Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router Review 2838

Milwaukee knocked it out of the park with its M18 Fuel Compact Router. Will it be the same story for the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-inch router? I got my hands on it to find out and help you decide if it’s the next must-have cordless tool to add to your woodworking set.


Pros

  • Performance that can replace corded models
  • Less expensive than competing cordless model
  • Fixed and plunge bases are available
  • Excellent sightlines to the bit
  • Universal dust port included
  • Rail compatible

Cons

Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router Performance

Despite the current state of battery and motor technology, the cordless mid-size 2 HP router class has been slow to develop. In fact, Milwaukee was only the second to enter the race, with Metabo HPT making the first breakthrough.

Unsurprisingly, Milwaukee turns to its PowerState brushless motor line to transfer power from the M18 RedLithium battery to the bit. With a 2.25 HP output, it’s more power-hungry than the compact router, so plan to use a High Output battery to get the best performance. We recommend either the 6.0Ah or 8.0Ah to balance runtime with the tool’s weight and maneuverability.

Using the variable speed dial, you can adjust your speed from 12,000 to 25,000 RPM easily. One thing to note is that the dial is all the way around on the back side of the router. There’s no easy way to adjust it without taking one hand off the handle and reaching around.

Speed dial

On the fixed base, the depth adjustments include a push-button macro and a dial micro adjustment with 1/64-inch control. Using the fixed base, there’s 2 inches of total depth adjustment to work with and you can feel the macro button slip into the threads like a positive stop.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router and Fixed Base

If you opt for the plunge base (which we recommend getting), you get 2 1/2 inches of travel capacity. The plunge lever sits perfectly to engage with your thumb on the fly, making both the plunge and the lift easy to engage without taking either hand off the handles.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router and Plunge Base

In addition to the depth stop, there’s a turret dial on the base that has 6 steps built in, offering 1/8-inch increments at each stop.

Plunge Base Depth Rod Turret

As you’re working, you won’t have to think much about keeping an eye on the bit. The sightline window is generous and dual LED lights keep the work area around the bit shadow-free. However, this is a strong router and aggressive bits throw a lot of debris through that window, so be sure you don’t neglect your safety glasses.

Under load, it all comes together beautifully. The power level is absolutely capable of replacing your corded model. When it comes to performance, the only thing you’ll have to deal with is wondering why you didn’t cut the cord the day Milwaukee launches its 1/2-inch router.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router Design Notes

The tool on its own weighs 6.2 pounds. We tested with a 6.0Ah High Output battery, bringing the working weight to 8.5 (plus a couple of ounces for the bit).

Both 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch collets come with the tool. There’s nothing unusual about the bit insertion and removal, though our collets needed some use to loosen up and stop sticking. Press in the spindle lock as you work the collet wrench to tighten or loosen the sleeve. You can also use the second wrench on the shaft instead of the spindle lock if that’s easier or you need some extra force.

The handles on the fixed base are comfortable. The shape is agreeable and rubber overmold helps improve the overall comfort. There’s also an adjustable hand strap if you prefer to wrap your hand around the tool body instead of the handles. It works well, though I almost always use the handles since that’s what I’m used to.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router Hand Strap

It’s a similar comfort story for the plunge base, though the handles fill your hand more with a tilt that helps you engage the plunge lever easily. Understandably, there’s also no hand strap.

Considering Milwaukee has a suite of corded routers that have been around for a while, it’s no surprise that the base designs are sound.

There’s a hose adapter that comes with the tool. While it adds the tether of a hose, connecting a good vac helps contain the mess and keeps your sightline a bit clearer from the material you’re removing. Depending on what bit you’re using, you may still have quite a bit of debris escape. That was the case when I was using an ogee bit. However, the vac adapter also shields most of the debris from coming through the window, and simply having fewer chips flying at your face is a win.

Dust Port Adapter

Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-Inch Router Price

While there’s no doubt being cord-free without compromising performance is convenient, you do need to weigh whether the cost is worth it to you. That said, it is less expensive than Metabo HPT’s model.

There are a couple of options to choose from when you’re buying the Milwaukee 2838. The bare tool isn’t exactly bare. It runs $349 and includes:

  • M18 Fuel 1/2-inch Router
  • 1/4-inch and 1/2-inch collets
  • Dust shroud
  • Universal hose adapter
  • Edge guide
  • Template base
  • Collet wrenches

We recommend going with the 2838-21 kit. In addition to adding a battery and charger, the plunge base comes with it as well. The price of that kit is $599. Here’s what it adds over and above what comes with the bare tool:

  • Plunge base
  • 6.0Ah High Output battery
  • M18 and M12 rapid charger

Bases and Adapters

If you want to add a base or guide later, there are a couple to consider.

  • Guide rail adapter (48-10-2838): $149
  • Plunge base (48-10-2838): $149

The Bottom Line

After using Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2-inch router, it’s clear to me that it’s a full corded replacement and has the performance to be your primary router in the 2.25 HP class. For those of you who have your router in your hands a lot during the day, you’ll need an extra battery to keep you going. The cost may be a bit steep for shop-based Pros to abandon their corded models, but for those of you routing on jobsites or who are tired of a cord, you’ll love not searching for a power supply and dragging around extension cords.

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