When we first used the Ridgid Stealth Force Impulse Driver, I wondered why no one else had brought an oil impact driver to the market. Its quiet operation combined with a faster drive was a game-changer, earning it a 2016 Pro Tool Innovation Award. Next up is the Makita Oil Impulse Driver – a design smaller and less powerful model. After that, Ryobi Quiet Strike is next. Now that the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge hydraulic driver has entered the fray, we have a few questions.
We want to help you understand where it is suitable in terms of noise level, drive power and compact design. We were one of the first companies to get our hands on the new hydraulic drive, so we spent quite a bit of time working on it.
Check out our best hydraulic impact drivers article to see how these tools compare.
A hydraulic drive differs from an impact drive in the presence of a hydraulic drive system. When the hammer strikes the impact driver, each strike creates a powerful impact that drives the bit to rotate.
The hydraulic drive in this drive uses the expansion and contraction of oil to rotate the collet. This is less violent and creates a propulsion that keeps the hammer engaged longer than on an impact driver. On your side, you'll feel a strong, less violent impact that's usually less frequent than traditional impacts. However, the surge takes effect at a much faster rate and should result in very fast driving.
Torque is one of the more misleading numbers when it comes to impact tools, especially now that drivers like the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge are coming out. Let's try to understand it. Essentially, the drill provides a constant force by pushing against the collet until it snaps or the clutch engages. The impact driver hammer spins freely, building momentum until the brief moment it makes contact with the anvil with as much force as possible.
The hydraulic driver in the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge engages longer (and less violently) than an impact driver, but the oil contraction side still has some free spin time before making the next push. Because each drive engages the chuck differently, 1000 in-lbs of torque will give you different results in each type.
The Surge has 450 inch-pounds of torque—not necessarily impressive on paper, but let's wait and see how it drives before drawing any conclusions.
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge has a compact and lightweight design – more like Makita's Oil Impulse Driver than Ridgid's Stealth Force. If you've seen the Makita model, you might be surprised to know that the Milwaukee made the Surge even more compact. They are nearly the same height, but the Surge has a shorter head at 4-7/8 inches.
According to our scale, it weighs 2.32 lbs. With the compact battery installed, it weighs 3.24 lbs. That makes it much lighter than the Stealth Force's 3.04 pounds naked, but a bit heavier than the Makita's 1.92 pounds.
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge has four drive modes, including a self-tapping screw mode that cycles over the battery. From Mode 1 to Mode 3, you'll get 900, 2100 and a lightning fast 3000 RPM. Impact rates up to 4000 IPM. Top speed and impact rate are higher than standard impact drivers.
Milwaukee's standard handle, rubber overmold and trigger are all present – ergonomic and easy to handle. With a compact battery, the driver is truly balanced in horizontal, overhead and below applications. When traveling down, the balance point is just below the trigger.
An LED light is activated by the trigger and is located under the chuck. I'm personally a fan of the triple-beam LEDs around the head that remove all shadows on the Stealth Force, but this is an upgrade over the lights mounted above the battery. A reversible belt clip is included, as you'd expect, and your forward/reverse/lock switch is in a traditionally accessible location behind the trigger.
Milwaukee claims the Surge has 50% lower noise levels, 3x less vibration, and drives faster than standard impact drivers. It's easy to test – we did!
Speaking of noise, the Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge is unquestionably quieter than standard impact drivers. To my ears, it sounds quieter than all three other oil shocks, especially at bottom speeds. I'm still doing some testing with a sound level meter to prove this, but the initial numbers back it up.
At high speeds, the Surge definitely drives fast. Once you understand how quiet it is compared to a standard impact driver, you'll notice it. As for driving faster than a standard impact driver – it's pretty close. In our original head-to-head review of the best impact drivers, the Surge did quite well, driving 25 three-inch screws into stacked OSBs. It falls right in the middle of the pack. It is certainly capable of running smaller lag screws and ledger screws for decoration.
Shock absorption is possible thanks to oil. The push force of the hydraulic drive design is softer, which significantly reduces hand vibration compared to a hammer hitting an anvil. While I don't have a meter to test the exact amount of vibration produced, it's significantly less than any of our impact drivers.
the bottom line
The Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge has entered the world of oil impact drivers and is a powerful screwdriver for wood and metal applications. For heavy tools, you'll want an impact wrench.
So where does the Surge fit in your toolbox? I think we're seeing a slightly different path in terms of tightening. Some manufacturers put a 1/4" collet on their drill bits as a dedicated power screwdriver. On the other side of the coin are these oil impact drivers, which do a wider range of tasks at greater speeds and are in the middle ground when it comes to noise levels.
For many professionals, the Surge will replace the impact driver as it can do 90% of the work that an impact driver already does. Where an impact driver struggles for heavy-duty applications, simply use an impact wrench. Milwaukee has supported this idea by offering an M18 Fuel Hammer Drill with a Surge instead of an impact driver in the kit.
At $149 for a bare-bones unit that's small, light, and solid, it's almost a no-brainer for Milwaukee users. If you already have a cordless impact wrench in your arsenal, it's easy to forego a traditional impact driver in favor of the Surge.
Milwaukee M18 Fuel Surge Hydraulic Driver Specifications
- Model: Milwaukee 2760-20
- Power source: Milwaukee M18 battery
- No-load speed: 0 – 900/2100/3000 RPM
- Impact rate: 4000 IPM
- Maximum Torque: 450 in-lbs
- Weight: 2.32 lbs bare, 3.24 lbs with compact battery
- Length: 4-7/8″
- Height: 7-9/16″ (bare), 8-13/16″ (with compact battery)
- Warranty: 5 years
- Price: $149 (Bare), $249 (Compact Battery Kit), $329 (Extended Capacity Kit)