Why you Want a Rotary Tool

Whirlwind Romance

Why you want a rotary tool

It might just be the most versatile piece in the workshop: the rotary tool. Cutting, polishing, engraving, sanding and shaping are all possible with these high-speed, hand-held wonders; they're truly the Swiss army knives of small power tools-and we love 'em!

Available both corded and cordless, their myriad attachments let you perform detail work on wood, metal, plastic, even glass. Although they won't replace every tool in the shed, these tools are very powerful and can do hundreds of jobs that larger tools can't. It's one of the reasons these tools are often given as gifts to do-it-yourselfers of any level, the ultra-crafty, or anyone looking for a new way to express their creative flair!

The Basics

Rotary tools are divided into two classes: basic rotary tools and cut-out tools. Cut out tools have larger motors and thus, are a bit heavier in weight and harder to control. They are meant to cut through a wide variety of building materials with ease and are much more powerful with motors averaging between 3 to 5 amps in size.

Basic rotary tools are used mainly for detail work such as engraving, shaping, cutting, smoothing, etc. Basic rotary tools have smaller motors (usually around 1 amp in size) which allows for greater control and flexibility.

Because of the wide variety of uses of a basic rotary tool, they are more popular among many do-it-yourselfers than cut-off tools--but if you can afford both, go for it!

A Long List of Functions?

Because most basic rotary tools work with dozens of different attachments, their functionality becomes almost endless. They can polish metal, engrave designs, cut and shape wood, plastic and fiberglass, sand and etch, just to name a few primary uses! A rotary tool can also be used for things your never thought possible, such as cleaning your barbeque or sharpening your chainsaw.

Safety Check! Remember to always use safety glasses when using a rotary tool. Small flecks of glass, metal, wood, etc., are more prone to fly off at high speeds.

Some of the more common uses include removing rust and polishing things like door handles, faucets, and other objects that have lost their luster. You can even polish jewelry, though it's important to be extremely gentle as the tool is powerful and your old watch may be fragile. Always make absolutely sure you are using the right attachment to avoid scratching the object you're working on.

As a saw, a rotary tool can be a great companion when installing baseboards, wainscoting or crown molding. Stubborn screws and nails that won't yield no matter now hard you pull can be cut away, using a metal cutting attachment.

The etching attachment allows you to literally engrave anything you want into most materials. For example, you might want to identify which tools are yours by engraving your name in the handle so there will never be any confusion should you lend out your favorite drill to a neighbor!

Most rotary tool models have variable speeds. The speed will be determined by the particular attachment as well as the material you're working with (glass, metal, wood, etc.). Your owner's manual should provide a list of which attachments and which speed settings are appropriate with each material.

Be creative and use your imagination; you will be happily surprised by the number of uses you will find for your rotary tool. When considering which specific rotary tool to purchase, study the feature set amongst different models. Most manufacturers will provide a long list of uses, attachments, and available options for specific models.

Details, details?

The one thing we absolutely love about a rotary tool is all the detail work it can do. Carving or sanding small pieces of wood, making holes for electrical outlets, or even engraving some of your furniture is all within the rotary tool's grasp. There are even some rotary tools that are designed specifically for intricate detailing and are as ergonomic and easy to use as a pen.

Other uses for a rotary tool include: cutting pipe, marble, tile, removing grout, old paint, and sharpening garden tools!

Makes and Models

The most popular rotary tool is the Dremel, named after its inventor, Albert Dremel. The Dremel company essentially created the rotary tool market and has been around since 1932. Their latest corded model is the 400 XPR, which weighs a little more than a pound and starts at about $80. The tool can be paired with a host of kits that are chosen depending on your own personal do-it-yourself needs. (More about attachments later?)

Dremel also makes a cordless variety, the 8000-01, powered by a lithium-ion battery. This 10.8-volt tool only weighs 14 ounces and boasts speeds as fast as the cordless models, though the power will not be as hefty as the corded model. The price tag is set at roughly $80, before attachments, of which there are 150!

Dremel is pretty much the king of the basic rotary tool. But there are a wide variety of major tool manufacturers that have rotary cut out tools, so shop around. As with any tool, test the weight and ergonomics to get a feel for it first. Hold it up for a few seconds, to test its weight, maneuver it about, and otherwise check to see if it is comfortable. Once you find the one you want, you can wait for a store sale, or try to find one online.

Jane Tip: You might consider purchasing a used or "factory refurbished" unit through Ebay or Craigslist.com. Just find the make and model that suits your needs and then shop around.

Get Attached

For the most part, most attachment kits have a little of everything, but some are more focused on cutting or polishing. If you opt for a kit with just a few attachments, you can always buy more later if you need them. You'll probably find that you go through attachments pieces quickly, for example, the sanding pads will get run down, etc. This is normal wear and tear and such bits are easily and inexpensively replaced.

Jane Tip: Don't buy cheap attachments! They're more likely snap off mid-task, ultimately damaging your project.

Now for The Need to Know Stuff?

When using any kind of power tool or electricity, there are certain precautions to take.

Again, always wear safety glasses to avoid any emergency trips to the optometrist. Though it is a durable tool, some of the attachments can be fragile, so don't use too much force. (Think of what happens when you press too hard on a pencil!) And finally, always unplug the rotary tool before changing out the attachments. Actually, this rule can be universally applied to all tools with interchangeable parts!

All You Needed to Know (Almost)

Got all that? A rotary tool cuts, grinds, sands, etches...the list goes on for days. Call it a miracle tool; we call it a must-have. Not only will you be able to do practically anything, you will be able to achieve it almost anywhere. Part of the fun of owning a rotary tool is discovering its myriad uses, so go at it and let us know what you find!

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