Every year, manufacturers dazzle us with new tool innovations and battery technologies. We want more runtime, more power and overall tool life. By and large, the major tool makers are offering this stuff. Today's best cordless drills can do far more than corded tools. Professionals are starting to think of their 18V tools as their primary choice, not just a secondary tool. Tool innovation continues to highlight similar capabilities for 12 volts and 18 volts. It looks amazing, and the tools are exciting to use. But more power wasn't our only consideration. In the 12V vs. 18V equation, we can quickly reach a point of diminishing returns.
We got there not because of power, but because of the factors that go with power. After all, there's no need to kill a fly with a sledgehammer. Here are some of the most important considerations when comparing 12 volt and 18 volt tools.
Obviously, an 18-volt tool is more powerful than its 12-volt counterpart. However, 12V and 18V are not just about power. You probably don't need that much torque at all.
What? Blasphemy! Yep, well…you don't always need maximum power. Sometimes you just want to turn a screw.
A professional carpenter or installer may be using 12-volt tools all day long and not need 18-volt tools. Thanks to lithium-ion technology, today's 12-volt drills and impact drivers perform much like yesterday's 18-volt tools. Some even seem to fall between these two categories.
But what if you perform heavy, high-stress tasks in production? Then an 18 volt platform might be better suited for the job. For many users, however, a 12-volt power tool gives you enough power to do most of the work you're likely to throw at it.
A 12 volt tool definitely has the advantage of being lighter. If you often find yourself in crawl spaces, attics, working overhead or with your arms outstretched, 12V tools have an advantage…without a doubt. If the power level meets your needs, you will want to consider a 12 volt platform.
Unless you drive a dump truck, space may be limited. Your best workshop tool box or truck bed tool box is prime. If your tools are smaller, you can carry a wider variety of tools for the jobs you may come across. You can carry a 12V impact driver, 12V drill, one-handed miter saw, even a circular saw (and probably more) in a decent sized toolbox or backpack and be ready for just about anything. An 18V power supply would be bigger and heavier.
With the 12 volt kit, you won't find yourself crawling out from under the house or down from the attic to make multiple trips to the truck because everything fits in one bag.
We'll have to be patient while we wait for the 1-minute battery charger to hit the market. Until then, the 12-volt battery has the advantage of faster charging times. Looking at a compact 12V battery pack, generally you only need to charge 3 cells. Compare that to 5 or 6 cells in an 18V compact.
Impressively, fast-charging technology helps close the gap on some 18-volt platforms. With most advancements in charging technology happening on the 18-volt platform, big players are likely to dominate the space in every way.
18V vs. 12V run time
Grab a box of 25 lb drywall screws and some 2×4 lumber and start driving them. When your power drill dies, you might be working until lunch. Would you rather use a 12 volt drill or an 18 volt model? it depends.
An 18 volt battery will run much longer than a 12 volt battery for the same task. Especially now that 10 Ah batteries and even 12 Ah batteries are appearing. However, you probably don't want to carry all that weight in the hand tool.
18V tools are heavier and run longer. In exchange, they can also drive heavier loads without slowing down or taxing the battery.
For most of us, investing in an 18V tool and battery platform is inevitable. However, the cost of entry for 12V tools is not high. Finding a good 12V system – even as a supplement – may help you work smarter.
However, the exact opposite is true when you consider the fact that the widest range of tools exists on the 18V platform. This effectively makes the 12V platform a "luxury" option. While these smaller tools save weight at the expense of power, they also don't represent a platform on which you can build infinitely. Instead, they offer a more ergonomic solution for those of us who want to pay for that convenience.
Put that (thought) in your pipe for a while!
So who are 12V tools for? In our view, these smaller tools target two types of consumers. First, they appeal to DIYers who may not plan to buy anything other than drill bits, impact drivers, small saws, and the like. They don't want a "tool connection". Another user is the seasoned professional who has the ability to add some lightweight tools to their arsenal to save weight when working overhead or simply performing tasks that don't require heavier, more powerful tools.
We love the constant innovation and growing strength from major tool manufacturers. We won't stop wanting more because we just want more from our cordless tools. However, there are a few things to consider before going straight over and choosing the box with the highest number above. 12 volt platforms are smaller, lighter and less expensive. Its ability to get into tight spaces helps relieve fatigue during prolonged use.
Remember – very few professionals can do everything on a 12 volt platform alone. When circumstances make us choose ergonomics over power, most of us use 12V tools to supplement our 18V tools.
I'm sure you have some thoughts on 12V and 18V tools. If you're a pro and have other cordless tool tips, add them in the comments below or join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!