At first glance, the two Milwaukee cordless hand-held vacuum models look like tool boxes: they're about 18 inches long, 11 inches tall, 8 inches wide, and have folding handles on top. They are basically identical units but in 18- and 28-volt versions.

The 18-volt version has two different battery attachments. One is for Milwaukee's V18 lithium-ion or nicad batteries, and the other for the newer compact LI batteries and also the newest XC batteries, out later this fall. It takes only one battery at a time, though. Latches at the top open to reveal the battery port and nozzle storage, and latches at the middle release the bottom compartment where the debris collects.

It's so handy to use a portable vac without dragging a cord around. I've used this cordless one more in the last few months than my corded one in the last few years. Milwaukee's vacs come only with a hose and two attachments: a narrow crevice tool and a wider, flat nozzle. Batteries and chargers are separate.

The onboard tool storage is very convenient. The attachments fit securely in brackets under the lid. It's nice to have them easily accessible but in a place where they're not constantly knocked off the vacuum. The hose slips into a horseshoe-shaped holder on the end of the vacuum and stays put.

The recessed top handle gives each vac a flat, rectangular shape that is stackable for storage. I can put one in the back of my trailer, loaded on top of or under tool boxes without it tumbling out when I open the door. The two-gallon capacity and 12-pound empty weight is a great size for a hand-held vacuum. Anything smaller would need to be emptied too often, and anything bigger would be unwieldy.

In use, the vacs are very stable. When I'm crawling around on the floor cleaning up and I fully extend the hose, this vac slides to me, and not fall over like my old one always did. The hose locks in well and stretches from about 22 inches to more than 5 feet long, but the unit usually slides when the hose extends to about 4 feet.

The vacuum works well on small particles, like dirt and sawdust, but larger debris, like chunks of plaster, wood chips, splinters, and such, often get stuck in the 1-1/4-inch hose.

When it's time to empty the vac, the bottom dust compartment unlatches easily, and the filter comes loose with a slight twist. The filter has a hard plastic frame that lets you tap it solidly to dislodge dust. The filter is made of synthetic, HEPA-rated material, though the entire vac unit is not HEPA-rated. This synthetic material lets you switch to wet pickup without removing the filter because the waterproof material will not deform, like common paper filters. A float ball within the filter's cage blocks the airflow and audibly raises the motor's pitch when it is full of liquid, so you know when to empty it.

And besides both dry and wet pickup, these vacs also work as blowers by attaching the hose to the exhaust port.

In simple, no-load time trials, I found that the 28-volt unit ran for a maximum of 18 minutes per battery charge, and the 18-volt unit went about 10 minutes.

The last few minutes of each were at noticeably reduced motor rpm. This seems pretty short, but continuous, high-demand operation is taxing on a DC motor and battery system. In standard on/off use for shorter time periods, the runtimes were slightly less, although the motor would cut out instead of struggling to run at the end of the cycle.

I like the fuel gauges on all the LI batteries, and the built-in receptacle on the back of the charger plug is handy when you're working in houses with only one or two functioning outlets, as often happens in remodeling work.

My complaints are few. I wish the vacs came with a few more attachments. The hose end is a bit small for me to hold comfortably; I'd like to see a 1-foot-long rigid extension handle for a better grip. And a brush attachment would be handy to have for construction cleanup, too. Common 11/4-inch vac attachments will fit these vacs, so these additions can be made by the user, but it would be nice to have them come standard.

I also think the vacs would be handier with a shoulder strap to free your other hand while using it standing up. That way you could lift things to clean under or pick up things you don't want to suck up, such as larger chunks that will cause a time-wasting clog.

It also would help to have a way to attach the charger and 0780-20 spare battery to the unit for storage and transport to the job. Most cordless tools have a case to keep everything together, but with the Milwaukee vacs, I often have to make a second trip out to the trailer to grab a loose charger and battery.

The Verdict

Overall, the Milwaukee vacuums are very useful tools. Cordless convenience, adequate power, handy size, and an easy stowing design make them a jobsite necessity.

Milwaukee Electric Tool
0780-20, 28-volt vac 0880-20, 18-volt vac
Price: $99 each

Matthew Steadman is a general contractor in southern Los Angeles, who specializes in residential remodeling.

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