Oscillating tools that make a carpenter’s life easier
For years, the only oscillating tools made my contractors, capable of cutting, sawing, grinding—a multitude of tasks per- formed by no other single tool—were the Fein Supercut and the Fein Multimaster. Rumors have circulated that the patents held by Fein on its well known Multimaster have expired and now the doors are wide open for other manufacturers to introduce their own versions. Whether the rumors are true or not, today there is a multitude of multitasking tools available for carpenters, among them, the Fein, Dremel, Sonicrafter, Bosch, and Chicago Tool’s model.
In this article, I take a look at each of these models, for their specific features and abilities. I also review the types of blades available and offer some tips on how to best use these tools with scalpel-like precision.
Chicago’s Multi-function Power Tool
www.harborfreight.com :: $45.99
Let’s start with the latest and least expensive entry to the field, Harbor Freight’s new Multi-Function Power Tool, which has 180W of power, and operates at a single speed of 11,000 oscillations per minute (OPM). It also comes with a set of the inexpensive blades that are available separately at Harbor Freight stores. The biggest drawback to the Multi- Function tool is its round mounting hole, which means the blade must be secured tightly or it slips, especially when making plunge cuts in hardwood. For that reason, Chicago designed the mounting shaft with flats for a wrench, so the operator can tighten the screw that holds the blade as hard as possible without damaging the tool. In addition, the screw that secures the blade is a hefty 5/16 in., all other brands use a 1/4-in. screw! Unfortunately, the #13 wrench is not included with the tool.
The Chicago’s Multi-Function model does not have variable speed control—it runs at only one speed. Speed control improves the longevity of the tool—running the tool at high speed for every task will wear out the motor prematurely. More on speed control later.
I’m not sure how long this tool will last and the tool comes with a short 90 day guarantee. But do us a favor: If you buy one of these tools, let us know if you have any problems with it, and if the tool meets your expectations. I tested the tool extensively, but only over a short period of time. For me this tool does everything the more expensive brands can do and at a fraction of the cost—but only when the blades are brand new.
One good thing about this tool is that you can use blades made by other manufacturers if they feature a .395-in. round hole or the Multimaster’s star hole—so you’re not limited to lower quality Chicago blades. You can also use Fein’s Adaptor on the Multi-Function Tool, if you enlarge the screw-mount hole on the adaptor from .254 in. to .310 in. or 5/16 in. to allow for the larger size of the mounting screw.
www.dremel.com :: $99.99
The price goes up a notch for Dremel’s Multi-Max, a small, light weight, but also a light-duty tool. The Dremel has 10 speeds, soft start, and uses an assortment of small size blades and accessories, too small for most professional contractors, who require wider and more durable blades for continuous or demanding work. Still, the Multi-Max would be a practical tool for anyone working with small objects that need to be cut, polished or sanded.
I’ve seen forum discussions about altering the Multi-Max to accept blades made for Fein’s Supercut tool. However, the Multi-Max doesn’t have the power of a Fein Supercut, so large blades should be used carefully on this light-duty tool.
Bosch’s Max Multi-X
www.boschtools.com :: $160.00
Bosch, which owns Dremel, recently introduced a cordless oscillating tool, the 12V Max Multi-X powered by Lithium-Ion battery. This smart tool comes with an adapter that permits the use of aftermarket blades or blades made by other tool manufacturers that fit a standard .395-in. mounting hole. Fein’s blades, with star shaped holes, also work on the Multi-X.
This tool has 6 speeds and a battery charge indicator that reliably reflects the charge remaining in the battery. I tested the battery duration by making repeated cuts on a piece of 3/4-in. x 5-in. Douglas Fir. I made approximately 24 cuts before the battery died, suddenly and without a warning. The tool ran at full power until the very end, without a perceptible decrease in OPM.
By doing a little math, I figure that the Multi-X could cut about 120 in. of 3/4-in. Douglas fir, or run for about 7 minutes on a single charge. That might not seem like much, but to me it means that you can accomplish a lot with this tool on a full charge. Not too long ago, when I specialized in hanging doors, I frequently replaced entry jambs and casing. The Multi-X would have been handy for cutting back baseboard on all those jobs. I found that I could extend the life of the battery and blade by applying just enough pressure to make a cut, no more.
www.sonicrafter.com :: $120.00 to $180.00 (depending on the model ordered)
With three models to chose from ranging from $120 for the single speed model, to $180 for the 6 speed model, Rockwell’s Sonicrafter tempts the appetite of every contractor hungry for a fancy tool that helps get the job done easier, faster and often with a lot less clean up.
The top model has a muscular 250W of power, 6 speeds and 12-ft. cord for added convenience. There is wide selection of blades and accessories available for this tool, for everything from sanding to sawing to cutting nails and even pipes!
Sonicrafter’s blades feature a double hexagon hole design, similar to the one used on the Fein’s Supercut, but the Sonicrafter pattern is much smaller and the blades are not interchangeable with Fein blades. However, by design or by accident, Sonicrafter’s blades fit perfectly on the Multimaster 250 and 250Q, but the Multimaster blades do not fit on the Sonicrafter. In fact, the Sonicrafter is the only oscillating tool that won’t accept blades made by competitors or aftermarket suppliers at this time.
One word of warning: Sonicrafter blades are finished with a black coating that rubs off on the workpiece, which can be a problem if you’re cutting pre-finished material.
Multimaster 250Q Select :: $310.00 (without case)
Multimaster 250Q Top :: $400 (full kit with accessories and case)
Supercut :: $700-$800
The Fein Multimaster, the first and foremost of the oscillating tools, is used by far more professional contractors than any other multi-tasking tool—at least so far. At $310 for the least expensive model, the Fein can be a budget buster, especially with today’s economy. But if you believe that top-quality tools are a long-term investment, this is probably the tool for you.
The new 250Q model has a unique quick release mechanism that allows tool-free blade replacement. The 250Q also has a powerful 250W motor, 6 speeds, and a 12-ft. cord. This tool is designed for dust collection, and comes with a dust-port attachment. Multi-masters also accept a wide variety of blades and accessories. Not only that, but an aftermarket adapter allows the 250Q to use blades intended for the Supercut, too, which substantially increases blade choice.
Blades, blades, and more blades
In this article, I’ve placed a lot of emphasis on blades for good reason: many of the oscillating tools I tested had a similar power range, most were capable of performing the tests equally. But a lot of what makes one brand more desirable than the other is the quality, diversity, and cost of their blades. Without doubt, when it comes to blade designs and accessories, Fein leads the industry. But their blades are also among the most expensive.
Blades for oscillating tools have a wide range of quality and expense. The least expensive is Chicago’s 3-blade set which goes for $5.99 with two scrapers. Blades increase with expense and quality just as the tools themselves with Fein’s 1 3/8-in. E-cut blades for wood coming in at $42.75 for a 3-pack. In addition, aftermarket blades are available from a variety of sources online with quantity prices ranging as low as $13.00 ea. for high-quality blades.
Like any tool, cutting quality is influenced by blade quality. Thin blades tend to wander more; higher quality blades cut straight lines almost effortlessly.
Some of you are probably wondering why I’ve spent so much time talking about blades. Well, as one carpenter said recently on a website forum: “I’ve been thinking about buying an oscillating tool, but the blades are so freakin’ expensive I’m not sure I could afford to buy them after I buy the tool!”
Part of the trick to finding affordable blades is knowing which blades your saw can use, or adapting your saw so it can use a wider variety of blades. Here’s a collection of standard blades from the five manufactures mentioned in this article:
Getting the most from your blades
Blades are expensive, so use them carefully. Here are a few tips to prolong blade and tool life:
- Use the appropriate speed for the tool and the job. If you run the tool too slowly, the blade vibrates and doesn’t cut smoothly. Run the tool too fast and you wear out the blades more quickly than necessary. And remember, the life of the blade may suffer if you always run the tool at the highest speed.
- Choose the appropriate blade for the job. Get the right tooth configuration for the material you’re cutting, and the right number of teeth for the cut you’re hoping for (fine or rough).
- Swivel or rock the tool like a reciprocating saw as you cut, changing the angle as you advance so the blade is cutting the least amount of material.
- Let the blade do the cutting by applying only light to moderate pressure. Do not twist the blade in the workpiece.
- When cutting nails, apply minimal pressure and use as many teeth as possible.
- Like all cutting tools, never use a dull blade. Excessive force could result in blade breakage and injury or damage to the tool.
What’s an oscillating tool good for?
I tested all five tools in this review the same way, to see how fast they cut. They all cut at similar speeds, some a little slower because of OPM or faster because of stroke length. But speed isn’t the only important feature on a multi-function tool. Control is critical, especially for the wide uses these tools have, including cutting out old grout. Fein manufactures three blades for that job, two are made from carbide: one thick and one thin, which is better for controlling the blade in thin joints without damaging the tile! Fein also has a top-of-the-line diamond blade that outlasts and outcuts carbide.
Outlet cutouts in drywall and cabinets. When it comes to making cutouts in drywall and cabinets, a multi-function tool work the best. Hands down. A high-quality model, with little vibration, is easy to control, cuts quickly and precisely, with little dust.
Trimming back baseboard for new casing Carpenters struggle with this task almost daily, using dovetail saws, chisels, and utility knives. A multi-function tool makes quick work of this frustrating task.
Trimming Stucco. Though it’s not something you’d want to do regularly, there are blades available that make it easy to cut stucco, too, especially for an outlet or fixture cutout.
Removing old grout. If you’ve ever used a grout knife, you’ll know what a pain in the forearm they are. A mult-function tool is the best method for cleaning out old grout.
Detail sanding. Don’t forget! These tools aren’t just for cutting! They’re great for sanding interior surfaces, like drawers.
I’m pickin’ up (not so good) vibrations . . .
Oscillating tools are handy, there’s no doubt about it. But be careful when you use them for extended periods of time. Users have complained about serious discomfort in their arms and hands after long-term use. Several manufacturers include warnings in their instructions about repeated or long-term exposure to the vibrations that these tools create.
A little common sense goes a long way here. If you feel any physical symptoms related to vibration (such as tingling, numbness and white or blue fingers), stop using the tool and seek medical help if the condition persists after you’ve stopped using the tool.
Prolonged exposure to vibrations can impair your ability to feel how tightly you’re holding the tool. So always grip the tool as firmly as necessary to keep safe control of it. Another big help is to always use vibration-absorbing gloves while operating these tools.
Whenever possible hold the tool with both hands and secure the material being worked on to a work table or in a vise. Holding the tool with both hands decreases the need to grip it too tightly and improves control of the tool.
Read this article in its original format (with more images) at TiC Issue 2!
Al Constan is a former precision sheet metal worker with 19 years experience in the trade. Since retiring in the mid-1990s, Al has been a licensed home maintenance contractor, a fencing contractor, and until recently, he has specialized in hanging doors. Al currently owns and operates Multi-blades, manufacturing aftermarket blades for oscillating tools. His website is www.multiblades.com
For years I have wanted the multimaster tool; however, I felt it was too expensive.
One day I borrowed my friend’s new dremel tool and used it once and broke the blade so your comment about the quality of their blades is right on. I also notice that the blade comes off easy.
I was able to buy the Chicago version of the tool for only $29 because I used a coupon in Handyman Magazine. I feel the quality of the wood cutting blade in not so great. I have noticed that the body of the tool gets hot; however the blades stay on much better than the dremel. Since I have successfully used this tool 3 times It has more than paid for itself.
Great point, Al. If you’re not going to use a tool frequently (heavy-duty use), you don’t need a heavy-duty tool, so why pay for one? Sometimes, though, it’s a lot easier to use a higher-quality tool. In the case of Multi-tasking tools, the degree of vibration and heat build up definitely has an impact on cutting quality and the enjoyment you get while using the tool.
Thank you for your comment.
My statement that the Dremel and its blades are light duty does not imply that it is a poor quality tool. The Dremel and its small sized blades are meant for DIY’s who will be doing light duty work around the house or for anyone else doing light duty work. The blade that broke on you was probably doing more work than the blade was designed to handle. The same thing occurs with tools.
I have seen in numerous tests that not all tools can handle blades larger than the ones they were designed for. As a rule we should never use in a tool a blade that is much larger than the ones the manufacturer makes for that tool nor use a small size blade to perform a task that normally requires a larger size blade.
You seem to be happy with your inexpensive Chicago tool. Good for you!
Now remember that if the tool gets hot during normal use it must be because of the quality of the tool or because the tool is being asked to do more work than it can handle.
The Multimaster, the most expensive of all, hardly ever gets hot even when I am torture testing blades and I am pushing the tool to its limits. When I try other tools for the same tests they all get hot or just can not handle the test.
I think that many times tools are as good as the person using them, don’t force them to do more than what they can or were designed for and they will last you a long time.
Great review; finally someone included the Harbor Freight in with all the others. At our local store it seems to be 29.99 every time I go in. BTW they now offer a model with variable speed for around 45. At 30 or 45 dollars it can’t be beat.
I got the $30 one when it came out to replace an old Fein that I had been using. The old Fein didn’t have variable speed and it didn’t have a “keyed chuck” (???) to hold the blades so you were continually stopping to re-tighten the screw. I got tired of that so I spent the money to see if this was worth it. It is.
I hook it up thru an old variable speed router controller I had lying around and now I’ve got variable speed, too.
If it lasts a year then I got my money out of it, and if it dies I’ll probably get the new one with variable speed.
The other day I was playing with one of the 2 Chicago tools I own for testing purposes and it did a very decent job at cutting a section of hard oak.
The one I was using was the first one to come out, without the 4 pins in the arbor and the blade was coming lose no matter how hard I tightened the screw.
Then I tried the one with the pins in the arbor and the blade didn’t come lose.
These are inexpensive tools expected to be discarded when they breakdown because there is no repair service available for them like Fein or other manufacturers have for their tools.
That’s the drawback with the tools Harbor Freight sells.
Aside from that those cheap, throw away tools are a valuable alternative to the more expensive versions for those people who will use it sporadically.
We’ve been using the Dremel for a few months now with so-so results. Our ultimate need was for removing silicone caulk “window glaze” to replacing Andersen and WeatherShield glass seal failures. It has worked out well but the unit definitely gets too hot to handle and must be set aside to cool.
Additional uses have been slow to develop as they did with the original too small Dremel rotary tool.
We will purchase a Fein when we can afford to!
Great article! My company owns 4 Fein Multi-Masters. The Fein tool is a bit pricey, but we use them everyday on almost every job. We primarily use it when replacing casing, by cutting back baseboard. Its also great for cutting shoe mold. Sometimes its a bit dangerous cutting small shoe on miter saw, so we usually just cut it all with the fein. It also cuts copper pipe like butter. Just last week I was cutting out some damaged crown only to find the crown was hiding an “exposed” copper water line. Man did that water flow fast. The tool got soaked and still worked like a charm!
I am curious about the author’s after-market blades. I plan on ordering some assuming they are just as good as the Fein blades.
Personally I own the Dremel. Its great for the occasional user, but for a serious profession the Fein can’t be beat.
I bought the Bosch Multi-X a year ago with the intention of using it for all the great things that I used to borrow my father’s Multimaster for. It has really been an awesome tool for the money. After having it out to cut in an outlet on a job I figured I would use it to cut some shims as well. Best time / knuckle saver I have found recently as a finish carpenter. I never use my utility knife to cut shims anymore. Job after job it continues to be great and reliable for cutting shims on tons of doors, windows, extension jambs, built-ins etc… On top of all of the other great uses.
I’ve used all but the dremel. I held off on buying a Fien simply because they were so expensive. I’m the guy who usually bucks up and buys the best. I always end up regretting the purchase of a lesser quality tool when I replace it with the quality tool I should have bought in the first place.
With that being said, I found myself in a situation where I HAD to have a multi tool to perform a jamb cut in repair. I bought the Harbor Freight unit figuring if it got me through this one job it would be money well spent.
Well it was. I’ve used it a dozen times since and it has earned a spot in my ‘go-box’. And at $40, I can afford to replace it quite a few times before I get to the cost of the Fien, although I imagine I will step up the the Fien when the Harbor Freight tool dies, but I think thats just the tool snob in me. The harbor Frieght tool has been a pretty good performer, I reluctantly admit.
I don’t know if it’s too late to be commenting on this article but I have the HF version of this tool. I bought it as a test to see how much I’d use it and I find that I don’t use it every day but if it broke tomorrow I’d run out and get another.
The current job has involved a lot of detail sanding and this tool is getting a workout (as are my helpers)
I’d like to upgrade to a multi-speed (and higher speed) tool but not spend the $ on the Fein. The HARDIN AZ318-2 is selling on Ebay for under $70(sometimes) and they have a 250w motor like the Fein but only two speeds. They come with a 2yr warranty and I think they take most other blades.
Has anyone had a chance to check one of these out? As far as the corded models go, they seem to be a nice upgrade from the HF version without even approaching the Fein price. I can’t find any independent reviews of them online though they’ve been selling via Ebay for some time.
Harbor Freight has an upgraded version of their original tool like the one you have.
This upgraded tool has variable speeds and it costs about $60.
They also have a pneumatic version that costs about $49.
Al, I see the HF model now, thanks. I made a mistake with the Hardin tool; it has variable speeds. It looks like the Hardin speeds are a bit higher than the HF speeds (2400 vs 2000 opm) but it’s hard to see any other difference.
If I get either one, I’ll post back.
Moderator Question: Can I subscribe to this thread so that if anyone posts I’ll be notified?
We have been working to implement this function. Unfortunately some of the software presents glitches and problems for a few readers, so we have tried to keep things simple for everyone. I’ll see what I can do!
I purchased the Harbor Freight tool when it first came out and also purchased the 2 year warranty. I have returned a couple of them in the beginning. One the motor quit running and the other the mounting bolt could not be loosened. I am a Handyman and use the tool daily and could not imagine not having this tool. I do have 2 in the service van just in case one would give out on a job, but at about $30 each I can easily afford this cost of duplicates. The blades they include with the tool are not very durable, but if you purchase the higher quality blades they seem to work pretty well. I am going to try an purchase some after market fein blades because I find myself continually having to resharpen my old blades to get enough life out of them. Seen the video with after market blades being used to cut about 20+ nails and then still cut wood. That is the quality of blade I would like to have. Even the $8 Harbor Freight better blades do not perform anywhere near that good.
Also found that you need to keep the surface of the blade clean because when it gets material it creates friction and causes the blade to become very hot, which causes the blade to fail.
Also on the HF higher quality blades I have experienced that they seem to come apart between the blade other metal used to attach to tool. I think this is due to disimilar materials causing vibration fatique. The cheaper one piece blades do not have this problem…
I bought the dremel several months ago on sale and used it around the house quite happily until I was up on a ladder sanding loose paint off window trim and it quit. I probably overused it.
So I bought the Fein top for the next time I get up there and need a tool that won’t let me down. I have not used the Fein for anything serious but it’s my non expert opinion that the Fein comes from a different world. Just using it for trim jobs around my hobbyshop has left me very impressed.
I was in HD recently and spotted a Bosch kit that included their multi tool along with a drill and flashlight at 1/3 the regular price. Being an old fool with no common sense, I bought it and am impressed.
Even the Bosch sounds and feels better than the Dremel.
When the Bosh Multi task tool first came out in the market. I tested one at the Lowes near my house. I found it vibrates quite a bit compare to the Fein tool. I was amaze that Bosch would produce a tool like that. It does not match with their cooperate identity. I do not know if they have improve since than. Fein builds very good tools except their Random Orbital Sander which is too tall and vibration is consider too much to me. Fein build the best Multi Task Tools in the market.
MY Dremel just stopped working for no apparent reason. I have had it a while but it had not been used very much. I am looking to replace it probably with a diferrent mondel so the above article was very interesting. Has anyone tried the Craftsman Multi? Either cord or cordless and have an opinion on how it compares to the rest of the tool?
I bought the Dremel 6300 model when it came out, and it did all that I ask at the time. We were getting ready to remodel a bathroom and I knew that Dremel would not handle the task. I ordered the Fein 250Q Starter thru Amazon – what a world of difference. I contacted Bosch prior to purchase, I liked the 3amp they offered, but the Tech said they had no plans to move to a quick change system…..hello Fein!
Thanks for your thorough and impartial review.
Thanks Ron for your reply.
I am sure the Fein Multimaster is the best tool in the market and yours being the 250Q model, better yet.
And if you have some mechanical dexterity in the event that something breaks some time in the future there are sites on the internet that sell replacement parts for the MM directly to you.
Will this tool cut a corian counter top?? I need to enlarge the opening for a new stove.
Definitely not the right tool.