In the field of professional power tools, the common ones are electric drills, impact drivers, circular saws, table saws, etc. There are also some products that look professional but are very common on the job site. One of the tools you'll see at nearly every home improvement and hardware store is the oscillating multi-tool. So what exactly is an oscillating tool? Even better, what do you use it for and what should you look for when buying it?
The official name of this power tool is an oscillating multi-tool. It is usually performed with an oscillating tool or a multi-tool. You can even call it OMT if you want to show off (and possibly confuse your friends). Some brands of models have proper names. Examples include the Ridgid Job Max and the former Festool Vecturo.
Most oscillating tools are built around a body that looks like a grinder with different diameters. There are some deviations from the norm. Ridgid, Ryobi, and DeWalt all went for a thinner design, but it still looks like a grinder with a rat-tailed design.
The main difference is the head. In some form, a mechanism is required to secure or clamp the attachment to the head. There are a few different ways to do this, from bolts that require a hex wrench to Bosch and Fain's hands-free Starlock system, with plenty of options in between.
An oscillating tool gets its name because it oscillates back and forth thousands of times per minute. It is not uncommon for Pro models to have an oscillation rate of 18,000 – 20,000 OPM (oscillations per minute) at the top end.
For some reason, the oscillating multitool also has "multitool" in its name. Most Pros will use some type of blade for cutting wood, metal, PVC, or other materials. You can also get spatulas made specifically for grout, silicone, or various other adhesives.
It's not just about the blade, though. Each oscillating tool also comes with a triangular shaped sanding head and several sanding pads. Fein's MultiMaster even works with 4-inch round sanding pads.
While an oscillating multitool can cut, scrape, and sand, it's not the best tool for any of these applications. A reciprocating saw cuts faster, a grinder will remove grout more effectively, and a triangular pad polishing sander will be a better choice for sanding corners.
The places where wobble tools thrive are those spaces where the main tools cannot fit or are difficult to access. They are great for undercutting baseboards that are flush with the floor or for cutting pipes that don't have a lot of space under sinks. They give you more control over the finished tile and fixtures when you're removing the adhesive.
It's questionable whether you really need a sanding pad if you already own a triangular pad sander. In fact, if you're already a pro with round, rectangular, and triangular pad polish sanders, an oscillating tool may be your sanding option of last resort. But for those who aren't carpenters and may only have a round random orbital sander, the oscillating multitool does a good job of tackling corners and small areas.
As far as the feature set goes, the Oscillating Multitool is pretty basic, but there are some caveats.
Attachment system and tool change speed
Replacing accessories can be very simple or overly complicated. Our team of professionals won't even bother with models that require tools to change blades. We also prefer Starlock for its ease of use.
Check what type of attachment your multitool requires. Starlock tools won't work with normal blades, but Starlock blades do work with most tools that use older OIS interfaces. Festool used to have a separate proprietary system before switching to Starlock around 2021.
Oscillation Rate and Angle
The higher the top speed, the faster the tool cuts. Look for at least 18,000 OPM. The larger the swing angle , the greater the cutting force. That means more speed, but also more vibration and noise. 3.6°/3.7° (1.8° each side) is a good balance.
The more vibration a tool has, the more uncomfortable it will be to use. Fein is the best in its class with its MultiMaster oscillating multi-tool that virtually eliminates vibration.
In our head-to-head comparisons, we measured cutting noise levels ranging from 92 dB(A) to 104 dB(A). We all agree on using the best performing products, so it depends on how happy you are with your hearing protection. Honestly, the only thing we really didn't like was the screaming treble motor sound. Some very cheap no-name brands have this distinctly unpleasant sound.
Variable speed dial/trigger
Our team prefers oscillating tools with on/off switches and variable speed dials. However, some paddle trigger styles also exist. If you're going that route, look for one with a locking switch. This comes in handy when sanding or scraping.
Cordless oscillating multitools seem to have caught up to their corded brethren. The best cordless models are very close to or better than the best corded models. Even occasional users can find wireless oscillating tools that get the job done. But if you want the best combination of performance, vibration control, and price, there are plenty of corded models to consider first.