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How have Milwaukee’s M18 Fuel cordless hammer drills changed over the years? Is the latest model a big upgrade? Let’s take a look.
In a recent post, I compared all of Milwaukee’s M12 and M18 cordless drills, or at least all of the current and upcoming models.
A reader gave me the idea of comparing just the M18 Fuel hammer drills, to potentially help anyone looking to upgrade from an older model.
In a comment, JR Ramos wrote:
I am generally upgrading from an older tool/broken-stolen tool which is usually a previous generation of some flavor. In this instance, if I want to use your charts, I can’t see anything about Fuel Gen 2 vs Gen 3 vs Gen 4 so I have to go snoop listed specs and reviews anyway.
That’s a good point. So, let’s compare all of the four generations of Milwaukee M18 Fuel cordless hammer drills.
Milwaukee also has cordless drill/driver models that share almost all of the same features and specs as the hammer drills. But, as they hammer drills are significantly more popular, that’s what we’ll focus on here, for simplicity. Most of the same features and specs carry over to the non-hammer model M18 Fuel drills, but not all, such as the lengths from the back of the motor to the front of the chuck.
In the last 11 years, Milwaukee has launched 4 generations of M18 Fuel hammer drills.
Milwaukee launched their first M18 Fuel hammer drill in 2012. This and the corresponding drill/driver were Milwaukee’s first M18 Fuel cordless power tools, and their first tools to be engineered with brushless motors.
Upgraded models launched every 3-4 years since then, each with generational improvements in either features, performance, size, or a combination of factors.
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* The One-Key versions of these M18 Fuel hammer drills, models 2706 and 2806, offered customizable anti-kickback settings. The latest 2904 drill (and non-hammer 2903) is the first non-One-Key model to feature anti-kickback tech. The AutoStop feature is customizable in the latest model 2904 and 2906 (hammer) M18 Fuel drills with One-Key.
The AutoStop feature is designed to prevent over-rotation, such as when the drill binds up during an operation. When it senses a potential kickback event, the AutoStop tech turns off power to the motor to help protect the user.
Let’s start off by looking at the max torque and speeds. The latest generation M18 Fuel hammer drill, 2904, is Milwaukee’s most powerful and fastest to date.
Is it a significant upgrade? I think so.
As you might know, the lower speed range should be used for higher torque applications. The maximum (no-load) low speed setting has been reduced between 3rd and 4th generation drills, from 550 to 500 RPM, a difference of 10%. The maximum torque increased from 1200 to 1400 in-lbs, a difference of 16.7%. The maximum high speed has also increased from 2000 to 2100 RPM, a difference of 5%.
From my conversations with a Milwaukee product manager at last year’s media event, there are differences beyond what you can see in the technical specs. For the latest model, the tool’s endurance has been improved compared to previous models.
Basically, you can push it harder than you could with earlier models, without overheating the tool as easily or quickly. Can it still overheat? Probably, but I have not heard any complaints about this so far.
Here’s a look inside the latest generation M18 Fuel hammer drill (2904) and impact driver (2953).
Part of the greater endurance comes from improved thermal dissipation, with the internal heatsink over the electronics package having been completely redesigned.
The 4th generation model also has more ventilation holes around the motor housing. It seems logical that more airflow would mean greater cooling.
Additionally, Milwaukee went back to a mechanical clutch for the latest model. I have found cordless drills with adjustable mechanical clutches to provide more consistent and repeatable torque than those with electronic clutches, especially with smaller fasteners.
It’s okay to take a step backwards – I see this as an upgrade.
Milwaukee reduced the length of the M18 Fuel hammer drills for the first three generations, from 8.1 inches to 7.75 inches and then 6.9 inches.
While the 4th generation model isn’t any more compact than its direct predecessor, it does deliver higher torque and a faster top speed.
If you want a smaller or lighter drill, look at the new M18 compact brushless drills, or maybe the M12 line.
The 4th generation M18 Fuel hammer drill is a significant upgrade compared to 1st and 2nd generation models.
Compared to the 3rd generation model, the latest flagship drill can deliver more torque, higher maximum speed, has greater endurance, and in my opinion an improved chuck.
There are modest upgrades in what you can see in a list of technical specs, such as the max torque and high speed range, and significant differences in what you can’t – most notably the AutoStop anti-kickback tech, greater endurance, and return to a mechanical clutch.
I have tested all of the models, and really like the 4th generation hammer drill. I have mainly used it for drilling larger holes in wood, but have also it to drill in steel and packed soil, and drive fasteners. It delivers – in my opinion so far – a very polished user experience. I have zero complaints about its power, size, or comfort.
Milwaukee has upgraded their M18 Fuel hammer drill every 3 to 4 years since the first one launched in 2012. With that in mind, it might be late 2025 or maybe 2026 before we see the next iteration. Frankly, I can’t imagine what types of upgrades a 5th generation model could offer.
The 4th generation model, 2904, is as good as it gets.
Compared to the previous model, I think the newest Milwaukee M18 Fuel hammer drill is definitely a worthwhile upgrade. Hopefully I provided you with enough details to answer the question for yourself.
At the time of this posting, Home Depot has a very good deal bundle, where you get the hammer drill, 2x M18 Li-ion batteries, and a charger for $199 – the same price as fir the tool-only option.