Dewalt, Ridgid and Milwaukee Cordless Drill and Sawzall Kits Compared

Common cordless drill kits

As an electrician I own and use cordless tools a great deal with the most common being cordless drill and sawzall kits. I also use a cordless circular saw and an cordless impact driver along with a few others that seldom leave my toolbox. I have owned Ridgid, Dewalt and Milwaukee tool sets and have used a few others, but those are the three common brands in my area.

A popular cordless drill kit today consists of a drill, sawzall, a flashlight using the same battery and perhaps a cordless circular saw. It will also have 1 or two batteries and a charger to charge either one or two batteries at a time. Cordless sets consisting of a drill or drill and sawzall are also common and perhaps of more benefit to the homeowner, although I use the flashlight a good deal around the home as I always have a charged battery for it. More and more of the cordless impact drivers are being seen in toolboxes; they are a popular addition to the cordless line.
General Considerations

While cordless tools have been an enormous boon for the construction worker, they may or may not be a good choice for homeowner. Owners that only use their cordless drill a few times a year to drill a small hole or tighten a screw here and there will find their batteries discharged and ruined from lack of use. Batteries left unused will lose their charge from internal leakage and if not charged periodically will deteriorate to the point they will neither accept a full charge nor hold one. Neither are new batteries cheap – an 18 volt nicad battery will cost around $50 or more, with the newer lithium batteries being much higher.

While a drill is unquestionably one of the tools a homeowner needs to have on hand, the sawzall is not used nearly as much. Yes, it can trim bushes and make rough cuts in wood but it just doesn’t see the use around most homes that a drill that can also drive screws does. A cordless circular saw can be very nice to make a quick cut through a 2 X 4, but it takes a lot of power and the battery doesn’t last long. They are also small and light: good for cutting panelling or plywood but not intended to cut large amounts of heavier lumber. If a cordless tool is expected to only see use a few times a year then perhaps a corded tool would be a better purchase – they are much cheaper and battery charging is eliminated. On the other hand, if a homeowner does some home improvement projects of even a good bit of repair work a cordless drill kit with a sawzall can be a very nice addition to their toolbox.

If a cordless tool is to be purchased, make sure it is at least an 18 volt tool. While it is true that these are powerful tools and can injure the user if used carelessly they are the minimum necessary even around the home. Smaller, lower voltage tools just don’t have the power for drilling any but the smaller holes or driving a few small screws. The batteries also don’t last very long in the 12 or 14.4 volt range which means that a fresh battery always needs to be readily available. Make sure that the tool kit, even if only a drill, has at least two batteries – there is little more annoying than to start a task and then have to wait an hour while charging the only battery. With at least two batteries one battery can be charging while the other is being used although if heavy use or use of multiple tools is anticipated a third battery can be very nice. If it is within the budget the newer lithium batteries are much preferable as they last longer and are considerably lighter in weight.
Ridgid cordless drill kit
Ridgid cordless drill kit

My current cordless drill kit was made by Ridgid and consists of a drill, sawzall, flashlight, circular saw, planer, and impact driver. At the time of purchase Ridgid offered a lifetime warranty on the entire set (the impact driver and planer were sold separately) including the batteries; as the batteries always need replacement about once a year for me it seemed a good deal. It is a 24 volt lithium set which added to the value as the lithium batteries last a lot longer between charges and are considerably lighter.

The cordless drill is comparable in power to the Milwaukee and Dewalt sets but is considerably heavier without the battery; when the battery is added the weight is only slightly heavier, but that extra weight is still an annoyance when using it all day and that is compounded by the fact the drill is not very well balanced. After only a year of use the bearings need replaced, as does the trigger, and I don’t feel that is an acceptable lifespan.

The sawzall is also very heavy and awkward. The “foot” is adjustable, and that is a nice feature, but it continually falls out – it is only a matter of time until it is lost completely. The sawzall has slowed down, particularly in cold weather, to the point that is nearly useless after a year – again an unsatisfactory performance.

The batteries are lightweight and contain considerable power, but have a very annoying feature in that some kind of switch inside “kills” the battery under heavy current draw. If the drill or sawzall locks up (jams and stops moving) the battery dies and requires the charger to re-activate it. As the charger may be across the workplace charging another battery it is often very inconvenient to “re-start” the battery, so special care must be taken to never lock up the tool. Personally, I believe that most people are smart enough to release the trigger when jammed; the extra safety feature is unneeded and a total waste. In addition I have been told that extra batteries cost as much as $250 – nearly as much as I paid for the set with two batteries in it!

The one time I had the tool (a battery) in for service it took nearly 2 months to simply get a replacement battery, and this is also unacceptable. I make my living with these tools and cannot afford to be without them for extended periods.

Final analysis: I will not purchase another Ridgid cordless tool. Although I have been pleased with the impact driver and with the planer (what little I have used it) the problems in dealing with the rest of the set will prevent further purchases.
Dewalt cordless drill kit
Dewalt cordless tools from Amazon
DEWALT DCK240C2 20v Lithium Drill Driver/Impact Combo Kit (1.3Ah)
DEWALT DCK240C2 20v Lithium Drill Driver/Impact Combo Kit (1.3Ah)
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Dewalt cordless drill kit

My backup cordless drill set is made by Dewalt and I have been pleased with it. The bearings in the drill are weakening and the chuck wobbles a tiny bit, but this is after two years of hard use, which I find acceptable.

The cordless drill is well balanced and smaller than other brands which can be very handy in getting into small areas. I prefer the Milwaukee sawzall as the Dewalt tool produces a lot of vibration and can be a little hard to use, but it is not unacceptable in this regard – it just could be a little better.

I prefer the Dewalt flashlight over all of the others – the “snake” head makes it very easy to point the light just where it is needed and makes a good carry handle. Bulbs are expensive if purchased from Dewalt, but there are other manufacturers that work just as well and are much cheaper. Dewalt made two sizes of circular saw – my current one is the larger and much improved version. The original circular saw from Dewalt was very small and not very ergonomically designed but the larger size has eliminated most of my objections there. It is still small and underpowered as all cordless circular saws are, but will cut a few 2X4’s and a good deal of panelling before needing a battery change and that is all I require of it.

Final analysis: Dewalt makes a very good tool and, depending on price, may well be the next set that I purchase. In addition, Dewalt makes a wide variety of other cordless tools using the same battery and charger. Even such things as a rotary laser level are available using their battery system.
Milwaukee cordless drill in action
Milwaukee cordless drill kits from Amazon
Milwaukee 2457-20 M12 3/8 Ratchet tool Only
Milwaukee 2457-20 M12 3/8 Ratchet tool Only
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Milwaukee cordless drill kit

I have owned a Milwaukee cordless drill in the past and have used their sawzall and am impressed with both. My first drill was a few years ago and was not the current “T” configuration; the handle protruded down from the end of the drill and this made it extremely unbalanced. Milwaukee has corrected this with later models in the “T” shape and it has made an enormous difference.

Milwaukee has always, in my opinion, made the “smoothest” operating tools around. There is very little vibration even in the sawzall and after a long day of use it can really make a difference to the user. Drill and sawzall triggers operate better, with smoother and more consistent speed changes and this helps a lot when driving screws or cutting with the sawzall. The “bending” feature of the sawzall can be very useful at times in small, hard to reach areas. I haven’t used their circular saw, but have little doubt that it will share the same quality as the other tools, including lifespan. In that regard, Milwaukee ranks up with Dewalt with little repair needed after 2 years or more of heavy use in most cases.

Final analysis: If it were not for the fact that I still have 6 good Dewalt batteries ($300 value) I would probably purchase the Milwaukee set. The sawzall is a little on the large size and heavy as a result but the positives mostly outweigh that objection.