Things to Know Before Buying an Oscillating Multi Tool
If you’ve never used one before, you’re in for a treat. The best multi tool is one of those bits of kit that will make you wonder how you got by without one. Being able to cut by pushing into a piece of wood, metal or plastic is almost impossible with a traditional saw.
Believe me, when you’ve got one of these at your disposal you start asking yourself if you can fix it using your oscillating multi tool before any of your other tools, and usually “why on earth didn’t I get one of these things years ago?”
The truth is they haven’t been around that long in the UK, maybe 10 years or so. They in fact derive from a tool designed and developed by the Fein manufacturing company in the US to remove plaster casts from hospital patients!
Now that all the patents have run out, all major power tool brands offer a range of oscillating multi tools. They’ve developed into a very versatile, sophisticated and pretty much essential piece of kit for both professionals and DIYers.
How Oscillating Multi Tools Work
The oscillating multi tool’s unique selling point is in its name – it’s ability to oscillate. When you hold the body of the tool and switch it on, the head of the tool moves from side to side in a narrow arc at a very rapid rate. The oscillation rate (which can be over 20,000 RPM), is usually controlled using a speed dial or a variable speed trigger.
The maximum angle of oscillation ranges narrowly between 2 to 4 degrees across most brands. When using the oscillating multi tool for making cuts a larger oscillating angle results in a faster more aggressive cut while a smaller angle ensures a slower cut and allows for greater control and less vibration.
While on the subject of sawing, another great feature of a multi cutter tool is the almost complete lack of kickback you get. This is due to the tool’s oscillating motion. Conventional power saws deploy rotational movement, and it is this that can induce dangerous kickback.
Corded Versus Cordless Multi Tools
Battery power tools have changed the lives of tradespeople and DIYers. You can work wherever you want, and you don’t need to trail cords or even be near a power source. Battery powered multi tools are ideal. Compared with heavy duty tools like circular saws, there’s not much difference in performance between corded and battery powered multi tools.
If you compare two of the best multi tools I’ve tested out: the DeWalt DCS355N-XJ and DWE315KT, they’re almost identical. They put out the same excellent range of oscillations per minute (opm). They also have a similar weight and grip shape.
Really, it’s down to your own personal preference. Cutting the cord is great if you’re working up a ladder, but if you do most of your work indoors you just don’t need to. If you’ve already bought into a family of battery powered tools, just get a “naked” multi tool and save a few quid.
Types of Blades
Where the metal meets the workpiece- the range of blades you can fit to your multi tool are what makes it the tool you’ll reach for more than any other.
The standard scraper blade is something that comes with all the best multi tools I’ve used in the past- made from strong steel and with a sharp blade on the front, you can use it to scrape off grout, old adhesive, thick paint or anything else that’s stuck on and you want it gone.
Next up are cutting blades- there are tons of different types of cutting blade available but the one that changed the way I work the most is the straight cutting blade. It lets you plunge cuts directly into the workpiece like a chisel, but without using much effort at all, and they’re available in a whole host of widths.
You can get blades that cut soft materials like wood and plastic, up to high performance titanium or carbide tipped blades that can cut through metal such as hard screws that need trimming off. Another handy shape cutting blade is rounder, letting you cut straight lines in any direction.
Most of the cutting blades you can get are offset, which means you can cut flush to the floor- a task that is not impossible without a multi tool, but certainly takes more time and skill to do neatly.
Other blades available for specific tasks include grout removal, insulation cutters, rasps and box cutters.
Sanding right into corners is a difficult task at the best of times and is completely tiring when you have lots of them to do in one go. The hook and loop pad you can attach to the front of the best multi tools are ideal for these situations. You’re not going to use it sand down a whole floor, but when you need to get into a tight spot, the multi tool is unbeatable.
Like with the cutting blades, there are plenty of different types of sanding pad to choose from in a range of sizes to suit your task. You can get large sanding pads that are suitable for sanding and levelling larger areas, “delta” shaped pads for getting into corners and up against edges and different profile sanding pads for specific jobs.
This is a bit of advice that can apply to life in general- “you buy cheap, you buy twice”. Now, I’m not saying you must go out and buy the most expensive professional level multi tool to carry out home DIY tasks. But investing in quality blades and sanding pads will make all the difference. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake myself in the past.
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Oscillating Multi Tool FAQs
Is an oscillating multi tool worth the money?
If you’re a professional tradesperson, you’ll probably have the best oscillating multi tool already in your kit, but if you’re a DIYer they’re still one of the most useful tools to have around. If you’ve ever tried to cut a hole in the middle of a sheet of plywood or plasterboard, a job that takes 10 minutes with a jab saw will take ten seconds with a multi tool- and if you’ve got a depth stop attached it won’t cut through hidden electrical cables either.
Do I think they’re worth the investment? Yes. And if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, there’s a whole range of multi tools available that won’t break the bank, especially when you don’t need them to be cordless.
What type of blade fitting will I need?
As I said above, finding the best blades turns an average multi tool into the best multi tool for all sorts of tasks. Check your user manual carefully though, because there’s not just one type of blade fitting out there. If your multi tool receives “universal” fittings, or has a quick release system, there’s a good chance that aftermarket blades will fit. However, some multi tools such as Bosch use their own fitting system like the AutoClic which will not receive universal fittings. Just check the paperwork before you open your wallet.
What’s the best battery to go with my cordless oscillating multi tool?
The best battery is the one that fits the task at hand. Higher Amp hour (Ah) batteries like 5.0 and 6.0 are great but they weight a lot. If manoeuvrability and precision is important, big batteries can make your multi tool feel unbalanced.
However, if you need to make lots of cuts and longevity is important to you, get a bigger battery. My recommendation is to buy a few medium duty batteries and have them on rotation. You get the benefit of a light tool and no chance of running out of juice!
How can I keep my multi tool steady when in use?
The cutting or sanding power of an oscillating multi tool comes from vibration, which can be intimidating at first and hard to handle. Just like any other power tool, it takes a bit of getting used to before you can handle them with ease.
Some of the best multi tools come with side handles- they can be screwed into either side of the body and let you use both hands to keep the sharp side where you want it- other multi tools like the excellent DeWalt DWE315KT can be held in both hands using the long pressure trigger to keep everything balanced.
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