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Milwaukee Fuel vs Brushless – What Does it Mean?

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Milwaukee’s M12 and M18 FUEL cordless power tools are often their best and higher performing models.

A Milwaukee M18 Fuel circular saw, for example, will deliver greater cutting performance than a non-Fuel model.

From the beginning, Milwaukee Fuel cordless tools featured brushless motors. More specifically, most (if not all) M12 and M18 Fuel tools feature Milwaukee POWERSTATE brushless motors and REDLINK PLUS electronic controls and “intelligence.”

But now there are a growing number of brushless M18 and M12 tools that aren’t part of the “Fuel” product family.

Milwaukee M18 Fuel Hammer Drill Drilling into Wood Floor 2904

For the longest time, most users associated Milwaukee’s “FUEL” branding with “brushless.”

Milwaukee M18 Compact Brushless Drill 3601 with Wood Auger Bit

However, Milwaukee also has non-Fuel brushless tools.

Milwaukee launched their first M18 compact brushless drills and impact driver in 2015.

Milwaukee M12 Brushless Cordless Rotary Tool Speed Selector Switch

Milwaukee has launched additional non-Fuel brushless tools since then, such as the recent M12 brushless rotary tool.

Milwaukee M12 Cordless Planer 2524-20 Trimming Countertop

Despite being described as “the most powerful 12V planer on the market,” Milwaukee M12 brushless planer also does not have “Fuel” designation.

Milwaukee M18 Cordless Rotary Hammer 2613 Chipping Concrete Pad

At around this time last year, Milwaukee had just announced their new M18 brushless SDS Plus rotary hammer. It was advertised as having RedLink Plus intelligence, although it’s now described as having RedLink inteligence.

Brushless vs PowerState Brushless? RedLink vs RedLink Plus? Fuel vs Brushless?

What’s the difference? I asked Milwaukee about all this about a year ago.

Here’s what they said:

When we set out to develop a new product, solving user frustration and meeting their demands is the core of everything. The main difference between FUEL and regular brushless tools is the level of torque and drive power. The FUEL range is considered the premium of our brushless power tools. FUEL tools have all the benefits of brushless motor technology paired with the most power possible. Look at it this way: all FUEL tools have brushless motors, but not all of Milwaukee’s brushless motor options have the power that the POWERSTATE brushless motor delivers to the FUEL tools.

The Brushless Threaded Rod Cutter is a great example of this. For that specific product, we decided not to make it FUEL because we didn’t create this tool to deliver sheer power. The biggest problem we were trying to solve with this tool was the need for a more ergonomic solution. Therefore, it’s brushless instead of FUEL. Just because something isn’t FUEL doesn’t mean it’s not for professionals. Not all professional tools have the goal of raw power.

For the two most recent products that you have asked this question about the answer is simply that the products did not need the power of FUEL to meet user expectations. There will be periods where you may see more brushless then FUEL but I can assure you we are committed to the technology of FUEL and will continuously produce products that deliver the most power possible when that is the true user need.

As I understand it, Milwaukee Fuel-class cordless tools deliver higher performance, and they have beefed up supporting components to make everything work as expected.

Considering Milwaukee circular saws, for example, a Fuel model can be expected to deliver higher performance than non-Fuel brushless (or brushed) motor models.

What gets confusing is when there’s the absence of a Fuel designation or model.

Milwaukee M12 Fuel Orbital Detail Sander

Milwaukee makes an M12 Fuel detail sander.

Milwaukee M12 Brushless Pruning Shears

But tools like the M12 brushless pruning shears are not Fuel-branded?

Milwaukee also recently launched new M18 brushless telescoping pole pruning shears, also without Fuel branding.

Just because a tool is designated “brushless” but not “Fuel,” that doesn’t suggest an upgraded model exists or is on Milwaukee’s development roadmap.

Milwaukee M12 Fuel Cordless Pin Nailer Used in Trim

Tools like the M12 pin nailer don’t have brushless motors, Fuel PowerState or otherwise.

There’s a brushless rotary tool, but M12 Fuel brushless die grinders. Milwaukee has an M18 Fuel belt sander, non-Fuel orbital and quarter sheet sanders, and an M12 Fuel detail sander.

I asked a senior product manager if hypothetical Fuel versions of non-Fuel brushless tools would be engineered and built differently, and the answer was an unequivocal “yes,” with the main differences being related to power delivery and performance.

I’ve been seeing a lot of “Fuel or bust” types of sentiments, but the truth is that not every tool needs the level of power or performance that would justify such a designation.

Are non-Fuel brushless tools any good? Having tested quite a few, I would say definitely yes. While perhaps they don’t deliver the same performance as hypothetical or higher-tier Fuel models, they’re generally well-suited for their designed use.

When you look at Dewalt’s 20V Max cordless power tool lineup, there are brushed, brushless, Atomic, and XR series cordless power tools, plus 20V Max with FlexVolt Advantage and Power Detect. Such labeling also creates confusion and all kinds of questions.

Maybe Milwaukee could designate all of their brushless tools as “Fuel,” as many users have long grown accustomed to, and assign highest-performing tools as “Fuel MAX” or similar. But would that change anything?

In every case I’ve seen, “Fuel brushless” is better than “brushless,” except where there’s no Fuel-designated product. In those cases, “brushless” is often Milwaukee’s “best and only” tool in its category.

The svelte M12 detail sander is part of the Fuel line, while the M18 telescoping pruning shears are not. I have given up trying to completely understand this. In my opinion, the presence of Fuel branding – and whatever engineering that entails – doesn’t add to or diminish the tools’ performance or functionality if there’s no target for comparison.

Where there’s a brushless tool but no Fuel version, it’s the result of a deliberate choice, and we’re just not privy to the fine details.

Sometimes FUEL tools are the best Milwaukee offers, such as in “good, better, best” types of tool tiers. Other times, where such FUEL-designated tools don’t (yet?) exist, “brushless” is their best and only option.

Every Milwaukee Fuel-series cordless tool features a brushless motor, but not every brushless Milwaukee tool is part of their Fuel line of tools.