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Milwaukee M18 2850-20 Review

The M18 packs plenty of power but we found enough flaws with its other results to keep it from winning an award
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Price:   $120 List | $92 at Amazon
Pros:  Plenty of speed, torque, sturdy construction
Cons:  So-so battery test performance, loud
Manufacturer:   Milwaukee
By David Wise and Austin Palmer  ⋅  Jan 22, 2020
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 13
  • Speed - 35% 8
  • Torque - 25% 8
  • Convenience - 20% 4
  • Battery - 15% 4
  • Noise - 5% 2

Our Verdict

While the M18 by Milwaukee did get off to a strong start in our speed and torque evaluations, quickly driving in even large screws and tightening and loosening fasteners with much more power than many other models, it couldn't sustain this performance throughout the rest of our assessments. It lacks some of the convenience features prevalent in other impact drivers, it's one of the loudest of the group when driving in screws, and we weren't too impressed with its performance in our battery life tests.

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Our Analysis and Test Results

We did feel that its overall construction makes it handle a bit more abuse than some of the other tools and might make this a good option for someone who really abuses their tools, since we could see the all-metal chuck handling a fall from a ladder quite a bit better than some of its competitors with their primarily plastic construction.

Performance Comparison



Likes


It was the M18's results in our speed and torque tests that impressed us the most. We used the M18 to set ledger and lag screws into sheet goods and dimensional lumber, timed the performance, then compared the results side-by-side with the other impact drivers. The M18 did well with the first type of screw in this metric, quickly driving a 3-5/8*" ledger screw into stacked plywood and 2x12s. It only took an average of 4 seconds to fully seat the screw in the stack of plywood and 3 seconds in the stacked dimensional boards.

The M18 is very fast at driving fasteners.
The M18 is very fast at driving fasteners.

The M18 was also impressively speedy in our lag screw tests, only taking 16 seconds to fully drive in a 3" long, ½" diameter lag screw to its full depth and 7 seconds to remove it from stacked 2x12s.

This impact driver also proved its mettle in our torque metric. First, we measured how tight each tool could get a ¾" nut on a welded stud to compare tightening power. Next, we used a torque wrench to tighten this same fastener at increasing torque settings, checking each time to see if the M18 could still break it loose.

When it comes to torque  the M18 performs well.
When it comes to torque, the M18 performs well.

This cordless impact could tighten one of these nuts to an average of 245 foot-pounds. For comparison, the top tools overall hit 300 foot-pounds, so the M18 wasn't too far off. However, the M18 could break a nut tightened to 300 foot-pounds free in just under 2 seconds, putting it on par with the best models we have seen. We also liked that the M18 is fairly compact, only measuring 130 mm from front to back without a bit installed.

Dislikes


Unfortunately, the M18's compact size is about all we liked in terms of convenience features. You don't have any options to set different levels of torque and we didn't think the built-in light is all that great. It does stay lit for a while but you need to start the chuck actually rotating before it will illuminate. It lacks a quick-insert chuck so you need to release the locking mechanism whenever you insert or remove a bit and there is not an integrated holder for an extra bit.

The light on the M18 is a bit weak.
The light on the M18 is a bit weak.

The M18 also delivered fairly lackluster results in our battery tests. We cycled between setting 14 of the same ledger screws and driving and removing the same lag screw for this test, awarding points based on the number of cycles completed. We started the M18 with a fully charged battery but it only made it through 2.5 sets of this before dying — less than half of what the best models completed. Finally, we measured average sound levels of 99 decibels for the operator when the M18 is in use, with spikes that can go even higher, making it one of the loudest to use.


Value


The M18 is a decent tool but probably shouldn't be your first option if you are shopping on a budget, as we scored other tools higher that cost a non-trivial amount less.

Conclusion


All in all, the M18 isn't our favorite tool but it should get most projects done without much of a fuss and probably can survive a drop better than some of the other products. It wouldn't be our first choice if you are just starting out with your cordless tool collection but would make a solid addition to your set if you already have some Milwaukee tools that use the same battery.

David Wise and Austin Palmer