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Rotary tools: indispensable and versatile

Rotary tools are small devices equipped with a high-speed motor to which attachments are fitted to accomplish such tasks as sharpening, sanding, drilling, cutting, polishing, engraving and grinding… These amazingly versatile tools are indispensable, both at home and at the workshop.

Rotary saw vs rotary tool

At first glance, a rotary saw and a rotary tool appear to be quite similar, but their purposes are rather different.
A rotary tool is capable of accomplishing a wide range of different tasks, thanks to the impressive variety of attachments available. Its 1.5-A motor is perfect for hobby and craft work, do-it-yourself projects, carving, detail sanding and many other light jobs around the home (e.g., for indoor maintenance and outdoor maintenance). It can also handle more demanding tasks on occasion, such as cutting nails with the addition of a small grinder, or cutting out drywall. This tool can even be used as a rotary saw on occasion.
A rotary saw, also known as a spiral saw, is a specialized tool designed to cut wood, plastic, ceramic, drywall and other thin materials with precision. Unlike a jigsaw blade, which cuts in a single direction only, the rotary saw bit allows for multidirectional cuts.
For more heavy-duty and frequent cut-out work on materials such as plywood or drywall, the rotary saw is the ideal tool.
  • Dremel rotary tool

Anatomy of a rotary tool

Certain features may not be available on all models.
1- Bit
The various bits enable you to perform a multitude of tasks, such as cutting, sanding, planing and many more. The recognized brands offer a wider selection of attachments and long-term availability and regularly introduce new accessories to the market.
2- Chuck
The chuck contains a collet (or jaw) that closes when the chuck is tightened, holding the bit in place. Collets come in different diameters to hold various bit shank sizes.
3- Spindle Lock Button
The spindle lock button prevents the shaft from rotating during bit or collet changes.
4- Motor
Rotary tools typically have a 1.5-A motor, which is powerful enough to accomplish most light-duty tasks and even occasionally more demanding jobs.
Look for a motor with replaceable brushes, to extend the life of the tool. To protect the motor, always start the tool on a low speed and increase gradually, rather than switching on at a high speed.
5- On/Off Switch
Switch to start or stop the motor.
6- Variable Speed Dial
The numbers on the dial usually indicate the various speed levels possible, but some models show the revolutions per minute (RPM). Some devices have a small liquid-crystal screen displaying the speed or RPM. Variable-speed tools can range from 5,000 to 35,000 RPM, enabling the user to perform a wide variety of tasks. Set the tool on a high speed to carve wood or cut metal, or on a low speed to cut plastic or do polishing work.
Weight and Portability
Small and light, rotary tools can be held in one hand, much like holding a pen. For intensive or lengthy jobs, a corded model is recommended. A cordless model is handy for lighter applications such as handicrafts and occasional jobs around the home.
  • Components and parts

The right tool for the job

Rotary tools can be used for many different applications, even for cutting holes in drywall panels (though this would take longer than using a rotary saw).

Rotary tools can also be used for a number of other tasks:

  • Engraving on wood or metal
  • Cutting wood dowels
  • Cutting holes in plywood
  • Cutting holes in thin pieces of wood and fibreglass
  • Drilling metal
  • Polishing metals, stones, jewellery…and even fingernails!
  • Sanding the sharp edges of metals and cut glass
  • Sharpening (knives, axes, lawn mower blades, scissors, shovels, etc.)
  • Grinding glass surfaces
  • Stripping paint from wood and metal surfaces (on small objects or in hard-to-reach places)
  • Shaping wood, metal and other materials

Accessories

When buying a rotary tool for the first time, choose a kit with a storage/carrying case and several basic accessories. These will allow you to perform a range of general tasks and give you an idea of the tool's capabilities. Here are some of the most practical attachments and accessories, which increase the versatility of the tool.

Must-haves

  • Assortment of bits for grinding, polishing, sanding and cutting

Nice to have

  • Circle cutter attachment to make perfect circles
  • Flexible (flex) shaft
  • Router-type bits
  • Cutting guide and spiral drill bit for conversion to a rotary saw
  • Handles to hold the tool like a jigsaw or router

Suggested products

See all rotary tools