Shortly after Dewalt introduced their new FlexVolt cordless power tool lineup, I wrote a quick comparison between Milwaukee and Dewalt next-generation cordless power tool technologies.
At the time, Dewalt was promoting the capabilities of their new lineup, and Milwaukee was touting their HD9.0 High Demand battery pack. Milwaukee was also not so subtly challenging Dewalt’s claim of an advantage, saying that voltage is only part of the story.
Milwaukee has maintained that voltage isn’t everything, as we discussed in a post about their High Output power tool tech that was announced last year. And, it’s accurate. Their newest tools and battery packs can squeeze previously unimaginable power out of an 18V-class system.
When I compared Dewalt FlexVolt to Milwaukee High Demand, both brands had announced their 9.0Ah batteries, but neither were available yet.
Things have become more complicated when you try to compare the two brands’ next-gen cordless power tool tech.
Milwaukee’s M18 tools and batteries are all compatible, but with practical limitations in that you can’t do much when pairing a compact battery to their heaviest duty tools. Dewalt FlexVolt is one-way compatible, in that you can use FlexVolt batteries on 20V Max tools, but not the other way around. Milwaukee has the slight edge in how their XC batteries can fit and power their heavy duty tools, albeit not optimally.
Dewalt says that their 60V Max batteries allow for high power applications that were previously only possible with corded power tools. And that is also true.
Milwaukee has found ways to squeeze high power from 18V-class battery packs, with advancements in power distribution and thermal management.
Dewalt came out with 120V Max miter saws that can work with (2) FlexVolt battery packs or an AC adapter. Milwaukee has new saws and outdoor power tools that work effortlessly thanks to the new 12.0Ah High Output battery. Both brands have been expanding the limits as to what cordless power tools can do. Not just expanding, they’ve broken through the ceiling.
At the time of my original comparison, both brands’ announcements were limited. Now, both brands have expanded their offerings, and both Milwaukee and Dewalt have highest capacity battery packs equipped with larger form factor Li-ion cells. The larger cells mean more power and longer runtime.
In addition to large 15-cell batteries, both brands also now have high output/larger format compact 5-cell and standard 10-cell battery packs. Milwaukee announced two new batteries this week.
How do Dewalt and Milwaukee top offerings compare, say a FlexVolt brushless circular saw and a Milwaukee M18 Fuel circular saw with High Output battery? Both are powerful cuts-anything high performance saws, and I don’t think anyone will argue against the brands’ claims of the saws being true corded replacements.
What about future potential? Two and a half years ago, I thought Dewalt’s FlexVolt lineup held higher potential. At the time, their ceiling and potential for growth and expansion seemed higher.
One of the new FlexVolt tools was said to be able to deliver 1700W of power. So, with a 54V nominal tool, the battery pack would be tasked to deliver 31.5A of current. Since the battery cells are in series during 60V Max operation, that’s 31.5A per cell. For an 18V battery, the total current would have been 94.4A, and also 31.5A per cell. You cannot get that from a 15-cell 18V battery pack engineered with 18650 cells, at least not sustainably. But with larger 21700 cells and beefy cooling, it seems possible, or at least there’s a far greater possibility with Milwaukee’s 12.0Ah High Output battery pack.
In March 2017, when Dewalt’s FlexVolt 9.0Ah battery hit the market, they said that it runs cooler than Milwaukee’s HD 9.0Ah battery, saying that in their testing the battery temperature rose 50% faster during a constant 60A discharge, until thermal shutdown at 70°C. I believe that, since the Dewalt battery has larger cells (said to be 20700) compared to the 18650 cells in the Milwaukee M18 HD battery.
A comparison between the Dewalt FlexVolt 12.0Ah battery and Milwaukee M18 HD12.0Ah battery is going to be a lot closer. The same should be true for 20V Max 6.0Ah and M18 XC6.0Ah batteries, both also featuring larger and more powerful Li-ion cells.
At the moment, I think that both brands are at pretty even level. Milwaukee had upped their game, and Dewalt has expanded their FlexVolt lineup with new tools.
Looking to the future, Milwaukee might be a little limited by their insistence on platform-wide compatibility. It’s a really good thing, in my opinion, but they have lost some practical compatibility between their compact battery packs and highest performance tools. If their next cordless power tools are even more powerful or more demanding, it might even affect their ability to be functionally powered by XC batteries.
What happens if or when Milwaukee comes out with a 12″ cordless miter saw? How well will it perform when paired with a compact or XC battery if it’s designed to fully benefit from an HD or HD High Output battery? A 10″ table saw? A 14″ chop saw similar to the one Makita recently introduced?
Dewalt can release a 10″ table saw right now if they wanted to. They could make it the third tool in their 120V Max power system and allow it to be powered via AC adapter or 2x FlexVolt batteries. And since FlexVolt tools are not compatible with 20V Max batteries, there’s control and guidance regarding which batteries users can choose from.
There is still the potential for Milwaukee to expand with multi-battery tools, similar to Makita 18V X2, what Festool has done with their cordless saws, or what some other brands have also done in the past. I don’t think they’ll do this on handheld power tools, but for a larger miter saw, table saw, or something like a dust extractor? That would make Milwaukee High Demand and High Output tech more potentially competitive with Dewalt FlexVolt in the long-term.
With Dewalt, the ceiling is higher, in my opinion, before their FlexVolt cordless power tool line reaches and maxes out its full potential. That ceiling is a little lower with Milwaukee M18, even M18 High Output, although the potential for 2-battery M18 tools can raise their potential, perhaps at least to the same level as Dewalt FlexVolt. Meaning, there is no telling what we’ll see from Dewalt FlexVolt or Milwaukee M18 in the next few years. Both systems have a lot of height and growth potential.
Both Dewalt and Milwaukee are at the top of their games right now. I am really hoping that nobody asks “so, which one would you buy?,” frankly because that would be an extremely tough decision. Ask me again in 4-5 months after we hear about what Milwaukee has planned for 2019 and 2020. Their NPS19 new tool show will surely introduce some new cordless power tools or technologies. Dewalt has not yet announced a 2019 media event (at least not that I’ve heard about), but they have been consistently rolling out new tools for their 20V Max and FlexVolt lineups.
The Dewalt FlexVolt vs. Milwaukee M18 High Demand comparison has become far too apples vs. oranges for clear results. It no longer comes down to what the platforms can do, but what they can do for you. In that regard, I think Dewalt has an edge, given some of their unique FlexVolt offerings, such as the 12″ miter saws, cordless air compressor, and new portable dust extractor vac. Milwaukee introduced new M18 heavy duty tools and High Output battery last year, and for this year I’m expecting a big expansion for this year. They might even have a surprise or two up their sleeves.
Cordless power tools have become better and more capable than ever, and neither brand is going to rest on their laurels.