Oscillating Tool Uses

Our field editors show you their favorite oscillating tool uses. It's a tool you shouldn't be without.

An oscillating tool (multi-tool) has many practical uses. Our Field Editors show you eight ways it solves problems easier and faster than other techniques, including removing grout, cutting pipes and stubborn bolts, cutting hidden nails and scraping up gunk.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Practical uses for your oscillating tool

Oscillating tools—aka “multi-tools”—are selling like crazy. Everyone in the tool business agrees about that. But when we ask them what oscillating tools are used for, the answers aren’t as clear. So we asked our Field Editors. They told us about hundreds of situations where an oscillating tool made the job faster and easier. This article will show you some of the most common uses, as well as tricks and accessories to help you get more from your oscillating tool.

How oscillating tools work

An oscillating tool works with a side-to-side movement. The oscillation is very slight (about 3 degrees) and very fast (about 20,000 strokes per minute), so it feels more like vibration. A saw blade is shown; the tool also works with scrapers and sanding pads.

Oscillating tool blade in side-to-side motion Oscillating tool side-to-side motion
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Tip 1: Use a straightedge for straight cuts

The new fridge at my daughter’s house was a bit too tall for the opening. So I trimmed the cabinet’s face frame with my oscillating tool. There’s no way I could have made such a clean, precise cut with any other tool.

A straightedge makes a great guide for the blade. But you still have to be careful; the blade can gouge the straightedge and go off-course.

Larry Heenan is a Field Editor in Raytown, MO. He has been busy building an entertainment center for his daughter.

Round Blades or Straight?

A straight blade is best for plunge cuts, where you stab the blade into the surface. For long, linear cuts, use a round blade. You’ll get cleaner cuts with the round blade if you make a shallow scoring cut first, then gradually deepen it.

In any case, keep in mind that heat kills blades. Occasionally swing the blade back and forth out of the kerf to clean out dust. And don’t press so hard.

Straight and round wood-cutting blades Wood-cutting blades
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Tip 2: Faster flooring prep

I had to undercut 24 door jambs so I could slip new laminate flooring under them. I bought a door frame handsaw specifically for the job but found myself (and my knuckles) sore, tired and beat up. Then I remembered my oscillating tool. Doorjambs went from taking five minutes to taking 30 seconds apiece.

The oscillating tool worked great, slicing its way through the wood like butter! With a scrap of flooring as a guide, the tool also makes a straight, clean cut. The only downside was the noise (oscillating tools are loud!). But the savings in time and pain were worth it.

Alan Wagenbach is a Field Editor in Lakewood, CA. He just finished building a white picket fence—next up is painting the whole house.

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Tip 3: Cut rusty faucet nuts

Sometimes you just can’t muscle off rusted-in-place faucet nuts with even the best basin wrench. And you can forget about using a reciprocating saw under the sink deck—there simply isn’t enough room.

But you may be able to pull off the impossible by using an oscillating tool equipped with a high-quality bimetal cutting blade.

Angle the tool against the nut and start it off at slow speed until it cuts a groove. Then increase the speed and keep sawing until you’re about three-quarters of the way through. Then break off the remaining portion with pliers.

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Tip 4: Remove trim without damage

I was prying off some thin trim that was held on with amazingly stubborn nails. After I split a few pieces of trim, I found a better method: I gently pried the trim away from the wall just enough to slip in an oscillating tool blade. Then I probed for the nails and sliced through them. Fast, easy and no more splits. I used a scrap of sheet metal to protect the wall.

Tom Dvorak, Field Editor extraordinaire, is constantly improving his rental properties and his own home in Minneapolis/ St. Paul, MN.

Metal-Cutting Blade Alert

Beware: Most blades sold in stores are meant for soft materials like wood and plastic. Cutting metal destroys them in a few seconds. For metal cutting, be sure to buy blades labeled “bimetal,” “titanium” or just “metal.”

Close-up of metal cutting blade for an oscillating tool Metal-cutting blade
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Tip 5: Great for grout removal

My oscillating tool did a great job of chewing out the grout from between tiles. I can’t say it was fast, but it was faster than the other methods I tried. Plus, it didn’t damage any tiles or whip up a dust storm. I went through two carbide-grit blades in a 5 x 6-ft. area. The noise got to me after a while, and the tool got pretty hot, so holding it was uncomfortable. Still, if I had to do it again, I’d go with the oscillating tool.

Frank Okrasinski is a Field Editor from Owego, NY. His favorite job is acting as a woodworking coach for his 10-year-old grandson.

Comparing Grout Removal Blades

A carbide blade (about $25) is fine for small jobs. For larger jobs, a diamond blade ($40 and up) saves you money because it lasts two to three times as long. Both types come in 1/16-in. and 1/8-in. thicknesses to match grout widths. When you see sparks, you know that the outer edge of the blade is worn out, even though there may be plenty of grit left on the sides of the blade.

Carbide grit and diamond grit blades for an oscillating tool. Grout removal blades
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Tip 6: Trim shims in a jiffy

When you install a door, the usual way to trim the shims is to score them with a utility knife and then snap them off. It’s a slow way to go, and half the time, you push the shims out of place. Other times, they don’t break off cleanly. But I discovered that my oscillating tool does the job perfectly. Quick, clean, no hassles.

Matt Kelly, a Field Editor in Champlin, MN, wins our Excessive Ambition Award: He’s replacing all his windows, siding, interior doors and trim, and installing a paver patio.

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Tip 7: Goes where other tools don’t

I use my oscillating tool no less than three times a week, often in tight situations where no other tool will fit. I’ve used it to cut pipe in cramped quarters, to section out dry rot in a beam where a router or saw couldn’t reach, to remove termite-damaged rafter tails my reciprocating saw couldn’t reach…. Oscillating tools are AMAZING. After friends borrow mine, they go right out and buy one for themselves.

Kyle Beria is a Field Editor and contractor in San Marcos, CA.

The Value of Extra Wide Blades

Extra-wide blades like this 2-1/2-in. version are perfect for cutting round stuff like pipe because they don’t slip off a curved surface the way narrow blades do. For other jobs, narrower blades are usually best; they plunge-cut better and put less strain on the motor.

Extra wide blade for cutting pipe Extra wide blade
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Tip 8: Scrape away gunk

I had stubborn patches of dried construction adhesive on my shop floor. I could have spent a couple of hours on my knees picking away at it with a putty knife. But my oscillating tool—equipped with a scraper blade—sliced it off in no time.

Charles Crocker is a Field Editor from Sherman, TX. He’s finishing up his 1,200-sq.-ft. shop before building a new home.

Lots of Scraper Blades

Scraper blades come in lots of styles: stiff or flexible, sharp or blunt, straight or offset. The long, thin version shown above is for digging caulk out of joints.

Two examples of many available types of scraper blades Scraper blades
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Tip 9: Bring it along—you’ll need it

Here’s my best oscillating tool tip: No matter what the job, bring it along. When I recently offered to replace a toilet for a friend, I couldn’t imagine any need to bring an oscillating tool. But I threw it in my pickup anyway. Glad I did.

Cutting off the corroded hold-down bolts was a lot faster than trying to unscrew them. Ditto for the bolts that fastened the tank to the bowl. The bowl was caulked firmly to the floor, and when I began to lift it, the flooring began to come up too. So I switched to a scraper blade and carefully sliced the caulk joint. Not a bad day’s work for a tool I thought I wouldn’t need.

Adapters and Accessories

Adapters give you more blade options
Sometimes, blades of one brand will fit on a multi-tool of another brand. But not always. So pick up an adapter ($3 each) that’s designed to suit your multi-tool.

Endless accessories online
Most home centers carry a small selection of blades and scrapers. For more choices (including any of the accessories shown in this article), shop online. Here are some good places to start:

fitzallblades.com
multifitblades.com
multitoolblade.com

Two oscillating tool adapters for using blades of other brands. Oscillating tool adapters
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