The oscillating multi-tool (OMT) plunges through plywood, quickly cuts holes in drywall, shears-off metal pipes, trims moldings, grinds-out grout, sands surfaces, and much more. Here’s how to buy the best oscillating multi-tool.
The oscillating multi-tool (OMT) is a tool that every Mr. or Ms. Fixit will love. It saws, scrapes, sands, polishes and more. The magic of this tool is that it powers blades, scrapers, sanders, and cutting tools to handle a wide variety of home improvement tasks. And, best of all, it goes places where other tools can’t go.
If you want to remove crusty old adhesive from a concrete slab, just clip-on a scraper blade. For grinding the grout from between ceramic tiles or doing other masonry work, a carbide- or diamond-edged blade is the answer. You can cut metal strips, nails, bolts and pipes with a bi-metal blade. Or you can use wood-cutting blades to make specialized saw cuts where other saw blades can’t go.
The OMT is a relative newcomer to the world of power tools. Until about 10 years ago, a very similar tool removed casts in doctor’s offices. Tool manufacturers recognized some of that tool’s unique capabilities and began producing consumer models for home improvement tasks. Since then, the oscillating multi-tool has become the tool of choice for many home improvement jobs.
As its name suggests, the oscillating multi-tool’s cutting motion is different than that of a conventional power saw. Unlike a power circular saw, jigsaw, or reciprocating saw, its blade doesn’t saw back and forth or cut while spinning in a circle. Instead, it has a flat metal blade that oscillates side to side about 20,000 times per minute.
As a result, the oscillating tool doesn’t kick-back or grab during cutting the way another saw might. And, because of its small size and the location and offset shape of a typical blade, it can make precise curved or straight cuts in very tight spots, such as in corners or flat against the floor.
Many types and shapes of oscillating tool blades and accessories are made for these tools, as you can see in the Bosch selection shown below. These include various wood-cutting and metal-cutting blades, triangular-shaped sanding pads that hold adhesive-backed sandpaper of varying grits, carbide- and diamond-edged blades for cutting masonry, and more.
When you buy an oscillating tool, most manufacturers include a few basic blades and accessories, as well as a cloth tool bag or hard case for holding the tool and its accoutrement.
Because blades, grinders, and cutters wear out, the ability to easily and affordably buy replacements is an important consideration. Several major manufacturers use either a standardized mounting system or adapters that allow mounting other brands of blades and accessories. In addition, after-market blades and accessories are made by a variety of tool makers.
Note that, although some of the saw blades have a semi-circular shape, they don’t spin. This shape simply allows them to make oscillating cuts from a variety of directions.
Both corded and cordless oscillating multi-tools are sold. Battery-operated cordless models take advantage of new lithium batteries for power and extended life and, of course, you can use anywhere. But, after several years of use, cordless tool batteries cease to take a charge and must be replaced. Replacement batteries can be expensive (from a low of about $20 up to $75 or more).
Corded oscillating multi-tools are generally more powerful and—as long as they’re plugged-in—never run out of juice. An oscillating tool is typically used where it isn’t difficult to plug it into an extension cord. In fact, some models have very long (up to 20-foot) cords of their own. For this reason, a corded model makes the most sense unless you plan to use the tool where an electrical outlet isn’t reachable.
We tested four of the top-rated corded brands: Dremel, Bosch, Rockwell, and Porter-Cable. Following are some of our findings.
All of these tools gallantly performed the type of work discussed above, and they are very similar in construction. Each is essentially an electric motor connected to an oscillating base that holds various cutters and sanders. All are sold as a kit that includes either a hard-shell plastic case or tool bag and several blades and sanders.
The main differences are price; the motor’s power; how the blades and sanders mount on the tool; the tool’s noise; length of warranty; features such as an extra-long cord or LED light; and the range of accessories that the kit includes.
Following, the tools we tested are listed according to cost—from most to least expensive.
At from $180 to $200, the Bosch GOP40-30B is the priciest of the oscillating tools we tested but also feels like the one that professionals would choose. Its body is compact and comfortable to grip, and it weighs only 3 pounds. It has an extra-long 13-foot cord, which eliminates the need for an additional extension cord in many circumstances. A swivel connects the cord to the tool. An LED work light mounted on the front makes cutting or sanding in dark areas easier and safer.
It has a dedicated on-off slide switch and a separate variable-speed control dial that can slows the tool’s strong 4-amp motor down to 8000 oscillations per minute (OPM) for detail work—at this speed, it was the easiest to control of the tools we tested. It will speed up to 20,000 OPM for quick cutting and sanding. The motor is designed to maintain the speed you set whether or not it is under load. Noise at full speed is relatively high-pitched.
Blades and accessories utilize the Starlock® mounting system for very quick and easy changes and solid, full-contact mounting. You just push the tool down onto the blade or accessory; a built-in lever releases it. This is a great mounting system, but it will only accept blades and accessories that are designed for it. Older blades or accessories, or those made for many other brands, won’t fit this tool. Fortunately, Bosch makes a wide selection of blades and accessories that fit their system.
The tool comes in a study cloth zipper tool bag and includes a plastic file box that holds blades and accessories. Bosch offers a 3-year limited warranty.
Rockwell Sonicrafter F80
Priced from $120 to $160, the Rockwell Sonicrafter F80 has a strong 4.2-amp motor and weighs in at 4 pounds. Like the Bosch, it has a front-facing LED. Unlike any of the other tools we tested, it has two oscillation modes—a switch changes the oscillation angle from 3.4 degrees to 5 degrees (the greater the angle, the more aggressive the cutting or sanding). This is a very positive feature for fine-tuning the tool to the work you’ll be doing.
Overall, this tool feels solid. Its variable-speed control operates at from 10,000 to 19,000 OPM. At full speed, this tool is a little louder than the other three tools we tested.
The Rockwell has a universal mounting system designed to keep the accessory very secure. You turn a lever several times to tightly secure the blades or accessories. This Hyperlock™ applies one ton of force so the accessories don’t move during cutting. It can utilize most standardized types of blades and accessories.
The Sonicrafter comes in a hard-shell plastic case with a generous variety of 7 blades plus sanding pads and papers. The tool’s cord is 10 feet long—a good length. Rockwell provides a 3-year limited warranty.
Dremel Multi-Max MM40-05
The Dremel Multi-Max, which costs from $130 to $155, carries a 2-year limited warranty. Its 3.8-amp motor has a dedicated on-off switch. A separate variable-speed control operates the tool at speeds from 10,000 OPM to 21,000 OPM, allowing for good control when doing detail work or faster rough cutting, grinding, and sanding. This is the quietest of the tools we tested.
Blades and accessories are mounted to a quick-change universal hub with a quarter-turn lever release. It accepts blades and accessories made by many manufacturers (but not Starlock® accessories). The tool has a 6-foot cord and comes in a hard-shell plastic case with six blades, sanding pad, and sandpapers. Dremel offers a 2-year limited warranty.
Porter Cable PC606K
Priced at about $100, the Porter Cable PC606K is a compact 3-amp oscillating tool that comes in a tool bag with 3 blades, a sanding pad, and a variety of sandpapers. It has an 8-foot cord.
Standardized blades and accessories are easy to change by gripping and squeezing a bottom-mounted lever (a fair amount of force is required). It accepts blades and accessories made by some other manufacturers.
The second quietest of the tools we tested, this has a variable-speed dial that adjusts from 10,000 to 22,000 OPM for everything from fine detail work to rapid cutting and sanding. Operating under load, the body of the tool can become hot after an extended period.
Porter Cable offers a 3-year limited warranty.
The Bosch oscillating tool offers great control for detail work, quicker and easier blade and accessory changes, and an unparalleled 13-foot power cord, but the blades and accessories are relatively expensive. If performance is your key consideration, choose the Bosch or Rockwell. All models except Bosch can readily accept blades and accessories from other makers, which is a real plus.The Dremel is also a high performer and wonderfully quiet. Your choice may boil down to how often you expect to use this tool. The affordability of the Porter Cable and Rockwell tools—both excellent products— is hard to beat.
Manufacturers supplied samples for testing but HomeTips did not receive compensation for this review.