Milwaukee M18 2631-20 Review
Pros: Powerful motor, long-lasting battery, good shoe design
Cons: Heavy, expensive, so-so bevel design
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Our Analysis and Test Results
In many ways, the 7 1/4" Milwaukee M18 is in a league of its own in the cordless circular saw world. Its adjustments and controls are accurate and easy to access. Its cutting power is top-notch, and it has one of the better battery lives that we have seen in the circular saw market. This hearty machine will satisfy both the active DIYer as well as the professional who is used to the performance of a plug-in circular saw.
Ease of Use
If there is any place to be critical of the Milwaukee M18 it is in the ease of use analysis. Before laying into this saw for its design shortcomings, it should first be said that this model is rated well above average for the class, we just feel that all the saws that we reviewed could improve in this area. With that in mind, let's get into the details.
The ease of use metric is an evaluation of how the user interacts with the product. Specifically, we look at how adjustments are made for cutting depth and angle; how accurate are the markings on the shoe. Does the bevel have positive stops? Are the sightlines that guide the user through the cut easy to see and accurate. Finally, we look at the ease of blade changes, and we weigh the saw.
While the Milwaukee M18 has a sturdy shoe with clearly marked, accurate settings, we've seen better set-ups. The M18 lacks positive stops at common cut angles and the 22.5˚ marker that is needed for more technical work. Finally, we found the blade swapping process more difficult than it needs to be, and the saw was a little on the heavy side.
On the bright side, the M18's design allows for quick and easy access to the shoe's adjustment knobs. The sightlines are easy to see, and they promote accurate cuts. Additionally, the M18 has one of the deepest cutting depths.
There is a lot to consider when picking out a circular saw, but cutting is the easiest of all these considerations to understand and mark out as a good or bad performance. There can be no mistake, the M18 sets the bar in this evaluation as our testers all agreed that it felt consistent and powerful when sawing through demanding lumber. In a more objective observation, the speed at which the Milwaukee made cuts is at the top of the class. This machine brings high torque and high RPMs to bare when turning its 7 1/4" blade through lumber.
Our cutting tests consist of three basic assessments: full-depth, 12" crosscuts of both hard and softwood, and rips down the length of a 10' 2x12" softwood plank. These cuts are made by each tester, and the times are averaged. The idea is not to assess the quality of the cut — that's addressed in the ease of use metric — but rather the power that the saw's motor has to punch the blade through demanding tasks. By this measure, the M18 is a beast, making 10' long rips in 34 seconds and making full depth crosscuts of a 6x12" softwood header in just over 4 seconds. In other words, this saw cranks it out in much the same fashion as a plug-in worm drive machine.
In the end, it all comes down to the power supply. Without a good battery, it really doesn't matter how easy the saw is to use or how powerful the motor is because the frustration of having to fetch fresh batteries from the charger will out-weigh these benefits. So, considering the high-end performances that the M18 delivered in the previous metrics, it's a good thing that it has a robust 5 amp-hour battery that will keep making cuts one right after the other.
Our battery tests are straightforward but revealing. We take a 3/4" sheet of plywood and mark out a series of 1/4" rips. We then plug a fully charged battery into the saw and proceed to make one cut after another until the saw dies. We use a jig to ensure the cut doesn't wonder and that the drain on the battery is uniform across all the saws being tested. The Milwaukee cut 298 linear feet of plywood before giving up the ghost. As an additional bonus, the battery discharge didn't taper at all — one second the saw was running at full speed and the next it wasn't.
While the Milwaukee M18 is certainly not an inexpensive tool, it is a quality one. We find the value of this saw to be relative to one's need for the pro-level performance it delivers. If you are going to be putting the saw to work frequently on demanding tasks, then the value increases because it won't let you down. However, if the saw will be used infrequently on DIY projects around the house, then one's need for such a tool will decrease and with it the value. That said, this tool is a great investment if you plan on doing more and larger projects in your free time as it will stand up to whatever you throw at it over the years.
The Milwaukee M18 is a professional-caliber 7 1/2" circular saw. This machine has a powerful motor and many of the ease of use features that promote high-quality cuts. This saw also has a long-lasting 5 amp-hour battery that can rip hundreds of feet of plywood. Our only critiques are that this performance comes at a premium and that the shoe design lacked some features that make technical cuts easier to achieve. That said, this machine is as close to an ideal saw as we could find.
— Nick Miley and Austin Palmer