Tool Review: Milwaukee 2650-20 18 Volt Impact Driver

By: Mark Clement , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Construction, Home Improvement Tips

If there’s a tool I find I can no longer live without, it’s a cordless impact driver. This tool–barely in existence, nevermind all over job sites–10 years ago is now my mainframe driver and drill. And while all the major tool companies make them, they’re not all the same.

Milwaukee 2650-20 18 Volt Impact Driver.

Milwaukee 2650-20 18 Volt Impact Driver.

Milwaukee’s 2650-20 is decked with primo features that definitely win it a spot on my job sites. With 2200 RPM and 1400 inch-pounds of torque, this tool has the juice. I drove everything from scads of 3 inch screws for remodeling applications and a roof replacement to drywall screws to lags for the SnoGuards that capped off the roof. I also sandwiched up some 2-bys to simulate a deck ledger and sunk 1/2 inch x 6 inch lags in a pre-drilled holes…uh…awesome…category-killing power.

I also drilled a zillion holes from little pilots to 3/4-inch bores in 2-by. I can honestly say that the 18 volt lithium ion battery powering this well-designed tool was a go-anywhere do-anything power plant that earned its keep on all kinds of sites.

The tool is plush to operate. For example, most impact drivers I’ve had are zero to full blast when squeezing their variable speed triggers all the way. It’s fine, but the Milwaukee takes just a 1/2-beat to ramp up giving it a plush, solid feel and makes me feel like it takes a tougher bite into fasteners. It even sounds solid.

Operating the tool was also smooth. The variable speed trigger was easy to dial in to the speed/power blend the fastener and situation required–everything from run-and-gun deckers to snugging up pan-head screws in window replacements and cabinets. And as for vibration, impact drivers, well, impact. Part A of the mechanism inside the tool bashes Part B which is what gives these tools such umph (Milwaukee designed their own here in the US, by the way, which I think is very cool.) Some drivers’ energy transfers that rattle into your hands. Milwaukee’s tool seems to cushion that blow better (blows, actually, 0-3200 impacts per minute.)

The tool’s power head is small enough that I can maneuver it into all those oddball locations a remodeler and/or fixer of old houses finds constantly. I drilled a lot of jig-less pocket holes and screws and angled connections with no problem.

The battery exchange–a very important feature to me; I hate wrestling with batteries!–is ideal. And its got a fuel gauge. While that might seem gimmicky, for someone who depends on cordless tools as much as I do, knowing the battery is hot before I climb 25 feet up the ladder, then climb the rest of the way up to the roof peak, is awesome information.

The charger is a simple “hot-or-not” affair: green light means go; red light means it needs more charge time. And what I call the “piggy-back” plug on the charger is genius. In other words, the plug has a plug in it. This means you can plug the charger into your multi-plug then plug something else into the back of the charger plug; it’s like the charger doesn’t even take up a space in the multi-. Awesome.

The over-molded rubber grips are comfortable to hold and maneuver the tool with. Even the bottom of the battery has a rubber over-mold, ideal for working in and around cabinets and new counters where the tool is going to be put down. It’s got a work light which is cool, but it powers up and down with a trigger pull. This can deliver a strobe-light effect when working in dark quarters. Yes, light is better than dark, but a light that stays on a few seconds after the trigger is off is even better. The 1/4 inch hex collar works nicely for bit exchange. I might be able to make the case that I wish it were a little bigger, but that’s so close to nitpicking I’ll stay here on the fence about that one.

As for the tool’s overall size it’s great; if the power head were a fraction smaller, it’d be a category killer. The tool has a belt-hook, which I applaud. However, I think it needs to be bigger. It hooks on a regular belt OK which is fine if you’re not wearing a tool pouch. However, the hook’s jaw isn’t wide or deep enough to accept tool bags which is really the only real estate I have to hook anything on. Interestingly, the belt-hook helped me discover something else out about this tool I never would have tested directly: total toughness. See, while I used the tool on a roof project screwing down 2-by walk-boards and lagging-off my fall-protection lanyard bracket it got away from me. Twice. As it slid down and over the side of the 2-story 8-pitch roof I thought it’d be pretty much cooked. Wrong.

It runs as true and works as hard and smart as the day I got it. Primo.