Milwaukee 12V Brushless Tools Review
It takes a lot to surprise me, it really does. Maybe that’s because I’m a “been there, done that” kind of guy and there are only so many ways you can stylize a drill or saw. There have been some eye-openers over the last few years… making a one-handed reciprocating saw, for example—that was new. Or coming up with a tool-less way to change oscillating multi-tool blades—brilliant. But after drills started dabbling in brushless last year, which I thought was pretty cool in terms of the run-time gains, I thought we were back to the mundane. Then came Milwaukee 12V Brushless tools as part of their M12 line of cordless tools.
I was fortunate enough to get some hands-on time with these tools and see what they could do, but not fortunate enough to get final production samples. That means I was able to get a good feel for what Milwaukee is bringing to market this year and convey that to you, but torque testing and battery life testing will need to wait for a later article. The best way I know how to give you a sneak peek at these tools is to go over each one in as much detail as I can. Later I can take them head to head against the competition and see if “Big Red” has really latched onto something here.
Milwaukee 12V Brushless Tools Overview
In case you’re not already a Milwaukee tool owner, the company has a pretty specific model numbering system. In the case of the M12 Brushless products (and, in fact, most of their cordless tools), a tool ending in “-22”, means that it comes with 2 RedLithium batteries. If it ends in “-20” then it’s just the bare tool with no battery or charger. Each of the six new products are available in both configurations.
So what new tools are there? The six new M12 FUEL models span drill/drivers, impact drivers and impact wrenches. They share similar characteristics and even some upgraded features. For example, contrary to the first-gen M12 products, the LED now comes on when you tap the trigger. And, even better, it stays on for 10 seconds. This gives you the option of lighting your work area even before you’re ready to begin driving a fastener.
But there are some minor aesthetic changes to the new M12 drills as well. The grip texture has changed, as has some of the accent detail on the area surrounding the trigger, which itself is slightly smoother. The drills still have the same raked back angle of the original, but the grip has been slightly reshaped to give it a more dramatic curve at the top. It’s very much leaning towards a revolver-style pistol grip—and why not? Those have been around since the 1800’s. The rubber overmold also feels a bit softer and it wraps all the way around the handle instead of leaving some of the plastic exposed in the middle. It’s a marked improvement for those who are planning to have one of these tools in the hand for a good part of the day.
The LED is now slightly recessed into the plastic which seems to provide a little more protection and the new tools all come with an integrated belt clip that can be reversed to either side of the tool. It’s not something you want to rely on when climbing up a high tower, but it will work in a pinch if you need to free up a hand.
Milwaukee M12 FUEL Drill/Driver (2403-22) and Hammer Drill/Driver (2404-22)
The original Milwaukee 2411-22 M12 3/8″ Hammer Drill was an impressive tool. Milwaukee was the first company (that we were aware of at least) to release a sub-compact 12V hammer drill to the market in 2010. The product targeted, in particular, electricians and maintenance workers—anyone who found themselves frequently drilling small diameter holes in concrete on a regular basis. What made the tool impressive was the fact that it measured just 7-5/8″ long. The new Milwaukee M12 FUEL 2404-22 and the non-hammer model, the 2403-22, are actually slightly longer at 7-7/8″ and 7-3/4″ respectively.
But they both have a 1/2″ chuck.
Say what? Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. A modern 12V cordless drill never has a 1/2″ chuck, it has a 3/8″ chuck. Milwaukee did the math, so to speak, and realized that with their new 4.0 RedLithium battery platform, and the FUEL brushless motor, there was an ability to achieve the level of power typically put out by earlier-generation 18V tools. So where their original M12 hammer drill puts out 275 in-lbs of torque, the new brushless M12 FUEL does 350 in-lbs (a ~27% increase) and, thanks to RedLithium 4.0, it will do it for longer. I’ll trade an 1/8″ in length for that any day. To put this into perspective, there are many examples of 18V NiCad hammer drills back in the day that didn’t have much more than this level of torque. With the 2404, Milwaukee is releasing an M12 sub-compact product that actually delivers what used to be 18V performance. It seems all of our tools are getting stronger and more capable. I’m drawing the line right now, however, on side handles—Milwaukee, please take note!
In addition to the chuck, Milwaukee bumped the top speed up to 1700 rpm. The mode switch for the gearbox, which sets the tool in either drill, driver, or hammer mode (2404-22), now includes protective side bumpers similar to what you see on the new Milwaukee M18 FUEL drivers. Those bumpers also serve to make the switch easy to spin and set the mode for the tool. The 18-position clutch also adjusts easily with that satisfying click I love to hear and feel, and it looks just a little bit more industrial this time around as Milwaukee ditched the black paint that used to surround the numbers.
And, as we alluded to earlier, perhaps the biggest change is that both the 2403-22 and 2404-22 kits ship with two new batteries – one each of Milwaukee’s RedLithium 2.0 and XC4.0 models. Between the brushless motor and the new power-dense batteries, these drills should run longer and drill faster than anything else currently on the market in the 12V category.
The Milwaukee 2403-22 and 2404-22 drill kits each come with a RedLithium 2.0 battery, a RedLithium XC4.0 battery, an M12 charger and a hard plastic case. The M12 FUEL 1/2″ Hammer Drill/Driver retails for $189 in kit form and $139 for the bare tool. The non-Hammer model shaves $10 off the price of the kit and/or the bare tool.
Milwaukee M12 FUEL 1/4″ Hex Impact Driver (2453-22)
If there is a “most improved” award for the six new M12 tools Milwaukee is putting out, that might go to the new FUEL Impact Driver. The current model, the 2450-22, is excellent, pumping out 850 in-lbs of torque and spinning at a maximum of 2000 rpm. That’s pretty good for a 12V driver. The new Milwaukee 2453-22 impact driver, however, kicks out 1200 in-lbs of torque and hits a top speed of 2650 rpm. Now you’re into the 18V territory. In fact, this new M12 Impact Driver claims—on paper at least—90% of the torque and nearly the same or faster speed as DeWalt’s 18V DC825KA or Makita’s 18V BTD141.
Whereas the new Milwaukee M12 Hammer Drill and Drill/Driver increased length slightly to accommodate a larger chuck size, the 2453-22 shrinks from 6-1/2″ to just over 6″ in length. That means that the new RedLithium battery technology and brushless motor were able to increase power by a full 40% or more while shaving nearly 1/2″.
The new Milwaukee FUEL Impact Driver has the same minor ergonomic tweaks to the handle and the LED light is again pulled back a bit to give it some additional protection from falls. On the top of the tool is the RedLink Plus electronic speed control switch that allows you to go between two different toque/speed settings. This is perfect for when you want to dial back the tool for installing hinges or performing other more sensitive jobs where you don’t want to risk torquing the head off a fastener. We also like that Milwaukee added a new rubberized ring around the front nose of the tool to help you avoid marring the work surface if you need to get into a tight space. The hex chuck is of the quick-load variety, so you don’t have to pull it out to load a bit, only to release it. This is a huge time-saver and a great convenience feature.
The Milwaukee 2453-22 kit comes with two RedLithium 2.0 batteries, an M12 charger and a hard plastic case. It retails for $169 and the bare tool can be picked up for just $119.
Milwaukee M12 FUEL 1/4″ Hex 2-Speed Driver (2402-22)
Updating the Milwaukee 2401-20 driver, the new Milwaukee 2402-20 M12 FUEL 1/4″ Hex Driver does a lot of things right. First, because it was noticeable, the length of the tool was reduced from 7″ down to 6-5/8″. That may not seem surprising given the space savings of the Powerstate brushless motor, but Milwaukee also changed up the gearbox, separating out the mode switch for drill/driver and switching to the same (as least as far as appearances go) 18-position clutch that is used on their new M12 FUEL drills.
Next, they applied the same ergonomic improvements so it’s comfortable to use. But the tool is also faster, stronger and more versatile. How? Well the max torque nearly doubled from 175 in-lbs to 325 in-lbs. Top speed increased from 500 rpm to 1700 rpm. But for those who liked the more controllable lower speed range of the former model, Milwaukee also added a two-speed gear box so you can better constrain the range of the variable speed trigger.
For fast bit changes, the 2402 comes with a Quick Change hex chuck which pulls out with one hand to allow removal of the bit. To insert a bit you simply push one in and the chuck locks back down into the ready position (in fact, the chuck won’t reset until you insert a bit). It’s not as smooth to use as the Impact Driver, but we like the way this allows easy insertion and removal with one hand.
Similar to the new Impact Driver, the 2402-22 kit comes with two RedLithium 2.0 batteries, an M12 charger and a hard plastic case. It retails for $169 with the bare tool coming in at $119.
M12 FUEL 1/4″ Impact Wrench (2452-22) and 3/8″ Impact Wrench (2454-22)
The Milwaukee 12V cordless impact wrench has fast become a very popular tool for electricians and mechanical contractors. If that’s your trade, you already know this and you can relate back to the days before tools were this small and efficient. It’s no big surprise that Milwaukee would upgrade their existing 3/8″ model 2451-22 to the latest FUEL technology. But they also rolled out a 1/4″ model – and that’s the first cordless model on the market in that size that I’m aware of (and if not, be sure to write in and let me know). The 1/4″ impact wrench is perfect for HVAC technicians who are constantly dismantling and re-assembling air handlers and condenser units all day long. While an impact driver certainly works, the friction ring 1/4″ square drive anvil allows you to use your standard 5/16″ sockets without an adapter. This shortens the overall tool length during use and lets you get into tighter spaces – like squeezing in next to a house or accessing a panel in a garage.
Both tools use Milwaukee’s 2-mode Drive Control, which is an electronic control system like the one found on their new FUEL Impact Driver. This lets them operate at two different speed ranges and torque settings. So while the 2454 looks identical to the 1/4″ 2452 except for the 3/8″ square drive, that’s not the full story. Whereas the 1/4″ Impact Wrench maxes out at 10 and 42 ft-lbs (120/500 in-lbs) in its dual modes, the 3/8″ model does 17 and 117 ft-lbs (200/1400 in-lbs). That’s nearly a 40% increase in torque for the 3/8″ 2454-22 over its predecessor.
So while the 1/4″ Impact Wrench is perfect for low-torque applications, the 3/8″ model gets you to where you can start to use the tool for jobs that would appeal to mobile mechanics, MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) and anyone dealing with repetitive assembly tasks—to name a few.
Both the Milwaukee 2452-22 and 2454-22 kits come with two RedLithium 2.0 batteries, an M12 charger and a hard plastic case. Either tool retails for $199 and the bare tools cost $149.
The Future Looks Smaller
With 12V tools that have similar specs to the 18V tools of years past, the future is looking… well, smaller. There is no question that 18V tools are still required for heavy duty jobs that take a lot more torque and run-time than even these new tools can offer, but it’s amazing just how much I can get done these days with a well-designed 12V tool. So am I still amazed at the performance and specs of the new M12 FUEL line of tools? Yeah, absolutely. I’m just wondering what it’s going to take to surprise me the next time around… drills that are powered by water?