A Quick Guide to Oscillating Tools, How They Work, & FAQ’s

Researched & Written by Craig

If you’ve ever tried to get a jigsaw or a power sander into a tight space, you know that it’s a tough fit.

While renovating my house, there were tons of places where a big, bulky tool just wouldn’t fit. That’s where I found oscillating tools to be a huge help.

Oscillating tools are one of the most effective power tools on the market. They’re also relatively new. Here’s the low-down on exactly why you should consider adding an oscillating tool to your arsenal.

How Does an Oscillating Tool Work?

An oscillating tool works by moving the tool head side to side very quickly – up to 20,000 times a minute. This is so fast that it just feels like a vibration. In contrast, other tools work by spinning or moving back and forth (reciprocating). Those movement options are less flexible, so they aren’t as widely useful as oscillating tools.

What Can You Do with an Oscillating Tool?

The high-speed, side to side movement of oscillating tools makes them effective at scraping, sanding, cutting, and more. The trick is using the right tool head for the job.

Different blades are designed for different jobs. Understanding what blades are best the task at hand will help your DIY projects go much more smoothly.

  • Bimetal blades are perfect for cutting metal like nails or rusted bolts.
  • Diamond or carbide grit blades remove grout in a flash.
  • Rounded blades are ideal for making longer cuts.
  • Straight-edge blades work best for piercing into a surface.
  • Scraper blades are duller and non-serrated, so they perfectly replace putty knives for big jobs.

Blades also come in a variety of widths and sizes. If you have a specific job in mind, you can get the perfect blade for the job for much less than buying an entirely new power tool.

Dremer Multi Max

The Dremel MultiMax (featured further down).

Are Oscillating Multi-Tools Worth It?

Yes, oscillating multi-tools are absolutely worth it. A single oscillating multitool can replace jigsaws, grinders, bolt cutters, and more.

Oscillating tools fit in weird spaces that other tools can’t. They can solve problems for you that don’t have specific solutions. They can save tons of room in your toolbox, since you don’t need as many single-purpose tools. If you’re pressed for space and time, a single oscillating tool can help you take apart, scrape, or cut anything even on the go.

Are Oscillating Tool Blades Universal?

Every oscillating tool manufacturer has its own blade connection format. However, that hasn’t stopped oscillating tool blade makers from coming up with universal blades. Many blades are designed to work with any style or make of oscillating tool.

Some blades are designed to be proprietary. The manufacturer wants you to be locked into their brand, and only use the blades with their tool.

However, there are tons of adapters on the market for just this situation. If you’ve found a proprietary blade that’s perfect for the job you want to do, there’s definitely an adapter you can use to connect it to your oscillating tool.

How Do You Cut a Straight Line with an Oscillating Tool?

Oscillating tools are handheld, so they don’t come with built-in guides.

If you’re free-handing it, that makes getting a really straight line difficult. Luckily there are plenty of strategies to get a straight cut with an oscillating tool every time.

First, line cuts are done best with a round blade. These let you make cuts while holding the tool at an angle. Then take a straightedge or ruler and mark the line you want to cut.

Turn on the oscillating tool and start running it down the line you’ve just marked. Don’t press too hard; let the tool make the cut for you. Cut a shallow divot along the marked line, following it as closely as possible. Once you have a divot to keep your oscillating blade on the right path, you can start cutting more deeply.

Once you’ve cut through the object, you can judge the quality of the straight line you cut. If you want to straight out bumps and lumps, you can switch to a flush-cut blade. This keeps the blade flat against the surface. Run it along the edge and you’ll end up with a smooth, flat cut.

How Deep Can an Oscillating Tool Cut?

Oscillating tools can cut as deep as their blade is long. That’s typically between 1 and 3 inches. Choosing the right blade for your job will help you cut as deeply as you need.

What Should I Look For in an Oscillating Multi Tool?

Getting an oscillating tool that can hold up to heavy use is important. You don’t want your tool to break halfway through a job, after all. There are several aspects to consider when you’re trying to find the right oscillating tool for you.

Power Source

Oscillating tools come in cordless or corded styles. Cordless oscillating tools are easy to transport and they can be used in just about any space. On the other hand, they run out of batteries, so they will run out of power eventually. Battery-powered oscillating tools also tend to be less powerful, just because of the limits of batteries.

Corded oscillating tools are more powerful and don’t have a battery that can die. However, they are slightly less versatile. You can only use them within reach of a power outlet or extension cord. The cord can also get in the way if you’re working in tight spaces.

Noise

Any power tool that’s cutting, grinding, sanding, or scraping is going to cause some noise. You can choose how much noise is too much for you. Depending on the motor and the speed at which the oscillating tool runs, the noise of the tool may become extremely high-pitched. You can check reviews or watch videos of tools working to judge whether the noise is too much for you.

Blade Mount Style

Different oscillating tools have different formats for the blade attachment point. All things considered, a tool that allows you to use more potential blades is probably more versatile. If it looks like your potential new tool is trying to lock you into a brand when it comes to buying blades, think twice. It should accept universal blades, otherwise you’ll be paying way more than necessary every time you need replacements.

Price

Oscillating tools are available in a wide price range. It’s possible to spend hundreds of dollars on a professional, high-quality oscillating tool. If you’re new to DIY or not sure how much you’ll use one of these tools, it can’t hurt to look a little lower on the spectrum.

A beginner’s oscillating tool can be gotten for as little as $20, but you get what you pay for. Most high-quality oscillating tools range from $70 to $130. You know your budget best – get something that fits the price you want to pay.

Motor Power

Stronger motors mean quicker work when it comes to oscillating tools. They’re measured in amps, as in how many amps the motor can handle. The higher the amps, the stronger the motor and the more efficiently a tool should work.

Sometimes a tool has a great motor but is poorly engineered in other ways. So, don’t rely on the amperage of the motor as the be-all-end-all when it comes to choosing your tool. A cheaply-priced oscillating tool with a serious motor probably has some problems that you should take into consideration.

Warranty

A warranty is the manufacturer’s faith in its product. Longer warranties imply that the company believes their product will last. Meanwhile, a short warranty usually means the manufacturer doesn’t think the product has what it takes.

Look for long warranties on any product that should be able to handle rough conditions. Power tools like an oscillating tool are especially important to check. They have lots of parts moving very quickly under pressure. That’s a recipe for shoddy workmanship to break. A good warranty will help you get a replacement if something does break.

Extra Features

Depending on the tools you’re looking at, you might see a variety of extra features. Some oscillating tools come with lights so you can better see what you’re cutting. Other come with extra-long cords so you don’t need to grab an extension cord. If you’re caught between two equally appealing options, check their extra features. That might be what wins you over.

What is the Best Oscillating Multi Tool to Buy?

There are tons of oscillating tools on the market since the patent on the original expired. The perfect option for you depends on what exactly you need it for. However, there are definitely some great all-around options. For example, the Rockwell Duotech Oscillation Sonicrafter F80 is a solid choice that covers everything you need.

Rockwell Duotech Oscillation Sonicrafter F80

If you need a solid choice that’s built to last, you can’t go wrong with the Rockwell brand. Their oscillating multitool has a 4.2 amp motor, two potential oscillating angles, and two power modes. No matter what kind of job you’re facing, this tool has it covered.

Rockwell Sonicrafter F80

The Rockwell Sonicrafter F80.

The variable speed dial gives you precise control over how fast it cuts. Whether you’re just trying to free up a rusted bolt or making a precision cut, there’s a speed for you. It also has a universal fit system head, so you can use attachments every brand under the sun.

This serious multi-tool also comes with a variety of add-ons that will make your life easier. It includes ten blades up front, so you can get to work immediately. These blades include straight edge, round edge, sanding and scraping, so every job is covered. Finally, it comes with a carrying case, so it’s ready to go when you are.

Sale
Rockwell RK5142K 4.0 Amp Sonicrafter F50 Oscillating Multi-Tool, with Variable Speed, Hyperlock Clamping, Vibrafree Technology, and Universal Fit System, 33-Piece Kit with Case
394 Reviews
Rockwell RK5142K 4.0 Amp Sonicrafter F50 Oscillating Multi-Tool, with Variable Speed, Hyperlock Clamping, Vibrafree Technology, and Universal Fit System, 33-Piece Kit with Case
  • The F50 features 5 degrees of oscillation for unrivaled fast cutting from a powerful 4.0 amp motor – constant speed won’t stall under heavy loads
  • Hyperlock tool-free blade change system provides 1 ton of clamping force – prevents slipping during use, no matter the blade angle
  • Variable speed dial for precision control – from 11,000 to 20,000 oscillations per minute
  • Low-vibration counterweight offsets vibration for a smoother cut
  • Universal Fit System accepts all major brands of blades, sanders, and other accessories

Note: The Rockwell F80 is a corded option, so you need to be within reach of a power outlet or extension cord. It’s also a little on the higher end of the price scale. If you’re not sure you’ll use an oscillating tool, you might want to find something a little less expensive. But if you’re sold on the idea, you can’t go wrong with the Rockwell.

Who Makes the Best Oscillating Tool Blades?

Every oscillating tool blade has its pros and cons. A well-rounded manufacturer will produce blades that make lots of people happy. That’s where Vtopmart comes in. This brand has some of the highest-rated blade collections on Amazon.

Vtopmart only makes some style of blades currently, so they’re great for getting the basics. They have bulk options for flat head saw blades and a multipack that includes rounded, flat, and extra-wide blades. If you need a basic universal blade, you can get bulk orders from Vtopmart.

If you need something more specialized, look at Dremel. They make universal-connection blades for every purpose. The Dremel-brand blades are a little more expensive, but they’re purpose-made to cut metal, grind grout, or sand down surfaces with ease. Just make sure you’re looking at a universal blade, not a Dremel-brand proprietary blade.

Sale
Dremel MM50-01 Multi-Max Oscillating DIY Holiday Tool Kit with Tool-LESS Accessory Change- 5 Amp- Multi Tool with 30 Accessories- Compact Head & Angled Body- Drywall, Nails, Remove Grout & Sanding
422 Reviews
Dremel MM50-01 Multi-Max Oscillating DIY Holiday Tool Kit with Tool-LESS Accessory Change- 5 Amp- Multi Tool with 30 Accessories- Compact Head & Angled Body- Drywall, Nails, Remove Grout & Sanding
  • The Dremel MM50 has a robust design that provides low vibration operation giving you better control for precise and clean cuts
  • With a compact head that is 30% smaller than other tools in its Class, The MM50 allows you to get into tight hard-to-reach spaces that others won’t fit
  • Exclusive And unique angled body design delivers a much improved experience, especially during flush cuts: you have better control and more room for your hands under the tool
  • Powerful 5. 0 amp motor, highest in its Class, delivers Pro performance to get the toughest jobs done, such as cutting door jambs, trim, baseboards or any other restoration related project
  • Tool-less blade change system allows you to change Accessories by simply twisting the knob, Pushing it down and inserting accessory

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut…

There’s often a lot of questions about what exactly an oscillating tool can get through. Well, here’s some quick answers.

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut Concrete?

Yes, oscillating tools can cut concrete. In order to cut concrete and cement, you will need grit-edged blades. The grit is what makes the cut. You can get carbide or diamond-grit blades, depending on how much you need to cut. Carbide blades are cheaper, but wear out more quickly than diamond. For big jobs, it’s worth investing in diamond blades.

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut Brick?

Oscillating blades can cut through brick. Brick also requires grit-edged blades. The grit is harder than metal blades, so it can wear away at the brick quickly and efficiently.

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut Tile?

Yes, you can cut tile with an oscillating tool. Just like brick and cement, it works best if you make the cut with grit-edged blades. Other types of blade are more likely to shatter the tile than to cut it, and that’s not what you want.

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut Steel?

Steel can be cut with oscillating blades. In order to cut any kind of metal with an oscillating tool, you need to use a bi-metal blade. These are special blades made with two kinds of steel to reinforce each other. One is designed to be hard enough to cut the metal, with the other is softer and flexible. The flexible metal keeps the hard metal from shattering. They work together to efficiently cut metal of all types.

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut Wood?

Yes, all oscillating tools can cut wood. Any style of blade can be used on wood. Grit blades make wider cuts, while standard blades are great for precision.

Can an Oscillating Tool Cut Skin?

Yes, absolutely. Always be careful when you’re working with an oscillating tool. The blades move incredibly quickly, and they can go through skin just as easily as wood or concrete.

Conclusion

Oscillating tools are real multitools. They can cut, sand, and grind in minutes. They’re great for odd jobs or odd spaces. If you’re looking to expand your toolkit all at once, an oscillating tool is a fantastic choice.

I hope this quick guide has helped clear up these functional tools for you.

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Thanks for reading, and have a great day.

-Craig