This article aims to be a brief comparison of high-end tool brands like Makita, Dewalt and Milwaukee. It does not cover tool brands strictly intended for professionals like Festool, whose prices can be difficult to justify for non-daily use. Instead, it focuses on high-end tool brands that are both aimed at the professional and the average handyman.

Tools from different brands can sometimes offer performance and value for money that appear very similar. Because of this the most relevant reason to opt for a tool from one brand over another can sometimes seem to be the color of the tool and its overall appearance, depending on the user's preference. However, we can distinguish certain characteristics that differentiate them by digging a little deeper into the subject. For example, when deciding to start investing in a cordless tool platform, it may be helpful to consider the selection of tools it offers to ensure it will meet our needs over time.

Here are the brands covered in this article:

Bosch

This brand is reputed for its drill and its rotary hammer drill. The “Bulldog” rotary hammer drill is considered to be among the best. I have a spade handle drill/mixer from this brand and it is a good tool that has plenty of power for my needs (drill holes with large forstner bits).

Bosch has two cordless tool platforms. One of them offers tools running on 18 V. Just like its competitors that are named in this article, Bosch offers a host of cordless tools compatible with its 18 V batteries: circular saws, jigsaws, reciprocating saws or even mitre saws, impact drivers and drills, angle grinders, and more.

Bosch spade handle drill/mixer
A Bosch spade handle drill/mixer

Bosch's other system is called 12V Max and offers lighter and more compact tools than those in its 18 V platform. The name 12V Max is, however, somewhat misleading. You can learn more about this in the sections that follow on Dewalt and Milwaukee.

Dewalt

The founder of this American brand, Raymond DeWalt, invented the radial arm saw in 1922. This tool fell out of fashion today, but has had tremendous success in the last century and is still commonly used to some degree. Some Dewalt tools are lighter than similar tools of other brands. These tools are of a quality similar to Milwaukee and Makita, and are priced accordingly.

Dewalt offers several cordless tool platforms on the market: the best known and most widely used is the one called 20V MAX in North America and 18V XR ​​elsewhere in the world. You may be surprised to learn that there is no technical difference between the two platforms and that the difference stems only from marketing purposes. The 20V MAX name was first used by Dewalt in 2011, when the brand switched to a platform using only lithium batteries, which were more efficient in some ways than the nickel-cadmium batteries often used in their previous platform. These batteries are still used in the industry because of some advantages they still present, but are now considered obsolete for consumer applications. The Dewalt batteries taking over also featured the other novelty of now sliding into the tool differently.

In making the transition, the American company took the opportunity to name its new system 20V MAX in North America to distinguish it from the old one (and, presumably, to make it more attractive to the potential customer). However, these tools do indeed operate on 18 V according to the conventional nomenclature; The name 20V MAX is taken from the maximum voltage that the battery can reach just after being charged.

However, this situation is not unique in the field of cordless tools and it would be wrong to blame Dewalt alone for this state of affairs. Black and Decker, for example, calls its 18 V tools 20V MAX while Craftsman uses the name V20. In their defense, all of these brands put on their website an asterisk at the end of these names and going further down on their page you can read an inscription that looks like this:

*Maximum initial battery voltage is 20 V. Nominal voltage is 18 V.

The nominal voltage being the actual voltage at which the tool operates. At least some brands, including Dewalt, also include this asterisk on their tool packaging. You can learn more on the matter in the Milwaukee section further down in this article.

You will perhaps agree with my position on the subject: despite the explanatory asterisk and the temptation for brands to do like their competitors, in my eyes the process lacks transparency, because it may have a strong tendency to mislead the customer. The fact that there is often no indication about this on the websites of hardware stores or other places where these tools are sold does not help the matter, nor does the fact that the brands whose designation is not misleading lose a competitive advantage over the others.

In any way, I find that some sort of irony is not absent from the fact that in North America, we screw into 2x4s measuring 1 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches with 20 V drills or impact drivers that actually have 18 V. If you weren’t aware about the dimensions of the 2x4, you are not alone: ​​their stated dimensions refer to the measurements before planing. This is also true for the rest of the construction lumber and the pine or hardwood boards that are sold in hardware stores, for example.

Coming back to the subject, Dewalt also offers, like for example Milwaukee and Bosch, 12 V tools (or rather 10.8 V, see below) based on a system called 12V MAX, but also a system called 40V MAX, having 36 V and being both less extensive and less popular than the other Dewalt platforms named here. Finally, Dewalt offers a system called Flexvolt. Flexvolt batteries are compatible with 20V MAX tools, but can also provide 60V current (actually 54 V) to more powerful tools. Dewalt also uses the name 120V MAX, but this only serves to designate equipment using two Flexvolt batteries to reach a nominal voltage of 108 V.

Milwaukee

Milwaukee is the company that invented the reciprocating saw (sawzall) and it is probably the high-end brand that offers the best performances and value for money for these type of saw. Some of Milwaukee’s products are still manufactured in the United States.

Milwaukee offers three cordless tool platforms:

Milwaukee tools and accessories
Milwaukee sheet metal sheers, drill bits and reciprocating saw blades

M12 : this is a range of compact tools that actually operates at 10.8 V, just like platforms from competing brands, which are often called 12V Max. This is now the standard name in the industry. Even if there could be even earlier precedents, my research seems to indicate that by launching its M12 line of tools in 2007, Milwaukee was the first to have somewhat exaggerated the voltage of its tools. Indeed, the name M12 does not necessarily refer to voltage, but it strongly evokes it. Subsequently, other brands, such as Bosch, Makita and Dewalt followed suit, this time using the name 12V Max to designate their 10.8 V tools. The M12 system, however, is probably the most famous of them and is an excellent option for those who prefer to work with more compact and lightweight tools.

M18 : In Milwaukee’s defense, this platform refers to the nominal (actual) voltage of the tool. As with other brands, this 18V system is the most commonly used. It is a competitive option when compared to, for example, Dewalt’s 20V MAX system.

MX Fuel This is a 72 V (or 80 V Max) platform which seems to me strictly intended for professionals, even more so than platforms like Flexvolt from Dewalt or Multivolt from Metabo HTP. This platform indeed offers tools that even a seasoned DIYer could not justify the purchase such as, for example, a jackhammer. When launching its MX Fuel platform, Milwaukee did not seek to highlight its voltage, although it is considerable, but rather sought to position it as an alternative to gasoline tools.

Makita

As for electrical cordless chainsaws, Makita is one step ahead of Milwaukee since it acquired Dolmar, a chainsaw brand, as well as their patents and technologies. That being said, my personal favourite brand to buy an electrical cordless chainsaw from is Ryobi, since their value for money seems better as they are much cheaper.

Still, Makita is a brand I really like. My router tool and my random orbital sander are from this brand and they are both very good tools.

A Makita router tool
A Makita router tool

Ridgid

Ridgid is an old American brand that was in the past mostly known for its plumbing tools. In Quebec, the electrical tools from this brand are exclusively sold by Home Depot. This chain of stores often makes promotions to put forward this brand along with Ryobi, also exclusive to Home Depot. At the time of writing, for example, a battery and a charger are given when buying some Ryobi and Ridgid tools. This time I have no first-hand experience with the brand’s tools, but for what it’s worth I can say I have a good impression of them and that they seem to be of good quality.

Maximum

Just like the Mastercraft brand, Maximum is a private label brand owned by the Canadian Tire chain of stores. Maximum’s tools are of a better quality than Mastercraft and while this is not the case for their power tools, their hand tools are backed up by a lifetime warranty. That being said, that brand is much less renowned than big names like Dewalt, Milwaukee and Makita. Just like the rest of the tools sold by Canadian Tire, it is often much better to buy them only when they are on sale. Many items sold by this chain of stores at regular price do not provide a good value for the money when compared to what you can get at other hardware store.

Metabo HTP

Hitachi tools changed their name to Metabo HTP (for Hitachi Power Tools) in 2018, but the company maintains that this didn't affect the quality of their tools. This brand name can however be confusing because there is another distinct brand of tools called Metabo (without the HTP).

Like most other high-end brands, Metabo HTP offers more than one line of cordless tools, two in this case. The first one consists of a classic system running on 18V batteries. The second, launched more recently, is powered by 36V batteries and features more powerful tools designed to accomplish harder tasks. Their 36V batteries are compatible with 18V tools, but the reverse is not true.

I have not invested in tools from this brand, but it seems to me that the 36V system from Metabo HTP could be particularly interesting for users who need heavy-duty cordless tools. However, systems from other brands such as Dewalt's Flexvolt, which can deliver up to 60V, may also be suitable.

My Father's house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. John 14:2-3

Why these verses?