“Buy quality tools, and they’ll last you a lifetime.” This phrase, which I learned from my dad, was burned into my mind when I was in high school. Every so often, I thank him for teaching me this valuable lesson at such a young age. The last time I bought a cordless combo kit was about 6 years ago, and it was indeed an investment made to last my lifetime. Up until now, I’ve been satisfied with that kit, and, if I had a problem, it was covered under the company’s lifetime warranty. I never even thought about grabbing something new like the Milwaukee M18 4 tool kit.
The one thing I didn’t take into consideration, however, was “the gimmies.”
You know, that feeling deep inside that always wants the model that’s the fastest, shiniest, most efficient, most ergonomic, etc? Take buying a new vehicle, for instance. How many of us buy a new truck because ours stopped running completely, and we absolutely needed a new one?
No, we typically buy a new one because we want something newer. That’s “the gimmies.”
It happened to me (again) when I was asked to review the Milwaukee M18 4 Tool Kit (the cordless combo kit with the one-handed reciprocating M18 HackZall, M18 impact driver, hammer drill, and work light). I was dazzled by the new features I had been missing on my, now seemingly, clunky old kit. It’s amazing how quickly you can go from being proud of your trusty cordless tools, to drooling over the sleeker, faster and more powerful models.
XC High Capacity RedLithium Battery
The first thing I noticed about the Milwaukee kit was how light each tool was compared to mine. One of the reasons is because of the new RedLithium batteries. They are almost half the size of my old ones—and they last twice as long. They also feature an onboard fuel gauge, which indicates the remaining charge across 4 bars on the front. This feature is becoming more and more of a standard now on most brands, and I love it. How many times have you grabbed your reciprocating saw and gotten half-way through a cut before the battery died? While I could beat myself up over not having a better method of making sure my batteries are charged regularly, the fact remains—sometimes I just plain forget.
With this Milwaukee kit, I’ve found myself charging the batteries about once every two weeks. Given that schedule, it’s easy to forget these things even need to recharge! We haven’t entered the winter season yet, but I’m looking forward to testing Milwaukee’s claims regarding use of the batteries in extreme cold weather (You can see some cold weather tool testing in this issue’s 12V impact driver roundup article.).
While compact, I find the RedLithium batteries to be heftier and sturdier in feel than many others. For even more weight savings, Milwaukee also offers a compact model that features half the amp-hour rating (1.5 Ah or 2.0 Ah). In terms of robustness and build-quality, I probably wouldn’t think twice if I dropped one out of the truck. It would likely survive undamaged.
Milwaukee designs its tools such that the batteries insert from different sides as needed. For instance, the two buttons that release the battery are on the front for the impact driver, but on the back for the HackZall. While it might seem a tad annoying to have to remember which side to remove the battery from, I couldn’t help but notice that the design tended to keep the battery sled from fighting gravity during heavy use.
Milwaukee 1/4″ Hex Compact Impact Driver
Impact drivers are awesome! I find myself using them for jobs that I don’t even need them for—like 1-5/8” drywall screws. It’s totally unnecessary, but because it’s smaller than the typical cordless drill, I often grab the impact driver when I need to sink just about any screw. In plumbing, the impact driver is very handy when stumbling across old rusted screws that are near-impossible to get out with a normal screwdriver or cordless tool. Next time you’re stuck, try applying a little WD-40 and then using an impact driver—it works wonders. The M18 2650-20 is Milwaukee’s single-speed brushed model, and it provides 1,400 in-lbs of torque, making it one of the most powerful impact drivers in its class. Back in March, when we reviewed most of the impact drivers on the market, this model’s brushless cousin displayed one of the best tested torque results. It features a 4-pole frameless motor that uses rare earth magnets. The trigger has a smooth travel, and it is easy to control the variable speed, particularly when compared to my other impact driver. The quick-change chuck is well-designed, has good grip and works exactly like it should.
My favorite feature of the impact driver, however, has got to be the LED light. I’m so happy that companies are finally including these on their cordless tools. It makes my life so much easier since I’m constantly under cabinets or in dark basements where the light is never where I need it. I am a little disappointed that this model doesn’t have the feature where the LED light stays on for a few seconds after the trigger has been released. That would have made the light much more convenient, keeping me from having to hold the trigger down when I need some illumination. Overall, this has been the “MVP” tool in the kit that’s got me out of a lot of jams. I’m really happy with its performance to-date.
- Model: 2650-20
- Voltage: 18V
- Length: 5-3/4 in.
- Chuck: 1/4 in. hex
- Peak Torque: 1,400 in-lbs.
- No Load Speed: 0-2,200 RPM
- No Load IPM: 0-3,200
- Tool Warranty: 5 years
M18 HackZall Cordless One-Handed Reciprocating Saw
This is by far my favorite tool of the group, and the HackZall is the main reason I think a plumber would want to go for this particular combo kit (2695-24). All my life, I’ve been using a two-handed, full-size reciprocating saw. Honestly, I found myself getting frustrated with the design. My current model requires you to hold in a safety button in order to pull the trigger—a feature that annoys me to no end. Just try to use a tool like this when your hands are full and you’re on a ladder—actually, no, don’t try that.
It’s this lack of one-handed usability that makes me dislike the linear shape of most reciprocating saws. At least once a week, I need to cut a section of 3” ABS pipe, and I like to use my SawZall. The problem is that, when I’m cutting, I like to hold the pipe to minimize any excess vibrations that could loosen up a joint further along where I can’t see. Trying to cut a vertical pipe with one hand on the pipe and one hand on a SawZall is very frustrating (not to mention dangerous and not recommended). Milwaukee’s new one-handed tool makes this task so much safer and easier. The HackZall feels very comfortable in my hand and is not too heavy to hold it out horizontally when cutting a vertical pipe. Also, it doesn’t seem to eat through the battery nearly as fast as my other saw. Like the other tools in the kit, the HackZall has an LED light which always comes in handy.
I like the design of the blade clamp for changing out blades. To install a blade, you just twist the knob at the base, push the blade in, and it locks in place. This design is even better than the pull-out levers because it minimizes any chance of slipping and cutting your hand by accident. The HackZall has a 3/4” stroke and can reach a maximum speed of 3,000 strokes per minute. It is surprisingly smooth, considering how small it is and how fast the blade is moving, likely attributable to an anti-vibration system Milwaukee has built right into the tool. That’s a feature I’m used to seeing in larger saws, but whatever they’ve done, it keeps this tool from tearing up your hand during use.
- Model: 2625-20
- Voltage: 18V
- Stroke: 3/4 in.
- No Load Speed: 0-3,000 strokes per min.
- Tool Warranty: 5 years
- Keyless blade clamp
Milwaukee M18 Cordless 1/2” Hammer Drill/Driver
Ever since I got my cordless impact driver, I tend to use the regular 1/2” hammer drill less and less. Usually, the only time I pull this out is when I need to drill through a soft material like wood or plastic. I’ve failed many times to drill a clean hole that will hold a Tapcon fastener in concrete, so now I typically use my rotary hammer. Even with that said, I still used this drill quite a bit in the last month because it’s simply not as bulky as my other one. The 2625-20 has a lot of torque—so much that I almost twisted my wrist when I was using my hole saws. That’s the problem with a smaller tool that has more torque: It tends to creep up on you.
Like the M18 impact driver, the 1/2” hammer drill/driver also packs a ton of punch. It doesn’t have as much torque as the impact gun, just 550 in-lbs, but it delivers it smoothly. That’s perfect for drilling applications. I also found out that I don’t need to worry about overheating the drill because it has overload protection and will shut down the tool when you abuse it. It actually takes quite a bit to get that to kick in…though I managed it when drilling a series of particularly large holes with a hole saw.
If you don’t have a good rotary hammer, the 2602-20 will get the job done for smaller concrete drilling. It’s got a lot of RPMs and it’s particularly effective when setting 5/32″ or 3/16″ diameter holes. The trigger has a nice range of speed to it and feels even smoother to me than the impact gun. There are two speeds available with a 550 RPM maximum on low (1) and 1,700 RPM on high (2). While I probably use this tool the least of everything in the kit, I still really like the design and durability. And that last part is really important as I have a habit of dropping tools off step ladders. I’m thankful Milwaukee used an all metal gear case and a tough tool body. This drill is built to last and feels very substantial in your hand, while still being surprisingly light (less than 5 pounds, even with the XC battery installed). There are still some things you simply need a ratcheting chuck for, and this is a great tool to have close by.
- Model: 2602-20
- Voltage: 18V
- Length: 8-1/2 in.
- Chuck: 1/2 in. metal ratcheting
- Peak Torque: 525 in-lbs.
- No Load Speed: 0-550/1,700 RPM
- No Load BPM: 0-29,000
- Tool Warranty: 5 years
Milwaukee M18 & M12 Multi-Voltage Charger
I did mention above that I’m not good with charging my batteries. I know some people who never have a dead battery because they keep an inverter in their truck and charge while driving to the job site. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet formed that good habit. There are two reasons I like this charger. First, it fits both the M12 and the M18 batteries, and second, it’s small and light. Even though you are able to place two different batteries on the charger at once, only one of them will charge at a time. The second battery will be on standby until the first is fully charged—only then will it begin to charge. To charge both batteries at once you’d have to double the circuits and internal components—essentially you’d have the guts of two battery chargers (and all the increased current requirements that brings). Considering you get dual-functionality for no extra cost, I’ll take the M12 “freebie”. One consideration for Milwaukee: Even though I like the small size of this charger, I think I would trade that in for a second M18 slot. When I charge a battery, I typically like to do both of them at the same time, something that’s lost with the choice of adding an M12 option to a kit which ships with two M18 XC sled packs.
Milwaukee M18 Work Light
Normally I like to start with a few positives, but in this case I need to point out two flaws I found right off the bat with the 49-24-0171 work light. The first is the fact that you can cook an egg on the lens if it’s been running for more than 5 minutes. For me, this is a big negative because I’m always cramped in a tight space and will brush my skin against the light every time I use it. After I burn my skin, I quickly pull my arm away from the light and smack my elbow off something hard and, well, you can guess the rest. The second flaw is figuring out how to turn it on. They managed to camouflage the button so well that you need to use your finger and feel around until you find it. I would have preferred if they would have made the button red, instead of black on black, or if they would have given some sort of indentation to help you locate it. Remember, this is a flashlight, so you are always using it when you’re already having a hard time seeing something. The thing I did like was the shape of the light and how I was always able to get the angle I needed. I’ve been trying to find a way to use the fold-away utility hook, but haven’t found it necessary yet. The Xenon incandescent bulb is very bright and lights up the space nicely and evenly. With just a few small modifications, this could be a really great light. Overall, it serves it’s purpose, and for the most part I’m happy with it. For those of you motivated, Milwaukee sells an LED upgrade bulb (49-81-0090) that will all but eliminate the heat issues I mentioned and give you a lamp that will likely outlive the work light itself. The downside is that it costs $30.
Plain and simple: I love this kit. Over the last month, it has outperformed my expectations, and I hardly ever have to charge the batteries due to the fact that all the tools have excellent run-time. With very few exceptions, I am very happy with each tool in the kit. They are well thought-out, sturdy and dependable, making this a kit that should last a good long time. I’m thankful the folks over at Milwaukee are inventing new features and continuing to enhance their products—even if it does give me the gimmies. In some ways, I’m sad to see my old kit sitting on the workbench at the shop collecting dust. It’s kind of like that old Chevy you might have in the garage, but we both know that someday we’ll get it back out to show our kids and remember why we bought it in the first place.
- M18 Cordless Lithium-Ion 1/2” Hammer Drill/Driver (2602-20)
- HackZall M18 Cordless Lithium-ion One-Handed Recip Saw (2625-20)
- M18 1/4″ Hex Compact Impact Driver (2650-20)
- 2 x M18 RedLithium XC High Capacity Batteries (48-11-1828)
- M18 & M12 Multi-Voltage Charger (48-59-1812)
- M18 Work Light (49-24-0171)
- Contractor Bag
There are a range of prices available online, and it doesn’t look like the big box stores are carrying the combo kit. The best price I could find was on Amazon for $395. There were some other prices out there a little better, but once you add the shipping costs, they came out higher.