In the realm of professional power tools, there are the familiar electric drills, impact drivers, circular saws, and table saws. However, among the tools commonly found in home improvement and hardware stores, one stands out: the oscillating multi-tool. But what exactly is it, what is it used for, and what factors should you consider when purchasing one?
The Definition of an Oscillating Multi-Tool
Technically known as an oscillating multi-tool (or OMT for short), this power tool is often referred to as either an oscillating tool or a multi-tool. Some models even have more specific names, such as the Ridgid Job Max or the former Festool Vecturo. The appearance of most oscillating tools resembles a grinder in terms of its body shape, albeit with varying diameters. Brands like Ridgid, Ryobi, and DeWalt have opted for a slimmer design, resembling a grinder with a rat-tailed shape.
The Key Distinction: The Head
The primary difference lies in the head. In some form, the tool must have a mechanism to secure or clamp attachments to it. There are various methods for achieving this, from bolts that require a hex wrench to Bosch and Fein’s hands-free Starlock system, with many options in between.
Understanding the Name
The term “oscillating” comes from the tool’s back-and-forth motion, which occurs thousands of times per minute. Pro models often boast oscillation rates ranging from 18,000 to 20,000 OPM (oscillations per minute).
Despite its name, the oscillating multitool is not limited to just “multi” functionality. While professionals often use it with blades for cutting wood, metal, PVC, and other materials, specialized spatulas are also available for grout, silicone, and different adhesives.
Moreover, each oscillating tool typically includes a triangular-shaped sanding head and various sanding pads. Fein’s MultiMaster even accommodates 4-inch round sanding pads.
The Niche of the Oscillating Multi-Tool
Although an oscillating multitool can cut, scrape, and sand, it may not be the best tool for these specific applications. A reciprocating saw excels at cutting speed, while a grinder is more effective at removing grout. When it comes to sanding corners, a triangular pad polishing sander is the better choice.
However, oscillating tools shine in tight spaces where conventional tools struggle to fit or access. For instance, they excel at undercutting baseboards flush with the floor or cutting pipes with limited space beneath sinks. They offer greater control when removing adhesive from tiles and fixtures.
If you already possess a triangular pad sander and are proficient with round, rectangular, and triangular pad polish sanders, an oscillating tool may be your last resort for sanding. However, for those who don’t own specialized sanders and only have a round random orbital sander, the oscillating multitool performs admirably in corners and small areas.
Key Features to Consider
When evaluating oscillating multi-tools, there are several essential elements to keep in mind:
Attachment System and Tool Change Speed
Replacing accessories can either be straightforward or overly complicated. Our team of professionals avoids models requiring tools for blade changes. We prefer the convenience of Starlock attachment systems.
Consider the type of attachment your multitool requires. Starlock tools may not be compatible with regular blades, but Starlock blades generally work with most tools using older OIS interfaces. Festool was previously associated with a proprietary system before switching to Starlock in 2021.
Oscillation Rate and Angle
The faster the tool’s top speed, the quicker it cuts. Look for a minimum of 18,000 OPM. A larger swing angle translates to greater cutting force, which means increased speed but also more vibration and noise. A balance of around 3.6°/3.7° (1.8° on each side) is recommended.
A tool with excessive vibration becomes uncomfortable to use. Among its class, Fein’s MultiMaster oscillating multi-tool stands out by virtually eliminating vibration.
In head-to-head comparisons, cutting noise levels ranged from 92 dB(A) to 104 dB(A). Choosing the best-performing product often comes down to personal preference regarding hearing protection. However, one notable feature to mention is the high-pitched motor sound that some very cheap, no-name brands produce, which can be somewhat unpleasant.
Variable Speed Dial/Trigger
Our team prefers oscillating tools with on/off switches and variable speed dials. Nevertheless, paddle trigger styles are also available. If opting for a paddle trigger, search for one with a locking switch, which comes in handy during sanding or scraping.
Corded vs. Cordless
Cordless oscillating multitools have caught up to their corded counterparts. The best cordless models match or even exceed the performance of the top corded models. Even occasional users can find cordless oscillating tools that get the job done. However, if you desire the optimum combination of performance, vibration control, and price, it’s worth considering the numerous corded models available.
With these factors in mind, you’ll be well-prepared to choose the ideal oscillating multi-tool for your needs.