Purchasing tools can sometimes be tricky, especially if you're limited by a budget and storage space.
Wouldn't it be great, then, if you could buy a tool that serves a variety of purposes … and works a range of materials? Why would you want to shell out for a number of tools – when just one would do?
Enter the multi-tool. This compact handheld power tool really does live up to its name. That's because this multi-tasking maestro accepts a huge variety of blades and attachments for a wide range of tasks – and a wide variety of materials:
- Cutting & sawing – metal, ceramic, masonry and wood.
- Sanding & polishing – giving a smooth finish to the surface of a material.
- Scraping – removing materials like glues, paint, caulk and grout.
- Rasping & filing – removing material from wood prior to giving it a fine finish.
Given its modest size, slim profile and relatively light weight, the mighty multi-tool can also be used in narrow spaces and at awkward angles – places that many power tools just can't fit into.
What else makes it so special?
While most power tools have a rotating tool head, the multi-tool uses shimmying action; this, plus the specially contoured blade design, means that multi-tools are best used as precision instruments for smaller areas, e.g. smaller plunge cuts in decking, flush-cutting pipes and cutting the bottoms of a door frame when fitting floorboards. (For this reason, jobs like making long, straight cuts on wooden workpieces are best done with a circular saw, and sanding large surfaces is better off left for a random orbital sander or belt sander.)
It's the multi-tool's versatility that makes it the go-to tool for just about anyone in any trade – whether it's plumbing, carpentry, renovations, tiling and flooring work. So whether you fit flooring for a living, need to cut openings in drywall for electrical cables or just like to be handy around the house (and garden!), the mighty multi-tool is there to answer your needs.
The multi-tool goes by a variety of names: oscillating multi-tool, oscillating tool, multi cutter and, strangely enough, rotary tool. Strangely, we say, because the rotary tool is a different type of tool altogether because it has a rotating tool head, and performs different functions to the multi-tool, which as we've mentioned has an oscillating tool head. (Speaking of rotary tools, that sounds like another great blog topic, doesn't it?)
Just like any other type of power tool, multi-tools come in a range of sizes & specs – with price tags to match. That means that you've got to consider your options carefully, and for that you might want some help. Read on.
Choosing your multi-tool
Even with multi-tools, making your buying choice can be anything but straightforward. To help narrow your options, you'll want to consider where, how and for how long you'll be using your new multi-tool: Welcome to the corded vs cordless / brushed vs brushless debate.
Corded vs cordless
Corded is the cheaper option when it comes to just about any power tool, and it has other benefits as well. If you think that you'll be using your multi-tool for long jobs, and don't want to have to worry about having recharged batteries to hand, corded is the way to go. As powerful as many cordless versions are, you still can't beat corded multi-tools for long hours of use. But just make sure that you'll always have access to a mains power supply …
Cordless might be your better choice if all you need to do is make the occasional cut or do a little sanding, especially if you won't always have a mains power supply close to hand. And if you’ve already got batteries and a charger for your other power tools, cordless becomes even more attractive, because you'll already have saved yourself some money.
Brushed vs brushless
Brushed motors use older technology that is also cheaper. But the carbon brushes need to be checked regularly for signs of wear and need to be changed every now and again (depending on usage) to ensure that your tool lives a long, safe and healthy life. So if you'll be using your multi-tool a lot, then going brushless holds a lot of appeal. For more info on carbon brushes and their care, see our carbon brush maintenance blog.
Once you have thought through your corded vs cordless / brushed vs brushless dilemmas, there are other considerations to make:
- Oscillation angle. Do you want finesse or speed? Then you want to consider oscillation angle: That's the maximum distance the blade travels from side to side, usually between 2° and 4°. Multi-tools with greater oscillation angles work more aggressively and remove more debris. More aggressive action, however, can translate into greater vibration and reduced control, important considerations if you're working for longer periods. It won't come as any surprise, then, that multi-tools with a narrower oscillation angle deliver smoother results and are easier to control.
- Variable-speed control. It's great to have a range of speeds, especially when you work with a variety of materials. If that sounds like you, you might want to get a multi-tool with a variable-speed trigger. This feature gives you greater control and allows you to choose a working speed (as much as 22,000 oscillations per minute) better suited to the attachment you're using and the material you're working. After all, if you can avoid burning or melting your workpiece and overloading / overheating your tool, that's a good thing, yes?
- Keyless (tool-free) blade change. If you need to regularly change your multi-tool blade for a different tasks, having keyless blade change is a real advantage. This means that you can quickly and easily fit a different blade without worrying about where you left the hex key (it's no help at all if you're miles away on a job and you left it on your work bench back home).
- Trigger lock. For those of you who will be using your multi-tool for long periods, here's a handy feature. Just engage the trigger lock / lock-on button, and you can work for longer periods without tiring your hand muscles. This not only makes for more comfortable use, but can help avoid long-term strain injury.
- Ergonomic grip. Make sure that the model has contoured, rubberised overmoulding. This will not only provide a comfortable grip, it will help to reduce the effects of vibration, which can lead to fatigue and possible injury over time.
- Extra attachments. Having an auxiliary handle for your multi-tool can help you to keep it steady; a depth stop gives you more precise control. Be sure your multi-tool can accept dust extraction equipment for removing lots of excess material, e.g. when sanding or cutting wood. A universal adaptor is a must if you want to fit multi-tool blades that don't have a matching shank.
Whoever knew that there could so much to know about such a relatively small tool? There's just as much to consider when it comes to blades and attachments for the multi-tool – so much, in fact, that it's a subject all on its own.
Sound like another great blog topic? You bet.