Power Tools are a-Changin’

I was browsing through an industrial flyer and saw an ad for a Milwaukee’s M28 drill/driver. This 28V powerhouse of a drill can deliver a whopping 750 in-lbs of max torque. But then I remembered something – Milwaukee’s new brushless M18 Fuel drill/driver can deliver max torque of 725 in-lbs.

There’s also the fact that today’s 12V li-ion compact drill/drivers outperform some 18V models from just a couple of years ago.

A couple of years ago, the trend was to go for bigger, beefier tools. 18V became the norm. But now? Well, some people still brush aside smaller tools, fixated on how bigger is better. After all, isn’t that why “12V” cordless tool batteries are described as 12V Max instead of 10.8V? Even so, professionals are equipping themselves with more compact tools at an increasing rate.


Take a look at some of the 12V tools that we previewed recently: a one-handed M12 cordless band saw, M12 fluorescent bulb and ballast tester, an affordable infrared thermal imager, a compact 3/8″ hammer drill driver, pivoting reciprocating saw, and a 12V jig saw.

It’s obvious that manufacturers are dedicated to their 12V platforms and are thinking outside the box. Expect to see more diagnostic tools, and more tool varieties. Brands want you to buy their 18V tools AND their 12V tools, reinforcing the need for innovation and unique functionality.

Right now Milwaukee’s brushless 18V drill/driver closely approaches the torque specs of their 28V drill/driver. While there are still reasons for some users to step up to the 28V model, the gap between 18V and higher voltage platforms may narrow further if Milwaukee upgrades other M18 models with brushless motors.

It is a strange feeling, drilling through brick with a puny 12V drill the first time. Cutting through a pipe with a tiny band saw. Slapping a 12V battery into a an IR non-contact thermometer or other nontraditional power tool.

Power tool trends are a-changin’, and we’re very excited to see where things are headed next. Maybe we’ll even see some of the features we imagined when writing up the “game-changer” April Fools Day preview.


  1. says

    The new generation of high-quality, feature-rich 12V tools are really having a huge impact on industry and the DIY community. Previously, if you wanted top-end features, you were forced to buy the 18V models in most cases. 12V lines were considered “economical” (code word: basic) versions of their bigger, more powerful brothers. Now, manufacturers seem to have recognized that 12V can provide enough power for many applications, with the added benefit of allowing for compact, light-weight tools. They have finally begun to equip these smaller units with diverse and functional feature sets.

    I still prefer purchasing the full-blown units on equipment I will be using extensively (drills, impact drivers) or that greatly benefit from the added power (saws). But 12V is awesome for close quarters work, and systems like the jobmax where you gain a lot of versatility in one package.

  2. says

    The added appeal is that 12V tools and batteries cost less than 18V ones. They’re still a little pricey, but there’s not much that can be done about that.

  3. Blair says

    While the cordless advantage is not lost, I will have to say that a lot of the skilled tradsmen that I encounter on a daily basis, still rely on corded tools to perform the “tough tasks”. It may be age bias, but the corded tools never run low, bog down, or just quit, (contingent on equipment failing, or not paying the power bill) :)

    The difference may be made up in the coming years, but with the diminishing labor force of skilled trades, who is to say what the next trend will be.

    As for me, I like the lighter tools for some repetitive applications, but still rely on the corded versions for the “grunt work”.

    • fred says

      As said in the Mikado “let the punishment fit the crime”. While those lyrics were fitting to farce – what you say about tools has much more truth in it. Unless the future holds dramatically more energy-dense battery cell-couples – there will still be a limit to what we can get out of cordless tools While we still have some older 14.4 V NiMh tools hanging around – and have gone to the 36V Dewalt for cordless framing saws most of our cordless tools are either 12V (Milwaukee M12) or 18V (Makita LXT). Our installers and plumbers seem to use more of the M12 line – while the carpenters gravitate to the 18V tools. The plumbers would not try to coax either a 12V or 18V drill to turn a big selfeed bit – relying on big corded drills (like a 13amp Milwaukee super hole hawg). Even though the Dewalt 36V saw is pretty capable – if we have a need for gang cutting – it will be with Skil 77’s (with or without a big-foot). We can also make the case that portable corded tools are not up to every job and there are times when a Copco compressor needs to roll – because even our biggest rotohammer or corded breaking hammer is not up to the task – and it continues up the line with the need to call in heavy machinery for the really big jobs.
      As an aside, I think that the problem with some DIY’ers is that they have expectations that they can buy a do-it-all tool that will combine all the features , be compact and lightweight yet powerful , durable and serviceable yet cheap – and possibly even be safe using it without them taking the time to acquire the skill needed for the job.
      We’ve come a long way from the first generation of cordless tools – and progress in adding features and innovations in corded tools continues. What I lament is what I see as a move down the quality ladder, with fewer tools being truly long-lived and serviceable. Maybe that’s inevitable for cordless tools – since battery platforms have been changing fairly often and backwards compatibility (or across brand standardization) may not be practical. But why more manufacturers can’t once again offer a high-end industrial line of corded tools at a commensurate price – instead of this seeming drive towards mass-market mediocrity – is something I ponder.

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