Milwaukee M18 2801-20 Drill Review

Milwaukee 2801-20 Angle 5

Quick take

The Milwaukee M18 2801-20 is a solid for homeowners and woodworkers who want to get into the coveted Milwaukee M18 ecosystem, but don’t want to pay for its flagship Fuel drills. While it won’t secure the top spot in any performance category, it has more than enough muscle to complete any tasks around the home and highly demanding tasks in a pinch. The driving speed under load impresses, it has excellent build quality, and there’s a long warranty. The primary downsides are that it can’t compete on power and speed with flagship models and has no hammer drill feature. For the DIY-focused audience the 2801-20 is a fit, we don’t see those as critical letdowns. The 2801-20 also costs significantly more than equivalent drills, so it may not be worth the price jump for some people.

Brand Milwaukee
Platform M18
Motor Brushless
Speeds 2
Torque in-lbs 500.0
BPM N/A
Clutch settings 18
Chuck size 1/2"
Same as N/A

Global rankings

18 models tested

TestResultRank
Drilling speed (sec.)19.012
Driving speed (sec.)10.67
Torque (in-lbs)500.08
RPM1,601.014
Bare weight (lbs)2.406
Drilling Noise (dBA)85.37

Editorial opinion

Methodology used: Heavy duty

Editorial rating

3.90 / 5 stars

Pros

  • Reasonably lightweight with a narrow footprint
  • Great driving speed
  • Brushless motor
  • Long warranty
  • All-metal chuck

Cons

  • No hammer drill feature
  • Low max RPM slows performance in some tasks

Recommended configuration

2801-21P

Includes (1) M18 Red Lithium CP 2Ah battery

Series lineup

Model #PlatformAction ModesMax Torque (in-lbs)Review
Milwaukee 2607-20M18Drill, hammer500.0Full review
Milwaukee 2801-20M18Drill only500.0Full review
Milwaukee 2903-20 (Gen 4)M18 FuelDrill only1400.0Full review
Milwaukee 2904-20 (Gen 4)M18 FuelDrill, hammer1400.0Full review

Lab results

Drilling speed

Drilling speed total time (drill mode, sec.): 19.0
Drilling speed average time (drill mode, sec.): 3.8
Drilling speed total time (hammer mode, sec.): N/A
Drilling speed average time (hammer mode, sec.): N/A
Hammer mode speed improvement: N/A

The 2801-20 isn’t powerful enough to take the drilling speed crown in demanding tasks. But it is more than capable of finishing any job we threw at it without bogging down.

Our drilling speed test is designed to understand the upper limits of a drill’s capabilities, including learning when to drop down a gear for more torque and the speed when boring wide holes.

We didn’t need to drop down to the low setting to finish drilling a 1/2-inch hole in three stacked 2x6s, and it sustained high enough RPMs throughout the drilling depth to sufficiently clear chips.

The primary advantage you get moving from the mid-tier of power to a higher tier is improved speed throughout the depth of the hole bored, not so much being able to complete a task a mid-tier drill couldn’t handle in a pinch.

But consider that the 2801-20 doesn’t include a hammer drilling feature, which is helpful when drilling masonry efficiently and speeding up drilling deep and wide holes in lumber. Upgrade to the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2904-20 Hammer Drill if you anticipate using a drill frequently for these tasks.

Compare drilling speed test results

Driving speed

GRK total driving time forward (sec.): 10.6
GRK average driving time forward (sec.): 2.1
GRK total driving time reverse (sec.): 8.8
GRK average driving time reverse (sec.): 1.8

The 2801-20’s drilling speed is more impressive than its drilling performance in our tests. We found that it capably and powerfully finishes big lag bolts and other structural screws, such as the GRK RSS screws used in our driving speed tests. The 2801-20 delivered results that were right up there with far pricier flagship models.

Critically, the 2801-20 completed our heavy-duty driving speed test without dropping a gear into the low setting for increased torque.

Compare driving speed test results

RPM

Milwaukee 2801-20 RPM Chart

Max RPM speed 2: 1,601.0
Max RPM speed 1: 519.0

One letdown in specific scenarios is the 2801-20’s comparatively low RPM output in the high setting. This drill doesn’t quickly set screws into wood, leading to us occasionally fumbling a few screws. Faster drills drive a screw so it grabs onto wood easier.

Interestingly, we found with our contact tachometer that the 2801-20 has moderately high RPMs in the slow setting. While we didn’t test how the RPMs are sustained under a heavy-duty driving load, expect that the 2801-20 will outpace some other drills when gearing down for extra torque in select scenarios. Expect that this performance nugget also won’t be noticed by many and isn’t a game-changer.

Compare drill RPM test results

Torque

Advertised max torque (in-lbs): 500.0
Advertised max torque (ft-lbs): 41.7

Note: We don’t currently test drill torque in-house, as we do for impact drivers using a torque meter. The torque commentary discussed here relies upon both advertised torque specifications provided by manufacturers and practical insights learned from performance in our various drilling and driving tests.

Compare drill torque

Chuck

Milwaukee 2801-20 Chuck Closeup

Chuck size: 1/2″
Chuck sleeve material: Metal

The all-metal chuck is an excellent feature of the 2801-20 that is certain to improve durability with extended use compared to models that use plastic for the chuck sleeve.

We were also impressed that the three-jaw chuck locked onto bits tightly and didn’t loosen inadvertently throughout testing. Lesser drill chucks need frequent re-tightening as they loosen up when drilling and driving repeatedly.

Motor & BPM

Milwaukee 2801-20 Drill Modes

Motor type: Brushless
Action modes: Drill only
Advertised blows per min. (speed 2): N/A
Advertised blows per min. (speed 1): N/A
Variable speed trigger: Yes
Kickback control technology: No
Trigger draw length (in.): 0.375

The 2801-20 is not a hammer drill, so its drilling features are naturally limited to only a drill mode that disengages the chuck for unfettered torque.

Including a brushless motor was the right call at this price point, even knowing brushless motors are mostly table stakes in anything but the cheapest drills. While we haven’t tested the motor’s long-term durability, brushless motors offer better efficiency and durability than their brushed counterparts.

No kickback technology is included with the 2801-20, which is expected at this price point. You’ll need to upgrade to a flagship Milwaukee drill to get features that reduce the risk of wrist injuries when the drill binds.

Compare drill motors

Clutch & speed settings

Milwaukee 2801-20 Clutch & Speed

Speed settings: 2
Clutch settings: 18

The 2801-20 has a two–speed transmission and 18 total clutch options to fine-tune the torque output for precision driving. Two-speed drills are standard, allowing you to operate the 2801-20 in the low or high-speed setting in any clutch setting and drilling mode.

Compare drill clutch and speed settings

Charging time

Milwaukee 2801-20 Fuel Gauge

Charger tested: Milwaukee M12 & M18 Multi-Volt (48-59-1812)
Charging time 2Ah battery (min.): 41.0
Charging time 4Ah battery (min.): Not tested
Charging time 5Ah battery (min.): 98.0
Charging time per Ah (min.): 20.1
Fuel gauge: On battery

The Milwaukee M12 and M18 multi-volt charger (model 48-59-1812) included in most kits is reasonably fast at charging batteries, including to beat out team red’s most frequent adversary, Dewalt. It takes 41 minutes to charge an M18 2Ah battery and 98 minutes for a 5Ah battery, or approximately 20 minutes per amp-hour.

Milwaukee’s 48-59-1812 charger charges multiple battery voltages in one, conveniently saving space in your shop if you have several M12 and M18 ecosystem tools.

Compare drill charging test results

Design & ergonomics

Stands upright (no battery): Yes
Stands upright (w/ battery): Yes
Grip material: Rubber overgrip
Magnetic holder: No
Bit holder: No
Belt hook: Yes
Lanyard compatible: Yes

The 2801-20 has a slightly forward-leaning handle that levels the drill in the proper position when drilling. However, the head is flat, unlike some models in our test fleet that are angled upwards with a more aggressive stance. This design requires you to roll your wrist forward slightly when aggressively drilling.

While it includes an all-metal belt hook in the box that is mountable on both sides of the base, there is no onboard bit holder or magnetic plate to hold fasteners. Third parties offer both that you can add onto the 2801-20 for convenience.

Weight

Milwaukee 2801-20 On Scale

Bare weight (lbs): 2.40
Weight w/ 2Ah battery (lbs): 3.34
Weight w/ 4Ah battery (lbs): Not tested
Weight w/ 5Ah battery (lbs): 4.01

The 2801-20 is light for an 18V drill, weighing in at 2.40 lbs in its bare form. Fitted with a battery, this drill retains its lightweight status, perfect for reducing arm, wrist, and hand fatigue with prolonged use.

We tested different battery configurations since the working weight can differ meaningfully from the bare tool weight. We recommend combining the 2801-20 with Milwaukee’s M18 Red Lithium CP 2Ah battery for a good balance of drilling performance and weight in a lightweight setup.

Or pair the 2801-20 with Milwaukee’s M18 Red Lithium XC 5Ah battery for a longer run time and improved drilling performance if weight is less of a concern.

Compare drill weight test results

Footprint

Milwaukee 2801-20 Footprint1
Milwaukee 2801-20 Footprint2

Max height (in.): 9.125
Max width (in.): 3.125
Chuck to back length (in.): 6.625
Base length (in.): 4.625
Base width (in.): 3.125

The 2801-20 casts a reasonably thin shadow from behind and isn’t overly large in any of its dimensions, giving it a svelte feel in hand. Many other drills that have come through our lab are bulkier and less agile.

The appearance and feel are primarily a result of its moderately short tip-to-tail length and narrower-than-average head.

Compare drill footprint test results

Drilling clearance

Min. interior width clearance (in.): 8.125
Min. top edge clearance (in.): 1.375
Min. interior 45-deg. clearance (in.): 6.675

The 2801-20 is moderately narrow and competitively short from tip to tail, explaining some of its performance in our clearance tests designed to uncover how well each drill in our test fleet fits through narrow spaces and into tight corners.

The 2801-20 performed well in our interior width and top-edge clearance tests. In practice, this means the 2801-20 fits reasonably easily between two vertical boards and when drilling close to a top edge when its head is obstructed, such as drilling under a shelf.

Compare drilling clearance test results

Auxiliary arm

Auxiliary arm: No

The 2801-20 doesn’t include an auxiliary handle to control recoil and enhance stability during heavy-duty drilling tasks. But we don’t see this as a downside. The 2801-20 isn’t designed to tackle the heaviest-duty drilling tasks, such as drilling wide and deep holes in masonry or wood, where an auxiliary handle is helpful.

Check out the Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2904-20 Hammer Drill, Milwaukee M18 Fuel 2903-20, or Makita 18V LXT XPH14Z Hammer Drill if you want a powerful drill with an auxiliary arm.

Noise

Milwaukee 2801-20 Noise Chart

Max no-load noise (dBA): 82.8
Max drilling noise (dBA): 85.3

Drills without a hammering functionality tend to be quieter under load than a hammer drill, which is the case with the 2801-20. It is moderately quiet when drilling compared to other models in our test fleet.

Compare drill noise test results

Light

Milwaukee 2801-20 Light Wall
Milwaukee 2801-20 Light Closeup

Light: Yes
Light location: Near trigger
Light positions: 1
Customizable light settings: None
Light count: Single LED
Light active time (sec.): 15.0

A single LED work light is positioned just above the trigger, sufficient for most lighting needs when operating this drill. Some Dewalt drills include advanced features, such as a spotlight mode and the ability to turn off the work light when pulling the trigger.

Warranty

Tool warranty (years): 2-3 (depends on model)
Battery warranty (years): 5

Milwaukee stands behind the durability of its drills with exceptionally long warranties. The 2801-20 has a five-year warranty, which is among the longest offered by any manufacturer. Milwaukee’s M18 Li-Ion batteries have two or three-year warranties, depending on the specific model.

Picture of Nathan Hamilton
Nathan Hamilton
Nathan Hamilton is the founder of DIY Gear Reviews and a recognized expert in the home and DIY space. He has over 200 bylines covering topics such as power tools, hand tools, and woodworking. Nathan is the strategic director for DIY Gear Reviews, deciding everything from the content covered to designing the testing methodologies for lab-tested reviews. He can be emailed at nhamilton@diygearreviews.com.

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