I started using cordless tools back in the late 1980’s. Back then, about the only choice was a Makita 9.6 volt driver/drill and a 3 3/8″ circular saw. I was working as an electrician back then and the drill was a huge time saver, but it was bulky and seemed to go through batteries quite fast.
In the late 1990’s, I bought my first cordless drill/driver set, a DeWalt 18XRP combo kit that served me well for many years. By 2012, I had a fairly complete set of tools for this battery platform. They worked well, but the batteries took quite a while to charge and were much heavier than the newer Lithium batters that had recently come out. DeWalt had been promising a converter that would let their older XRP tools use the new batteries, but it wasn’t being delivered, so I decided since I had to replace all of my tools anyway1, I might as well look at changing brands. After extensive research, I finally decided on the Milwaukee M18 line of tools.
At the time, Milwaukee had the widest variety of cordless tools available, and they all worked off of the same battery. Most manufacturers only had a drill, impact driver, and not much else commonly available. I didn’t want to deal with multiple manufacturers as I had been doing volunteer work and had witnessed the frustrations others had when all of their tools required different batteries and they had to bring along a bucket full of chargers to get through the day. I wanted to be able to have a solid, reliable set of tools that all used the same battery, so I could swap batteries between tools if necessary. It was very convenient to just have one extra battery, and one charger, and swap it out as needed. I currently have about 15 different tools in the M18 line and have been quite pleased with all of them. I have also added some of the M12 line of tools primarily for around the house use. They are lighter, but still plenty powerful for most DIY tasks, and the Milwaukee chargers will charge both sizes, so I don’t have to deal with multiple chargers.
What would I recommend to people today? I spend a fair amount of time at my local Home Depot. I know most of the employees, and will often assist other customers. For about 90% of the people, I tell them they cannot beat the Ridgid line sold as the house brand by Home Depot. They are solid, have plenty of tools available, and a lifetime replacement guarantee on the batteries. You do have to jump through some hoops to keep all the bean counters happy, but it is a relatively minor task. For the other 10%, Makita, Milwaukee, and DeWalt are all good, solid offerings. If the tools you want are available from the vendor, then you really cannot go wrong with any of them.
1. In 2015, DeWalt did finally release an adapter that allowed the XRP tools to use the 20V Lithium batteries ↩