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Rotary and Oscillating Tool Buying Guide

Rotary and oscillating tools are suited to many applications and choosing the right one for your project can be a little confusing. Use our guide to sort it all out.

Oscillating Tool.

Rotary and Oscillating Tool Comparison

Rotary Tool and Accessories.

Both rotary and oscillating tools can handle applications like cutting, sanding, grinding and more, but they function differently.

A rotary tool spins an accessory at a high rate of speed. A rotary tool can handle a task requiring a high level of precision, but you need good control for accuracy. In addition to the applications a rotary tool shares with an oscillating tool, a rotary tool can polish, clean, carve and rout.

An oscillating tool moves an accessory in a rapid, back-and-forth motion. An oscillating tool can tackle larger tasks more quickly than a rotary tool and can be easier to handle. The action of this tool allows it to handle scraping in addition to cutting, sanding and grinding.

Good to Know

Cut-off tools and spiral saws are rotary tools designed primarily for cutting different construction materials. While they don't accept the variety of accessories of other rotary tools, they typically have more powerful motors for heavy-duty cutting.

Rotary and Oscillating Tools Power Options

Oscillating Tool with Accessories.

Rotary and oscillating tools are available in both cordless and corded versions. Cordless tools can be more convenient, but the corded versions are slightly more powerful. If you use an extension cord with a corded tool, make sure it is suitable for the tool. Follow the device manufacturer's recommendations for compatible extension cords and see Power Cord Safety Tips.

Rotary and Oscillating Tool Applications

Both rotary and oscillating tools can handle a wide variety of projects. To a large degree, the tool type and the available accessories for the tool will determine what you can accomplish, so make sure the tool you purchase can handle the job you want to tackle. Some examples of applications include:

  • Removing grout
  • Cutting wood, PVC and drywall
  • Sanding wood
  • Grinding metal, masonry and plastic
  • Stripping old paint and varnish from woodwork

Rotary and Oscillating Tool Attachments

In addition to accessories such as bits, blades or rasps, you can find attachments that help you get the most out of your device. Attachments vary by tool type and model, but here are some you can look for to simplify and enhance your work:

  • Router — allows you to use a rotary tool for freehand routing.
  • Work stand — supports a rotary tool for drilling and sanding; some allow the rotary tool to function as a drill press.
  • Flexible shaft — allows greater control of a rotary tool for detail work and for working in hard-to-reach places.
  • Sharpening kit — contains rotary tool bits and guide attachments for keeping the proper edge on mower blades, chain saw chains or garden tools.
  • Universal adapter — allows the use of multiple brands of accessories on a rotary tool.
  • Shears — attach to an oscillating tool for scissors-like cutting.
  • Dust collection — connects to an oscillating tool and a shop vacuum to help keep the work area free of dust when sanding.
Caution

Always follow the tool, accessory and attachment manufacturers' operating, maintenance and safety instructions.

Rotary and Oscillating Tool Features

As with any power tool, it's important to understand the features to look for on a rotary or oscillating tool:

  • Amperes (amps) and volts (V) measure the power of a tool. A higher measurement means a more powerful tool.
  • Revolutions per minute (RPM) and oscillations per minute (OPM) measure the speed at which a rotary or oscillating tool operates. Some accessories and applications require specific speeds or have maximum speeds.
  • Variable speeds allow you to adjust the tool for operations that require lower or higher RPMs or OPMs.
  • Cord length determines the reach of a corded tool without the need for an extension cord.
  • A work light illuminates the work area or work piece.
  • Quick accessory change or tool-free accessory change capability makes moving from one task to another quick and simple.
  • Some tools include a case for storage and transport.
  • Available dust extraction allows for attachment of an optional dust collection apparatus.

Shop for Rotary & Oscillating Tools

Caution

Always disconnect a power tool from its power source before servicing, adjusting or connecting accessories and attachments.