It has been more than 2-1/2 years since I last attempted to answer this question – Which is the Best Cordless Power Tool Brand?
A lot of things have changed since then, with big brands launching many new tools, a new breed of battery packs, and next-generation tools supported by those new and even more powerful batteries.
The simplicity of the question betrays the complexity of what is actually being asked. Back when I first tackled this, Steven asked:
If you had to stick to one brand for most of your tools which would it be? Taking into consideration tool reliability, power, ergonomics, batteries and number of cordless tools.
It remains true that each brand-name cordless power tool brand is unique, with their own strengths and weaknesses. Comparing power tool brands is not as simple as comparing other types of products.
The closest analogy I could think of is that cordless power tools are akin to higher-end cameras, where you have different camera bodies, lenses, and accessories to consider. You’re not buying just one product, you’re buying into a system.
And when you buy into a system, it’s an investment. Sure, you can always try to sell all your cordless power tools and buy into a whole new system, but not without taking a loss, sometimes a heavy one if your tools aren’t the current models.
I’m not a professional contractor, but I have seen time and time again that pros do not want to buy into multiple cordless power tool platforms if they can help it. Life is so much simpler when all of your tools, battery packs, and chargers work together.
I have been running ToolGuyd for over 8 years now, and in that time I have seen a lot of innovations, iterations, and expansions. I can’t even tell you how many different tools I’ve used and tested, which greatly outnumbers those I have formally reviewed.
My approach here will be to discuss the benefits and downsides of the most popular power tool brands, and those I have personal experience with. Brands I don’t have experience with will be excluded, perhaps until the next revision.
As always your input is extremely valuable. What would you say to anyone looking to buy into a cordless power tool system?
The brands are discussed in alphabetical order.
Benefits: Good performance and reliability, well-rounded 12V and 18V lineups, a good overall brand.
Downsides: Bosch has not been as active as other brands, especially in the USA where some tools are either released later than in Europe, or not at all.
Overall: Bosch continues to offer solid “core tool” offerings, and every so often comes out with upgrades and updates. At times they come out with innovations, some more popular than others, but they seem to have either lost some of their fire. It’s almost as if they forgot about their competition, or maybe they just don’t care.
I bought some Bosch 18V cordless tools – a drill and impact driver combo kit on sale a few years ago. I have no regrets. But if I was looking to buy into a platform, I’d likely look elsewhere.
In my opinion, Bosch makes some spectacular tools. Looking at the greater picture, I find their 12V platform to be more appealing than their 18V platform.
Notable Products: inductive charging system, drills with anti-kickback protection, hybrid impact driver/wrench, fantastic 12V tools and accessories.
Benefits: Very good tools, greater ergonomics – especially the drills and impact tools, a continually expanding 20V Max lineup, many 60V Max and 120V Max FlexVolt game-changing tools and technologies, an increasing selection of unique specialty tools, such as a brushless framing nailer and threaded rod cutter.
Downsides: A middling 12V Max lineup. It’s inevitable to wish for black and yellow versions of other brands’ tools.
Overall: Dewalt has stepped up to the plate in recent years, sometimes swinging to just get on base, other times they’re looking for home runs and hitting them.
I believe something has changed within the brand. They’re no longer trying to simply broaden their 20V Max product selection, they’re looking to push it further and raise it higher.
Their new FlexVolt platform has a lot of “firsts.” I think they’re liking the consumer response, and will continue on this path of pushing boundaries.
Notable Products: Dewalt had a lot of strengths, and their FlexVolt lineup introduced new ones. FlexVolt battery packs are compatible with 20V Max tools and chargers. It’s a compromise that you cannot use 20V Max on FlexVolt tools, but a small one that’s easy to look past when you consider the power and benefits of the FlexVolt lineup.
Their 3-speed brushless drills are popular with pros, and I find myself enamored with the size, features, and reasonable performance of their compact brushless drill and impact driver. Their portable power station offers incredible versatility, being capable of powering many corded power tools, and their FlexVolt 12” sliding miter saw, which can be powered by 2x FlexVolt battery packs or an included AC adapter, will likely be a category leader for some time.
Benefits: Hitachi has come out with some amazing 18V tools in recent years, and my hope is that they don’t let up.
Downsides: There’s not a lot of options, aside from “core tools,” and some universal accessories.
Overall: As with Bosch, there are a number of Hitachi tools I would buy, but they’re a long way from being a top choice if I was looking to buy into a system. Hitachi simply does not have the breadth of tools to make them a top contender.
I look forward to seeing continued innovations and product line expansions by Hitachi, and think that they have some surprises up their sleeves.
Being a smaller brand makes Hitachi a potentially fierce competitor if they decide they want to go after a bigger piece of the market share pie.
I have 2 hesitations. First, Hitachi tools aren’t as widely available as other brands’. Second, Hitachi and Metabo, which Hitachi recently acquired, were bought up by an investment firm. How will this influence the next few years of Hitachi tool developments?
Notable Products: I’m a big fan of Hitachi’s 18V triple hammer impact driver, and find their LED work light and radio designs to be refreshingly different.
Benefits: Their 24V Max brushless power tool lineup have proven to be powerful and capable. Additional battery packs are unbelievably inexpensive, starting at just $10.
Downsides: Kobalt has been expanding their relatively new 24V Max cordless tool lineup, but it still consists of “core tools,” such as drills, drivers, and saws. The lineup is still very new, and since it seems to be more consumer, DIYer, and homeowner-focused, we might never see a lot of the types of tools that other more pro-oriented brands offer.
Overall: To quote someone that has been testing out Kobalt’s brushless reciprocating saw for us: “it keeps going and going, and the last cut was as good as the first.”
It does sting that Kobalt essentially abandoned their 18V and 20V Max lineups, which mainly differed in branding, but I don’t think they’re going to completely change things over anytime soon – it would be too unforgivable.
So far, we haven’t seen many complaints about any of the new tools.
Notable Products: Kobalt’s 24V Max brushless power tools are proving to be decent performers, but there’s no standout yet.
Benefits: Broad and expanding product selection, fast 18V battery charging times is standard, revamped 12V Max platform, steady stream of innovations.
Downsides: Can be slow to adapt to industry trends (e.g. battery fuel gauges). Sometimes there are too many products of a given kind to choose from, such as hammer drills or impact drivers, with differences being hard to identify.
Overall: Makita’s cordless lines are very competitive, with a stead stream of new tools and tool categories to keep users reasonably happy and well-equipped.
Notable Products: Makita has a new cordless router coming out, their impacts are superb and have inspired competitors to mirror their special speed modes. Their higher performance X2 products, which are powered by (2) 18V battery packs, seem to be much-loved by users.
Benefits: Great quality, high performance.
Downsides: Limited selection.
Overall: Metabo has been coming out with lots of great new cordless power tools, but lacks a lot of the tools that users might want from a product lineup. Its 18V line is more complete in Europe, but many of those tools aren’t available here.
Metabo is on a mission towards enabling a cordless jobsite.
Notable Products: Metabo is well known for their grinders in general. Their cordless drills and drivers are fantastic and well-featured. They offer some unique tools, such as a thread tapping drill, and a new high speed drill for drilling sheet metal and pilot holes. Their 2-in-1 compact drill/driver, with removable chuck, is a personal favorite.
Benefits: Great quality and reliability, fantastic 18V-class lineup (M18), unmatched 12V-class lineup (M12), unmatched LED worklight selection, very active innovator.
Downsides: Milwaukee’s higher power M18 battery pack, 9.0Ah HD, isn’t enough to drive the next generation of high-powered cordless power tools. Thus, you won’t yet find a 12″ miter saw or cordless table saw. This might all change soon, but not this year.
Overall: Milwaukee’s cordless lineups are extremely appealing. Both lineups offer all of the basics, and a great deal of specialty tools, especially trade-specific ones.
Milwaukee seeks to be a “solutions provider.” They have a strong and clear motivating philosophy. We’re seeing M12 tools that serve as hand tool stand-ins, such as their new stapler, and others that kick-start a whole product category, such as their heated jackets.
Their One-Key customizable tools and remote-controllable LED worklights have pushed the bounds of what cordless tools can do and how they can be used.
You can’t go wrong with Milwaukee cordless power tools.
Notable Products: Milwaukee’s Fuel brushless tools are particularly well-featured and offer high performance.
Benefits: Good performance at value pricing.
Downsides: Limited product selection, brand confusion.
Overall: Porter Cable’s 20V Max lineup kicked off with a great drill and impact driver, but then grew with lower-featured tools seemingly developed around lower pricing.
There are some cordless nailers, and brushless drill and impact. 20V Max cordless product expansion has been very slow, and the 12V Max lineup seems to have been abandoned or at least neglected.
Porter Cable doesn’t know what it wants to be. It has a history of being a professional tool brand, but seems focused on competing with Ryobi, a brand that focuses on DIYers, homeowners, and some value-minded pros.
Porter Cable cordless tools are decent for the money, but the budget pricing restricts the quality.
Stanley Black & Decker seems intent on avoiding competition between Dewalt and Porter Cable brands, and so Dewalt gets all the good stuff.
Notable Products: I’ll have to get back to you on this.
Ben’s Note: Porter Cable’s cordless nail guns, which I’ve found to deliver consistent driving depth and clean nail holes.
Benefits: Growing 18V lineup with some unique or innovative tools. Good balance between performance and price. Limited Lifetime Service Agreement covers parts, service, and batteries, free for life – with some restrictions.
Downsides: The 18V lineup isn’t as varied as higher-level brands’. 12V lineup is very limited.
Overall: Ridgid is a good brand that’s maintained strong momentum in recent years.
If you have simple needs, theirs might be the only cordless tools you need. Some of their tools and innovations – such as their recent cordless air compressor – might convince users of other brands’ cordless products to mix some orange into their tool bag.
Notable Products: I am particularly fond of their new small capacity air compressor, which is unlike anything else on the market.
Benefits: Very high “bang for the buck,” strong selection of core tools, specialty tools, innovations, and problem-solvers.
Downsides: Some tools don’t seem up to heavy duty jobsite conditions.
Overall: Ryobi is best characterized as a DIYer-centric brand that also appeals to less frequent tool users, such as homeowners, and also pro users.
Notable Products: Their Airstrike nailers are particularly well-regarded.
Fein, Festool, and Other Premium Specialty Tool Brands
Benefits: High quality, high performance, features or tools that other brands lack or don’t execute as well.
Downsides: Higher pricing, limited product family selection.
Overall: When going with brands such as Fein or Festool, you’re usually buying cordless versions of tools that they do very well, and often better than what competitors can offer. But with limited product selection, most users might have to look to another brand for other core and specialty tool needs.
Notable Products: Fein’s cordless MultiMaster oscillating multi-tool and Festool’s cordless track saw are currently unequalled. Competitors come close, but you’ll need to buy into one of these brands if you want the best.
Which cordless power tool lineup(s) did you go with? What would you recommend to someone looking to buy their first cordless power tools?