Last month I had the privilege of flying from my woodshop here in Boise to Milwaukee, for the annual Milwaukee Tool Symposium, where the company debuts many of its new products. The event began with a dinner and an unveiling of never-before-seen tools. On Thursday, all the attendees broke up into smaller groups, and were cycled through eight stations, each showcasing a different category. Check out some of the cool new tools!

Milwaukee LED Lighting


The LED light options, whether it be the light stand, the flood light, or the flashlight, caught my eye (terrible choice of words), because of how much better they are than the standard halogen work light. Thankfully, I don’t have to work in many places without adequate lighting.


But when I do, I end up using one of the aforementioned halogen worklights, and they are horrible! Absolutely horrible! The bulbs epically fragile, epically bright, and epically hot, which are the last three characteristics you would expect to find in a work light! But alas, we have been saved by LED technology, which allows companies like Milwaukee to engineer work lights, that are durable, adjustable, cool, and incredibly adaptable to the users needs.

Milwaukee Heated Gear

Let me begin by stating that I have absolutely no need for heated gear. I am a cabinet maker after all, and when I leave the soft embrace of my office chair, I head out to my heated shop or out to a heated job site. I never have to worry about freezing my tail off on a winter’s morning, yet I am inextricably drawn towards Milwaukee’s 3-in-1 heated jacket. Not because it is heated, but because it is a great looking jacket, and I am a sucker for jackets! The exterior consists of tough Ripstop fabric panels, while the interior is a snuggly layer of cotton. But, I have been told that the jacket enters an entirely new zone of awesome as soon as the user plugs in a M12 battery and energizes the carbon fiber heating elements that surround the users core.

Of all the products showcased on Thursday, batteries could probably be looked at as the core tool in the Milwaukee arsenal. Every power tool we saw ran off of a M12 or a M18 battery, nary a cord in sight, even when talking about the gigantic hole hawg and mag drills, or the rotary hammers. Milwaukee has stated that its goal is to have a cordless tool for every application, not just some, which means the engineers have spent considerable amounts of time analyzing every aspect of the humble battery. This has lead to three different versions of the M18 battery; the compact 2.0, the extended 6.0, and the high-demand 9.0 offerings. Theoretically, you could put that 9.0 battery in your impact driver and install cabinetry for the next 6 months before having to swap in a fresh one, but you would probably develop shoulder and elbow issues before long, as a result of its immense size.

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Milwaukee Empire Levels

Here is where I had the biggest surprise of the entire event. I discovered that the Empire Level company, which was recently acquired by Milwaukee, has been an industry leader in leveling and layout tools since 1919. I assumed they were just a Home Depot store brand, since that is the only place I have seen their products. In 1967 Empire Level was the first company to develop a mono vial and in 2004 they were the first company to offer a blue colored vial, termed True Blue, which Empire claims is clearer and crisper than the normal yellow vials. Empire also showcased a level with illuminated vials for use in low light applications. The two LED’s, flanking both sides of the vial, turn the entire vial aglow, sans hot spots.

The accessories group consisted of the smallest offerings from Milwaukee, like drill and driver bits. The Red Helix drill bits really caught my attention for several reasons. The tip is designed to bite the material quicker, reducing the chances of the tip wandering around on the surface, and the variable angled shears claim to eject the wood chips faster, thereby eliminate the compacting of wood in the drill bit and keeping the bit cooler for increased life.

Drills / Impact Drivers

The products that were most applicable to our line of work as cabinetmakers, were the drill and impact drivers. Similar to the drills offered by Bosch, the Milwaukee motor, battery, and internal computer are in constant communication in order to optimize performance and prevent overheating. The M18 impact driver was a sweet tool, complete with 4 different drive modes: Low, Medium, High, and Self Tapping Screw.

Now the user, rather than having to feather the trigger, can select the mode that best fits their current need. “Low” for installing small screws for drawer slides, “Medium” for the more brittle deck and drywall type screws, and “High” for full-power applications, like driving cabinet screws or TapCons.
The last mode was the most impressive, but, alas, the least applicable to cabinet makers. The “Self-Tapping Screw” mode is designed so the motor and internal computer are constantly communicating torque loads. Initially, full power is delivered so the screw can drill through the metal, yet when the screw has penetrated the surface of the metal, the torque drops and the motor immediately reduces RPM’s to prevent stripping out the screw. Pretty cool engineering.
Just like at the Bosch Innovation Experience event I attended earlier this year, I was blown away by the amazing amount of engineering, design, and thought that these tool companies put into their products. Even a tool as simple as the pipe wrench or screw tip has been analyzed to the Nth degree in order to design and build a better functioning product.
These tool companies are in a never-ending race, pushing the forefront of what the tool can do, adding incredible features along the way, and offering products that make our jobs quicker and easier. As a result, we are the real winners, able to use these tools to offer a better quality product to our clients, in a shorter amount of time, and with less head ache!

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