In our relentless quest to keep you informed AND entertained, we’ve never hesitated to put our own safety and mental health at risk to cater to the DIY bloodlust in all of us. One way we do this is by providing occasional thrilling head-to-head battles between various products. Previous smackdowns have included the gripping Painter’s Tape Wars, and the epic Klein vs. Channelock vs. Milwaukee Battle of the Bottle Openers. And who can forget being floored by the white-knuckle moments in the classic Redwood vs. Pressure Treated Decking comparison, or being blown away by our explosive Propane vs. Natural Gas Grill?! Stay tuned, though; those were only the preliminary bouts. The main event is about to begin. Get ready for the Clash Of The (Tiny) Titans, as Bosch and Milwaukee duke it out to see which of these 12V Vacs Sucks The Most!
Every well-equipped shop has a shop vac. Woodworking and many do-it-yourself projects can produce a pretty amazing amount of sawdust, wood shavings, and other messy byproducts of the creative (or destructive) process. Sometimes, though, a smaller vac can get the job done. Maybe you just drilled one or two holes, or cut a couple of pieces of trim. Or maybe you just have to patch one small area of drywall, where you punched it in anger and despair after learning that Zayn Malik was leaving One Direction. (Don’t feel bad – I never heard of them either until a couple of days ago).
There’s another group likely to benefit from the little 12V vacs. Many mobile pros, like service technicians, frequently go out on several service calls every day. Sometimes these jobs result in a minor mess. For them, as well as those working out of a shop or home, it can be a pain in the butt to schlep out the gigantic shop vac, which is probably already full of sawdust, chunks of drywall, and other heavy miscellaneous debris, just for a quick cleanup. It’s WAY easier to just grab one of these little lightweight 12V vacs off the shelf, suck up the crud, and get on with the excitement of your day.
Meet The “Best In Class” Challengers
Since we recently received new 12V vacs from both Bosch and Milwaukee, we decided to let them go nose to nose – or at least nozzle to nozzle – to see which one would be your best bet as a quicker picker upper. Both units are sold as bare tools; if you don’t already have a battery and charger, you’ll need to add them to your fight card. We’ll start out with the stats from each contender:
In this corner, please welcome the Milwaukee 0850-20. Weighing in at 2-¼ pounds, with a length of 18-½”, the Red Rocket packs a punch of 33 CFM. The Milwaukee claims it holds the title for “Best in class” run time, going the distance at 29 minutes on a fully-juiced XC 4.0 battery. The 0850-20 comes with a utility nozzle, crevice tool and extension wand for maximum application versatility, and comes with a five-year warranty.
Across the ring, representing the featherweight class at 1-½ pounds, with a length of just under 12”, give it up for the Bosch VAC120BN. The Blue Blaster claims overall “Best in class” performance, and is backed by a three-year warranty. The Bosch is outfitted with a crevice nozzle and an exact-fit L-BOXX storage tray.
Round One: Hey, Good Lookin’…
This is admittedly a fairly subjective category. You may love the Bosch Blue, because it matches the dreamy color of your true love’s eyes. Others may prefer the Milwaukee Red, because it matches the color of their Ferrari or Schwinn. Or perhaps their true love’s bloodshot eyes after one too many shots of Patrón. Similarly, some may prefer short and stubby, others long and slender. Given the fact that my eyes are crap, and I need all the help I can get finding pretty much anything, I gave the edge to the Milwaukee.
Given the inherently dangerous nature of 12V vacs, I was going to give bonus points for Most Warnings For A 12V MiniVac. This category turned out to be a tie, though, with both manuals devoting three pages to WARNINGS!! and CAUTIONS!!, including the ever-prudent advice to refrain from vacuuming up flaming objects and/or flammable liquids like gasoline. Especially not at the same time, presumably.
Round Two: Size Matters
This is another category where personal preference comes partially into play. While I normally subscribe to the “Bigger is better” school of thought, when there are a lot of tools competing for limited space, such as in a truck or van, or even a workshop, being small can be an advantage. Being almost a pound lighter doesn’t hurt, either. Since I usually schlep along a fair number of tools, and space is always at a premium, this round goes to the Bosch.
Round Three: Sucking Sawdust – The 12V Vacs Vs. The Mini Mess
Finally – on to the main event! One of the most likely chores for these 12V vacs will be sucking up sawdust. Fortunately, that is something I seem to have an unlimited supply of. I dumped out a pile of mixed sawdust and planer shavings, grabbed the Milwaukee, slapped the wide utility nozzle on it, and dove in.
The trigger on the Milwaukee 0850-20 doesn’t automatically lock when pulled; there’s a little slide switch on top. I locked it in place and forged on. The Milwaukee made a quick path through the debris pile, sucking up the sawdust and the shavings with no problem.
After a minute or so, the canister was full to the point where it would suck no more. I shut it off, removed the canister, and tapped the debris out onto the floor. I had a fair-sized little pile of sawdust and shavings; now it was time for the challenger to step up!
To level the playing (or sucking) field, I used the same debris the Milwaukee had vacuumed up for the Bosch’s trial. When you press the start button on the Bosch, it locks the power on; just push it again to turn it off. The Bosch doesn’t come with a wider nozzle, just the crevice nozzle. I started with that, but abandoned it pretty quickly, as it kept jamming up. It’s pretty narrow across the tip, and the shavings were too big for it.
I removed the crevice tip, and the stripped-down Bosch did much better, sucking a swath through the wood shavings. Finally, after making most of the pile go away, its little blue belly was full.
The Milwaukee was a bit louder than the Bosch. Not enough to rate a WARNING!!, thankfully, or we’d have been on page four. It seemed to have more suction, but I wanted to test it in our usual rigorous, scientific fashion. Following standard international protocol, I grabbed a small assortment of random screws and nails and tossed them on the floor, and went back to work. The Milwaukee got them all; the Bosch got all but two. The two it couldn’t get would go partway into the nozzle, but there wasn’t enough suction to pull them in past the little flap.
Round Four: Fill ‘Er Up
Design also comes into play when it’s time to empty out the crud. Both canisters are pretty easy to remove and replace. On the Bosch, you simply depress a tab and the canister tilts forward and off. The Milwaukee requires you to depress a tab, then rotate the canister to the “unlock” position before sliding it off. Still fairly simple, but the Bosch has a slight edge.
The Milwaukee has a pretty good-sized canister; it also has a pretty good-sized filter, which takes up a lot of that space. After emptying the canister, I twisted out the filter and tapped it clean, a pretty quick and easy process. Despite the size of the Milwaukee’s filter, the canister held a bit more than the Bosch’s. This isn’t surprising, since the Milwaukee is quite a bit bigger than the Bosch.
The Bosch’s chamber is triangular, with a flat filter placed at the rear. The filter is a little tougher to clean than the Milwaukee’s, because the pleats are closer together. This is because the Bosch uses a micro-filter design, which it says removes 98% of particles, so it’s worth a bit of extra effort. I got it cleaned off fairly quickly by scraping my fingernail back and forth across the pleats, to dislodge the dust. The canister is opaque, making it a little tough to see how much debris is in there.
Round Five: Payola
The contenders are pretty close in terms of cost. The Milwaukee is around $60, the Bosch $69. That’s not too bad – assuming you already have a battery and charger, as both are bare tools. If you have to add these items, prepare to shell out about $80 for a Milwaukee charger and two batteries, and $69 for a Bosch starter kit with two batteries, a charger, and an L-BOXX-1 to stow the little bugger.
And The Winner Is…
First, a note on handicapping: In a further attempt to level the sucking field, I used a 2.0 Ah battery on both 12V vacs, since I don’t have a 4.0 Ah battery for the Bosch. In the real world, these little 12V vacs are likely to be used for only a few minutes at a time. If your debris field requires much more attention than that, you’ll be schlepping out the shop vac. After completing the torture test, both vacs still showed full power remaining on their fuel gauges, even with the smaller batteries.
Now for the moment you’ve been waiting for (those of you who haven’t fainted from the excitement, anyway)! Who will be the Boss of the 12V Vacs?? Let me just put it this way: When the Suckathon was over, protocol (and marital harmony) dictated that I had to clean up my testing grounds. I scooped up the bulk of it by hand, but to get the rest, I grabbed…tiny drum roll!…the Milwaukee 0850-20. The wider utility nozzle, plus the stronger suction, made the Red Rocket my baby vac of choice.
A bonus was that I could slap on the extension wand, and do my cleanup from a standing position. This was especially welcome after all those grueling hours of testing spent on the floor (okay, so maybe it was closer to ten minutes). In my opinion, the Milwaukee would be the handier vac to have around the house or shop, or in your vehicle for those away-from-home cleanup tasks. One of my daughters apparently felt the same way; on a recent visit, she “mine-nowed” the Milwaukee.
Despite its defeat in this epic battle, if you have other Bosch 12V tools, the little Bosch VAC120BN would be a handy addition to your tool crib. Its capacity is only slightly less than that of the Milwaukee, and while it’s slightly less powerful, it still did a good job cleaning up the sawdust and wood shavings, and it takes up a LOT less space.
Bottom line? Regardless of my incredibly valuable opinion, it probably doesn’t make sense to buy ANY 12V vac, if you’d also need a battery and charger. That would put your total cost in the $140 – 150 range, which would be a pretty pricey little vacuum. If you already have 12V tools from one or the other, stick with the platform you already use; either of these 12V vacs would be handy to have along, and not wasting money is one thing that DOESN’T suck!
Milwaukee 0850-20 at Ohio Power Tool $60:
Bosch VAC120BN at Amazon $69