Why you need an oscillating tool
Oscillating tools are great for a few specific jobs like removing grout, making drywall cutouts and undercutting trim for flooring installation. But mostly, an oscillating tool is a problem solver for a thousand weird situations. As one remodeler told us, “I couldn’t list the last ten things I used it for, but I know I couldn't live without it.” Several Field Editors told us something similar: “I couldn't imagine any need for an oscillating tool—until I got one.”
Just a few years ago, oscillating multi-tools were rare, even in pro toolboxes. But with a wider range of choices and falling prices, more and more DIYers are using them. And since they are endlessly useful, we predict that you'll own one sooner or later.
We looked at dozens of them in all price ranges for this review, then narrowed the field to some of the most widely available models. We also drew the upper line at $130. If you're a pro (or a serious tool junkie), you can easily spend more than that. But we think most DIYers will be more than satisfied owning one of the tools reviewed here.
Cordless is convenient, but...
Corded vs. cordless
Several of our Field Editors told us they love their cordless oscillating tools but wish they had bought a corded model. Depending on the job and the model, batteries last 10 to 45 minutes. So one battery, or even two, probably won't keep you going during constant-draw jobs like removing grout. Also, a corded tool will likely survive decades of DIY projects, while batteries have a life span of a few years. We think a corded model is best for most DIYers and didn't include cordless models in this review.
A handy guide
Look for useful features
Porter-Cable's PCE605 has a unique roller guide that can limit the depth of cut or simply help to steady the tool. It's removable and you'll probably want it out of the way most of the time. But we found it a big help for some jobs: When removing grout, we cut perfect, consistent lines without stopping to check the depth. (We wrapped the roller with electrical tape to avoid marring the tile.) When undercutting the baseboard shown here, we avoided cutting into the blade-wrecking plaster behind the baseboard.
Cost and Power Rating
Spend more—or less?
These oscillating tools cost from $25 to $130. Despite that huge price gap, we found only small differences in how well they cut, sand or scrape. The real differences are in convenience and comfort. Spending more will get you a tool-free accessory attachment system, less vibration and a tool that's more confortable to use for long periods. We also assume that higher-cost tools will last longer, but we didn't test for longevity.
If you expect to use an oscillating tool regularly or have a big job planned, choose a more expensive tool. For occasional use, you'll probably be satisfied with a tool with a low-cost model.
More power isn't essential
More power is better, of course, but we don't consider it a key factor in choosing an oscillating tool. We tested tools with motors ranging from 1.6 to 3 amps. And to our surprise, the performance differences were minor. Tools with lower amp ratings bog down if you press hard while cutting or sanding, but so do the higher-amp models. The tools with lower amp ratings work well under normal loads.
Oscillating angle is a tradeoff
Speed vs. control
The “oscillating angle” tells you how far the accessory travels from side to side. The tools we tested ranged from 2.8 to 3.2 degrees. More travel generally means a more aggressive tool. In terms of cutting speed, for example, we found that the oscillating angle generally mattered more than the amp rating; a greater oscillating angle cuts faster. On the other hand, models with less travel generally run smoother and offer better precision and control.
Check the contents of the kit
Oscillating tools are usually sold as kits with varying assortments of accessories. Considering the high cost of blades, checking the contents of the kit is worthwhile. Don't just look at the number of pieces, though: A 30-piece kit might include 25 low-cost sanding pads.
From Hospitals to Job Sites
In 1968, Fein patented the oscillating “plaster cast saw,” which could slice through a cast without harming the patient's skin. That medical tool evolved into the do-anything tool we know today. Fein still makes pro-grade oscillating tools, and some of our Field Editors swear it's still the best choice. The Fein 250Q shown (along with the Start Q kit) costs about $200 on Amazon through our affiliate program, other retailers and online.
Just flip the lever forward to loosen or remove the flange. This tool also works with Ridgid and Rockwell accessories. Add an adapter ring to use other brands like Bosch or Porter-Cable. The system adds some bulk to the front of the tool, making the maximum cut depth about 1/2 in. less than with most other models.
The standard system for mounting accessories is a screw and an Allen wrench. But most manufacturers are now introducing faster, easier ways. You'll still find lots of tools with Allen screws on store shelves, but we expect that to change.
OSCILLATING TOOL REVIEWS
Rockwell Sonicrafter RK5139K
This tool tops our list in terms of smooth, quiet operation, and we love the accessory attachment system because it accepted every blade we could find. Its carrying case is also our favorite because it provides a place for accessories and a generous space for the tool and cord; no struggling to fit it all back into the case! Rockwell also makes a 3-amp model with electronic speed control (the Sonicrafter RK5140K; $150 through our affiliate program with Amazon) and a 2.3-amp model without a tool-free system (SS5120; $60).
Black & Decker BD200MTB
From the tool-free attachment system to the smooth, low-vibration feel, this tool is in the same class as those costing much more. A true bargain. The attachment system is identical to Porter-Cable's and accepts Porter-Cable accessories. You won't find this tool at most home centers, but it's available online through our affiliate program with Amazon and at Wal-Mart.
The price is irresistible, even if you don't foresee any need for an oscillating tool. This bare-bones tool runs a bit rougher than most of the more expensive models but performed well in our tests. And we've heard from Field Editors who own it and are completely satisfied with it. It's available at Harbor Freight stores and online. Chicago Electric also makes a 2-amp model with variable speed (available on Amazon through our affiliate program for about $45).
We like the tool-free attachment system and love the LED work light on the nose of this tool. Our only complaint is that the body of the tool is wide and less comfortable to grip than other models.
This is a smooth, comfortable tool and a contender for our best overall choice. The accessory attachment system is even easier to use than its competitors' but accepts only Dremel attachments. Dremel also makes two other great models (without tool-free systems) that cost $90 (MM20) and $80 (6300). You can find these models on Amazon through our affiliate program.
A superb tool—smooth running and very comfortable to use. The roller guide is a plus, and we strongly recommend it if there's a big grout removal job in your future. The accessory attachment system is instant but limits the depth of cut. Porter-Cable also makes a 2.5-amp model with the same attachment system ($95) but without the roller guide. You can buy the PCE605, through our affiliate program with Amazon.
Ridgid Jobmax R28600
This is the starter tool for Ridgid's multihead JobMax system. Unlike other oscillating tools, it has a variable-speed trigger rather than a switch. That lets you control the speed without stopping to make adjustments, which is nice for precision work. But the trigger doesn't lock, and holding it constantly gets uncomfortable. The LED work light is a great bonus.