Tool School: 12-Volt Tools Takeover

By Matt Weber


Today’s 12-volt tools are all the rage and perform like never before.


Peruse the aisles of your favorite hardware store and you’ll see the evolution of cordless tool technology. You’ll find fewer and fewer of the old standard 14.4-volt tools in favor of a spread between 12- and 18-volt tools. In particular, the 12-volt category is experiencing growth like never before, thanks to manufacturers optimizing the use of lithium-ion battery technology. Lithium-ion batteries weigh less and characteristically outperform their NiCad counterparts. These batteries last longer and feature a greater number of recharges. They are rechargeable in as little as 30 minutes, as well as recyclable, which keeps their components circulating and out of landfills. More power in a smaller package has long been the goal of both tool producers and tool purchasers, and 12 volts of power can now do things never before possible.


Rockwell’s H3 and more.

Drilling holes in concrete or masonry generally requires the impact-action of a hammer-drill, and Rockwell is the first manufacturer to offer a 12-volt version with the H3 3-Function Rotary Hammer Drill. Weighing only 3 pounds, the tool has the 3-in-1 capability to serve as a hammer-drill, conventional drill or a power screwdriver. The hammer-drill function simplifies otherwise challenging tasks like installing concrete screws, gutter brackets, mail boxes and conduit. To put this in perspective, using only 3 volts more than those square 9-volt batteries available at every checkout aisle in America, you can effectively bore into concrete—an application that was until recently only capable with a 14.4-volt tool or larger. The H3 utilizes two chucks, including a SDS Plus quick-change chuck for the concrete work to deliver an impact rate of 0-4,600 blows-per-minute (bpm). To drive wood screws, simply snap in the quick-change bit holder. A dial switch on the body of the tool lets the operator switch from hammer to drilling mode.  Rockwell doesn’t stop there with the 12-volt tools. Also available: a power screwdriver, a drill/driver, a cordless version of the popular SoniCrafter oscillating tool and an impact driver, all compact, sturdy and powerful. Plus, we love Rockwell’s free-of-charge lifetime battery-replacement policy—something you will not find with other manufacturers. (


Ridgid JobMax System.

We’ve touched on Ridgid’s JobMax system in a previous article on oscillating tools, but when a tool setup can accomplish so darn much, it deserves a little more ink. Demonstrating a complete reevaluation of the multitool concept, the JobMax system uses a 12-volt power takeoff (PTO) to operate five interchangeable heads. With the appropriate tool head, the JobMax functions as an oscillating tool, 3/8-inch drill/driver, right-angle impact driver, 3/8-inch square-drive ratchet and an auto-hammer.  The durable base includes an LED work light and a variable-speed, paddle-style trigger. The base easily quick-connects to each tool head, and the heads interface with the PTO in four different positions, which allows the user to position the trigger facing forward, backward or offset to the side. We were a little apprehensive that an all-in-one multitool may not perform as well as its indi-vidual dedicated competitors. However, after running it through the gauntlet, we found the JobMax matched well with other 12-volt tools, including the Craftsman AutoHammer and Bosch Multi-X. As with everything, there’s a trade-off here and there; for example, the JobMax did weigh more than the competition (more than twice the weight of the Craftsman AutoHammer), which may play into user fatigue during lengthy work times. Regardless, when using the entire JobMax system, it provides a compact and organized method to crib together your most commonly used tools in a single easy-to-manage package. (


Milwaukee M12 Cordless Palm Nailer.

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation has introduced the industry’s first cordless palm nailer. This groundbreaking advancement in technology delivers the performance professionals have come to expect from pneumatic nailers without the burden of hauling a hose and compressor. “Not only is this tool capable of driving a 16D 3-1/2-inch nail in under two seconds,” says Corey Dickert, associate product manager, cordless for Milwaukee Tool, “it will also deliver impressive run time at up to 100 of these nails per charge.” Weighing only 3.4 pounds, and measuring 6-1/2 inches from palm to tip, the M12 Palm Nailer easily operates in tight spaces, providing a fastening solution in places that are unreachable by a traditional nail gun. The palm nailer also features a 6D-to-16D industrial magnetic collet to securely hold framing nails for one-handed use and all-metal gear housing for jobsite durability. (


Craftsman QuickBoost.

Something new under the sun: Craftsman’s new QuickBoost charger can bring a completely dead battery back up to a 25 percent charge in three minutes, providing the extra “boost” needed to finish up the job at hand. This unique new technology works with all of Craftsman’s cordless line of 12-volt lithium-ion NEXTEC power tools, and the new charger hits store shelves this spring. “The new QuickBoost Charger is the first product of its kind and was developed in response to our customers’ desire for innovative time-saving solutions,” says Kris Malkoski, vice president and general manager of the Craftsman brand. “When a battery runs out of power, it can be frustrating to have to wait 30 minutes or more for a charge when the project is almost complete. Now the user only has to wait three minutes and can get back to work right away.” The intelligent circuit board reacts to user commands, and at the push of a button the charger harnesses all its energy for a three-minute quick boost charge, or a full charge can be completed in about 30 minutes. (


Bosch Drivers Deliver.

When it comes to packing the most power in the smallest package, Bosch took the prize among the tools we tested. The PS21 12V Max 2-Speed Pocket Driver lives up to its namesake, as its 5.6-inch length is easy and comfortable to store, carry and hold, while delivering 265 in-lbs of maximum torque. The dual-speed switch allows the user to select the appropriate setting for more speed or more power.The Bosch PS41 impact driver earns similar bragging rights. It is the lightest and most compact impact driver currently on the market. Plus, it offers a screw-punishing 930 in-lbs of torque, notably more muscle than many competing 12V impacts, which average around 800 in-lbs. Bonus points go to the PS41 for including a battery fuel gauge and an innovative LED work light that completely surrounds the driver tip for unmatched working visibility. (


Porter-Cable Brings Power and Innovation.

Porter-Cable’s 12V MAX lineup offers a two-tool combo kit (PCL212IDC-2) that includes a canvas tote bad, a charger, two 12V lithium-ion batteries and the standard go-to fastening tools—a 3/8-inch drill/driver (PCL120DD) and impact driver (PCL120ID). Both tools have a compact size and light weight, ideal for overhead applications and fitting into tight spaces.  The drill/driver’s 2-speed gearbox can be switched from high-speed drilling to high-torque fastening. But if you really want torque, stick with the impact driver which achieves 950 in-lbs—matched only by Dewalt’s DCF815S2 impact driver for most torque the 12V class. And, we’re a sucker for simple solutions, so we loved the belt hooks on both of the tools. Hitch them at your side, and all you’ll need is chaps, spurs and a 10-gallon hat for quick-draw home improvements.


Additionally, Porter-Cable offers the new 12V Clamp Saw (PCL120CRC-2), a smart redesign of the compact reciprocating saws commonly used in plumbing applications. This unique, compact and lightweight saw is intended for applications not accessible with large recips. Its signature feature is a distinctive clamping shoe that holds small diameter objects such as pipe and conduit for fast and accurate cuts.

“We identified small diameter work-piece vibration as a user frustration and worked to develop an innovative solution,” says Derek Vlcko, senior product manager, Porter-Cable. “The clamp allows professionals to quickly and easily saw material like medium-duty wood, metal, PVC, copper pipe and threaded rod that typically moves or bounces due to vibration.” The ClampSaw also features a three-position adjustable handle for maximum versatility in confined areas. The pivoting handle enables the saw to have a minimum length of 9-1/2-inches and a minimum height of 3-1/2-inches. Utilizing a variable-speed trigger and weighing less than 3 pounds, the ClampSaw offers superb control in various cutting positions. (


Craftsman NEXTEC Right Angle Impact Driver.

Another noteworthy entry in the 12V product line from Craftsman is the new NEXTEC Right Angle Impact Driver. When impact drivers first hit the market they quickly made a name for themselves as high-productive fastening tools for handymen, contractors, woodworkers and DIY’ers. However, gearheads will find them useful as well, particularly such a model as the right-angle Craftsman, which can access very hard-to-reach fasteners located inside cramped engine wells. Of course, it works in easy-access areas as well. The Craftsman Right Angle Impact Driver includes an LED work light and delivers an ample 700 in-lbs of torque. The impact mechanism absorbs the power so the tool won’t twist your wrist, keeping the driver steady in those cramped working conditions. The kit includes three nut-driver bits, a screwdriver bit, battery charger and carrying case. (


Accessible Accessories.

The 12V Multi-X is the Bosch version of an oscillating tool, and our staff has used this model for a little bit of everything over the last couple of years. These days, most major tool manufacturers have introduced a similar model in their 12-volt lineup. However, oscillating tool manufacturers generally use their own connection style for the accessory blades, and there is very little crossover among them. Bosch had the foresight to introduce a line of universal blades and attachments that will fit any manufacturer’s oscillating tool. This system utilizes a secure 12-pin Oscillating Interface System (OIS), rather than a friction-fit assembly. So, whether your 12V multitool is made by Fein, Ridgid, Craftsman, Milwaukee, Rockwell or anyone else, the Bosch OIS accessory system will enhance its use. Available are sanding pads in a variety of grits, scraper blades, flush-cut blades, plunge-cut blades and many more. (

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