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Does a Multi-Tool Have a Place in Your Shop, Chris Marshall Reviews Some of the Best
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Selecting from multi-tool market There are a lot of DIY multi-tools on the market, Chris Marshall tests the market and weighs out the pros and cons of these small, multifaceted tools.

Many woodworkers are also DIYers, and I’m certainly one of them. While the finish is drying on a woodworking project, I’ve always got the perpetual home improvement list to keep me busy. In my shop, woodworking and remodeling tools occupy the same space.

If you’re like me, today’s expanding assortment of multi-tools probably has your curiosity piqued, and for good reason: one tool and a handful of attachments can help you complete dozens of different project tasks. What’s not to love about versatility?

Detail sanding with multi-tools Multi-tools are especially handy for getting where most of your other portable tools can't, such as doing corner detail sanding on already assembled drawers.

Just a few years ago, Fein Tool’s MultiMaster was the only kid on the block. But then the company’s patent expired, and four other manufacturers — Bosch, Craftsman, Dremel and Rockwell — were quick to follow suit with their own multi-tools. Now there are six primary models. We’ve received many letters from you over the past year inquiring about them. So, consider this article to be your official welcome to the brave new world of multi-tools.

What Makes Them Tick

Key to a multi-tool’s versatility is its oscillating motion. The shaft of the tool, onto which a multitude of different attachments mount, moves side to side in a tight flurry of motion. Depending on the tool, this can be from 5,000 to 21,000 oscillations per minute (opm). But, while the attachment only moves a few degrees right and left, it’s enough action to cut, grind, scrape, sand and polish.

Unlike a circular saw or router, a multi-tool doesn’t generate rotating forces during operation that invite kickback, so it’s safe to use and easy to control. All of these tools allow attachments to be articulated and locked into various positions for tight-quarter work.

Making plunge and flush cuts with multi-tools Cutting; end-cutting blades allow multi-tools to make plunge and flush cuts in small areas with no kickback

When equipped with a narrow blade, a multi-tool can make plunge cuts in boards, flooring or drywall.

Using sanding pads on multi-tools Sanding: Triangular or teadrop-shaped sanding pads allow you to fit in tight corners for close quarters detail sanding

Outfit it with a detail sanding pad and you can squeeze into tight spots when, say, you’re removing finish between chair spindles or cleaning out some dried glue on an inside corner joint. Offset flush-cutting blades enable you to undercut door casings without removing them or work adjacent to other finished surfaces without damage.

Scraper blade on a multi-tool Scraping: Using a scraping blade with side-to-side oscillating motion can help you with tasks like paint removal and trimming.

Install a scraper blade, and you’ve got a power chisel for peeling up vinyl flooring or removing paint.

Using a multi-tool grinding wheel Grinding: Grinding tool heads take out grout and mortar quickly and easily with a linear cut.

The fine, linear cutting action also makes it possible to steer an abrasive blade along a grout line for removing it without chipping tiles. Name a reasonably soft material— nonferrous metal, thin sheet steel, plastic, hard or soft woods, rubber, foam board — and there’s probably a multitool blade that can cut it. You can even buy carbide- or diamond-coated blades for cutting and grinding grout, masonry, tile and stone.

To help you understand the particulars of each one, here’s an overview of all six tools.

Bosch PS50 Multi-X
Dremel Multi-Max
Fein SuperCut
Fein MultiMaster
Rockwell SoniCrafter
Craftsman Nextec

Do You Need One?
Cutting and scraping head options for multi-tools Multi-tools have a wide variety of scrapers and cutting heads for just about any workshop task from cutting metal and tile to scraping paint and wood.

Here’s that million-dollar question, and to be blunt, I can’t answer it for you. But, going back to my original premise, if you’re a DIYer, these multi-tools can tackle tasks that are tough to accomplish with other power tools: flush-cutting casings and trim, controlled cutting or sanding in cramped spots, plunge cutting and powered scraping or grout removal.

Sanding and abrasives for multi-tools There are as many sanding and grinding attachments as cutting blades for multi-tools, including sandpaper, carbide- and diamond-coated plates and polishing pads.

With prices starting at around $100 as of 2010, a multi-tool could be worth its cost, even if you only use it now and then for those big home improvement projects. Cash outlay is not that outlandish. Then, on the woodworking side, consider how nice it would be to have a dedicated detail sander, a flush-cutting tool for trimming plugs and a scraper for dried glue. In other words, there are some interesting possibilities here. While these are not core woodworking tools, I think any crossover task makes your purchase that much sweeter.

posted on April 1, 2010 by Chris Marshall
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