Are you considering a new Milwaukee cordless drill? Hopefully we’ll make things clearer, and with as little fluff as possible.
While it is a bit easier to navigate Milwaukee’s selection of cordless drills than many other cordless power tool brands’, it can still be daunting for anyone who isn’t intimately familiar with all of the latest models.
Milwaukee has introduced 8 new models in the two years since I last wrote up a quick comparison, and so an update was due.
There are plenty of Milwaukee cordless drill buying guides out there, but I haven’t seen a single one that would actually help me if I were researching a purchase.
So, I’m approaching this post as if I were an end user looking to make sense of all of Milwaukee’s different cordless drill offerings for the first time.
After going over some comparisons and specs, I’ll offer my recommendations on the best Milwaukee cordless drills for different user requirements, or rather what I’d purchase for my own needs depending on what I’m looking for.
Please let me know if you feel there’s something missing that could help make this buying guide better, and also if you would like the same approach applied to different brands or types of tools.
Milwaukee Cordless Drill Torque and Speed Comparison Chart
Most tool users will start off their research by looking at a cordless drill’s maximum torque rating. The comparison chart above shows the maximum torque, and maximum no-load speeds.
All of Milwaukee’s M12 and M18 cordless drills have 2 speed settings – low and high – and I feel it’s important to see how torque and speed compare between various models.
How to Read the Graphs
In the graphs featured on this page, above and below, the vertical y-axis values on the left corresponds to the maximum torque values for Milwaukee’s different cordless drill models, and the values on the right correspond to the maximum speed range values.
If this is your first time seeing a two-axis chart, note that the scales are different. The vertical y-axis labels are also color-coded to help guide you.
Basically, compare red to red and blue to blue. The numbers for the torque specs are on the left, and speed specs on the right.
Model numbers and basic differentiating details are on the horizontal x-axis.
The First Two Decisions to Make
If you want the highest torque and performance possible, there’s one clear choice. If you’re looking for a cordless drill for light to mid duty use, that’s where you get a lot of overlapping options and tough decisions to make.
The first decision you need to make – or have already made – is whether you want an M18 cordless drill, or M12. The M18 drills are great choices for most users, and the M12 are great choices where tool size, weight, and cost are higher priorities over speed and power.
Milwaukee’s M18 cordless drills operate at 18V nominal voltage, and the M12 drills operate at 12V Max, or 10.8V nominal voltage, with the same being true for competing brands’ offerings.
Milwaukee M18 Cordless Drills
There are 7 models of M18 cordless drills, plus 2 more One-Key models (more on those below).
2606 – This brushed motor drill is most commonly available as part of high-value combo kits that are popular with DIYers, homeowners, and possibly tradespeople and pros on a very limited budget.
2607 – Although technically still available, the hammer drill version of the 2606 is increasingly rare to come across these days. I see no reason to discuss it further.
3601/3602 – Milwaukee recently announced these two new M18 compact brushless models, a drill/driver (3601) and hammer drill (3602).
As an aside, cordless drills and hammer drills are both considered drill/drivers, but it seems unnecessary to write out “drill/driver” or “hammer drill/driver” every time. A lot of tool users delegate fastening tasks to impact drivers, but the repeatability of a drill with adjustable torque clutch is still very hard to beat.
The 3601 looks to be replacing the 2801, which has been a highly well-regarded compact brushless drill in the years since it launched.
2902 – This hammer drill fills the gap between the compact brushless drills and M18 Fuel heavy duty models. With Milwaukee now having launched a compact brushless hammer drill, the 2902 seems almost unnecessary.
2903/2904 – These are Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel flagship models – their best drills with the latest tech and features. The hammer drill (2904) is more popular and featured in more sales, promotions, and combo kits.
The 2606 (and 2607 hammer drill) are older tech. As mentioned above, they’re included in high value combo kits, but they can be safely ignored. If you’re looking just to buy a cordless drill, you get much more with Milwaukee’s compact brushless drills, and often at lower prices too.
The outgoing M18 compact brushless drill (2801) is a strong performer and great value. It’s not shown here as it’s seemingly being replaced by the new 3601.
There’s a single battery promo kit version, model 2801-21P, that has been regularly discounted to $99 seasonally. Hopefully the same will be true for the new 3601 model.
As mentioned, the M18 Fuel drill (2903) and hammer drill (2904) are Milwaukee’s flagship models. These are Milwaukee’s best and highest-performing cordless drills. If you’re simply looking for Milwaukee’s best cordless drill – the 2904 is what you want.
I should add that the M18 Fuel drills have an AutoStop feature, an anti-kickback technology designed to help prevent twisting injuries that can happen when a drill binds or jams.
All of the weights are tool-only specs.
If you want to narrow things down quickly, I’d say look at the M18 compact brushless drill, model 3601 (or outgoing 2801 if you’re in a hurry), or the M18 Fuel brushless hammer drill, model 2904. I’d say that these two models will serve most users’ needs.
M18 Cordless Drills with One-Key
Milwaukee recently launched new One-Key versions of their M18 Fuel cordless drill and hammer drill.
The One-Key models, 2905 for the drill/driver and 2906 for the hammer drill, are nearly identical to the 2903 and 2904 drills, but with app-based customizations.
Most notably, the One-Key versions give you more control over the AutoStop anti-kickback tech, as well as customizable speed settings.
Milwaukee M12 Cordless Drills
2407 – Milwaukee’s M12 brushed motor drill is a bit long in the tooth, but still delivers solid performance. It’s a decent value-choice and is included in a couple of seasonal “special buy” kits and combo kits.
2408 – The brushed motor hammer drill isn’t widely available, but it’s still around.
3403/3404 – Milwaukee’s flagship M12 Fuel cordless drill (3403) and hammer drill (3404) are an improvement over the previous generation. They offer a great balance between power and size. The hammer drill is more widely available and included in more discounts and promos.
2505 – The M12 Fuel 4-in-1 drill/driver is a problem-solver that comes with different attachments for drilling holes and accessing fasteners in tight or awkward locations.
If you’re set on an M12 cordless drill, the choices are easy. The 2407 is still a decent budget pick, the M18 Fuel hammer drill (3404) is the performance pick – and often included in deal bundles and promos – and the 2505 is the “you’ll know if you need it” specialty option.
Best Milwaukee Cordless Drill for Power Users
Do you want the do-it-all cordless drill? Go for the Milwaukee M18 Fuel hammer drill, model 2904.
You might be thinking “but I don’t really need the hammer drill functionality.” I get it – I’m the same way; I prefer cordless drills to hammer drills where there’s a meaningful difference.
However, there’s not much difference here, and good reasons to look at the hammer drill over the non-hammer drill.
If the hammer drill is any longer, it’s by a rounding error, and it’s less than 1/10 of a pound heavier. There’s no obvious downside anymore.
The drill/driver (2903) is $10 less for the tool-only, and the same for the 2-battery kit. But, there are many more opportunities to score the hammer drill at a discount.
The 2pc combo kit with a hammer drill and impact driver is a popular way to get Milwaukee’s latest and greatest drilling and driving tech.
At the time of this posting, Home Depot has a promo bundle where you can get the tool-only M18 Fuel hammer drill with a bonus charger, 5Ah battery, and 2Ah battery. The tool-only drill/driver is regularly $189, and the tool-only hammer drill is $199. But here, you get the hammer drill, 2x batteries, and a charger, for $199.
Do you see what I mean about how the M18 Fuel hammer drill is worth looking at over the drill/driver, even if you don’t plan on drilling into masonry materials?
Best Milwaukee Cordless Drill Where Size Matters
Milwaukee did a great job with their latest M12 Fuel cordless hammer drill, model 3404.
It’s compact, powerful enough for most light to medium duty tasks, and comfortable to use (at least in my opinion). These are Milwaukee’s best M12 Fuel cordless drills to date.
As with the M18 Fuel drills, the M12 Fuel hammer drill (3404) is featured in more deals and promos than the non-hammer drill (3403). If you just want a cordless drill without hammer function, you can save $10.
Personally, I tend to favor compact 18V-class cordless drills over the M12 Fuel, as the nature of how M12 batteries attach to the drill makes the handle thicker. I feel that the ergonomics have gotten better with each revision, and it’s hard to argue with the small size and light weight of these drills.
The M12 Fuel hammer drill can be a good one-and-only compact drill, or a complement to a higher power 18V-class model.
Milwaukee makes it highly compelling for tool users to upgrade to the latest M12 Fuel hammer drill and brushless impact driver at the same time.
If you’re interested in the Milwaukee M12 Fuel hammer drill, you might want to consider the 2pc hammer drill and impact driver combo kit for just $20 more.
Best Milwaukee Cordless Drill for Most Casual Users
The new Milwaukee 3601 and 3602 M18 compact brushless drill and hammer drill are expected to launch in late summer 2023, and so I have not been able to test them yet.
However, they build upon the previous generations of Milwaukee’s M18 compact brushless drills – tools that I have been especially fond of over the years – and so I am very optimistic that they’ll perform at least on-par if not better.
The new models compare well against the last generation with respect to power and speed, and are more compact.
Here’s a quick comparison:
If you can wait, I think this will be the model for most casual users to get, as it offers a balance between power, size, and cost.
Best Value Milwaukee Cordless Drill
I fully expect for the new 3601 to also be the new best value pick.
Milwaukee’s cordless drill kits always feature 2 batteries, except for special promotional kits that are sold as seasonal special buys.
Shown here is the 3601-21P, which is the upcoming compact brushless drill kit with a 2Ah battery, charger, and tool bag.
There’s no guarantee it’ll be discounted to the same low price point as the previous generation model, but I’m hoping it will. (Home Depot is currently showing the promo kit at $99 but out of stock, all but confirming that my optimism won’t lead to disappointment.)
In the meantime, if you can’t wait, the 2801-21P promo kit is still a great bargain at $99.
Best Milwaukee Cordless Drill for Working in Tight Spots
Milwaukee’s M12 Fuel installation drill/driver is a convenient and versatile problem-solver.
With the drill chuck attached, it’s a fairly compact drill. (The length listed in the specs table above is for the tool-only.)
Or you can add a quick-change chuck, right angle adapter, or offset adapter to drill or drive around obstacles or in corners and tight spaces. The drill chuck can be attached to the right angle adapter as well.
As mentioned above, this is a “you’ll know if you need it” type of drill. If you’re on the fence, keep track of all the types of tasks and applications you’d use it for, and wait for the next deal bundle or sale.
It has an adjustable torque clutch, which makes it a convenience option for driving fasteners to repeatable depths.
I tend to use it more for driving fasteners than drilling holes, but your needs and habits might be different..
The design takes a little getting used to, but I think it’s worth it.
Some users don’t like the style or placement of the electronic direction control switch, but I have not found it to be a problem.
Where to Get the Best Deals
A lot of buying guides point to listings at Amazon and Walmart as places to buy Milwaukee drills and other cordless power tools, but neither are authorized dealers for the brand. Most 3rd party listings are from resellers who shop the same retail sales and deals you can.
You can sometimes get great discounts on drill kits, but a lot of the time the best deals are on bundle or combo offerings.
I included some shopping tips in the post, such as how the hammer drill versions can be better buys than the non-hammer model drills. Please let me know if you have any questions!
I covered what I’d pick and why – I narrowed it down to the M12 and M18 Fuel hammer drills, the M18 compact brushless drill, and the M12 Fuel 4-in-1 installation drill/driver.
I put together the information I’d find helpful when shopping for a drill, and would appreciate any feedback.
Do you agree with these recommendations? What would you pick differently?