In the realm of professional power tools, there are common ones that you see everywhere: drills, impact drivers, circular saws, table saws, etc. There are also some products that seem pretty specialized but are very common on the job site. One of those that you’ll see in nearly every home improvement and hardware store is the oscillating multi-tool. So what is an oscillating tool exactly? Better yet, what do you use it for and what should you look for when buying one?
What is an Oscillating Tool?
The official name of this power tool is the oscillating multi-tool. It often goes by oscillating tool or multi-tool. You can even call it an OMT if you want to show off (and likely confuse your friends). Some brands have proprietary names for their models. Examples include the Ridgid Job Max and the former Festool Vecturo.
Most oscillating tools are built around what looks like a grinder body with varying diameters. There are a few that stray from the norm. Ridgid, Ryobi, and DeWalt all go for a thinner design, but it still looks like a grinder with a rat tail design.
The major difference is at the head. In some form, a mechanism needs to secure or clamp the attachment to the head. There are several different ways to make this happen from a bolt that requires a hex wrench to Bosch’s and Fein’s hands-free Starlock system with plenty of options in between.
What gives the oscillating tool its name is the fact that it oscillates back and forth thousands of times per minute. It’s not unusual for Pro models to have an oscillation rate of 18,000 – 20,000 OPM (oscillations per minute) at the top end.
What are Oscillating Tools Used For?
Oscillating multi-tools also have “multi-tool” in the name for a reason. The majority of Pro will use some type of blade for cutting wood, metal, PVC, or other material. You can also get scraper blades specifically for grout, silicon, or a variety of other adhesives.
It’s not all about the blade, though. Every oscillating tool also comes with a sanding head in the shape of a triangle along with several sanding pads. Fein’s MultiMaster can even use a 4-inch round sanding pad.
While the oscillating multi-tool can cut, scrape, and sand, it’s not really the best tool for any of those applications. Reciprocating saws will cut much faster, grinders will remove grout more effectively, and a delta pad finish sander will be a better bet for sanding corners.
Where the oscillating tool makes its living is in spaces where those primary tools can’t fit or are tough to use. They’re phenomenal for undercutting baseboards that are flush to the floor or cutting a pipe where there’s not much room under a sink. They’ll give you better control around finished tile and fixtures when you’re removing adhesives.
What’s questionable is whether or not you really need the sanding pad if you already have a delta pad sander. Realistically, if you’re already a Pro using round, rectangular, and delta pad finish sanders, an oscillating tool is probably the last sanding option you’ll turn to. But for those of you that aren’t carpenters and may only have a round random orbit sander, the oscillating multi-tool takes care of corners and small areas well enough.
What to Look for on an Oscillating Tool
Oscillating multi-tools are pretty basic when it comes to feature sets, but there are some things to look out for.
Accessory System and Speed of Changing Blades
Changing the accessory can be very simple or overly complex. Our Pro team won’t even bother with a model that requires a tool to change the blade. We also prefer Starlock for its ease of use.
Check what style of accessory the multi-tool needs. Starlock tools won’t work with regular blades, though Starlock blades do tend to work on most tools using the older OIS interface. Festool used to have a separate propriety system before they switched to Starlock around 2021.
Oscillation Rate and Angle
The higher the top speed, the faster the tool will cut. Look for at least 18,000 OPM. The higher the oscillation angle, the more aggressively it will cut. This means more speed but also more vibration and noise. 3.6°/3.7° (1.8° to either side) is a pretty good balance.
The more vibration the tool has, the more uncomfortable it is to use. Fein is the top of the line in this category, nearly eliminating vibration in their MultiMaster oscillating multi-tool.
In our head-to-head comparison, we measured cutting noise levels from 92 dB(A) to 104 dB(A). We’re all for using the top performers, so this is a matter of what you’re comfortable with on the hearing protection side of things. In all honestly, the only thing we really don’t like is a screaming high-pitched motor sound. Some of the really cheap no-name brands have this distinctly unpleasant sound.
Variable Speed Dial/Trigger
Our team prefers oscillating tools with an on/off switch and variable speed dial. However, a handful of paddle trigger styles also exist. If you’re going that route, look for one with a lock-on switch. This comes in handy when sanding or scraping.
Corded vs Cordless Oscillating Tools
Cordless oscillating multi-tools seem to have caught up to their corded brethren. The best cordless models match up closely or are better than the best corded models. Even occasional users can find a cordless oscillating tool that can get the job done. But if you want the best combination of performance, vibration control, and price, there are plenty of corded models to look at first.
Newone 24pcs Oscillating Tool Blades Oscillating Accessory Kit Mixed Multitool Saw Blades for Sanding, Grinding,wood and metal Cutting
24-Piece Oscillating Accessory Kit Mixed Multitool Saw Blades
This 24-Piece Oscillating Accessory Kit is of high quality contains wood/ metal endcut blades and sanding pad or carbide removal rasp, with that you can do tile or flooring work,carpentry or trimming work, and so on.
1PC semi-circular segment saw blade for wood / drywall cutting Dia.:3-1/2 in.(87mm)
1PC semi-circular segment saw blade for wood / metal cutting Dia.:3-1/2 in.(87mm)
1PC 2" Rigid scraper blade
1PC 2" Flexible scraper blade
1PC Standard endcut blade for wood cutting: 1-1/8" 3/4" 1-3/8" 3/8"
1PC Bi-metal endcut blade for wood/metal cutting:1-1/4"
1PC Precision endcut blade for wood cutting:1-3/8"
1PC 2-5/8" standard flush-Cut saw blade for wood
1PC 2-1/2" semi circle carbide blade
1PC 3" sanding pad
10PC 3" sandpaper for wood
1PC 3" triangular carbide grout removal rasp
Universal fit major brands in the market: Skil, Craftsman, Ridgid,Tacklife / Wen / Ferm / Hi-Spec
Concrete Example:Portel Cable / Chicago electric tool form Harbor Freight/Ryobi multitool/Genesis Pro/HFT oscillating tool/Maktika Multitool(XMT032)/Fein Multi Master Pro/Ridgid jobmax/Worx WX628L/665L oscillating tool/ Milwaukee M18 multi tool
Not compatible with quick release or quick change tool
Not compatible with Black&Decker BD Matrix Set/Rockwell Sonicrafter/WORX 20V Max/ BOSCH starlock / fein starlock/fein supercut
If you don't own an oscillating multitool, buy one and you'll wonder how you ever got along without it. It's a saw, scraper, sander, and grinder in one handy power tool. Oscillating tool uses are varied, too, because the multitool can complete jobs in inaccessible places, speeding difficult projects to completion in the process.
And the variety of attachments for these tools keeps growing, allowing even more versatility, especially among different materials: steel, aluminum, carpet, hard tile, soft tile, hardwood, softwood, and various plastics.
More From Popular Mechanics:
-The Best Oscillating Tools to Tackle Any Project
-Make This One-Leaf Table for Space-Saving Simplicity
-The Best Gifts for Woodworkers and Carpenters
1Trim Cut In
Before the advent of the oscillating tool, adding or modifying interior partitions involved more demolition than construction. Now, you can make a surgical cut along anywhere on the wall, but especially along baseboard and other trim surfaces.
The only neat way to install new flooring in an existing space is to cut the doorjamb and trims to make room for it. That used to require an expensive (and dangerous) flush-cutting circular saw or laborious cutting by hand. The oscillating multitool makes short work of it.
The offset shape of the oscillating tool's blades makes flush cuts a breeze. Here, copper tubing is being cut, but bimetal blades will allow you to make the same cut in steel, say, if a nail is poking out somewhere and you need to remove it without disturbing the surroundings.
You may want to cut out and replace the grout in a bath area just to freshen it up, or you may have a major bath remodeling or repair that occurs when you replace a shower valve for example. An oscillating tool's carbide-grit attachment can cut both grout and even the tile itself if necessary.
5Cabinet Installation and Modifications
Whether you're installing cabinets; modifying them to accommodate a new sink or dishwasher; or installing new hardware, such as a slide-out pantry, the fastest way to cut slots, squares, and notches is with an oscillating tool and a saw blade. The ability to offset the tool axis relative to the saw blade is a distinct advantage that speeds and simplifies the cut.
You can improve the function, appearance, weather tightness, and energy efficiency of old wood windows with an overhaul that includes sanding, cutting slots for weather stripping, and removing layers of old paint. An oscillating mutlitool's sanding, grinding, and saw-blade attachments provide for all of these.
7Thin Plank Flooring Install
Installing thin plank flooring is a test of wills. You need to make cutouts for floor registers, among other things. The easiest way to handle this job is to lay the flooring over the duct termination and plunge cut through one piece of flooring at a time using a half round.
At the most basic level, preparing to paint requires four steps: 1) cleaning to remove dirt, grease, and mildew; 2) scraping to remove loose paint; 3) sanding to smooth out the areas roughened by scraping, and 4) filling and hiding blemishes such as nail holes and cracks. Finally, you can prime. The triangular sanding head on an oscillating multitool helps you smooth rough wood in corners, sand down wood filler, and smooth over jagged edges of scraped paint.
9Unusual Sanding Jobs
Doors, shutters, and furniture, among other things, have narrow edges and the long narrow shape of an oscillating multitool, combined with its triangular sanding pad, makes it particularly well-suited for smoothing these surfaces.
A clean, simple way to make a cutout in drywall for a switch box or outlet receptacle is to use an oscillating multitool with a bimetal or carbide-grit blade that will not only cut the drywall but will withstand impact with a drywall nail or screw.
The smooth scraper-blade accessory allows an oscillating multitool to peel caulk right off a surface.
12Thin Set Removal
A tile pops off the wall, what do you do? You use the carbide-grit grinding pad to remove the thin set mortar from the wall and from the tile. Reapply the thin set to the freshly cleaned surfaces and reset the tile.
Roy BerendsohnSenior Home EditorRoy Berendsohn has worked for more than 25 years at Popular Mechanics, where he has written on carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, electrical, woodworking, blacksmithing, welding, lawn care, chainsaw use, and outdoor power equipment.
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Any use for oscillating multi-tool in metal shop?
Produced very lousy results, the finish was horrible, at least with this diamonds grinding blade. I find the die grinder produces a MUCH better finish.
Also tried this on scraping automotive undercoat. Didn’t work well, a standard angle grinder stripping blade works much better.
So is there any use for these in a metal shop?
I can’t seem to find any so I think I’ll take it back tomorrow.
Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
Grinding oscillating tool
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