Milwaukee 28-Volt Combo Kit

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This article is from Issue 5 of Woodcraft Magazine.

If power tools had theme songs, the tune associated with Milwaukee Electric Tool’s new V28 line of cordless power tools might be Frank Sinatra’s 1959 hit “I’m Gonna Live Till I Die.” More specifically, it would be paired with the lithium ion battery packs that run these tools.  

A new kind of battery

According to Milwaukee, the V28 batteries maintain their power level throughout their entire discharge cycle. By contrast, nickel cadmium (NiCad) or nickel metal hydride (NiMh) batteries commonly used in cordless tools gradually lose power as they discharge. This can be a double-edged sword. It’s obvious when traditional battery packs are running out of juice: Your drill or saw begins to struggle. But if you’re merrily cutting away with one of the new V28 tools, it will feel fully charged until it suddenly dies. How will you know when it’s time to reload? Fortunately, Milwaukee has taken care of that with an onboard “fuel gauge” – on the front of each V28 battery are a series of indicator LEDs and a small button. Push it, and if three or four of the indicators light up, you are good to go. Only one or two? You might want to slip that battery onto the charger and top it off. Yes, I said top it off. Another differentiating feature of these lithium ion batteries is the absence of “memory.” They don’t lose capacity if they’re not fully depleted before recharging. The result is that the V28 batteries provide up to two-and-a-half times the lifetime output compared to 18-volt NiCads. 

There’s one other distinguishing characteristic among battery packs, and that’s the weight. Typical NiCad and NiMh packs consist of individual battery cells bundled together to achieve the desired power level. The higher the voltage, the heavier the battery. Milwaukee’s V28 series changes all that by switching to much lighter-weight lithium ion batteries, similar to the tiny cells which power your cell phone or MP3 player. Thus the V28 system delivers a full 28 volts, yet actually weighs less than traditional 18-volt batteries.

The tool lineup

Of course, without something to plug into, the most sophisticated battery pack is nothing more than a high-tech paperweight, so let’s talk tools. The cordless combo kit I tested consists of a circular saw, reciprocating saw, hammer drill, work light, two battery packs and a charger, all packed in a heavy-duty duffle bag. 

These tools are likely to find their widest application in construction, but how many woodworkers couldn’t use a good circular saw? The one in this kit is excellent. It’s solidly made, easy to adjust both for angle and depth of cut, and smooth to operate. 

Changing the 61/2" blade is simple, requiring only the small hex wrench, which is supplied with the saw and stows conveniently in the front handle. The handle itself is a welcome feature, providing the operator with a means to firmly grasp the tool with the non-trigger hand. Meanwhile, the hand that does operate the trigger also has a comfortable textured grip. The safety lock-off buttons are paddle-shaped and easy to depress with the thumb while still keeping a finger on the trigger. There is one on either side of the handle, a feature greatly appreciated by us left-handers.

I compared this tool with my 30-year-old 71/2" saw which is in decent condition (except for a newer power cord replacing the one accidentally amputated a few years back – a problem no one will ever have with the Milwaukee). The V28 was the winner in all categories. It’s lighter, better balanced, sturdier and easier to handle whether ripping, crosscutting, or trimming even wet 3/4"   plywood. While this saw has a maximum cutting depth of 21/8" versus 23/8" for my oldie, I’ll gladly sacrifice that extra quarter-inch of capacity for all the other benefits.

The contest between power drills was at first not so clear-cut. Despite the battery weight savings described earlier, the Milwaukee V28, when compared with my 14.4-volt drill, is decidedly heavier. Still, it’s well-balanced and boasts a unique ergonomic feature: The battery pack can be slid on from either the front or the back. The former configuration allows the tool to be used in slightly tighter spaces, while the latter offers optimal weight balance. Nevertheless, while changing a kitchen’s worth of cabinet hardware, the lighter drill was more comfortable to use. The V28 drill showed its true colors on the more challenging project of attaching 3/4" plywood to a frame made of 1" steel tubing. I easily drilled one bolt hole after another through both wood and steel and the tool never bogged down.

One last thing I liked about this drill is that the bit holder is the snap-in type, and far more reliable than the magnetic kind you’ll find on some cordless drills.

Since woodworking projects, even boring holes in lignum vitae, are unlikely to require the percussive feature of a hammer drill, I didn’t spend much time testing that aspect of the tool. Similarly, a reciprocating saw seems more at home doing demolition or construction so I will limit my comments on the cordless Sawzall in this kit to reporting that it looks, feels, weighs, and cuts almost identically to its corded counterpart.

Then there’s the flashlight. 

Just about every manufacturer out there must have once had a brainstorming session where it was asked, “What else can we include in a cordless combo kit that won’t eat R&D resources?” Seems every company has one in their combo kits.

It probably made more sense when the voltage – and thus the weight – was lower, but this thing is just too darned heavy to be truly practical, except maybe on a search-and-rescue mission. Although referred to as a work light, it really isn’t ideal for that purpose either. The head pivots from 20 degrees past vertical to 30 degrees below horizontal so it is easy to direct the light where you need it, but this device is probably best as a supplemental rather than primary source of illumination.

The combo kit – which includes the two saws, hammer drill, work light, two battery packs, charger, and duffle – is priced at around $750.

Finally, they weren’t included in the combo kit I tested, but Milwaukee’s V28 line also includes a powerful impact driver, and a job-site portable bandsaw.

For more information, visit

— When not in his shop, Lee Gordon is a copywriter and announcer who has voiced thousands of radio and television commercials. He lives in West Hartford, Conn.


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