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36-Volt Kits

Bosch CPK40-36

For testing purposes, Bosch was able to provide ready-for-market tools, but the complete combo kit won't be available to buy until June. Although the kit will include a flashlight, one was not available when pictures were taken for this article.

Bosch offers a choice of battery packs for its 36-volt tools: the portly FatPack for heavy-duty applications or the svelte SlimPack for lighter work. The kit I tested came with one of each. Bosch also plans to offer a combo containing two SlimPacks (CPK41-36) and one with two FatPacks (CPK42-36).

I'd definitely go the FatPack-only route. These are large, robust tools, and the FatPack battery makes them competitive with the best on the market. With the SlimPack you get a slightly less heavy tool, but it's underpowered compared with its 28- and 36-volt competitors, and clunkier and more expensive than the lightweight 18-volt units.

The circular saw is plenty powerful, though its runtime was a bit disappointing. Slightly aft-heavy, it has excellent grips and controls. I liked the depth-of-cut scale and the sturdy rafter hook. I didn't like the way the blade-change wrench kept falling out of its storage hole.

The drill is first-rate. It's very well-balanced with either size of battery attached. All controls performed perfectly and were easily accessed with or without gloves.

Powered by a FatPack battery, the reciprocating saw easily won the 2x4 portion of the test, but ran third in the nail-embedded 4x8 portion. I liked the heavy-duty rafter hook and the one-handed blade clamp, which remains open until a new blade is inserted.


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DeWalt DCX6401

The power and runtime of these 36-volt tools are truly impressive, but lightweights they're not. This is a unique line of tools for DeWalt, so the batteries are not compatible with any of the company's earlier nicad models.

The circular saw was among the heaviest I tested, but it was the only one with a full-size 7 1/4-inch blade; it also sports a unique tool-free blade-change feature. It's well-balanced and all controls are easy to access, even with gloves on. It squeaked past the Milwaukee V28 saw to earn the top circular-saw rating for power and runtime.

The drill was also a heavyweight; although well-balanced, it became a real handful by the end of the day. Controls are merely adequate: The mode-selector ring, which determines whether the unit will function as a rotary drill, hammer drill, or screwdriver, is too narrow and the speed control slide is too stiff. Performance was excellent in all modes, however. It placed second among the drills.

I was particularly impressed with DeWalt's reciprocating saw. Not only was it more powerful than its competitors, but — despite its huge battery — it was also the most comfortable to use and is packed with user-friendly features. The tool-free blade change and the push-button shoe adjustment are excellent. But the standout detail is the blade clamp, which accepts blades either vertically or horizontally, meaning the teeth can point up, down, left, or right. It's like having a rotating handle, only simpler.


28-Volt & 24-Volt Kits

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Milwaukee 0928-29/V28

If I were spending my own money, this is the kit I'd buy. All the tools have plenty of power and are a pleasure to operate. They travel in a roomy no-frills bag that's easy to load and lug. The powerful batteries feature a four-light fuel gauge and a tactile rubber coating; unfortunately, they are not compatible with any other Milwaukee tools.

Even though it finished a whisker behind the DeWalt 36-volt circular saw in overall performance, the Milwaukee V28 was my favorite circular saw. The two rubberized hand grips feel great, the balance is good, and all controls are easy to use. One beef: The front blade guard — an otherwise useful safety feature — obscures the cut line when the saw is set on a bevel.

The drill was the top performer of all the ones I tested. It is fairly heavy but still a pleasure to use, thanks to a comfortable contoured grip and superb balance made even better by a battery pack that can be attached to face forward or backward. I also liked the two-piece belt clip. My only complaint is that the speed-selector switch frequently got stuck between the high and low settings.

The reciprocating saw is both solid and well-balanced, and it offers two speed ranges. The tool-free blade clamp and shoe adjustment worked fine. I also liked the engraved "max" line on the shoe, which made it easy to find the last locking detent (the Milwaukee V18 has the same feature).


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Ridgid 24v XLi

The week before this issue went to the printer, I found out that Ridgid was dropping the circular saw from this kit; it will still be sold as a stand-alone tool for $100 (without a battery). The price given in the chart on page 67 reflects the cost of purchasing the new combo ($380) plus a circ saw.

Of all the circular saws I tested, the Ridgid model was the only one to mount the blade on the right side, as a traditional sidewinder does; it was also the only one with a nonmetal shoe. Overall, the balance and ergonomics were acceptable, but the location of the front hand grip on the motor housing (not in line with the handle) would make it awkward for a left-hander to operate.

The drill felt solid and well-balanced. Although the controls mostly worked well, the mode-selector switch occasionally got stuck in "Driver" mode. Also, after I used the hammer feature to bore concrete, the chuck locked and refused to cough up the bit. Unlike the other drills I tested, this one doesn't have a bit holder on the tool body.

The reciprocating saw is a sturdy workhorse, but its chubby barrel grip made it the least comfortable to use. It seemed to vibrate more than its peers, but my objectivity may have been clouded by the uncomfortable grip. Both the blade clamp and the shoe adjustment are tool-free and easy to use.


18-Volt Kits

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Hitachi KC18DBL

These nimble tools make the most of lithium ion's weight advantage. The batteries and charger are compatible with some of Hitachi's existing nicad tools. The large bag has plenty of room for tools and accessories, but its black lining makes it hard for aging eyes to locate loose bits and blades.

The circular saw is the least desirable tool in the kit. There's a lot of plastic, the markings are poor, and there's no on-board wrench for blade changes. A task light actuated by the trigger safety switch shines from the right side and casts a troublesome shadow. Overall, it's not a tool for serious work.

The lightweight drill, on the other hand, is a solid performer, with easily accessible controls and one unique feature: a switch that limits the range of the variable-speed trigger, effectively giving the drill four steady speeds rather than two. The drill also comes with an adjustable belt hook and an effective task light. The rubberized grip is a nice touch, though the handle feels as if it's tapered the wrong way (larger at the bottom than at the top).

I really liked the power and the feel of Hitachi's reciprocating saw, but it has some annoying quirks. The blade-release lever is accessible only with the blade completely extended, and the clamp's small size makes it tough to operate with gloves on. I was also disappointed to find that the wrench I needed for adjusting the shoe is not stored on the tool.


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Makita LXT401

These are some of the most comfortable cordless tools I've ever used. They travel in the best soft bag of the bunch: heavily padded and loaded with pockets, yet smaller than the others. The fan-cooled charger was also a favorite. It accepts a wide range of battery types, and has easy-to-understand charging-status lights and a spring-loaded cover to keep the terminals dust-free.

Though not a powerhouse, the circular saw is exceptionally well-balanced. The controls are a bit small but work well, and the saw was the only one with set screws at both 0-degree and 45-degree bevel stops. I didn't like the dust chute much because it funneled the debris directly onto my pants, but an accessory dust-collection pickup is available.

The drill is the lightest of the hammer models — its superb grip and balance make it an ergonomic dream. Controls and markings are excellent, but the speed selector is balky at times. Maximum clutch torque was a little weak — the drill balked at tasks the heavier tools could handle. This handy tool also features a useful task light and a belt hook.

The reciprocating saw was very comfortable to use. Both the shoe adjustment and the blade change are tool-free, but, as with the Hitachi, I sometimes had to pulse the trigger to extend the blade far enough to access the blade-release mechanism. The saw also features a useful task light — directly in line with the blade — and a sturdy swing-out rafter hook.


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Metabo Combo 4.1

I've used several Metabo tools over the years and have always found their quality and performance to be topnotch. Nevertheless, I can't find much reason to recommend this kit. None of the tools have enough power and runtime to be competitive with their 18-volt peers, and the awkwardly shaped hard-plastic hand grips are the opposite of ergonomic.

On the plus side, the batteries are compatible with Metabo's existing 18-volt tools, and the charger accepts a wide range of Metabo batteries.

A banana-shaped grip and poor balance make the heavy circular saw exhausting to use for long periods. The bulky saw body also obscures the cut line when beveling. One feature I did like was the swiveling, rear-mounted dust port.

Of all the drills I tested, the Metabo driver/drill was the smallest and weakest. Although its compact size allowed it to fit in spaces too tight for any of the other drills, its stubby front end made it hard for me to get a grip on the conical clutch ring, especially when I was wearing gloves.

The reciprocating saw was even more disappointing. Its slick grips and sloping rear handle were uncomfortable to hold, especially when I was using the tool upside-down. Another disappointing feature was the trigger safety switch. This device is standard equipment on circular saws, but I found it to be nearly unworkable on a tool that is often held upside-down and sideways. On a positive note, the tool-free blade-change mechanism worked great.


Milwaukee 0920-29/V18

Although not as capable as their high-voltage siblings, these tools were the best of the 18-volt group, with excellent power, runtime, and quality. The charger accepts various nicad and lithium-ion voltages. The batteries are compatible with other Milwaukee 18-volt tools.

The circular saw is an excellent tool with a sturdy metal shoe and blade guard. The controls, grips, and balance are outstanding. Like its big brother V28, the kit comes with a first-rate rip fence but has the same front blade guard that obscures the cut line when beveling.

The drill's overall feel and balance are superb. All controls are clearly marked and easy to operate, and the battery pack attaches two ways for optimum work access and balance.

The reciprocating saw is a solid tool, but it doesn't match the terrific performance of its siblings in this kit. It's well-balanced with decent hand grips that could be improved with some rubber on the plastic rear handle. The tool-free blade clamp and shoe-adjustment lever worked well enough; the shoe often got stuck, however, and was difficult to work loose. More troubling was the temperamental variable-speed trigger, which effectively has only two speeds: "off" and "hold on for the ride."

I also have to quibble about this kit's case. Whereas its big brother packs away in a relatively compact soft-sided bag, Milwaukee's smaller V18 combo comes with an unwieldy plastic case that I suspect most purchasers will simply throw out.