Ah yes, the lavish, opulent, some might say decadent lifestyle of a home improvement / tool blogger! I just returned from a couple days in Milwaukee after someone apparently
bribed convinced Milwaukee that HomeFixated is some sort of vaguely legitimate media source. I flew in to Milwaukee late Tuesday night and was surprised to find a stretch limo waiting for me. I somewhat eagerly leaned in when the driver opened the rear door. Naturally, I expected to find a hot tub, frolicking women in bikinis, and dozens of bottles of Cristal. Unfortunately it was just me, all alone. It felt a bit odd occupying one of about 12 seats, until I found the switches that control the limo’s interior lighting. I made sure I wasn’t bothering the driver and then proceeded to experiment with all the various lighting options (depending on what music was piped in). The fiber optics and ambient bar lighting were especially sweet. Yes, I am easily entertained.
Fast forward to the next morning, when several dozen real journalists and one pseudo journalist (me) hopped in vans to visit Milwaukee’s HQ. The HQ tour was optional, but a good crowd rallied early to check it out. After brief introductions, we were walked through some of the history, including a collection of Milwaukee tools representing the many decades they’ve been in business (since 1924). Milwaukee has an impressive heritage, from their early days when Henry Ford approached them for a better drill, to today’s ever-expanding Lithium Ion cordless lineup. And, of course, the iconic Sawzall. I walked away from the tour realizing this was a company that was seriously committed to its core users, and ambitious about recognizing unfilled needs and fulfilling them quickly, creatively and with high quality. I also realized, they really like the color red. Seriously, they really like red. I jokingly deemed them the tool company employees least likely to be hit by a car, thanks to their high visibility red dress shirts. I was corrected that DeWalt might take that prize, but I’m not sure DeWalt is quite as focused on consistent color branding. More on the red obsession to come.
After the tour, it was off to the Harley Davidson museum for a day of presentations and playing with new Milwaukee tools! We also got a chance to check out the museum towards the end of the day. It’s definitely a Harley Davidson fan mecca. I managed to squeeze in about 10 tweets throughout the day, which you can find on our profile July 21st @HomeFixated. I included a photo with each tweet so you could actually see a little of the action. Naturally, all of you already monitor our Twitter feed minute-by-minute daily anyway, so I probably didn’t even need to mention it. As with most media events of this nature, there may or may not have been some products we might have taken an oath of silence on for the time being. Stay tuned to Home Fixated, and we’ll make those public to you once Milwaukee gives the thumbs up on anything that we can’t currently confirm or deny. Sorry for the tease, but saying I might have corporate secrets makes me feel all covert and important.
What follows is a brief summary of some of my impressions, as well as a few peeks at Milwaukee’s latest tool innovations.
Media events like this are really fun, in large part because of the people hosting and attending them. It’s also a great opportunity to get a sense of each company’s particular corporate culture. Milwaukee impressed me with the sense that everyone appears happy working there. I’m sure it’s not all champagne and roses, but everyone I talked to and observed seemed to have genuine enthusiasm for what they were doing. I also really felt a team vibe. There was a great camaraderie among the crew. They also seemed sincerely interested in improving their products, and very receptive to constructive feedback.
The other people, of course, were the media and pseudo-media. I am happy to classify Home Fixated in the pseudo-media category as it keeps the bar really, really low. It’s much harder to be disappointed in what you’re reading when you know it’s from pseudo-media. I was happy to bump into several colleagues including Jay of Ohio Power Tool (our super-awesome sponsor by the way), Mark & Dennis from the My Fix It Up Life team, Sean of Toolmonger fame, Hal from Extreme How-To, Justin from Fine Homebuilding, Clint & Tom from ProToolReviews, and many others. I also finally got a chance to meet Doug Mahoney from the always clever, entertaining and insightful ToolSnob site. Lots of fun people on both the Milwaukee and media side.
M12 Cordless Multi-Tool:
High on the list of products that would likely interest Home Fixated readers was Milwaukee’s new Cordless Multi-Tool. It’s scheduled to be released this Fall. With the multi-tool arena more and more crowded everyday, Milwaukee took their time to throw their hat in the ring. Although there are many multi-tools, not many have gone the cordless route. Bosch of course has their Multi-X, however it’s gotten a luke warm reception from some based in part on concerns over a limited run-time. It will be interesting to see how the new M12 Multi-Tool stacks up once it’s released.
M12 Heated Jacket:
During dinner I had the chance to discuss ice fishing with several of the Milwaukee crew. Frankly, it’s not a topic that I bring up often in San Diego. I’ve always been curious why it would have any appeal. I learned a couple things from the responses I heard: 1) Ice fishing always involves alcohol. 2) It’s one of relatively few excuses to get out of the house during a long Milwaukee winter. 3) When it’s sunny and a balmy 20 degrees out, you can take off your jacket and run around playing football on the ice. The whole ice fishing thing was starting to make sense with points one and two, but they definitely lost me on three. If it’s 20 degrees out, I’m definitely not taking off anything. In fact, being from San Diego, I’d expect to be salvaging jackets off other frost-bitten and fallen fishing comrades in the hope I might fend off hypothermia. All that talk about ice and freezing temps did help me realize why a company normally known for its tools might dream up a battery powered heated jacket. If you live anywhere that actually has winters, and especially anywhere that has ice fishing, you have to get one of these. During a Q & A session, Hal from Extreme How-To semi-jokingly asked the president of Milwaukee if the jacket might be available in black too. Remember that red obsession I mentioned? Let’s just say based on the response, I’d rate the likelihood of a black M12 jacket about as likely as anyone finding me ice fishing this coming winter.
M12 “Hose-Less” Palm Nailer:
By far the loudest tool in attendance this year is Milwaukee’s new M12 Palm Nailer. As a big fan of the Porter Cable pneumatic palm nailer I was very curious to try a hose-less option. It’s been a while since I picked up the Porter Cable palm nailer, but the M12 felt a bit more bulky to me. Not unmanageable, and still small enough to fit in many tight spaces, but a little beefy. Performance-wise it cranked away and hammered home sizable framing nails effortlessly. The tell-tale rat-a-tat-tat machine gun sound kept all the other Milwaukee reps either speaking very loudly, or. . . in. . . .very. . . . short. . . .sentences. As is the case when a normally corded or “hosed” tool goes cordless or hose-less, it’s a celebratory thing. Having the freedom to take your palm nailer with you where ever you go is a beautiful thing (especially in some of the awkward framing applications a palm nailer gets used for).
M12 Cordless No-Hub Driver:
If you regularly deal with installing no-hub couplings on pipe, you have to check this one out. This M12 driver has two specific torque settings (60 and 80 in/lbs) to dramatically improve installation time. I also wasn’t aware that pro users installing no-hub couplings have to rely on ridiculously expensive T-Wrenches (using hand-power!) to get no-hub nuts to the proper torque to satisfy code. We played around with these cordless alternatives and they worked great! They even have an LED to alert you when the tool has hit the right torque, and it also blinks to alert you when the tool needs to be re-calibrated after 25,000 clamps. The No-Hub Driver also has a 0-750 rpm drill setting so its useful beyond just no-hub couplings too.
M12 Cordless Grease Gun:
I’m mentioning this one just because it was hilarious to see the confused looks on our faces when no one in our group seemed to have any real appreciation for what grease guns do. Apparently heavy machinery, like the Case IH Windrower for example, requires a lot of grease to continue operating. Someone has to squeeze all that grease. And if they are doing it by hand, we’re talking about a very long day of dealing with grease. Enter the M12 Grease Gun, capable of delivering over 8000 PSI max, dispensing up to seven grease cartridges per charge. To the one HomeFixated reader that is responsible for greasing a lot of stuff, run out and buy this now! Our sponsor Ohio Power Tool has M12 Grease Gun for right around $200.
Speed Feed Wood Drill Bit:
One accessory that really jumped out at me was Milwaukee’s new Speed Feed wood bit. They’re squatty, making them usable in between stud bays, and you can even start them at an angle and then pivot the bit as it starts to drill through the wood. These bits are wicked fast, thanks to the screw tip that pulls in through the wood, and an innovative spur design. The Speed Feed bits are also tapered, making them easier to withdraw from the studs. Electricians will also be happy to know that they leave a nice clean hole, far less likely to damage your Romex than holes from your typical spade bit. Really a great bit.
Grout and Scraper Blades for the Hackzall and Sawzall:
If you’ve ever used a hand grout scraping tool, you know what a tedious soul-sucking job that can be. Milwaukee recognized this and thankfully devised a nifty Grout scraping blade you can stick on your Hackzall, or Sawzall if you are so inclined. Milwaukee suggested caution when using something as beefy as the Sawzall, and they recommended running a medium speed. Remember you’re trying to scrape out grout, not demolish your bathroom. We experienced the grout scraper in action and it worked great. They also have a couple flat scrapers blades coming, to make short work of more typical scraping applications. These slipped under tile thinset like butter, and looked very handy to have around.
“Hand Tools!” you’re probably thinking, “I thought Milwaukee is all about power tools.” Not anymore. Milwaukee took a unique approach to diving into the hand tool market. They thought, “what tools do our core users need, and how might we be able to make existing hand tools better. ” That’s right, rather than just crank out a red version of all the other hand tools out there, they went and talked with tradespeople, looked at existing designs and then innovated. Take their screwdriver line for example. They added a hole to the shaft for bending your electrical wire, and a groove for wire stripping right in the handle. When talking with users they realized no one actually uses the giant slotted screw driver for screws. Instead they bang on it with a hammer and use it like a blunt chisel and pry bar. Taking that into account, they extended the metal shaft all the way through the handle and added a metal cap at the end so you don’t decimate your screwdriver banging on it with your hammer. Milwaukee also developed and patented new ECX bits that fit in those pesky screws you always encounter (and strip) when doing electrical work. Among other great hand tools, they have two great utility knives and a drywall saw that we’ll be doing a detailed review on shortly.
Of course there were many other tools and accessories we didn’t have space to mention here. You can stay up to speed on everything new from Milwaukee on their new products page (in addition to religiously reading HomeFixated daily). Thanks Milwaukee for inviting Home Fixated to be a part of your New Product Symposium! I’m still not sold on ice fishing though.