in-lbs (150 ft-lbs) and Milwaukee is just behind at 1680 in-lbs (140 ft-lbs).
Milwaukee has a much larger advantage in fastening torque than DeWalt has in breakaway torque. You can call it a tie since each one wins one part or call it for Milwaukee because of the larger gap. We’re calling this one a tie.
We’re blowing right past small fasteners and moving up to the reasonable limit of what we expect from our impact drivers before moving to an impact wrench. By testing the speed while driving a 1/4″ lag screw, we see who can keep their RPMs rockin’ under load.
DeWalt puts in a fine effort, averaging 265.6 RPM. However, Milwaukee crushes the entire field in this test at 397 RPM.
Fastening efficiency is a measure of how hard the motor has to work under load. The closer its RPMs are to its tested no-load speed while fastening, the less strain the motor is under.
In the same ledger screw test, DeWalt maintains 9.1% of its tested no-load speed. Milwaukee’s 12.4% once again gives the red team the win.
It’s worth noting here that these are pretty low percentages and tell us that we’re right on the upper limit of how much these impact drivers can handle without risking damage to their motors. If you’re doing a lot of fastening at the 1/4″ or higher size, we recommend moving up to an 18V impact driver.
If you want to expand beyond the batteries that come in your kit, particularly for longer runtime, it’s helpful to know what’s available.
DeWalt’s 12V line only has 1P packs right now (1P = 1 set of 3 lithium-ion cells).
Milwaukee’s range gives you more options with the same capacity 1P packs and a range of 2P packs to supplement it (2P = 2 sets of 3 lithium-ion cells).
Milwaukee currently has the deepest line of tools on their 12V system against anyone. There are more than 100 tools that all work on M12 batteries.
DeWalt’s 12V line has traditionally been more limited. On the other hand, the 12V brushless tools we’ve tested so far are impressive, so here’s hoping they keep expanding.
You can buy each of these tools bare or with batteries and a charger. However, more 2-tool combo kits sell better than single tools, so we’ll consider them as well.
We encourage you to shop around to get the best deal. We price check Acme Tools, Home Depot, and Lowe’s. You might be able to find both on Amazon, but there are currently no authorized Milwaukee dealers there.
DeWalt 12V Brushless Impact Driver
- DCF801B Bare tool: $129
- DCF801F2 Kit with two 2.0Ah batteries: $149
- DCK221F2 Drill/impact driver combo with two 2.0Ah batteries: $199
DeWalt also has the impact driver kit with a TSTAK II for $154.99.
Milwaukee M12 Fuel Impact Driver
- 2553-20 Bare tool: $129
- 2553-22 Kit with 2.0Ah and 4.0Ah batteries: $129
- 2596-22 Drill/impact driver combo with 2.0Ah and 4.0Ah batteries: $229
The 2598-22 combo provides the M12 Fuel hammer drill for around the same price as the kit with the drill driver.
DeWalt and Milwaukee ping-pong on price. While it may not make a ton of practical difference, Milwaukee gives you a bit more battery capacity.
DeWalt offers a 3-year warranty with a 1-year service agreement and 90-day money-back guarantee. Milwaukee has a 5-year warranty on the tool and 3 years on their batteries. We’ll take the extra 2 years.
In this DeWalt Xtreme vs Milwaukee 12V impact driver Pro Tool Reviews Thursday Throwdown, Milwaukee comes away with the overall win. It has a significant advantage in points (7-1 with 2 ties) and never lets DeWalt take a clear advantage except in price.
It’s not a huge surprise considering how dominant the Milwaukee M12 Fuel was in our impact driver shootout. But don’t discount DeWalt too quickly. It’s the second-highest performing 12V impact we’ve tested and makes a solid case for your consideration.
Pick up Milwaukee if you’re looking for the highest performance available, a better warranty, or a deeper line of compatible tools.
Grab DeWalt if you’re looking for top-tier performance…and you just really like yellow and black.
Being that I own the DeWalt, and have used both tools extensively, The real tiebreaker is ergonomics. The DeWalt simply fits your hands better.
If you have long skinny fingers, the Milwaukee may be fine, but for the rest of us the DeWalt is the tool of choice
dewalt can’t hold a candle to the milwaukee
Can you guys do your testing on the m12 stubby. It gets confusing when you cite manufacturers numbers for some pieces and your own for others.
Hey I always appreciate your reviews as they are well done. One thing I see as a miss though as it applies to my daily use of impact drivers is the backout force. I am in the service repair industry and unscrewing stubborn fasteners is a huge issue. In my business screws used have a knurl head on the bottom side of the harden screw which then is driven into iron that is used railroad iron. Very tough materials that eat cutting blades and drill bits for lunch. I find I often have to use a ratchet with an extended… Read more »
You skip over one thing. The hand grip. I’ve used Milwaukee 12v and can’t stand the grip on them due to the battery having to go in the handle. And most guys using the Milwaukee 12v platform will say you get use to them. Sorry but no! It’s not a great tool if you have to get use to it.