When expansion PEX first came to the table, there was only one tool to expand the material and that was a hand pump. You would have to put the stiffening ring on the tip of the PEX, place the expanding head in the opening and then pump and rotate the tool by hand and repeat until the PEX line was stretched enough to get the end onto your joint. That doesn’t sound like the most practical way of doing things, does it? Well, Milwaukee didn’t think so either and so they developed the ProPex Expander on their M12 platform and recently followed it up with an M18 model. DeWalt has seen how popular PEX has become and have now stepped forward with their own take on the PEX expansion tool, dubbed the DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander.
Right then… What Comes in DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander Kit?
Well, as I said above it’s DeWalt’s take on a PEX Expander. The tool is exclusively for Type-A PEX tubing and will expand 3/8-inch up to 1-inch tubing with the use of 3 heads that come in the kit. When you shell out your hard-earned $459 (pricing hasn’t been released for us in the great white North yet but expect it to land somewhere around $570CAD) to buy this puppy here’s what you get in the box:
- DCE400 Expander tool
- (2) DCB203 Compact XR Lithium Ion 2.0AH Battery
- DCB112 Charger
- PEX Expander Grease
- (3) Expander Heads; ½ in., ¾ in. and 1 in.
- (1) Fancy black carrier box
The only other competitor to this tool are Milwaukee’s ProPex Expansion tools. The M12 kit will set you back $399 with compact batteries or $459 with XC packs. The M18 is a different animal with a $759 price tag and XC batteries.
So what’s it got then?
Well for starters, the DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander has an automatic rotating head, which means that each time the tool’s head contracts, it rotates ever so slightly which takes away the need to turn the tool while working to expand the tubing. If the head were to only expand in one place then you risk getting a leak on that joint, as the PEX tube has not been uniformly stretched.
The trigger runs the length of the tool in a paddle style, ideal for tighter spaces, and activates an LED light when engaged. There is a dual sided hang hook as well as belt hook. The belt hook can be installed on either side, but the toolbox will only close if installed on the same side as the hang hook. The DeWalt DCE400 is compatible with any competitor’s PEX heads.
Finally, this is one of DeWalt’s Made in the USA with Global Materials tools. It comes out of their Charlotte, NC manufacturing facility.
What’s it like to use?
Grease it Up
Well, first thing first before I got to use the DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander, I dove right into the tube of organic grease. This is what allows the tool to rotate after it expands and it cuts down on friction, making the tool work less. Without the grease one of two things can happen. First, it will expand the PEX joint but not rotate. If that goes unnoticed, as I stated earlier, the PEX will expand, but because it is not uniformly stretched, the joint may leak.
Second, during the expansion process, the head can seize open making it difficult to get the tool out of the PEX. If this does happen, fret not friends, just unscrew the head until the it pops off the tool. My suggestion though, lubricate the expander cone before you get busy using it. You can also use that grease as a spread for toast if you forgot your jam at home. However, I can’t attest to the taste, but it is organic (there’s no mention if it is GMO-free though!).
A Quick Tour
The DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander is about as easy and foolproof as can be. But like any tool, there are some pros and cons. The tool feels very good in your hand and seems to be built with quality. The light is decently bright and works wonders in lighting up your work area in lower light conditions. It stays on for 2 minutes, 30 seconds on high and shuts down after 3 minutes if you need to use it as a flashlight.
The belt clip is a nice feature as well, though I found myself constantly choosing the top hang hook, as it’s beefier and easier to locate. The wide flat battery allows for the tool to be set down in the upright position. However, I don’t recommend doing this since it’s a tall tool and easy to hit and knock over.
It makes short work of expanding the PEX joints, which translates into time and money savings over the hand pump expanders over the long run. The ergonomics of the tool are also about as good as it gets and are remarkably similar to its only other competition on the market.
The cons here are more just nitpicking. First off, the case will only close if the tool is set up with both hooks the same way. Not a huge deal, but I prefer to keep the hooks on opposite sides. So when it comes time to stow the tool, the carry case is not ideal as a home. That being said, it will fit two 6.0AH batteries, which is cool if you are roughing in Bruce Wayne’s mansion, I suppose.
Lastly and more importantly, I find that when I have to get into small or narrow areas to use the expander, the large bottom makes it difficult to maneuver.
Time to Work
In my time using this tool, I used it on all 3 sizes of water line and it handled them without a problem. It’s worth noting that as you go up in water line size, the harder the tool has to work due to the thickness of the PEX, which results in more time in reaching the proper expansion for the PEX to be connected to the fitting. At no time did the DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander ever feel overexerted. It operates smoothly and precisely every time the cone expands.
The only troubleshooting I had to do was when I was testing the limits of this tool (admittedly there are very few). If you do not tighten the expander head fully, the head will get stuck in the open position a refuse to close. If this happens, the fix is simple. Lock the tool for safety and unscrew the head completely from the expander at which point it will pop itself free. Then simply tighten it again and continue with your connections.
Now, let’s take a quick look at the battery. It was hard getting an approximation on how long the expander will run on a charge as the past couple weeks here have seen lower temperatures which will naturally drain a full battery more quickly. Still, you should have no problem roughing in a standard sized house with one battery (2.5 baths). That being said, always have that second battery ready to go just in case.
About that competition…
The folks over a DeWalt made a very bold statement stating that their expander is the fastest PEX Expander on the market and therefore like any gearhead or tool guy, I couldn’t wait to test the validity of their claim.
So… is it faster than Milwaukee’s M12?
The DeWalt does indeed open and close faster than the Milwaukee M12. The DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander assembled my test PEX header in 2:09.54 and the Milwaukee in 2:11.17 making DeWalt the clear winner.
But what does that mean?
Well in my numerous tests in the different diameter tubing ranging from ½ to 1-inch diameter I found that the DeWalt was faster by almost a full second every time. However, both tools spec out to 60 SPM on the speed side and a second is well within a level of error that can be due to human error.
In the real world?
It doesn’t mean much, as the difference in time is almost negligible at 2+ minutes.
The Bottom line
The DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander is a solid tool. It’s fast, easy to use, and gets the job done. It’s a welcome addition for plumbers who swear by the DeWalt name brand and want to keep only a single line of tools in their possession. Even against Milwaukee’s M12 Expander, DeWalt performs very well and bests it in a close speed race.
DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander Key Features
- Expands 3/8 in. – 1 in. Pex Type-A tubing
- Automatic rotating head action for even expansion
- Full trigger actuation for use in tight spaces
- Bright LED work light to help illuminate dark areas
- Dual-sided hang and belt hooks for convenient storage
- Rubber overmold for comfortable, ergonomic grip
- Uses DEWALT PEX Heads
- Compatible with Milwaukee and Uponor Heads.
DeWalt 20V Max PEX Expander Specifications
- Model: DeWalt DCE400D2
- Power Source: DeWalt 20V Max battery
- Capacity: 3/8 IN. – 1 IN. PEX Type A Tubing
- Speed: 60 SPM
- Length: 6.75″
- Weight: 3.93 lb
- Warranty: 3 years
- Price: $299 (bare), $399.00 (kit)