The Pro’s Guide to Rotary Tools

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Do you think a rotary tool only has a place in the home workshop? Learn why a rotary tool deserves its place on the jobsite.

Far from the hobby tools you may have thought them to be, rotary tools have several professional applications that can make your job easier by complementing, or even replacing, several other tools you probably already own. Rotary tools can cut, sand, drill, grind, carve and clean almost any building material, and they can do it with a degree of precision, and in tighter spaces, than most other tools. Discover how a rotary tool can give you a professional edge, and why it deserves a place in your toolbox.

Do Rotary Tools Belong on the Job site?

Rotary tools used to only be available with low-powered motors that were only suitable for small-scale projects and soft materials. However, the latest generation of these tools have significantly greater power and speed outputs than their predecessors, making them capable of working on some of the toughest building materials found on the average job site. So the answer is, yes.

A pro-grade rotary tool will have a variable speed adjustment between 5,000 and 35,000 RPMs, allowing you to control the power depending on whether you are working on harder or softer materials, and whether you need to be aggressive or detailed. Their compact size also makes rotary tools capable of accessing and maneuvering in confined spaces in which other tools can’t operate.

Depending on the bit you attach to the tool, you can cut through hardwood, softwood, drywall, aluminum, steel, plastic, brick, tile and concrete. There are also several attachments you can use with a rotary tool that maximizes its job site functionality, like a router table and routing base, right-angle attachments, cutting guides, drill press stands and more.

Who Needs a Rotary Tool?

Rotary tools can be used in practically any trade, and their applications are only limited by your imagination. Some examples for each trade include:

  • Carpenters can sand inside tight corners and around complex curves more effectively and conveniently than with most other sanders, and a rotary tool can be used in place of bulky routers when installing door hardware or profiling sharp wood edges.
  • Electricians can cut through plastic and metal conduit in tight spaces, cut through drywall to install outlets and junction boxes (instead of using a hand-held drywall saw) and grind rust from metal surfaces to create solid ground connections.
  • Plumbers can cut copper, PEX and PVC pipe in tight spaces, quickly and easily deburr the ends of cut pipes, cut off pipe clamps without damaging the underlying pipe and remove mineral deposits from fittings without relying on manual force or damaging the fittings.
  • Tilesetters can cut ceramic, porcelain and clay tiles without having to use a grinder, circular saw with diamond tip blade or tabletop tile saw. They can also plunge-cut into tiles for drains, and remove small sections of grout easily and with precision.

Best Rotary Tools for Pros

  • Best Corded. The Dremel 4000 rotary tool comes equipped with all the features a pro needs to tackle the toughest jobs. It features a variable-speed motor that allows the user to control the power from 5,000 to 35,000 RPMs for working on hard and soft materials, and it comes with bits for cutting, sanding and grinding. Also included is a cutting guide attachment, grinding guide attachment, and edge cutting attachment. All of these features are housed in a durable case so you can safely transport and store your rotary tool around the job site.
  • Best Cordless. When you don’t want to hassle with a power cord, the Dremel 8220 cordless rotary tool offers portability and power in a single package. Although not as powerful as some corded models, this rotary tool features a 12-volt motor and a variable-speed output that ranges between 5,000 and 30,000 RPMs. It only takes one hour to fully charge and can run for up to five hours depending on the RPM selection and the torque applied to the bit being used. It comes with a cutting guide attachment, 28 bits, a plastic bit case and a durable carrying case.

Best Rotary Tool Bits for Pros

Having the right bits for your rotary tool is essential because they will largely determine the type of material you can work on. Some of the most common types of bits include:

  • Cut-off wheels, mandrels and spiral plunge-cutting bits for cutting.
  • General-purpose, high-speed steel (HSS) and diamond coated drill bits for drilling.
  • Sanding bands, discs and shanks for sanding.
  • Round and pointed, shanked and shankless, abrasive wheels for grinding.
  • General-purpose, HSS and diamond needles and cutters for grinding
  • Brushes, flap wheels, round and pointed felt wheels and cloth wheels for cleaning and polishing.

In addition to individual bits, you can also purchase kits that includes an assortment of bits. Whether you get individual bits or a full kit, you should ensure that you’re properly equipped with the bits for the type of work you will be performing most.

James Fitzgerald
James Fitzgerald is a handyman and freelance home-improvement writer with a passion for DIY, gardening, and anything involving working with his hands. He has over a decade of professional experience in a variety of trades, including construction, tree work, landscaping, and general maintenance. When not in search of the next enticing DIY project, he may be cooking, lifting weights, riding his motorcycle, hiking out at the coast, or nose deep in a great book.