One of the most popular brands of power tools, Milwaukee has provided top-of-the-line, high-performance tools for several decades. They have established themselves as one of the best brands for cordless power tools as well. In 2012, Milwaukee has created a line of brushless tools known as FUEL™, which is separate from their standard lineup.
What follows are the basic characteristics and differences between standard Milwaukee tools and their FEUL brand.
Milwaukee M18 Non-Fuel
The M18 is a line of cordless power tools that use lithium-ion batteries. Milwaukee introduced their M18 series in 2008 as an upgrade to their M12 system. The 18V battery offers a more powerful solution than the previous 12V battery packs.
It should be noted that as with the FUEL line, both types of Milwaukee power tools are designed to be long-lasting, durable, and for professionals such as construction workers, carpenters, and builders.
Milwaukee M18 FUEL
Ever since the launch of their REDLITHIUM™ batteries, Milwaukee has been trying to improve the performance of their M18 line of cordless tools. In the year 2012 Milwaukee launched the M18 FUEL range of cordless power tools.
The Milwaukee M18 FUEL™ tools are contractor-grade power tools that are well built and offer better vibration control and protection from water and heat.
FUEL represents an advanced line of Milwaukee tools that offers even better power, durability, and longer run times compared to the non-FUEL line that has been in existence for decades. The FEUL tools use the same M12 or M18 battery sizes, but the tools themselves are different in important ways.
M18 vs M18 Fuel
Contrary to what you hear online, the difference between these two versions does not lie in brushed vs brushless motors. In fact, many of the non-fuel M18 tools now come with brushless motors.
So, what is the difference between the M18 and M18 FUEL tools?
All Milwaukee M18 Fuel tools are equipped with three of their trademarked technologies. They are; the powerful POWERSTATE™ brushless motor, efficient REDLITHIUM™ battery technology, and the intelligent REDLINK PLUS™ software and hardware communication system.
There are unconfirmed rumors that Milwaukee put together a team of engineers for the FUEL project and the term FUEL stands for Find Ultimate Energy Levels.
Although similar in some ways, the main difference between FEUL and their Non-FUEL counterparts is that all FEUL tools use their POWERSTATE™ brushless motors. This trademarked brushless motor is significantly more powerful and works very efficiently with the Milwaukee REDLITHIUM™ high-demand lithium-ion batteries.
Plus, not all of the compact brushless tools produced by Milwaukee have the drive and torque found in the FUEL lineup.
Another difference is the compact design, something that was demanded by professionals who work in tight spaces. The M18 FUEL models are also equipped with REDLINK PLUS™ software and hardware combination which intelligently control the power supply from the battery. So, the FUEL brand is built around high performance while the compact lineup emphasizes convenience and ergonomics when working in tighter than normal spaces.
That is the major difference between the FUEL and Non-FUEL Milwaukee power tools. Each has its own emphasis, but both types are durable, dependable, and well-designed on their own. One area that both have in common is the use of the brushless motor.
Can I Use M18 Batteries in M18 FUEL?
The M18 batteries are interchangeable with regular M18 and M18 FUEL models. However, the M18 Fuel will give you significantly more battery life with the new REDLITHIUM HD (High Demand) battery pack.
A couple of very old models were non-compatible and Milwaukee offered free upgrades to the owners of those tools.
What is a Brushless Motor?
For many decades, standard motors used in power tools used brushes to create the push-pull effect which creates the motion desired. You can easily see the brushes in such motors and while they have practical advantages there is one significant drawback, friction.
Because there is physical contact, the friction creates heat which in turn brings about complications that can shorten the life of the motor. You can feel the heat generated by a standard brush motor design which limits the time you can use the device unless you want it to overheat. Plus, physical contact also means a greater chance of a breakdown occurring.
Brushless motors essentially reverse the design of a motor with brushes. There are no commuter rings around the armature. Instead, the electromagnet motor is now the outer ring instead of the inner one, eliminating the need for brushes to operate the system. There still an inner rotor or armature which is fashioned from copper wire, but the motor itself has been completely redesigned.
Milwaukee FUEL vs Brushless
All M18 FUEL comes with brushless motors while some of the regular M18 tools also have brushless motors. The difference between Milwaukee FUEL and brushless M18 is that the FUEL version has a much more powerful POWERSTATE™ brushless motor, which according to the manufacturer is 4 times more powerful.
In our experience, we found that the M18 FUEL outperformed the non-fuel M18 brushless by a factor of 30 to 50%. The difference was significant in tools such as Milwaukee M18 FUEL impact drivers and hackzall. The FUEL versions of other power tools like impact wrenches and cordless circular saws also performed better than the non-fuel counterparts.
There are numerous advantages when using a brushless motor as found in both Milwaukee FEUL and Non-FUEL power tools.
One of the subtler differences is the control you have over a brushless motor at lower speeds. The vibrations inherent in motors with brushes make them vibrate and more difficult to properly control. At lower speeds, the issues of control become more problematic as the vibrations combined with getting through the material created a less precise operation.
With brushless motors, the vibrations are less which means that you can exhibit greater control over the device even at lower speeds.
With fewer parts compared to a motor with brushes, less can go wrong. This is true of any motor design in which more can be accomplished while using fewer parts. The brushless motor consists of a fixed magnet with a surrounding electromagnet, an inner rotor, and the circuit board that controls the signals of the polarity. The fewer parts mean that less gets in the way of the motor operation so fewer things can go wrong.
With less getting in the way, the device can increase its RPM thanks to the brushless design. With higher speeds comes greater versatility and potential as you can power through tougher material all with less heat and stress on the motor.
Lower Heat Levels
A brushless motor will still heat up, but not nearly to the degree of one that includes brushes in the design. Less heat means less wear on the parts that are inside a brushless motor. Plus, it makes the device easier to handle and operate over longer periods.
Lower Energy Requirements
Because less energy is needed to operate a brushless motor, it draws less power from the battery compared to a motor with brushes. This means that your battery will last longer as less power is being pulled to do the same task. With motors that have brushes, more energy is required to overcome the friction inherent in the design. That is not true with brushless motors.
Brushless motors are safer because they have a design that removes the possibility of sparks being generated. This is because of the lack of physical contact compared to a motor that has brushes.
No sparks mean no chance of getting burned in that manner. Plus, it is safer to use when flammable material is nearby.
A side benefit is with brushless motors having fewer parts, it is easier to diagnose and repair a problem when it occurs. After all, there are only so many parts involved in a brushless motor design. So, you can make the repair and get back to work quicker compared to a motor that has brushes.
Fuel vs Non-Fuel: Which One Should I Buy?
The FUEL line of Milwaukee tools offers considerable innovations that help make them some of the most desired power tools available. Thanks to the advanced technology that incorporates the POWERSTATE, REDLUTHIUM, and REDLINK innovations, the FUEL line offers a powerful set of tools for heavy-duty use.
If cost is your main concern, then you can choose from the non-FUEL line for less powerful, but still very reliable power tools. However, if your need a powerful tool, then get an M18 brushless or M18 Fuel which are more compact power tools designed for tighter spaces.