Milwaukee M18 FUEL Brushless 1/2" Drill/Driver Kit

Brushless motor that delivers 650 in/lbs torque, weighs under 5 pounds, and comes with a 5 year warranty - sweet


Milwaukee M18 FUEL Brushless 1/2" Drill/Driver Kit

It wasn't so long ago that 'lithium-ion' technology was creating quite a buzz in the cordless power tool community. Today, you would be hard pressed to find a cordless tool that isn't powered by a li-ion battery. And these batteries are constantly undergoing refinement. Metabo, for instance, has recently come out with a 4.0-Ah version - which provides a whopping 33% more runtime than a standard 3.0-Ah battery.
The newest technological advancement in cordless power tools is the 'brushless motor'. BL motors have been in use in other industries for some time, but have only recently begun to show up in power tools - Festool, Makita, and Hitachi already use BL motors in some of their cordless products - with more on their way. You can expect to see just about every power tool manufacturer adapting this technology. And, you can expect to see BL motors used in a wider range of cordless power tools - circ saws, recip saws, grinders, and the like.
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel 1/2" Drill/Driver (2603-22CT) is part of Milwaukee's new family of brushless power tools, which currently consists of a drill/driver, hammer drill/driver, and impact driver.

Conventional brushed motor
A typical brushed motor consists of wires, magnets and brushes. The stator is essentially a fixed magnet or electromagnet. The armature, or rotor, rotates within the stator, and is connected to a drive shaft and commutator. Carbon brushes provide the electrical connection between the power source (the battery) and the commutator, which reverses the direction of current flow to the armature so that the magnetic fields maintain rotation. And it's that rotating force that produces torque.
One of the main disadvantages of a brushed motor is that the brushes constantly remain in contact with the armature - this creates friction (which accounts for the sparking that you see through the vent holes on a brushed drill) and heat. Both of these reduce the efficiency of the motor. The constant friction between the brushes and the commutator wear each other down, which adversely affects motor performance - and where a motor is subject to excessive heat build-up it can lead to motor failure.

Brushless motor - permanent magnet on the left, electrically induced magnet on the right

A brushless motor does away the brushes and the commutator. Like a brushed motor it has permanent magnets and electrically induced magnets. However, in place of brushes that provide the electrical connection, a brushless motor uses an external electronic speed controller that creates the revolving magnetic field between the two magnets and causes the shaft to spin.

Motor cover
Motor cover removed
The electrically induced magnet
The permanent magnet
A major advantage of this system is the reduction in friction inside the motor, which means less wear on internal components and less heat build-up, resulting in a longer motor lifespan. Because the electrical connection is controlled digitally, rather than mechanically (by brushes) brushless motors run more efficiently, transferring more power to the drive shaft. Like brushed motors, they can heat up, particularly under a heavy load. However, they can be more effectively cooled.
In the photos above you can see that there aren't a lot of parts to the Milwaukee 2603-22CT brushless motor.

Electronic speed controller at the back of the electrically induced magnet

The photo above shows the electronic controller, which performs the function of the brushes on a conventional brushed motor. Fewer moving parts and less friction in the brushless motor makes for less heat build-up.

The RedLink digital controller
For optimal efficiency the motor and battery need to communicate with each other. This is taken care of by the RedLink digital controller, which is located in the handle of the drill/driver. The RedLink controller, along with the electronic speed controller in the motor, and electronic circuitry in the battery ensures that the drill/driver is delivering optimal power under load without damaging the battery.

Fast charger for both M12 and M18 batteries
The 2603-22CT comes in a kit with two 1.5-Ah batteries. For an extra $60 you can purchase it in a kit (#2603-22) with two M18 high capacity 3-Ah, 54-Wh batteries. The 3-Ah batteries can be purchased separately for around $90.
The 1.5-Ah battery is a good choice for furniture makers, finish carpenters, and DIYers who want decent runtime, but a lighter tool. Carpenters will likely want to opt for the 3-Ah battery for maximum run time. I was glad to see a battery power meter on the battery. They're very convenient, and really should be a standard feature on all batteries.
Both kits comes with Milwaukee's dual fast charger that will charge both the compact M12 batteries (in about 30 minutes) and the high capacity M18 batteries (in approximately 60 minutes).
According to Milwaukee, their REDLITHIUM batteries "provide significantly more run-time, power and recharges than any other Lithium product on the market." I didn't verify their claim, but, as you'll see below, I was mightily impressed with the run time from their M18 1.5-Ah batteries.

LED work light just above the trigger
Most of the premium power tools contain LED work light - they're very helpful when you're working in poorly illuminated areas, and they consume minute amounts of battery power.
The 2603-22CT weighs in at 4 pounds 6-1/2 ounces with the battery installed. The head is 8-1/2" long, about standard for a full-size drill/driver. I found it to be quite well balanced, and I like that it sits steadily on its bottom (the battery case) when set down. Oddly enough while there is a threaded screw hole on the base of the handle, Milwaukee doesn't include a matching belt clip. Small potatoes!

Easy to decipher controls
For drilling and driving tasks, the 2603-22CT delivers two speeds - 0-550 RPM and 0-1,850 RPM, and it has 24 clutch settings. This is a good range of speeds, and enough clutch settings that you can easily set your screws of any length to sink at just the right depth. There are little icons on the torque selector collar that make it quick to choose between drilling and driving modes, while two small protruding nubs make it easy to turn the collar.
The 2603-22CT is rated at 650 in/lbs of torque - one of the highest torque levels for an 18-volt drill/driver. The problem here is that you have to take all torque ratings with a grain of salt. There are no performance standards when it comes to measuring torque, so it's somewhat misleading to compare torque values from different manufacturers. At best, it serves as a  general guide of motor output.

1/2" metal single sleeve chuck 
I'm glad that Milwaukee chose to use an all-metal ratcheting single sleeve locking chuck. It's usually the front end of the drill that takes most of the hard knocks, either in the workshop or on a job site. The chuck locks quickly and holds bits securely without any slippage.

Rubber bumpers protect the housing
I like seeing the rubber bumpers on each side of the housing - they'll help to absorb any impact, particularly when laying the drill on its side.

Side handle is easy to install
Holds securely and is quick to remove
The side handle is pretty neat. It's very quick to install or remove and mounts firmly in place. It can only be mounted horizontally on the top left or right side of the drill - which is fine by me, as that's the typical orientation I use.

Durable hard shell case beats a soft side bag
Thankfully the 2603-22CT comes in a hard shell case rather than a flimsy bag, so you get maximum tool protection. The case is durable, waterproof, and lockable. The rounded corners are a nice feature as well, as they're less likely to get caught up on other tools or stock when stored in your truck.

A place for everything
There is just enough real estate in the case to store all the components that come with the 2603-22CT. You might be able to slip a few drill bits into the case, but that's just about all. A bit of extra storage space would have been appreciated.

68 1" holes on a single 1.5A charge
With a top speed of 1,850 RPM and maximum no-load torque of 650 in/lbs the Milwaukee 2603-22CT can handle just about all your drilling and driving needs. I was able to drill 68 holes through a 2 by 6 using a 1" Irwin Speedbor bit, in just under seven minutes.
Sinking screws and lag bolts proved to be no problem either. The 2603-22CT can power a #10-3" deck screw completely through a 2 by 6 if you're in a overly aggressive mood - you'll be glad for its 24 clutch settings. Sinking tapcon screws into concrete was a piece of cake, as was setting 1/2" x 6" lag screws.
Compared to the brushed Milwaukee 18V model 2601-22 (425 in/lbs of torque and top speed of 1,500 RPM), the 2603-22CT delivers 35% more torque and a 19% increase in speed. Milwaukee claims that it also delivers a 10 times longer motor life and 50% longer run time.
You can expect to pay about $120CA ($76US) more for the 2603-22CR. The decision you'll have to make is whether the price differential is justified for a vastly improved motor design, one that delivers a substantially longer motor life and greater battery run time. As Warren Buffet is quoted as saying, 'price is what you pay, value is what you get'.



  • Brushless motor
  • 1/2" metal single sleeve chuck
  • 18V lithium-ion battery, 1.5-Ah, 27-Wh
  • 24 clutch settings
  • 0-550 RPM and 0-1,850 RPM
  • 650 in/lbs torque
  • On board battery power meter
  • LED work light
  • 4 lbs 6-1/2 oz weight
  • 8-1/2" head length
  • 5-year warranty
  • Includes: Fast charger (48-59-1812), 2 batteries (48-11-1815), side handle, hard shell case

MANUFACTURER:Milwaukee Electric Tool
AVAILABLE FROM:Tool and equipment suppliers nationwide
MODEL #:2603-22CT
Carl Duguay, June 2012
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