No tool deserves a permanent place in your home more than a rotary tool. It’s a one stop wonder for a wide array of functions from carving wood and cutting tile to cleaning grout and even trimming your dog’s nails. To learn what a rotary tool can do for you, consider these buying tips and expert reviews.
What is a rotary tool?
A rotary tool is a small, handheld power tool that like a drill, uses bits to perform specific tasks. Unlike a drill, however, it’s much more versatile and can tackle any job you would otherwise have to do with a drawer full of single-use manual hand tools.
Powered by small electric motor, it turns a shaft at a blazing 5,000 to 35,000 RPM and when a bit is attached, it’s ready to do detailed work on metal, wood, ceramic or plastic with precision control. Popular applications include:
- Polishing gemstones
- Carving wood
- Shaping tile
- Sharpening blades
- Buffing metal
- Etching glass
- Deburring tools
With the right accessories and features, the sky’s the limit.
Rotary Tool Features
All rotary tools basically work the same way. The contrast between models comes down to features and the number and types of accessories it can use. Here’s what you need to look for.
Rotary tools range in speed from an average of 5,000 to 55,000 RPM. Not all materials and applications are suited to the same speed, so the wider the range of speed settings, the more versatile a rotary tool is.
Cordless versus Corded
Cordless rotary tools are convenient and can run for up to an hour on a single charge, but they’re heavier due to the integrated battery and offer significantly less power, even with speeds similar to corded styles.
Plug-in models are more powerful and produce enough torque to handle tough jobs, but they keep you tethered to a cord. Since both styles have their advantages, it’s not uncommon one of each. Cord lengths vary, so measure the distance of your workbench to the nearest outlet and check the specs before buying.
Collets and Chucks
The collet on a rotary tool holds bits in place. They’re strong and precise, but are not particularly adjustable and must be changed each time you want to use a bit with a different shank size.
An adjustable keyless chuck, however, can be used as an adapter. It fits in the collet and accepts bits of nearly any shank size, allowing quick, tool-less changes between jobs.
The drawback is that chucks don’t exert as much holding pressure around the bit shank as a collet. This increases the changes that the bit could wobble after extended, high-speed use, requiring occasional retightening.
Not all rotary tools manufacturers offer adjustable chucks, but some are compatible other brands. Before buying, it’s important to know exactly what you’ll want your tool to do and choose a model that accommodates the attachments and bit sizes you need.
Bits and Attachments
Bits are often interchangeable between brands as long as the shank size is the same, but major attachments like chucks, flexible shafts, cutting guides, and hands-free workstation frames are usually proprietary. Check carefully for compatibility between brands to ensure needed attachments are available.
Here’s a breakdown of the important features on ten top rotary tools to get you started.
Dremel is the king of rotary tools and for good reason. This variable speed model offers the highest performance and most versatility of any model in their lineup. Its reinforced motor features first-of-its-kind feedback circuitry to automatically adapt the speed and power of the tool, while the ergonomically shaped body offers a precise grip at any angle.
What makes this kit an exceptional value is the six major attachments and 50 accessories it includes. If you’re looking to upgrade, this is a perfect choice because it it’s compatible with every attachment and accessory Dremel makes.
– Fast and accurate for cutting and carving
– Intuitive feedback control offers unprecedented precision
– Knowledgeable and attentive customer support
– Keyless chuck must be purchased separately
2. Hitachi GP10DL Cordless 12-Volt Peak Lithium-Ion Variable Speed Rotary Tool with 40-Piece Accessory Set
The Hitachi cordless rotary tool has all the essential features needed to work on a variety of materials and projects. The variable speed motor runs between 5,000-35,000 RMP and its lithium batteries offer up to an hour of run time on a single charge.
What sets this unit apart is the balance of the tool in your hand. Cordless models tend to be heavier because of the integrated battery, but this model comes in at just 1.06 pounds and features proprietary anti-vibration technology that keeps it running smoothly, even at high speeds.
With a few value-added features like a built-in LED light, a low-battery indicator and an industry-leading lifetime warranty on the tool, this Hitachi can handle all the basics competently and at a budget-friendly price.
– 10-year warranty on the battery
– Charges in just 40 minutes
– Includes a comprehensive accessory package
– Less insulation makes it hot to hold with extended use at high speeds
– Compatible with only 50% of Dremel bits
This cordless variable speed Gyros rotary tool is a solid competitor in a brand name market. The variable speed motor churns out an impressive 8,000 to 35,000 RMP and it comes with the most popular attachments and 85 accessories.
It’s a little heavier than other models, however, and some of the plastic components, including the collar around the collet that’s supposed to make bit changes easier, are prone to cracking. While the manufacturer claims it’s compatible with Dremel bits, it only accepts about half of them, not including the keyless chuck.
– Includes flexshaft and cutting guide
– Integrated light makes work more visible
– Full 5-year warranty
– Lowest speed may be too high for working with some materials like soft plastics
– Cheap housing materials aren’t up to par with the rest of the unit
4. Tacklife RTD35ACL Variable Speed Advanced Multi-functional Rotary Tool Kit with 80 Accessories and 4 Attachments
Tacklife’s initial offering is ideal for the entry-level user. The included pistol-style grip gives it a familiar, drill-like feel and the accessory package includes multiple attachments and an impressive 80-piece bit set.
For a budget-friendly tool, the variable speeds are an unexpected surprise, but the range is limited to 10,000-32,000 RMP and it may not offer optimal precision. For occasional use, it’s tough to beat.
– Includes a flexshaft and cutting guide
– Familiar feel is comfortable for first-time users
– Limited variable speed
– Short two-year warranty
5. Dremel 4300-9/64 High Performance Rotary Tool Kit with Universal 3-Jaw Chuck, 9 Attachments and 64 Accessories
Dremel took customer feedback seriously when they designed this first-of-its-kind rotary tool that allows fully tool-less, collet-less accessory changes when the optional three-jaw chuck is attached.
Like the Dremel 4000, it features a wide range of variable speeds and adaptive feedback circuitry, as well as a slightly more powerful motor with ball-bearing construction and a redesigned airflow system that keeps it cool, extending the life of the motor.
For exacting tasks, the multi-directional pivot light keeps work well-lit at any angle and the ergonomic grip makes it a pleasure to use. With a host of potential attachments and hard-sided carry case, this corded tool is ready for serious work.
– Cool running motor improves tool life
– Comprehensive accessory and attachment package
– Short two-year warranty
– Some users report kit was delivered with missing accessories
Powered by a 12V, 1.5 AH lithium battery, this cordless rotary tool is comfortable to hold and can do most jobs with a single charge. The variable speed motor runs in a range from 0-22000 RPM, giving it low-speed control, but without a true high-speed option. A quick-stop button that puts the brake on the shaft and brings the tool to a stop is a plus, but it’s awkward to use.
The kit comes with 70 essential accessories and a mid-quality storage case, but lacks popular attachments like a flexshaft and replacement batteries are not yet available. This is an around-the house tool only.
– Cordless convenience
– Versatile accessory package
– Works with Dremel bits
– No popular attachments included
– Replacement batteries not yet available
This corded Dewalt rotary tool is geared for the serious do-it-yourselfer or professional contractor and has features specially designed for cutting drywall. Its 5.0 Amp, 30,000 RPM motor provides ample cutting power and features a protective, dust-sealed switch.
A tool-less bit changing system with both 1/8 and ¼ inch collets makes quick work of small jobs and a bump-off switch turns the tool off with one-hand, but what sets this tool apart from the rest is professional-grade power that can cut tile and plywood like butter.
What’s disappointing, however, is the lack of attachments that make its function more like a jigsaw than a true rotary tool.
– High-powered motor with tons of torque
– Dual collets and tool-less bit changes
– Dust-sealed switch improves motor life
– No attachments or case included
– Disappointing 1-year warranty
Black and Decker has upped their game and made a solid rotary tool for homeowners with user-friendly features. The three-speed motor lacks a low-speed, but boasts competent power and surprising torque.
For aging fingers, the exclusive Flip-Lock spindle system allows quick bit changes without the need for manual dexterity on par with opening child-proof bottles.
The only disappointment is the lack of attachments and accessories. The universal collet system accepts bits from other brands, but may not be compatible with the most sought-after attachments.
– High-torque motor that doesn’t bog down
– Easy bit changes
– Motor limited to three speeds
– Short two-year warranty
This 12V cordless Dremel features quality construction and a high-performance motor for tough applications. The variable speed motor covers a range from 5,000-33,000 RMP and the lithium-ion battery holds a charge for a third longer than previous models.
Like other Dremel tools, it has a quick collet lock for fast accessory changes and can be used with their complete line of bits and attachments, but the kit is limited to 28 accessories and a case.
– Extended battery life
– High-torque motor
– Small accessory package
This Milwaukee lithium-Ion rotary tool offers cordless convenience with plug-in power. The variable-speed motor runs from 5,000-32,000 RPM and the battery life is stunning. The collet is compatible with all 1/32 and-1/8-inch accessories and accepts all Dremel bits.
It’s a bare tool only, so leave room in the budget for accessories including a battery, but if you need raw power, this is your tool.
– Heavy-duty, long-life motor
– Precision speed control
– Battery and accessories are costly and not included
Whether you’re a home hobbyist or a construction pro, a rotary tool is the perfect value-added helper for jobs of any size.
For the committed do-it-yourselfer, the Dremel 4300-9/64 High Performance Rotary Tool is an absolute workhorse. With the right combination of attachments and accessories, it’s ready to rumble right out of the box. It’s not a budget tool, but over the long haul, it costs less than buying attachments separately.
For occasional around the house jobs at a budget-friendly price, the low-profile Hitachi GP10DL Cordless 12-Volt Peak Lithium-Ion Variable Speed Rotary Tool offers big-brand capability with 40 essential bits plus an unbeatable lifetime warranty.
If you’re a professional, consider the Milwaukee 2460-20 M12 12-Volt Rotary Tool. It’s cordless convenience with true plug-in power.
There’s a rotary tool made for every budget, but buy big if you can. The money you’ll save by doing small repair jobs around the house with a highly versatile tool will help it pay for itself while guaranteeing expandability.