June was tool launch month as both Milwaukee and DeWalt compete to “own the jobsite.” I could write this whole issue on the new tools from either one of these two company’s tool launches, but let me concentrate on the most important aspect: understanding the battery platforms that will lock you into one brand or the other.
When tools still had cords, it was easy to buy one tool of a different brand just to try it out. Now that all the major tool brands have managed to supply enough power to “cut the cord” giving a totally cordless jobsite with battery runtimes that will last at least half a day if not all day, no one wants to invest in multiple battery platforms. Each manufacturer is trying to supply the whole jobsite, from a wide variety of tools to incredible cordless power for the larger tools. This month I got my hands on a table saw, mitre saws, surface grinders and concrete fastener drills that can outperform many similar corded tools.
One quick clarification: All our current 18v power tool batteries measure 20v when not under load, so DeWalt chooses to call it 20v Max, while putting in the fine print that this is 18v under load. The other companies list the “under load” voltage, as is required in Europe. All battery packs labelled 18 or 20 volts give out the same voltage. The higher the AmpHour rating, the bigger the gas tank.
Milwaukee is giving us very impressive tools by boosting the ampHours on their full tool line of compatible 18v RED LITHIUM batteries to 9Ah while optimizing each brushless motor for the task and providing efficient full tool system electronics. This new battery on some exciting tools, such as a 7-1/4” M18 FUEL circular saw, is outperforming their own corded saws!
DeWalt is impressive as well, using brushless motors and on-board electronics, but has chosen an importantly different route with essentially the same battery cells. They say there is a thermal overheating wall in trying to go to extreme power output required for large tools while staying at the 18v level—so they are wiring their FlexVolt cells in series. Rather than three banks of five cells—each feeding the tool at 20v as usual—in the FlexVolt battery pack they put all 15 cells in series to give 60v. For compatibility back to your existing 20v DeWalt tools, they have an ingenious switching mechanism that re-wires the 15 cells back to 3 banks of 20v as soon as you put the FlexVolt battery on their 20v tools. For their mire saws they put two packs on the saw in series, giving the tool 120v DC. They even provide a battery replacement gadget that turns that same saw into a corded tool running at 120v AC.
In the math of power equations, these two systems are equal: all the power comes from basically the same 15 fuel cells. But higher voltage allows smaller wires to deliver the same power, which does change the motor construction and lowers the internal heating of wire connectors inside the battery. DeWalt, of course, claims that their 60v and 120v motors are more efficient and that the batteries will run cooler and last longer.
Both systems are so powerful that, working with the tools for only a few minutes, they both feel great and do feel as good as or better than corded tools. It is as yet very difficult to compare the two systems on true performance because the mitre saws aren’t the same size: 10” Milwaukee with a single battery and 12” DeWalt with two batteries. Milwaukee heavy-duty applications are running on 9Ah batteries, DeWalt on 6Ah batteries. True comparative tests will only come after January when DeWalt will bring out their 9Ah FlexVolt battery and we can choose truly equivalent tools and batteries to run against each other, like 7-1/4 circular saws, or drilling or fastening applications. Then we may finally see if voltage really does make a difference in performance, run time and more importantly, battery life.
Milwaukee’s 9Ah battery is scheduled for the stores in August. Most of DeWalt’s FlexVolt batteries and tools are due out in September.
An interesting note for those of you who fly to work: Canadian air transport laws forbid high powered Li-ion batteries in airplanes, so DeWalt created an ingenious “transportation plate” just for Canada that sets the FlexVolt battery in the 20v mode while flying even though you intend to use it in 60v mode once on the ground—and that passes the transport regulation.
All existing Milwaukee 18v FUEL tools will work with the 9Ah RED LITHIUM batteries and all existing DeWalt 20v Max tools will work with the 20-60v FlexVolt batteries.
These are the new heavy-duty DeWalt tools that will only work with the 60v FlexVolt batteries, launching in September.
Smart-phone Tool Control
On the Milwaukee side, the most impressive new tool is the M18 FUEL SAWZALL with One-Key, which will be available in October as well. One-Key is a smart phone controlled system introduced last year but the tool control function is just coming on-line. For their existing One-Key fastener drills, the new twist drill bit software update now allows you to choose the material, the bit, the speed and the torque of the job at hand on your smart phone with 4 corresponding preset buttons on the tool. This is especially useful for optimizing bit life while cutting into metals of different densities or switching from a drill to a hole saw.
The new One-Key SAWZALL is the best tool control I have seen to date. On your phone, you select the material you want to cut and it will recommend an optimal blade. You can accept that, or set the blade you have and it will set the optimal speed of cut for that tool in that material with that blade. You can also select a slow start, to let you make a groove rather than skitter around, and you can set the brake to on. Then you pull the trigger all the way back and it starts slow, moves to optimal speed and the instant it comes out of the cut the blade stops dead avoiding any collateral damage. Then you let go of the trigger. That’s a safety feature I really like—in addition to a really optimized cut avoiding burning the blade.
I don’t know if the batteries will sell the tools, or the tools will sell the batteries. but I will get back to some really nifty new tool features in the next issue.
Montreal-based TV broadcaster, author, home renovation and tool expert
Jon Eakes provides a tool feature in each edition of Home BUILDER.