Oscillating tools (also known as multi function tools, or multi tools) are quite a recent addition to the power tool market and are incredibly versatile. They use small, rapid vibrations to power an assortment of accessories to cut, saw, grind, scrape, sand and polish a variety of materials.
Oscillating tools feature many different components, and having a sound understanding of these plays an important part in the purchasing process. Knowledge of these parts also aids in the efficient and effective use of the tool.
The power source is the component that provides the tool with electricity. On oscillating tools, this is done through a wired connection to a mains power supply. In Australia, oscillating tools operate off mains power (240V) through a 10A socket.
Cordless oscillating tools that are powered by a battery and a charger are also available and bear very similar features to those described below. They are generally not as powerful as their corded equivalents and require regular charging, but are usually considerably light in weight and have unmatched portability.
The switch allows the electricity from the power source to flow through the tool. An oscillating tool is activated by a sliding switch.
A sliding switch must be pushed forward to activate the tool. To disengage the machine, the switch must be slid back to its rest position.
Motors are the main component of all power tools, and are the component that converts the electricity into motion. The power that motors produce is measured in Watts. Motors used in corded oscillating tools are called AC motors (they are also known as universal or series motors). They will have an input power of between 180W and 250W, and weigh about 1.2kg.
Many manufacturers will state only the input power of the tool, as this is the larger and more impressive number. This value is actually just an indication of the demand a tool will place on a power outlet under normal operating conditions. The power output at the accessory, though, is significantly less than the input power. This is due to the efficiency of the tool’s internal components, and how power is transferred through the machine. Generally speaking, higher quality tools have greater efficiency and require less input power to produce the same power output. Therefore, although it is uncommon for most manufacturers to include a power output value, it is a much better way of comparing tools.
Also known as a gearbox, transmissions dictate the speed range (oscillations per minute, or opm) that an oscillating tool operates at, and the power it will produce.
These tools commonly produce anywhere between 11000opm and 21000opm. With each oscillation the blade only moves about 3°, allowing for precise work without kick-back.
This is a small numbered wheel on the top of the tool that allows you to preset a speed selection, gaining more control over the tool.
The blade clamp is the component of the oscillating tool that secures the blade in place.
On most oscillating tools, the blade clamp is made up of a circular row of notches and a hex drive bolt. The blade or attachment fits into the notches at any given angle, and the bolt is tightened with the supplied allen key to clamp it in place.
On more expensive models, the blade clamp is sometimes a keyless system, which enables a blade to be changed in seconds.
The housing of a power tool is the casing that protects the internal components.
Oscillating tools will have either a clamshell housing, or a jampot housing.
A clamshell housing is where the housing is manufactured in two plastic halves, and where these halves are fixed together around the internal components.
A jampot housing is where the internal components of the tool are inserted into the housing and then a lid (usually an alloy casing) is screwed down to seal it. This durable style of housing is generally used on high quality power tools, and is much more effective at keeping the internal components aligned and the power tool structurally sound.
The handle is the component of the tool that you hold one or two hands and is what you use to guide the tool along the cut.
Oscillating tools have a barrel grip handle, which gives you unrivalled control over the tool for use in many different applications.
The dust extraction port allows the connection of a dust extraction system (or vacuum cleaner) to control the removal of waste material.
There are many different types of accessories available, and each one has their own style, characteristics, and capabilities.
Some of the following accessories can become extremely hot after use, and it is therefore recommended you wear gloves when removing them. Always ensure the tool is disconnected from the power source prior to changing accessories. For more safety recommendations, click here.
Saw blades for oscillating tools are generally capable of cutting through plastics, fibreglass, plasterboard, wood, putty, aluminium, copper, and sheet metal up to 1mm thick. These capabilities do depend on what kind of steel the blade is made out of (high speed steel, high carbon steel, or bi-metal), and the style of teeth on it.
Saw blades are available in circular, segment, and plunge-cutting designs.
Scraper blades are thin, smooth, angled pieces of metal that can be used to remove silicone, stickers, adhesives (including tile adhesives), and carpet.
It is recommended you put a bit of petroleum jelly on the scraper blade if it is collecting too much adhesive during use.
Oscillating tools fitted with a diamond saw blade create far less dust than an angle grinder. When used over long periods of time, they do wear down very quickly.
If need be, use a wire brush to clean a diamond coated/carbide saw blade or rasp after use.
Oscillating tools can also utilise delta hook-and-loop (Velcro®) sanding pads. These are the same pads that are found on detail sanders. Using the correct hook-and-loop sanding sheets, they are capable of sanding a range of materials including wood and metal.
Polishing pads are also available. These also fit onto the delta hook-and-loop sanding pad, and can be used on chrome, stainless steel, aluminium, and copper.
The above accessory images remain the property of Fein.
When purchasing an oscillating tool, decide what features are most important to you (from the specifications above) and make sure these are included in your final purchase. The main considerations you should make include how much power you require, the size and weight of the tool, whether you need it to be cordless, and how often you will be using it.
An oscillating tool should be lightweight, comfortable to use, and have a high oscillation rate.
Manufacturers will either direct their products at the DIY or professional market. DIY tools are designed for home use and generally include plenty of features for a very modest price. They also tend to have very generous warranty periods, including replacement warranties. Professional tools are designed for commercial use and are built for durability, performance, and reliability. Their warranty periods tend to be much shorter than DIY tools, and are exclusively repair warranties. The main advantage of these tools is that they should well outlive their warranty period, and if they require repair and maintenance spare parts are readily available.
The price of any tool will depend on the quality, capabilities, and features of the model. Bear in mind that at least one of these three elements is commonly sacrificed by manufacturers to reduce the tool’s price and increase its sales. After all, price is the most important factor for consumers.
Oscillating tools can cost anywhere from $100 to $600.
It is important to bear in mind that the entire cost of any power tool is not just it’s initial purchase cost. Added costs can include accessories for the tool to function, maintenance, downtime, and replacement costs. Buying according to your requirements will help to keep these costs to a minimum.
Fein have researched oscillating technology for over 40 years, and have owned the patent for oscillating tools since. This patent has only recently run out, and a number of manufacturers are currently jumping on the oscillating tool bandwagon. These manufacturers include Bosch, Dremel, Rockwell, and Ozito.
The following tips will help to preserve the life of your oscillating tool, increase your efficiency, and most importantly, keep you safe.
- Move the tool from side to side with gentle and uniform forward pressure to ensure optimum working performance.
- Plunge cuts can only be performed in soft materials like wood and plasterboard.
- Always check your work for nails, screws and the like and ensure the accessory you have equipped is capable of cutting through them.
- When sanding, always apply gentle, uniform pressure to the sanding plate. This will ensure the velcro doesn’t wear out prematurely and that the desired finish is obtained. More pressure does not equate to more efficient sanding.
- If a sanding sheet has been used for metal, it should not be used again on other surfaces.
- When scraping, select a high oscillation rate and apply only light pressure at a very flat angle.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) must always be worn when operating power tools. For more information on PPE and power tool safety, click here.
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