Picking a cordless power tool ecosystem?
July 8, 2024 5:00 PM   Subscribe

I'm starting to get to the point in my life where it'd be useful to have a few power tools around the house (e.g. cordless drill, sander, maybe circular saw, that sort of thing). What power tool brand's battery ecosystem should I get into?

I like cordless options and I have a small Bosch power screwdriver/light-duty drill already that I like, but it takes very small battery packs that aren't useful outside of that tool, so I don't have anything tying me to that ecosystem, such as it is. I also have some Ryobi 40v lawn care stuff, same deal but with larger packs. Consumer Reports has some recommendations for individual tools (mostly just cordless drills) but the only thing they say on the ecosystem front is "buy from the same manufacturer to save money," with no particular regard as to which brand makes better quality tools, or which battery packs tend to work best, etc. And since each manufacturer has their own battery "standard" it seems like I'd be stuck with them unless I'm willing to keep around multiple brands of pack, or find adapters for them (if those exist?). Anyone have some thoughts as how to pick from what looks like very similar tools from very similar product lines in each brand?
posted by Aleyn to Home & Garden (39 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Adapters exist but they're not a great idea since they just pass the power through and not the smarts so you can end up over-discharging batteries. You don't say where you're located so I assume it's in the USA?
posted by onya at 5:19 PM on July 8

You'll get as many different answers as there are people here, but here's mine:

How heavily are you planning to use your tools, and what's your budget? Makita and Milwaukee tend to be positively reviewed within the consumer-y tools space; Hilti is the gold standard but you pay with lots of gold (and you very likely don't need that unless you're getting paid to do construction). I'm one cordless drill into DeWalt and I suspect I'll change course if I need to get additional tools (I aspire to Hilti-grade toys, but realistically, Milwaukee for me).
posted by Alterscape at 5:34 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

For a homeowner or casual user, there isn't much difference among the major brands (Makita, Milwaukee, DeWalt, etc.), the important thing is to pick one and stick with it for simplicity. For what it's worth, I'm a DeWalt owner, and very happy.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:39 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

We get a lot of stuff at flea markets and odd lots so we’ve got a mix of DeWalt & Ryobi, with maybe a Makita in there. Just gave away a Milwaukee because enough’s enough. Agree with Alterscape that everybody is gonna have their pet favorites.

I would say if you’re going to use a wide variety of tools very occasionally, but a couple of things absolutely to death, you might get a lower market type for your big spread because it’s cheaper, but then splash out for the posh ones that you’re going to beat up every day.
posted by toodleydoodley at 5:40 PM on July 8

I went with Ryobi because their impact wrench and tire inflator are pretty popular at the race track. I've been happy. For more generalist household stuff, you might come out with a different answer. I found this video helpful: "The Hater's Guide to Ryobi Tools | What To Buy and Avoid"
posted by mullacc at 5:44 PM on July 8 [4 favorites]

I've stuck with DeWalt for the last 30 years or so.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:59 PM on July 8

For me, homeowner and property use, Ryobi is the sweet spot of price, performance, and availability at Home Depot and other big box scores. I wouldn't use Ryobi if I was a construction worker with a ten hour day, but I'm not. Also, Ryobi has a bunch of interesting cleaning attachments and other non-standard tools-- I'm particularly fond of the Ryobi glue gun. It's also a pretty good brand for getting redneck/tech bro blowhards to immediately identify themselves to you through their scorn for your choice.
posted by seasparrow at 6:00 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

Yeah, most people like what they have, it's good to stick with one brand, and most people don't have much experience with several different brands, unless they are professionals . And the pros usually recommend stuff that is too pricey unless you are a pro or just enjoy splashing out on very nice gear.

Personally I am happier to pay more for high quality corded electric tools. They will be awesome in 15 years or more of casual use, but who knows how battery standards will change by then.

I have not committed to one battery system yet but have tried a few, including Milwaukee, Ryobi, Makita. I am leaning toward Ryobi bc they have a ton of variety and seem really in to brushless motors when possible, which I like. Also they are a little lower cost than eg Milwaukee or DeWalt, which is better if I don't plan on using any one tool heavily.
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:05 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I have very little experience with this. But my Black and Decker batteries/chargers are shit. Yes, they are old, but can't even charge them anymore it seems. Look for a higher-scale brand IMO.
posted by Windopaene at 6:17 PM on July 8

Response by poster: Answering some questions:
  • Located in the USA
  • Forseeing fairly light-duty use. Not getting into the contracting business or tackling a major renovation or anything, mostly just want tools for the occasional weekend project.
Thanks for the answers so far, definitely appreciate hearing some fresh perspectives on it.
posted by Aleyn at 6:44 PM on July 8

There is a general Harry Potter themed joke about this: https://www.reddit.com/r/daddit/comments/18x67pc/when_guys_become_dads_theyre_sorted_into_one_of/

But yeah, go to the big box store that has all of them (probably Home Depot as Lowes does not carry Milwaukee) and see which one you like that has the tools you need and then buy a starter pack for that system.

Sticking with one means that you will have one set of batteries and chargers that can work on all of your tools rather than one for the drill, one for the circular saw, another for the sander, etc.

Don't worry about the larger items like lawn mowers that don't have interchangeable batteries with the handheld items. Those can use their own battery system.
posted by SegFaultCoreDump at 7:07 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]

I work a job where I use power tools everyday. For personal home use I like Ryobi, at work almost everyone uses Milwaukee.

I use Ryobi tools for somethings at work just because they haven't broken on me yet and I have tons of the batteries.
posted by drezdn at 7:12 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]

One thing to keep in the back of your head -- no matter what choice you make, it'll be the wrong choice on at least one occasion.

...because it's essentially inevitable that at some point you'll see something Brand X has, which your brand doesn't have, and you'll at least briefly think "ah shit, shoulda gone with Brand X".
posted by aramaic at 7:30 PM on July 8 [5 favorites]

Milwaukee is fine. Dewalt is fine. My one experience with Makita was 30+ years ago and it seemed OK to me then, but the people who had more reasons to care than I did thought Dewalt stuff was better. I had bad experiences with Ryobi batteries in the NiCd days, but the tools themselves seemed OK for home use. I’ve got a friend with lithium Ryobi stuff now and I don’t think he has any complaints.

The thing that pushed me to Milwaukee was a sale at Home Depot. They have a lot of sales. Ace Hardware matches many of the deals, but Home Depot does do its own tool + battery bundles that can save you money if you order more than you need and then just return or cancel the extra stuff.
posted by fedward at 7:35 PM on July 8

For a homeowner or casual user, there isn't much difference among the major brands (Makita, Milwaukee, DeWalt, etc.)

Professional HVAC human here, and I can say even among pros, that’s the view. Makita, Milwaukee, DeWalt, Ridgid, and Bosch are all more or less on par with each other as brands, at least in my particular area of work (mechanical flavor of work; HVAC, electrical, plumbing, etc.)In my geographical area, HVAC specific guys tend to favor Milwaukee, so I wanted Makitas; 1. I knew there would be less temptation for them to walk away, whether accidentally or on purpose, just due to fewer people in that ecosystem, and 2. I liked the color. Turns out, they’re incredibly solid tools. I left one impact wrench on a roof for almost a year. When I got it back, the battery still had charge. Still using both the tool and the battery to this day. Plus, the teal really is aesthetically pleasing, and it wears very well. Still looks classy with some scars/wear.

Don't worry about the larger items like lawn mowers that don't have interchangeable batteries with the handheld items. Those can use their own battery system.

My lawnmower along with my trimmer uses the same batteries (although the amount of charge they hold is higher in amp-hours) as my cordless hand tools—one of the reasons I bought it. That way if I determined an ICE powered mower was more suited to my needs (it is not; huge vote here for the Makita yard tools line), I’d at least have what would probably amount to a rest-of-my-career’s-worth of batteries out of the deal.
posted by HVACDC_Bag at 7:36 PM on July 8 [7 favorites]

For the type of use you are describing, sticking with any one of the four (ryobi, Milwaukee, dewalt or makita) will really be totally fine, and I’d probably throw Rigid in there too (but I have less experience with them)? They all make perfectly fine drills, impact drivers, multi tool cutters and sanders, which are (probably?) what you’ll end us using the most.

But also keep in mind if you need any specialty stuff, corded might still be cheaper and just as good if not better.

For example, I recent learned the joys of track-saws (I don’t have room for a table saw; track saws do 80-90% of what one will do, and are packable, safer, and easier to use).. I live in the Milwaukee ecosystem (entirely by accident; I was gifted a drill and impact driver by my in-laws yeeeears ago); the Milwaukee track saw is insanely overbuilt, expensive, and just overkill (for me; it’s great to use but man alive). Ended up going with a corded Makita, and it’s at least just as good at more than half the price. Palm routers also; I have yet to try a cordless one that I prefer over a corded one, and they’re usually markedly cheaper. Batteries are cool, but they’re not always the best, nor cheapest option.

Compound saws just don’t need to be cordless unless you’re a contractor and need to be highly mobile. The longest extension cord is cheaper than all the batter versions of a chop saw. Again. Almost always cheaper and better corded.

My own experience is with Milwaukee, and their batteries last a really long time. My oldest batteries are just now after 10 years of, I’ll say medium use (over a decade- built a deck, helped with another deck, finished a garage, built a greenhouse, did a full kitchen renovation, built a shit ton of raised beds, and a fence and Jesus Christ now I’m tired thinking about it all) are just starting to break down, and those are the “smaller” batteries too. The medium and larger batteries I’ve picked up over time are fine for non-contractor, civilian work.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:47 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I jumped into the DeWalt ecosystem at random and haven't really had cause to complain. I don't have experience with the other ones but for standard power tools I can't imagine there's a whole lot of difference between them. I will say that I don't recall any ships being named Makita on The Expanse so Dewalt has that going for it.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:52 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

For your typical use around the house, I'd lean towards Makita or Ryobi, since they have a pretty extensive range of equipment like lawnmowers, trimmers, blowers and similar yard equipment that is readily available, while the other brands have fewer options, less availability, or no options at all in North America.
posted by ssg at 7:52 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Ryobi, for the commitment to backwards compatibility with batteries, variety of stuff, and for the above-mentioned benefit of revealing judgy tool snobs. But the other big names are fine.
posted by Wretch729 at 8:01 PM on July 8 [3 favorites]

I bought into the Ryobi 18V ecosystem about a decade ago and it's been fine. I have a half dozen tools and 3-4 small batteries for them. I recently bought my first 40V tool because I needed to upgrade a particular capability, so maybe now I'm starting in on another set ... They're only available at Home Depot which is a tiny pain. There are also a few Ryobi outlet stores around the country. The variety of "tools" they offer is rather stunning.
posted by intermod at 8:16 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

I was bumped into Ryobi-world by circumstance (my Black&Decker drill finally dying, coupled with an offer from a brother of a brand-new Ryobi chain saw) and my only complaint is the color; otherwise, fine tools.
posted by Rash at 8:47 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Ryobi has this awesome misting fan that i covet (having just switched from Porter Cable — fine but longterm a mistake — to Dewalt).

But mostly they’re all fine. Look up all the tools you’d ever want and pick the brand that has the most. I’m fairly confident that as a beginner that list will be covered by Dewalt, Milwaukee, Ryobi, Makita, so get the one that has a special going on for the tools you want (don’t buy tools you have no use for just because it’s a big package).
posted by supercres at 8:48 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Oh, and garden tools that use a 18v/20v system are probably best suited for light use. 40v may be ok, but I like the EGO system a lot personally (but the batteries are eye-wateringly expensive)
posted by supercres at 8:49 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Most of my tools are Ryobi but I upgraded my hand drill to DeWalt and added an impact driver. Which has worked out fine, because they came with two batteries apiece and it takes a while to run a drill battery flat. The DeWalt ones were smaller and lighter than the Ryobi one; it was showing its vintage and also became temperamental.

Ryobi have cheap but good enough garden tools that work on the 18V system (though I admit my neighbour's Makita weedwhacker is night and day better than the Ryobi one).

Keep an eye out for package deals, especially when hunting for your tool/charger/battery starter set. The DeWalt go-to is two batteries, charger and drill, the Ryobi ones usually come up as cheap battery deals.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 9:26 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Agreed that any will work, but I'll put in a plug (ha) for Milwaukee's M18 charging platform, which really is good.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:29 PM on July 8

Another Ryobi user here. I got a gift card to the big orange box for Xmas from work years back, and so I used it on a Ryobi 18V drill and circular saw set with the lithium battery. I have used the absolute hell out of those tools and they’re still going strong almost 12 years later. I still have the original battery and it works well even after all this time. Since then I’ve acquired another battery, and then two larger ones. I have the drill and saw, plus the above mentioned misting fan, an 18V weed whacker that’s good for small areas (that one eats battery power quick) plus a router and a cordless inflator. One nice thing about the Ryobi stuff is that the individual tools sometimes go on sale around Christmas and you can also find a lot of their tools on the used market.

With any of the big brands, you really won’t go wrong. I like how big the Ryobi ecosystem has grown, and the price point is hard to beat, but the big brands are all good quality for the most part.
posted by azpenguin at 10:58 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

Any of the well-known brands mentioned here are fine in quality terms for home use. Long experience has told me that purchasing power tools is no longer a lifetime thing and nothing lasts forever, so the intention of buying the best you can, because you'll have it forever, very much doesn't apply to modern power tools. Particularly battery powered tools because, although this has got a lot better than it used to be, the infrastructure will change eventually and you'll run out of batteries that work.

I ended up in the Ryobi space and have had no issues. I have something like 20 different tools and have pretty much beaten them to what should be death in some cases, but they keep on working. Particularly drill, driver, trimmer (small router), circular saw and reciprocating saw. I have used all of those for jobs that are way beyond the pay grade of battery tools over the past four years or so of renovating pretty much every weekend and they're still going strong. I have four 4Ah batteries and two smaller ones and two chargers - have not run out of batteries even with all-day hard slog (have been close though). I have worn out two 4Ah batteries in that time, back when they were the only two I had.

I think the Ryobi range is the best choice for home use, because they have everything you can think of and then some and, while they are definitely not built for every day professional use, they are perfect for even hard home use and are lighter than most (a lot lighter in some cases). Pick whatever you like best and you'll be fine. Absolutely, definitely pick a brand and stick to it though - the batteries are often more expensive than the tools!
posted by dg at 11:15 PM on July 8 [2 favorites]

Generally here to agree with what everyone has already said, and to add this:

Figure which tool(s) matter(s) the most to you and find the best reviewed brand of those, that you can get locally. Go with that. That's how I ended up in my ecosystem - they had the Rotary hammer drill that I liked the best.
posted by snoboy at 11:37 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

I'm a DeWalt user and have been very happy.

The emergence of DeWalt-compatible off-brand stuff has been kind of cool, too, as we have been able to add tools we wouldn't use often enough to justify the cost (like an inflator and a small chainsaw) that nevertheless use the same batteries. I wouldn't use those knockoffs for a drill or something critical, but for an inflator? Sure, why not.

Ryobi is pretty solid too and in a similar price range, so it's really a Pepsi/Coke situation and you can't go wrong with either if you don't have strong opinions.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:43 PM on July 8 [1 favorite]

mostly just want tools for the occasional weekend project.

How occasional and what kind of projects?

If it's relatively infrequent use, and/or these aren't projects where you would feel physically hampered by being tethered by a cord, then another advantage of corded tools (besides a longer lifespan and less environmental footprint) is that you'll never need to think about whether you have enough charge to start or keep working on a project. Today's batteries are so good that that's unlikely to be an issue in the first few years, especially if you get a spare battery that you can swap out if the other one is drained and you're still in the middle of a project, which I highly recommend.

But my experience with an older tool with less battery capacity was that as the years went by I was increasingly less able to be spontaneous because more and more charging time was needed. Granted, this tool didn't have a big ecosystem and replacing the battery would have cost nearly as much as just buying something new; if you buy into some major ecosystem that shouldn't be an issue for probably at least a few decades. But for my infrequent uses, being able to just pick up a corded tool and start working without even thinking about battery life has been very nice.

(On the other hand, if power outages are frequent where you live then I would prioritize good batteries and systems that allow them to be used for things other than power tools.)
posted by trig at 12:49 AM on July 9 [2 favorites]

aramaic: ...because it's essentially inevitable that at some point you'll see something Brand X has, which your brand doesn't have, and you'll at least briefly think "ah shit, shoulda gone with Brand X".

I've not run into that yet with Makita (18V). The oldest tools in that ecosystem that I own are now over 15 years; it's just a few of the batteries that came with them that have died, and the lot has seen quite a bit of heavy use. Back then Makita offered one of the broadest selections of gear in the 18V prosumer class, and even if I didn't need more than drills, an angle grinder and a jigsaw initially, it was a factor I rated highly. Added since then: more drills, circular saw, reciprocating saws, tyre inflator, coffee maker and a cordless kettle, and from my dad's estate a hedge trimmer and a grass clipper ("I'll go with Makita too, so you can inherit them").
posted by Stoneshop at 1:49 AM on July 9

My carpenter friend uses Milwaukee, we have Makita, my sister in law chose Ryobi because she wanted a different colour set of tools for the farm house versus the Makita and Milwaukee on the farm!
posted by freethefeet at 2:32 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I have Ryobi stuff and so far so good. The tool I use most is a floor vacuum! Then the drill etc.
posted by drowsy at 4:30 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

Dewalt. Really dig the "dewalt compatible off brand stuff" someone mentioned above. Especially this dust buster gizmo i found on amazon. But yeah.. dont over think it, and if you can afford not to be cheap, dont be (eg black and decker)
posted by elgee at 5:18 AM on July 9

Over the years I've been Dewalt, Milwaukee, and now Ryobi. It's nice to be able to pick up the occasional tool at home depot, and I haven't had many problems with Ryobi. One thing to keep in mind though - inside the Ryobi 18V ecosystem there are really two separate "classes" of tools. For example, compare this and this. The first one (labeled One+ HP) is better in almost all ways, and part of the HP sub-series.

I always get the HP version of tools if available, especially for my most frequently used tools.
posted by true at 5:22 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I'm in Ryobi since I inherited an 18V drill (which still works great for my light DIY use after almost 10 years). I've got a mower by them and a chainsaw, looking to expand to their powered pole saw this year. But I agree that whichever line you go with will be fine. Several of my other family members also have Ryobi tools, so we can trade tools, batteries, or chargers between us. So if you have family or friends that are already in one ecosystem is might be nice to go in on the same one. (Or maybe not, if your friends are the type to borrow something and "forget" to bring it back.)
posted by radiogreentea at 6:38 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

So to throw an alternative out there that I haven't seen mentioned yet - Harbor Freight's Bauer and Hercules tools seem to test well on the Torque Test Channel and Project Farm - I keep kind of considering adding them to my mainly Ryobi wall o' green for the stuff I only need for specialty projects where having six batteries and a wall of chargers isn't necessary.

My main complaint with Ryobi is their (good/bad) insistence on maintaining backwards compatibility with their stem pack from way back when makes for some kind of weirdly shaped tools when you start getting in to power ratchets and whatnot, but I don't think I've run into anything that simply doesn't work with the design either, they just have to get creative. And they're only really available at Home Depot and Direct Tools Outlet, which may or may not be a deal breaker.
posted by Kyol at 7:22 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

I have lots o tools and primarily buy DeWalt, Makita and Hilti for power tools. Given your parameters I would choose Makita as their tools are consistently good, generally well rated and the batteries are great. You might be tempted by using off brand batteries, and these always have given me degraded performance.

For price I would also suggest Hart, the house brand at Walmart, which is made by ryobi and are perfectly serviceable tools.
posted by zenon at 10:23 AM on July 9 [1 favorite]

toolguyd.com's "Best Cordless Power Tool Brands" boils down to

Best Professional Cordless Brand for Most Tool Users: Dewalt, Milwaukee

Best Brand for Most DIY and Homeowner Tool Users: Ryobi
posted by nicwolff at 3:49 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

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