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Published Sep. 6, 2021

Whether you’re starting a new hobby, DIY project, or work with wood every day, rotary tools can help you get the job done. Generally compact and lightweight, with a rapidly spinning motor, they come with a wide variety of bits that can be attached, enabling users to sand, polish, engrave, carve, sharpen, grind, and drill different materials. They can be used on wood, metal, plastics, glass, and stone, and are known for their versatility and ease of use. 

There are many different power options for rotary tools. Some are intended for light-duty tasks in the home. Others are designed to be used at a workbench. Heavy-duty models are ideal for remodeling and construction jobs such as cutting holes for cabling or pipework. We’ve surveyed the market to help you learn about the versatility available from rotary tools and find the best models for you.

How We Picked These Products

Methodology

As a professional engineer and DIY enthusiast, I have owned several rotary tools and understand their capabilities. The following are the criteria I used in making my selections:

Ergonomics

How the tool is gripped can have a major impact on the ability to perform detailed tasks, and soon affects hand comfort. The tools I chose are either light and easy to maneuver or include a flex shaft.

Ease of Use

It’s common to change accessories often when using a rotary tool, so I paid attention to how this was done.

Adjustability

With one notable exception, all of the tools chosen have adjustable speed because some accessories work better when running relatively slowly, while others need to be rotating as fast as possible.

Brand and Value

Dremel is the undoubted market leader. They produce an extensive range of high-quality, durable tools. Milwaukee and Foredom also have well-earned reputations for quality manufacture. I also looked at a number of less well-known brands in order to find the best value for those who would only use a rotary tool occasionally.

The Best Rotary Tool: Reviews & Recommendations

Best Overall: Dremel 3000-1/25 Variable Speed Rotary Tool Kit

High Quality All-Rounder

This versatile, easy-to-use tool has benefited from the brand’s decades of refining the design. Dremel

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Why It Made The Cut: The Dremel 3000 combines excellent performance with easy handling, renowned reliability, and a useful 25-piece starter set. It’s a high-quality tool that will appeal to DIY and professional users.

Specs:

  • Power: 1.2 amp corded
  • Speed range: 5,000 to 35,000 rpm in 6 steps
  • Weight: 1.9 pounds
Pros: Cons: 
  • Rapid, tool-free bit changing
  • Premium price
  • Sealed ball bearing motor reduces heat and vibration
  • Speed adjustment is not fully variable
  • On/off switch retains the previous speed setting

  • Dremel introduced the world’s first hand-held rotary tool, originally called the Multitool, in the mid-1930s. Today’s Dremel 3000 is the culmination of those years of experience. It is based on the hugely popular Dremel 300, but has been upgraded in several key areas.

    At the front end, the Dremel 3000 features a new EZ Twist Nose Cap. Press the collet lock, turn the cap, and you have quick, tool-free bit changing. Fitting threaded accessories like router and cutter guides is equally simple.

    The tool’s body has also been made slimmer with a greater focus on ergonomics. Rubberized panels that Dremel calls the 360-degree grip zone provide a secure, comfortable hold in multiple positions. Weighing in at just 1.9 pounds, it’s easy to manage, though those doing really fine detailed work will still want to add a flexible (flex) shaft. The body also vents hot air which, in combination with ball-bearings, should prevent overheating.

    The motor offers speeds from 5,000 to 35,000 rpm, in six preset steps rather than being fully variable. Some might prefer the latter, but the six speed ranges don’t limit versatility in any way. It comes with a durable brush motor, as found in almost all corded tools, but with this model the brushes are user-replaceable when they do eventually wear.

    The Dremel 3000 can use any of the brand’s extensive range of bits and other accessories, and many from other manufacturers. A removable shield to protect the user from flying debris is included, though goggles or safety glasses should always be worn anyway.

    Best Value: WEN 2305 Rotary Tool Kit

    Comprehensive Yet Affordable Kit

    This easy-to-use kit provides great value for new and established crafters. WEN

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    Why It Made The Cut: The affordable price puts owning a rotary tool within anyone’s reach. The included accessories add up to a high-value package that’s ideal for DIY and craft enthusiasts.

    Specs:

    • Power: 1.0 amp corded
    • Speed range: 8,000 to 30,000 variable
    • Weight: 3.6 pounds
    Pros: Cons: 
  • Reputation for reliable performance
  • Not the most comfortable tool to hold
  • Includes 80 accessories and a flex shaft
  • Noticeable vibration at high speeds
  • Very competitive price

  • Buying budget tools can often be potluck. Sometimes you get a good one, but often they are unreliable. That’s not the case with the WEN 2305. The tremendous popularity of this model is not just a result of the remarkably low price, it is a tough and reliable tool too.

    The 1.0-amp motor is adequate rather than particularly powerful. It provides a wide speed range that is fully variable rather than stepped, which some users prefer. It comes with both 2.3mm and 3.2mm collets. The latter accepts ⅛-inch bits, which are those most widely available. Changing bits is done using a spindle lock and wrench, a common method on all but a few high-end rotary tools. The 80-piece accessory kit offers great versatility, capable of tackling all kinds of cutting, drilling, and polishing tasks around the home and garage.

    That said, the body moldings are basic, and the WEN 2305 can be awkward to hold in some positions. It has neither the grip or comfort of the Dremel, and is relatively heavy too. However, the included flex shaft provides precision when needed, and many users—particularly crafters —will make frequent use of this feature.

    Best Cordless:  Milwaukee 12V Cordless Rotary Tool

    Great Performance, Anywhere

    Battery power provides extra mobility with this cordless model. Milwaukee

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    Why It Made The Cut: The Milwaukee 12V cordless rotary tool is as powerful as anything in its class, making it a practical alternative to corded tools for both home and professional users.

    Specs:

    • Power: 12 volt cordless
    • Speed range: 5,000 to 32,000 variable
    • Weigh: 2.2 pounds (with battery)
    Pros: Cons: 
  • Lightweight and very portable
  • Expensive, and sold as a “bare tool” without battery or charger
  • Excellent for working in confined spaces
  • Short run time between charges
  • Comfortable to hold for extended periods
  • No accessories included
  • Cordless tools offer great freedom of movement, and the ability to work anywhere. This is particularly useful for DIY remodelers and tradespeople who may not have a convenient power outlet to plug into. The challenge is in finding a cordless that delivers sufficient performance to satisfy these kinds of power users.

    The Milwaukee cordless rotary tool uses 12V batteries. That’s the same kind of power found in popular mid-range drill drivers. It means the Milwaukee can compete on level terms with most corded models. It’s also light, with a streamlined body design that makes for good grip regardless of position. The collet is ⅛-inch, and bit changing is the usual combination of spindle lock and wrench.

    There are a couple of negatives. This device is sold as a “bare tool,” which can mean savings for those who already own compatible batteries. However, both battery and charger need to be ordered if you don’t. Run time is typically an hour at most, but can be half that with heavy use. That makes a spare battery something of a necessity for professional users, and that means more cost. Whether you feel it’s worth the investment will largely depend on your budget, and intended uses for the tool.

    Best Light-Duty: Dremel Lite 7760 N/10 4V Li-Ion Cordless Rotary Tool

    Portable Helping Hand

    Battery power provides extra mobility with this cordless model. Dremel Store

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    Why It Made The Cut: The compact size, lightweight, and cordless convenience make the Dremel Lite the perfect tool for small DIY jobs, or to keep in the car or RV toolkit.

    Specs:

    • Power: 4 volt cordless
    • Speed range: 8,000 to 25,000 in 4 steps
    • Weight: 1.3 pounds
    Pros: Cons: 
  • Compact and comfortable, even for small hands
  • Modest performance
  • Can be charged via USB
  • Relatively small range of accessories included
  • ComfortaDremel’s most affordable rotary tool

  • The modest performance offered by the 4V Dremel Lite might put some people off. It’s certainly not a rotary tool for power users. It is a compact, lightweight model that’s great to have in a drawer at home, or in a small toolkit that you keep in the car or RV. The Dremel Light is designed for sharpening garden shears, light-duty polishing, and sanding. It’s the kind of tool that homeowners find dozens of uses for and soon wonder how they did without it. It’s also popular with vehicle mechanics because it can reach easily into cramped spaces.

    It shares many features with the other quality tools on the Dremel range. It has the 360-degree grip, and the EZ Twist Nose for tool-free bit changing. The collet is ⅛-inch, so it takes all Dremel accessories. The 4-step speed range gives good versatility.

    Keep in mind, though, that its run time is an hour or less. There is a useful LED to warn of low charge. Recharging takes 2 hours 45 minutes—USB is relatively slow. However, it does mean that you can charge via a car’s internal DC power socket, or using a portable power pack.

    Best For Craft Enthusiasts: Foredom K.5240 Woodcarving Kit

    Created for Crafting

    Designed to allow for forward and backward motion that’s ideal for woodworkers. Foredom

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    Why It Made The Cut: Perfectly capable of the tasks other rotary tools are used for, the Foredom also provides the precision and control demanded by woodcarvers, engravers, modelers, and other craft enthusiasts.

    Specs:

    • Power: 1/6 horsepower (approx. 1.7 amps)
    • Speed range: 0 to 18,000 variable
    • Weight: 11.5 pounds
    Pros: Cons: 
  • Durable, high-performance motor
  • Expensive
  • Foot pedal for speed control
  • Limited portability
  • Includes 3 DVD wood carving tutorials

  • The Foredom is unlike most rotary tools in that there isn’t a hand-held unit as such. The powerful motor is designed to rest on, or be hung above, a workbench. It then drives a flex shaft. Users control the speed with a foot pedal. This leaves both hands free to hold the workpiece and tool. The user doesn’t need to stop work to make adjustments.

    The flex shaft handpiece has a standard 1/8-inch collet, so it can take all the accessories that other rotary tools use. A 1/4-inch collet is also provided for larger bits. The drawback with the Foredom is its limited portability. On the other hand, those who need to carry out accurate work at a bench will benefit from high power and great control. 

    The Foredom is not a general-purpose tool, but has long been the number-one choice among crafters. Wood carvers who use a rotary tool often use grinding and sanding burrs. The Foredom comes with an additional hand piece that converts the rotary action into axial motion (forward and back). In combination with specially designed chisel bits, this allows a more natural carving action.

    Best Heavy-Duty: DeWalt 5 Amp Rotary Saw

    Powerful and Productive

    Powerful enough to hold its own on any job site. DEWALT

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    Why It Made The Cut: The DeWalt rotary saw is a specialist tool that’s invaluable for pipework, trunking, and cable installation in extensions, remodels or new builds.

    Specs:

    • Power: 5 amp corded
    • Speed range: 30,000 rpm, single-speed
    • Weight: 3.5 pounds.
    Pros: Cons: 
  • The most powerful rotary tool available
  • Limited flexibility
  • Rapid cutting through a variety of materials
  • Renowned DeWalt reliability

  • The Dewalt rotary saw is a specialist tool with two functions: drilling or cutting. That might sound limiting, but while it doesn’t have the flexibility of other rotary tools, this powerful tool nevertheless is tough enough for job site use.

    The DeWalt takes spiral bits which, depending on their construction, can cut wood, plywood, drywall, tile, and even soft metals like aluminum and brass. The spiral design means it can be used in any direction. So while people often use it to cut round holes for pipework or cabling, this rotary saw can also cut irregular shapes.

    The impressive 5-amp motor provides ample power for these tasks. The round body is easy to hold, though could perhaps benefit from rubberized areas to improve grip. Despite only having one speed, vibration is kept to a minimum and never gets uncomfortable. The tool is also reasonably quiet, though the material being sawed can have a big impact on noise levels. And switches are sealed to reduce the chances of dust getting inside and causing damage.

    Things to Consider When Buying Rotary Tools

    Most rotary tools look similar, so it’s important to study the specification in order to get the right balance of performance and value. The following are key elements in choosing the right machine for your needs.

    Corded or Cordless

    The big advantage of a corded rotary tool is the consistent power delivery. Cord length is usually 6 to 10 feet, which is often enough for bench work, though an extension cable may be required in other places.

    That said, having a cord can be a little restrictive when doing detailed work or in tight spaces. A cordless rotary tool offers the freedom to go anywhere. However, run time can be as little as a half hour, and recharging takes at least the same time. Buying a spare battery is an obvious solution, but adds to the cost. Cordless rotary tools tend to be around 20 percent more expensive than a comparable corded model.

    Power output

    Corded rotary tools are rated in amps, whereas cordless rotary tools are rated in volts. Unfortunately we can’t make direct power comparisons because amps is the current the motor needs, and volts is the energy provided by the battery.

    Many corded rotary tools are around 1 to 1.5 amps, which is perfectly sufficient. Heavy-duty models can be as high as 5 amps. Cordless models run from 4V to 12V. A 4V model would be a light-duty tool for household tasks, whereas the 12V version would rival the performance of corded tools.

    When choosing a cordless rotary tool it’s worth checking the Amp hours (Ah) of the battery. A 4.0Ah battery, for example, will run twice as long as a 2.0Ah model. If you plan to use your cordless rotary tool for extended use, it’s a good idea to choose the highest Ah available if buying a spare.

    Speed

    The speed range of a rotary tool can be anywhere from 5,000 rpm to 35,000 rpm. A few have a single, fixed speed, but most are variable. This allows speed to be matched to the task, and the material being worked with. Sanding wood, for example, is normally done at the lower end of the speed range. Polishing brass would be in the middle. Engraving stone at the upper end. Rotary tool manufacturers usually supply speed guides to help new users get accustomed to their tool.

    Accessories

    There are hundreds of different accessories available for rotary tools that allow for sanding, polishing, sharpening, cutting, and more. Most of these are consumable. Many rotary tools come with a “starter set”—an assortment that allows the potential of the tool to be explored. Some makers don’t provide any, so extra cost will be involved. Others offer anywhere from 20 to 100 pieces. With budget rotary tools these may not be of particularly good quality, and it’s usually worth purchasing better alternatives when they wear out.

    A flexible shaft is a valuable inclusion with some rotary tools. These have a pen-type grip which makes it easier to work on fine detail. They are popular with carvers and engravers.

    FAQs

    Q: Can you use a rotary tool to drill?

    You can, and it’s a very useful tool for drilling small, precise holes. However, the collet will only grip a limited range of drill sizes. A micro chuck can be added, which does increase the range a little, but it will still be quite restricted. A lightweight 12V cordless drill/driver is probably a better tool for drilling.

    Q: Can a rotary tool be used as a screwdriver?

    No. There are several reasons:
    – ⅛-inch collets are too small to accept screwdriver bits.
    – Many rotary tools have relatively low torque, insufficient to drive screws into most materials.
    – Even at its slowest, a rotary tool’s rotation is too fast to drive a screw. It would be almost impossible to control.

    Q: How deep can a rotary tool cut?

    It depends on the type of rotary tool and the accessory used. ⅛-inch-collet models usually have a maximum of ⅜ inch or ½ inch. DeWalt’s rotary saw has a maximum depth of 1 ½ inch. Bear in mind cut-off wheels wear away as they cut, so the maximum depth slowly reduces.

    Q: Do rotary tool accessories fit all rotary tools?

    Not necessarily. While many are interchangeable, it’s important to check the shank diameter, and therefore the collet they will fit. Most accessories are ⅛-inch, but on heavy-duty models they might be ¼-inch. There are also metric sizes. Adapters may be available but it’s not always the case.

    Final Thoughts

    Whether you’re looking to start woodworking or looking for a professional tool, there are plenty of rotary tools out there to suit your project.  The Dremel 3000 is a powerful, ergonomic tool that comes with a kit of accessories that have real value, rather than containing items that are just there to bulk out the numbers. It is at the premium end of the price range, but those who use a rotary tool regularly will find it an investment worth making. It can also be bought as a kit with Dremel’s excellent flex shaft. The WEN 2305 is a great value package for those who would like a rotary tool, but perhaps won’t use one often. And the other rotary tools in this list are great options for DIYers and professional tradespeople alike.

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