jump to example.com

Sean gave you a quick mention of DeWalt’s new 20V MAX line recently, and I’ll agree: it’s damn interesting. We’ve got a lot more information on these coming, but let’s start out with the most commonly-purchased power tool, the drill/driver.

First and foremost, let’s get this out of the way: If you looked at the 12V MAX line and thought, “Wow! That looks pretty modern compared to previous DeWalt tools. I wish they’d update the 18V line the same way,” then you’ll be happy. That’s pretty much what they’ve done. But as the origin tools of the new 20V MAX line, these three tools say a lot about DeWalt’s latest direction. Read on for details.

Why the hell are these called 20V?

Let’s also clear up all the voltage funny business. I’m guessing that most Toolmongers already know that, based on the way li-ion battery cells work, the packs designed for “classic 18V” applications are actually 20V — but are effectively 18V when installed on the tool. This slight difference in cell output has driven us down the 10.8V/12V and 18V/20V path on many occasions. The bottom line: We commonly see li-ion tools labeled both 18V and 20V, and most brands choose which of these labels to apply as a marketing decision.

DeWalt is no different. They’re faced with the same difficult decision other brands tackled a few years ago: To take full advantage of modern battery chemistry and tool technology, they’ll have to change battery mounting and electronics, which means that they can either dumb everything down to make it backwards-compatible or just let all the old tools go and replace them with the new hotness. With some 68 million (no, really) 18V batteries in service in the market today, though, the latter simply wasn’t an option.

So DeWalt chose, well, both.

According to DeWalt, they’re going to keep their 18V line in production. They even plan to continue upgrading the existing line within the limits of the existing battery mount and electronics requirements as required to remain backwards compatible. If we understand them correctly, you won’t just see the existing tools remaining available. You’ll also see new tools (and innovation) in the 18V line.

Think of the new 20V MAX line as their technology-forward premium line, designed to incorporate all the newest ideas without worrying about backwards compatibility.

So if you’re considering buying your first DeWalt drill — or you’re replacing an old one and don’t mind switching battery systems — and you want to buy DeWalt’s top-of-the-line, the 20V MAX is for you. If you have a bunch of existing 18V DeWalt tools and need to replace just the drill — or have 50 service trucks with 18V drills and an armload of batteries on each one — you can stick with the existing 18V and upgrade tools and batteries as you wish.

The Line

I mentioned a “line of drill/drivers” because DeWalt released two. Let’s look at the tale of the tape:

The 12V MAX

Ok, I’m being tricksy. This first model isn’t new, but it does represent what DeWalt sees as the low-torque end of the user spectrum, perfect for driving machine screws and small bolts, drilling small holes, and occasionally drilling a bigger hole with something like a spade bit.

The 20V MAX Compact

This is the middle-of-the-road torque solution, and it’s all-new. It can do everything the 12V model does, but it’s a bit heavier, runs a lot longer when doing similar tasks, and can handle bigger jobs, too, like drilling medium-sized holes in steel or large holes in wood, or even backing a medium-sized hole saw. It’s offered in both drill (DCD780C2) and hammer-drill (DCD785C2) models. (Note that hammer-drills are not more powerful. They simply include a vibration system that helps break up masonry. If you don’t expect to drill into masonry, you don’t need a hammer-drill, and there’s no reason to turn it on otherwise.)

It’s 7-1/2″ long, which makes it a little shorter than last year’s competitor’s models. And it’s pretty darn light, weighing in at 3.4 lbs (3.5 for the hammer model). It ships with the 1.5 Ah battery, though it can accept the larger 3.0 Ah model as well, and it features a two-speed transmission, spinning at 0-600 or 0-2,000 RPM. Up front you’ll find a ratcheting 1/2″ chuck.

The 20V MAX Premium

This is the new top-of-the-line model designed for use in all 18V-like applications. Consider it as DeWalt’s best foot placed forward. Like the compact, it’s offered in drill (DCD980L2) and hammer-drill (DCD985L2) models. Unlike the compact, it features an all-metal three-speed transmission, delivering 0-600, 0-1,250, or 0-2,000 RPM, plus a metal ratcheting 1/2″ chuck. It ships with the 3.0 Ah battery, but is compatible with the smaller model, too.

In Use

While we haven’t had a chance to spend the time with these new tools that we’d like to in order to publish a true hands-on review, we did get to play with them a bit at Stanley Black & Decker’s press event recently — and they’re surprising.

It’s hard to see in photos, but these drivers all seem significantly smaller than we expected. It’s as if the “compact” thought process has finally made its way up to the larger tools in the line. By no means are these tools tiny, but it’s as if DeWalt treated them like race cars, stripping away any extra space or stuff to make them as small and as light as possible — while still doing the job for which they’re designed. Even the premium model seems remarkably small for its power.

This really stands out in the hand grips. They’re surprisingly thin, which translates into a really comfortable hand feel. In this aspect, they really do look like scaled-up 12V models. They’re much easer to control as well, and I suspect they’d make a pretty big difference in comfort to anyone who uses their drill all day. Of course, we suspect this will prove to be a weak point in drop testing. That grip is all that holds the heavy drill and heavy battery together. Still, we’ll hold off on judgment until we’ve had a chance to test them ourselves.

We suspected that the premium 20V MAX’s three-speed transmission was a gimmick, but changed our minds after a well-chosen demonstration. The DeWalt folks attached a 1″ wood twist bit and suggested we have a few gos at a 1×12. It turns out that most drills (including the older DeWalts) couldn’t muster quite enough torque on their high-speed (usually 0-approximately 2,000 RPM) setting to drive the bit. So you were stuck with either switching to the slow speed, resulting in much slower drilling, or trying to manage the variable speed via trigger, which was pretty unmanageable. But the premium’s 1,250 RPM “middle” speed was perfect for the application. Bottom line: it’s another option for you, and you don’t really give anything up to have it.


MSRP for these will start around $220 for the 20V compact drill (add $20 for the hammer-drill functionality) ranging up to $279 for the 20V premium and $300 for the 20V premium hammer-drill — all surprisingly reasonable considering that these drills seem competitive with this year’s new releases, at least those we’ve seen so far.

We’re working on putting together a full-on comparison test of all this year’s new models later this summer, so keep your eyes out for it. In the meantime, we can say that these new drills are definitely a departure from DeWalt’s previous evolutionary updates and certainly worth a look.


34 Responses to Preview: DeWalt’s 20V MAX Drill/Drivers

  1. browndog77 says:

    These tools are remarkably similar to the Craftsman 20v line that never took off (probably because it was up against their own 19.2v product, which boasts a much wider selection of tools). The profile is identical, judging from the pics. If they add some options to the line, in the form of saws; laminate trimmers; ; sanders; vacs & such, there will be a following. Adding another battery/charger combo to the line-up already in my truck just to drill holes is not that good of an investment, IMHO.

  2. PutnamEco says:

    The DCD950B looked to be a pretty robust tool, I’m wondering if the “new and improved” is really that, or some more “value engineered” marketing. When I hear smaller and lighter I think cheaper and less durable. I’ve also heard that Dewalt is switching from A123 cells to Sony cells in their battery packs. It is my opinion that this is a downgrade. Although the Sony cells do work admirably for other manufacturers. I believe the A123 cells are Lithium phosphate (LiFePO4) vs the Sonys lithium oxide( LiCoO2). Which would mean a better showing off the shelf, but would be worse off, a year or two down the road.

  3. Stan says:

    What I really find intertesting is that the 12V tools can accept a 20V battery and vise versa. This must mean the the charger the same for both as well? I can picture combo kits in the future with both 12 and 20V tools in one kit (assuming the charger is the same). If so – sighn me up. I don’t think any other manufacturer does that. Maybe Craftsmen but I don’t buy their stuff anyway.

  4. KenZ says:

    While I do understand DeWalt’s original stance to stick by their old design, they’ve had their lunch eaten by Makita and Milwaukee (primarily), as well as all of them seeing Ryobi (gasp, I know) move in more and more.

    What they should have done in their original move to Li-Ion, as others have noted, is created a new flat-pack design like this, but also sold adapter sticks that would allow you to use the new packs in the old tools, thus giving forward compatibility for all their old tools.

    Instead, they stuck with what they had, but with DeWalt prices ($$$$) and that was apparently not the right move. Or, should I say, not the best move. Probably no right or wrong, just better or worse.

    DeWalt originally owned this space, and that was largely due to their making a massive line of various tools that all worked with the same battery. They basically invented the massive-line-up concept in tools: make and sell a wide range to include obscure tools, and those obscure tradesmen will buy into your entire set.

    Milwaukee now leads this concept with their 12V stuff… I mean, have you seen the insane variety of tools, from dremel/rotary to PEX expanders to 12V cig socket adapter? And that’s allowed Milwaukee to effectively dominate the small battery 12V market.

    My point here is that this new lineup is neat, but without KNOWING that they’re going to expand to all tools, and without backward compatibility with old tools, why would I buy into it? I mean, I’m darn glad I didn’t buy into the DeWalt 28V lineup. That went nowhere. If I want a new sexy, high quality Li-Ion 18V drill, I’ll buy Milwaukee or Makita long before buying into this line.

  5. Robin says:

    I have never been a very big fan of DeWalt’s power tools, before but I think I will give this one a try. I have a friend that works for Home Depot, so I can give it a shot. Thanks for the post

  6. fred says:

    With corded tools – plug compatibility was never a problem – so if you decided that you like Porter Cable Sanders and Planes, Skil Saws, Milwaukee Drills and Sawzalls – you could mix and match without fear that plug configuration would be different.

    Enter the cordless – battery-operated tool and this changed. So now it’s hard to decide to switch platforms once you are heavily invested in one or another. So, if I see something I like in the Dewalt lineup or at Bosch – I’m reminded about the dozens of Milwaukee M12 chargers we have, the inventory of M12 batteries and tools etc. For the most part – we like the lineup – and certainly think the PEX expanders offer more functionality at a lot less cost than the older Wirsbo/Uponor tools we had been using – and they can use most of our expander cones to boot. Sure there are some misses (the M12 tubing cutter comes to mind) – but we are for the most part satisfied.

    The same has been true for our 18V tools – where we had picked the Makita LXT lineup – and bought the usual “suspects” like drills and drivers – and , for us, find their concrete vibrators and cordless bandsaw – worth their price – but their small blower not.

    While I’m guessing that it might violate some law of marketing – or maybe even some real antitrust law – it would be nice if I could use an LXT battery on a Milwaukee 18V PEX expander – or maybe a newer Milwaukee M12 (Red Lithium) battery in a Bosch drill/driver – without some kluge adapter

  7. Fong says:

    In recent years it seems everyone is suddenly innovating some new type of battery. After the NiCad voltage race fizzled out, the race was on for small form factor Li-ion. Now the voltage race is climbing on that and as KenZ pointed out, not everyone’s considering forward compatibility.

    We already throw out our iThings every few years for the next shiny widget. Tools have always been one of those things you get to pass down to your kids and sometimes grandkids. With the accelerated (as least in my perception) of battery powered “innovation”, what once was a tool that may outlast the user is now another disposable widget.

    I’m glad they’re still supporting the older gen stuff for now (since I still have a bunch of Dewalt NiCads) but this seems nothing more than a stop gap until we relent and adopt the new tech.

  8. Rick says:

    Any idea when these hit the stores? Or have they already?

  9. Battery says:

    These are 18V tools.

  10. roadpizza says:

    Companies like Frito-Lay and Millers/Coors put out a gazilion products ( Miller’s HighLife, Miller’s Genuine Draft, Lite Beer From Miller’s, Ice Beer, and all that crap + lime. Bottles and cans). They don’t do that because they think America needs all those variations on the same theme. They do it because the more products they can get on the supermarket shelves means less room for their competitors. I’m beginning to think B&D/ DeWalts is doing the same thing. Just thinkin out loud.

  11. Frank says:

    It looks like Lowe’s will be carrying the line. They just started to clearance a lot of the DeWalt 18v line.

  12. Parker_ says:

    That’s disappointing that they are not keeping with the A123 batteries. I wonder if the number of cycles is still up in the four digit range.

  13. old as dirt says:

    Just try to buy new line of DeWalt hand tools. Not available on line or in big box

  14. Brau says:

    “Think of the new 20V MAX line as their technology-forward premium line”

    This really bugs me. There’s too many brands trying to do the same damn thing in a race to the bottom of the quality barrel. To my mind, Dewalt used to be a premium brand, not another pro-sumer brand like Craftsman, Ryobi, Makita, Bosch, B&D, to name a few.

    I had a real eye-opener a few years ago when we field tested a number of different brands of 1/2″ drills for pulling wires in new homes. Craftsman, Makita, Bosch, Dewalt, Black&Decker all crapped out within a few months. Only the Hilti and Milwaukee drills were built well enough to keep going (for many years).

  15. PutnamEco says:

    Re: Parker_ Says:
    That’s disappointing that they are not keeping with the A123 batteries. I wonder if the number of cycles is still up in the four digit range.
    I bet they will last, but it is my humble opinion that the A123 cells hold a higher charge after the first year or so, but the Sony cells put out more to begin with.
    I believe that Dewalt is doing this to make a good showing to the tool reviewers, who only test brand new tools and do very little long term testing. I really wish they would consider testing tools after they have lived on the job for a while or at least keep them for a year or so and tell us all how they hold up in the long run.
    Re: Brau says:
    Only the Hilti and Milwaukee drills were built well enough to keep going

    I fear Hilti may be flirting with value engineering and Asain manufacture of their smaller drills and impact drivers as well. It has been my experience that some Milwaukee drills (or their batteries) don’t hold up either.
    It may be worth it to look into Festool . I can only wish that they would bring their Protool line stateside, but seeing how people are unwilling to pay for their consumer line now, I doubt they would be willing to pay even more for their professional line.

  16. Hugh says:

    If that is their cheap stuff I would hate to see the pro grade. I could buy three full kits and six bare tools for one festool, not to mention the look and feel like crap. Who ever fell in love with the old world style drills can keep them, I hate the way the make their drills. Festool might have innovative tools that would be worth the buy but not the drills.

  17. PutnamEco says:

    Hugh says:
    Festool might have innovative tools that would be worth the buy but not the drills.
    Festools are one of those tools that might not make a good first impression, once you have worked with them a while they make a lot more sense. Festool drills with their multiple accessory heads, like the offset and right angle drives not to mention the electronic clutch takes a while to appreciate. you don’t really notice how handy some of these things are until you try and go back to “normal” tools.
    The Protool PDC 18-4 has some pretty impressive specs. 4 speed ranges 400 – 3800 rpm. Nothing like it in the US. The only bummer is not having an onboard light, but they do offer an add on.

  18. Hugh says:

    Re Putnameco

    I’ve looked at all their over priced accessories and am not impressed, I can buy a right angle accessory from milwaukee for 30 bucks and do all that I need to with that. Futher more I have the right angle impact for makita that is a great tool. I wouldn’t be surpised if you are a Festool rep the way you pimp their tools. For the price you pay the tool still won’t do the work for you, a person can buy a reasonable pro tool and still have great finished products.

  19. PutnamEco says:

    Re: Hugh says:
    I can buy a right angle accessory from Milwaukee for 30 bucks and do all that I need to with that.
    Yeah, you could also probably due the same job with a stubby screwdriver, It is a matter of refinement though. I too, have the Milwaukee right angle attachment, not even in the same league as the integration of the Festool. The Makita right angle impact is a great tool, nothing like it in the Festool arsenal. It does not have a clutch though, I find it does not work well with small screws in MDF, one of the most likely scenarios that I’m reaching for a angled driver.
    For the price you pay the tool still won’t do the work for you, a person can buy a reasonable pro tool and still have great finished products.

    I’m sure anyone worth their salt could build just about anything using just hand tools. Its not about that, It is about convenience and speed. If a tool makes my day easier or allows me to get more work done, I soon forget about what price I paid for it, and it quickly ends up paying for itself.

    The Math
    If a tool saves you ten minutes a day that is 50 minutes a week which is roughly 40 hours per year at $20 per hour that adds up to $800, enough to buy that Festooll and have some change left over.
    I wouldn’t be surprised if you are a Festool rep

    I wish, slow as my work is, my local reps are still busy, and they have a nice set of tools to demonstrate as well

    If you found out about a great line of tools that saved you time and money and made your day go easier, wouldn’t you want to share that info with others??

  20. Hugh says:

    Yea, I would tell people about a good tool but I don’t think festool is the endall of tools. I don’t think people should be turned away from some of these other brands just because they aren’t neon green and black. It would be a mistake to say they make the best of everything. The thing I don’t like the most about festool is the price, we have all had tools stolen form us and at 600 to 800 a pop that is a chunk of change that any insurance company isn’t going to shell out quickly enough to replace and get back to work. I also understand about back up tools and all that! It just isn’t justifiable to me that a couple of tools in the toolbox have you over a 1,000 dollars. Further more no tool will make up for talent and skill, as you mentioned with your hand tool blast.

  21. PutnamEco says:

    Re: Hugh says:
    The thing I don’t like the most about festool is the price

    I agree the price is a little much and dollar for dollar is probably not the best value, but I hate to see so many people buying tools on price alone.It is one of the reasons that we can’t buy a new American made circular saw anymore. I really don’t mind spending a couple extra bucks knowing somewhere those extra dollars are going to support someones decent wage rather than saving a dollar or two so that someone (maybe a friend or family member) gets to watch their job get shipped offshore.
    Re: any insurance company isn’t going to shell out quickly enough to replace and get back to work

    It has been my experience that it doesn’t matter whether your out $5 or $5000, the insurance companies aren’t going to make it easy.

  22. browndog77 says:

    @ PutnamEco
    re: the Milwaukee rt-angle attachment.
    There are two different ones available, the lesser of which ($30 version) lasted me only a couple of months of occasional use. The better one (about $55 if I remember correctly) has been going strong for 5+ yrs.! I use it along w/ long extensions to make adjustments in appliance heights , but during that time I have also wired 2 additions using auger bits (3/4″ – 1 1/2″), powered by my Milwaukee 14.4v drill, not to mention many tight space drilling operations which no other tool could muster(certainly not a stubby screwdriver!) It has never given me a bit of trouble. If you need to use hole-saws or go through thick materials, by all means the Hawg is the tool you need, but I need something that will be in the bag next to me at all times that I can rely on for almost every other angle op.

  23. PutnamEco says:

    browndog77 says:
    There are two different ones available, the lesser of which ($30 version) lasted me only a couple of months of occasional use.
    I got my Milwaukee R.A. drive attachment a while ago and it still functions fine, I also used a Black & Decker before that, that is also still functional, it is quite a bit bulkier though. The Festool has much better integration, an actual part of the drill. It along with the drills other drive attachments(quick change, eccentric,and regular key less chuck) take up little space. I was pretty happy with the Milwaukee until I tried the Festool.

  24. fred says:


    For right angle metal drilling in our shop – we go the pneumatic route – with threaded adapter drill bits from aircraft industry suppliers like Pan American tool and Yardstore. Bits come in HSS and and Cobalt varieties in stubby and short lenngths. Countersinks, counterbores and some driver bits are also available – and right angle attachments can be fitted to cordless tools as well. Quality varies from entry level tools to ones suited for production work.
    The cobalt bits are designed for drilling high-tensile materials – but we use HSS adapter bits on aluminum and even wood – for tight fit applications.

  25. Hugh says:

    It doesn’t matter if the batteries are made by A123, I’ve had the 36 volt batteries stop working on me and I’ve take great care not to freeze or overheat them. It must be an improvement the batteries because they have moved up to 3 amp hour instead of what ever drum dewalt normally marches to.

    @ putnameco

    Do you use any of the 12v tools that have come out lately? Don’t tell me you bought the festool 10.8v that is like a 14.4v in size that defeats the whole idea of compact.

  26. PutnamEco says:

    Hugh says:
    I’ve had the 36 volt batteries stop working

    I find batteries to be the weakest part of this whole cordless thing. There seems to be no rhyme or reason why some last forever and some die quickly. I’ve used some batteries hard and had them last for years and I’ve coddled some and had them die quickly. If the manufacturers really wanted to get on my good side they would make the batteries so they could be easily owner serviced, often it is just one cell that messes everything up. I still haven’t found any commercial entities that will rebuild my Lith-ion batteries. I have not really been very happy with my Milwaukee V-28s they do work for a while but they seem to only hold about half a charge after 6 months of use. I have been more than pleased with my Hilti CPC 36v batteries life.

    Do you use any of the 12v tools that have come out lately?

    I bought the Bosch 10.8s when they first came out, hardly use them. I prefer larger tools for most of the work I do. One of the reasons I keep wishing the Protool line would be imported here.

  27. browndog77 says:

    I bought the Bosch I-driver when it was stickered 10.8v, only for the design of the tool. It is still my go-to gizmo when doing any kind of assembly/repair work. This was the reason behind my later 12v tools being Bosch. The line is limited, but the tools all perform well. They have a metal shear that is a little too pricey, but is on my wish-list along w/ the inspection camera.

  28. Johnj says:

    The 12V Max Dewalt are ridiculous. They are supposed to be mini tools for small jobs or tight spaces. They are large and bulky compared to Bosch, Makita, Milwaukee 12V.

    20V Max Dewalt, I don’t have hope for this line. They have tried 3 times now to fix the battery issues they have had with Lithium Ion. Finally they slim down the weight and bulk of the tools…too bad they have missed the boat to the competitors.

  29. Ty says:

    After reading through many of these posts I’d like to point out a few things…research the other brands and what they’ve gone through trying to ‘refine’ their lithium line. Depending on when you bought your Bosch or Miluakee or Makita, you cant put the new batteries on your year old tool cause they made an extra groove in the battery that wont let it go onto an older tool. Prior to the new line ALL their 18v batteries fit ALL the 18v tools. Dewalt tools are all about getting the job done. They care about the people who have to use their tools to earn a living so they make sure with the new 12 & 20v line you get the most out of the tool without the tool getting the most out of you. They arent cheap but they are worth the price. The 12v line blows competition outta the water. The other brand 12’s are ok. Ive already gone through the makita and bosch and ya Dewalts a little bigger but fits everywhere ive needed without having to change batteries every 10 minutes. Im not a salesman or any rep. I’ve just had the priveledge of using ALOT of tools in my line of work and the new 20V stuff in my opinion, hands down the best for me.

  30. lee says:

    Hi ive recently bought the dewalt 20v hammer drll and impact. The only problem is I live in the UK and I bought them from the US. So the charger is only 110v. Does any1 no if I can buy a dewalt 18v charger or put a 110v plug on to charge my 20v batteries. Dewalt say I cant use a 110v plug or a step down power converter. Is this true ?

  31. Chris Allen says:

    Hi everyone , im a builder here in uk and i’ve got the chance to bring back a load of handheld power tools , dewalt 20v hammer screw gun and impact driver sets from the us ,if anyone can help I need to know if I can use usa tools back in uk . Can I charge the batteries in the uk ? I have a 110 transformer I use on site , can that be used? Or can I charge through a car charger to get around it ? Can anyone help please, tks

  32. pat says:

    Why did all of the tool manufactures do away with l shaped drill drivers. The pistol grip drivers don’t allow you to drive screws one handed in uncomfortable positions the way the l shaped models did. I have contacted Dewalt and Makita and got no answer. I have driven 10″ timber lock screws with one hand while hanging off a ladder at an uncomfortable angle. I cannot do that with a pistol grip because I can’t get my hand centered directly behind the chuck. Does anyone else agree that they should at least make a few in this style?

  33. Robert Ard says:

    I really like their compact 20v having a large 1/2″ chuck but able to get in the tight spots. Only they supply 2 batteries which is great when both work equally as well. My problem is one of them works great & holds charge fairly well, while my other battery never has come up to par and has gotten worse rather than better like most ion batteries with more frequent charging. Im looking at replacing it But to buy one of these is almost better to buy the whole drill set. I should of just sent it back, but who has the time to deal with warranty when you need it working yesterday? This has been my first dewalt experience after retiring my 19.2v craftsman, hope the batteries dont continue down hill as so far:((

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *