If you love the compact form factor of a 12-volt drill but don't want to make any sacrifices when it comes to power, then you should strongly consider the M12 Fuel by Milwaukee. It held its own against much larger and higher voltage drills in our drilling and driving tests, all while being exceptionally convenient and easy to use. It's definitely our top recommendation for anyone who wants a burly 12-volt drill, but we did wish that it was a little less pricey and had a better battery life with its smaller battery. It does include a larger battery, but it significantly increases the size of the drill, somewhat defeating the purpose of getting a compact 12-volt model. Despite those flaws, it is by far the best 12-volt model we have seen to date, earning it the Editors' Choice award.
Milwaukee M12 FUEL Review
Pros: Great drilling performance, compact
Cons: Lackluster battery life, expensive
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Our Analysis and Test Results
In terms of overall performance, the M12 FUEL finished just behind the Bosch GSR18V and ahead of the Bosch PS31-2A. Both the M12 and the Bosch PS31 are 12-volt models, but the M12 has a clear edge when it comes to drilling and driving performance. Both 12-volt models are about on par when it comes to convenience and battery life, but the Bosch is a bit cheaper than the Milwaukee M12. The Bosch GSR18V is an 18-volt model, as its name would suggest, and does outperform the M12 when it comes to drilling holes. However, we did find that the M12 outperformed the Bosch GSR18V when it came to driving in fasteners and has a few more convenience features, though it can't match the GSR18V when it came to battery life — at least with its smaller battery.
To determine which cordless drill we were going to pick above the rest, we researched and compared dozens and dozens of different models, then bought all the most promising to test out head-to-head. We put them through the wringer with tons of different tests, grouped into four weighted rating metrics, with the Milwaukee M12 FUEL's results discussed in the following sections.
Easily the first thing that comes to mind for most people when these products are mentioned, each drill's drilling performance accounts for 35% of its total score in our testing process. We based each tool's score on how it handled a twist drill, paddle bit, and hole saw in different materials. The M12 FUEL did quite well, meriting a 7 out of 10 for its solid performance.
Starting with the 1" spade bit, the M12 FUEL did about average compared to the rest of the drills in the group. It never faltered or stalled, but you could tell that it was under some strain. However, this didn't seem to affect it all that much, with it doing better than the other 12-volt models.
It did even better with the normal twist drills, drilling holes through a steel plate quickly and easily — enough that you wouldn't even know this drill runs at a lower operating voltage than many of the others. It only took a couple of seconds to make it through the 16 gauge plate with a ¼" drill and about six seconds with the ½" drill. It didn't struggle at all with the smaller drill and only had the briefest of struggles before punching through with the larger drill.
The Milwaukee M12 FUEL finished out our drilling metric with another excellent showing in our giant hole saw test. It again drilled to the full depth without too much protesting — an impressive performance for a 12-volt drill considering it was using a 5" hole saw in a solid wooden door.
It never stalled or caught, just took about three times as long as the best drills but still taking less than a minute to complete the task.
Following our hole drilling tests, we moved on to evaluating how proficient the M12 FUEL is at driving in fasteners, which also accounts for 35% of its total score. We used an assortment of fasteners for this test, particularly looking at how each drill dealt with common wood screws and with much harder to drive hardware, like lag screws. The M12 didn't do as well as it did in our drilling tests, but still delivered a decent performance, earning a 6 out of 10.
The M12 FUEL has more than enough power to handle standard wood screws, driving them in quite quickly and having zero issues with setting the head flush. We basically treated this drill the same as the top-tier drills in this test, setting it apart from the other 12-volt drills that occasionally needed a break to keep from overheating.
Unfortunately, it couldn't quite carry this almost flawless performance into our next assessment: driving a 5" long, ½" lag bolt to its full depth to connect a 2x4 to a 4x4. You could definitely tell that this drill couldn't match the driving force of the top products. It stalled out a handful of times, but the Milwaukee M12 did eventually drive the screw to the full depth.
Our next group of assessments focused on how long the included battery can run each drill for, the time it took to recharge a dead battery, and the number of included batteries with each drill. Altogether, these account for 20% of the M12's total score, which delivered a slightly disappointing performance, earning it a 4 out of 10.
The M12 stands out from the rest of the pack when it comes to batteries, as it includes both a 2 Ah and a 4 Ah battery pack. For our tests, we used the smaller 2 Ah pack, as this was a closer comparison to the other models and keeps the form factor of the M12 small — one of the main reasons to get a 12-volt drill.
To test out the runtime of each drill, we alternated between driving in 16 wood screws to their full depth and drilling 3 1" diameter holes through a 2x12 using a spade bit until the battery was totally depleted. The M12 didn't do amazingly well with the smaller battery, only making it through 4 full cycles and part of the 5th before dying. However, the larger battery would probably put it on par with the best drills in this test, which finished over 10 cycles before dying.
The M12 did redeem itself in our recharge test, fully charging the 2 Ah battery in about 40 minutes — one of the faster times of the group.
Our remaining metric is responsible for the remaining 10% of the total score for each drill, with the M12 earning a 6 out of 10 for its above average performance.
To award points, we looked at all the little features that make these tools easier and more efficient to use, like if they have a belt clip, integrated LED work lights, and a battery indicator so you know how much juice you have left. Additionally, we also compared the maximum bit size the M12's chuck can hold against the rest, as well as its operating speeds, weight, and ease of swapping batteries.
This drill has a belt clip that holds the drill in a balanced position and can be put on either side of the drill. The M12 has two different speed modes and weighs in at less than three pounds with the 2 Ah battery installed. It has a great work light that stays illuminated for about 10 seconds and the drill chuck doesn't create an annoying shadow over whatever you are working on.
Speaking of the chuck, the M12 FUEL can hold up to a ½" bit.
The drill body itself also has a battery status indicator, but we did find it to be a bit difficult to swap batteries. The locking tabs can be a bit stubborn and it takes a decent amount of force to install or remove the batteries.
While the Milwaukee M12 FUEL packs quite a punch for a 12-volt drill, it pairs this with a somewhat premium price, so it is far from being the best value option you can get.
If you want a heavy-duty cordless drill that can handle all but the toughest projects with ease and still fits easily in a kitchen drawer, then the M12 is a great choice. This 12-volt drill thoroughly impressed us and is by far the best we have seen to date with its operating voltage. It held its own with the higher voltage drills, all while retaining the compact form factor of a 12-volt tool.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer