June 22, 2015

Milwaukee Tools 2015 New Product Symposium

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Last week I was able to head off to Milwaukee Tools for their annual Product Symposium where they unleashed all of their latest and greatest tools and gear. There is a lot coming too. To get a sense of what I'm trying to get at, picture a giant red tidal wave with white lightning bolts shooting out of it (a toolnami, if you will). Hearing about each and every one of these new tools over the course of a single day was like being attacked by a grizzly bear made entirely of information. Honestly, towards the end, my mind was beaten down to the point where I felt like Brad Pitt from 12 Monkeys. Now here I am a few days later, trying to decipher my scribbled notes and jumbled memories.

Here's what I've got for you...

The hand tool segment is completely rocking. This was the first group of tools that I saw, and I was glad for that fact. After writing about tools for as long as I have, I'm actually less excited about drill advancements than I am wrench advancements. Putting a handful more inch pounds of torque on a drill or impact is cool and all, but to really craft a nice knife or wrench, well that taps into some sort of ancient craft that really appeals to me. Some of these hand tools have been around for ages and to come up with a true and honest advancement is really just straight-up cool.

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Chief among these new hand tools is something called The Cheater, which is a pipe wrench that can accept a variety of different sized handles (depending on the amount of "oomph" you need). The handles thread into the base unit, which can also be used as a stand-alone (it has a small handle on it to start with). The wrench has a wide jaw capacity and a narrow head, so it'll good in most situations. The extension handles are simply pieces of pipe with a threaded end, so it will be interesting the first time some plumber decides to attach a five foot length of pipe for a stuck radiator connection. Milwaukee advises against doing this....but we all know it's only a matter of time...

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Also, the company is in the process of gearing up for the Fastback III (available early 2016). Anyone who has ever met me (or even stood next to me for more than three minutes) knows that I'm a huge fan of the original Fastback and the Fastback II. The new one offers the same one-handed fast release, but the blade storage can hold four additional blades, with no added width (compared to the FBII). It also has a little nub added up at the nose to stop the thumb from hopping the fence and jumping on the blade. On top of this, the blade swing will have an additional stop at the 45 degree mark for when you are doing aggressive downward cutting. The body is going to have a slight redesign and the pointed end of the Fastback I and II will be replaced with a more rounded over look (not sure if I like that part yet). They also told me that it will cost the same as the II ($15).

Oh and there will also be a compact Fastback released as well as some other EDC knifes that look really cool. And a few insulation knives.

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Also in hand tools are some new adjustable wrenches. As someone who has researched and written extensively on adjustable wrenches, I can say that these new ones are really, really, nice. They've smeared some special mojo over the knurled adjustment thumb dial that makes it the steadiest I've ever used. The handles are all metal (no padding), but still very comfortable, kind of like the Bahcos. I'm really interested in taking a closer look at one of these when they become available.

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They also have some new kinda-sorta touchscreen gloves that look nice. Since the capacitive elements that activate touchscreen aren't super durable, they've added them to the knuckle of the forefinger instead of the finger tips. It's a cool work around, but it's really only for a single swipe of answering the phone. For more detailed work (like dialing in the Fab Five Freddy Spotify channel), you'll probably have to take the gloves off.

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Moving into cordless, I might as well start with their new 9.0 Ah battery (yep, you heard right). According to Milwaukee, the battery is eleventy billion times more powerful and long-lasting than any other battery ever created in the history of forever (these figures may be incorrect, I learned about the battery towards the end of the day, but the sentiment is right on). The battery is about the size of a 10-gallon fishtank and has some ridiculous capabilities. I forget the exact numbers (or rather, I can't read my handwriting), but it basically gives corded capabilities to their corded tools. This is a hefty statement too, especially given how capable the Milwaukee brushless line is already.

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This mega battery also makes a few new tools a reality, such as their 18-volt Mag Drill. Mag Drills aren't really in my wheelhouse, but after learning about theirs I kept thinking, "you know, I could find a lot of uses for that thing."

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The new One Battery (...to rule them all...) also helps create the "World's First 18-Volt SDS Max Rotary Hammer," which provides 20 minutes of continuous chipping on a single battery.

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On to other cordless, they've updated their FUEL brushless drills and impacts. I liked the first version, but they were kinda heavy. These new ones lighten the load and offer much better handles, which I thought were really nice (and higher torque).

As a big fan of angle grinders (possibly my favorite tool), I has happy to see yet another new one from Milwaukee. It's cordless and has a very effective brake. Anyone who has ever wasted half their life staring at a grinder wheel slowly winding to a stop before being able to put the tool down can understand the benefits of this feature.

Upping the game with their inspection camera, they have a new M-Spector Flex System. The screen can be detached from the handle and a picture can be taken from either end; the base or the screen (I'm pretty sure that's what my notes say). But best of all, one of the flexible wands that can be attached has a control at the base that allows you to pivot the camera tip around. It's just a great idea and it seems like a really nice execution too. In motion, the tip of the wand looks like an inchworm that has gotten to the end of your finger and is trying to figure out where to go next.

Lighting is another area that Milwaukee has invested in this past year. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but they have a new trip-pod LED that blows the doors off any lame old halogen. Eskimos have 1000 words for "snow" and I have 1000 words for "how much I hate halogen work lights," so I was really excited to see this new lineup. In addition to the tripod light, they also have a small pivoting LED coming too, which also looks great.

As much as I liked the tripod light (and I honestly really liked it), it is not AC compatible, so it needs a designated 18 volt battery (the smaller pivoting one is AC compatible). This is a real bummer about the larger light. It immediately takes the list of potential purchasers and cuts it down to "those already heavily invested in the Milwaukee 18-volt platform." Someone who can spare a battery full-time for a work light is someone who has five or six of the things kicking around. It sounds like it was a cost decision to not include AC, but I really think it would have been a much better tool had they included it. The light is so nice, if it could be plugged in, I could see literally everyone I know investing in one.

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Milwauke has also grown their Pex Expander lineup to now include a Large Diameter Pex Tool. This can handle connections up to 3-inches in diameter. Pretty huge.

Lastly, (and trust me, there is a lot of good stuff I'm not getting to) there are some new drill bits called Red Helix. They have a "continually variable helix" and I believe they taper in from the tip so that the shaft doesn't heat up and smoke the hole or the bit. The fluting also seemed to have a new geometry to it that changed significantly as it went down the bit. This was my final stop before the end of the show and by that point, my head was a wasteland. The only thing I have written down is, "Continually Variable Helix....great band name."

So yes, those were just some of the take aways. It's an onslaught of new tools and a really impressive showing by a company that keeps finding ways to up the ante. There was one small item that I think summarizes what I've seen out of Milwaukee since I started covering tools way back in 2007. I was in the hand tool room and I was looking at the Fastback III, thinking to myself, "man, who would ever think to improve upon the Fastback II? It has it all, right? It's gotten tons of press, it must sell well, and every tool writer I know thinks it's just about the best knife out there...so why keep pushing?" Letting it ride and holding on to the Fastback II seems like such an easy thing to do, but that's not the way that Milwaukee rolls, they just keep going and going, every year, adding new tools and improving on the ones they already have. The word I've used a bunch of times already in this post is "impressive," because that's exactly what it is.

Read More in: Benches, Stands, and Storage | Bits and Blades | Clothing | Cordless | Electrical | Grinders | Hand Tools | Inspection Tools | Levels | Lithium-Ion | Measuring & Marking | Plumbing | Power Tool Accessories | Power Tools | Safety | Work Lights

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Posted by Doug Mahoney at June 22, 2015 11:50 AM
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