Rotary tools are incredibly versatile – you can use them to cut, sand, carve, polish, drill and more.
This guide will help you understand how they are powered, and the surfaces where they work best.
All rotary tools do essentially the same thing, but there are some differences between heavy-duty and lightweight models.
Heavy-duty rotary tools are:
- Also known as cutout tools or spiral saws
- Intended for professional tasks
- Slightly larger and heavier
- Don’t come with as many accessories as smaller rotary tools
Smaller, lightweight rotary tools are:
- Perfect for crafting, woodworking and fine detail work
- Preferred by most DIYers
- Available with lots of accessories and attachments
- Used in place of a wide range of tools
The following chart lists a range of tasks you can complete with a rotary tool.
Rotary Tools Can
- Cast iron
- Glass (clear and stained)
- Hardened steel
- Semiprecious stones
- Soft metals
- Terra cotta
- Woods (hard and soft)
- Carve wood
- Clean copper
- Clean lug threads
- Cut a hole for an electrical box
- Cut a rusted toilet bolt
- Cut conduit
- Cut gutters
- Deburr pipe
- Drill drain hole in flower pot
- Drill holes
- Etch glass
- Polish cabinet hardware
- Remove exhaust pipe clamps
- Remove rust and grout
- Repair drywall
- Repair siding
- Re-slot a screw
- Sand/trim door for proper fit
- Shape and fit tile
- Sharpen a mower blade
- Sharpen chain saw
- Square off a screwdriver
- Work with plastics and acrylics
Rotary tools are powered by an electric motor, compressed motor or gasoline engine. And the materials they can be used on -- wood, metal, ceramic and plastic surfaces – vary as widely as the tool’s speed and features.
Rotary tools are available in both corded and cordless models. Cordless tools offer portability, but corded tools have an unlimited power supply and are often lightweight.
Higher power usually results in more weight and larger body.
Power ratings range from 1 to 5.5 amps for corded models, and 4.8 volts to 18 volts for cordless models.
Consider a higher voltage model if you work with your rotary tool for long periods.
Speed and Bit Size
A rotary tool can range in speed from 5,000 to 15,000 rpm (cordless) or 5,000 to 35,000 rpm (corded).
Wider speed range and more settings will make your rotary tool more versatile.
The collet or chuck determines the size of the bit shank that your rotary can accept.
A collet/chuck can be adapted to hold smaller bit shanks, but it cannot be adapted to hold larger ones.
Attachments are usually intended for use only on certain brands or models.
Bits are often interchangeable as long as they’re the right shank size.
Specialized rotary tools have few accessories and attachments.
A flex shaft delivers control and maneuverability for fine detail work.
Easy bit change: Tool systems that are easy to operate bit changes.
Comfortable grip: Maximize maneuverability, control and comfort during use.
Replaceable motor brushes: Extends the life of the tool and protects the motor by allowing you to change the brushes when they’re worn.