Q&A / 

Electric Multitool Buying Tips

DEAR TIM: I’m anxious to get started on several projects now that spring is here. I have my eye on one of the electric oscillating multitools. I wonder if you’ve used one and can comment on what to consider when selecting one. My biggest fear is I purchase one that won’t perform well or do what I expect it to do. What are the practical limitations of these magical tools in your opinion? Brenda S., Weeki Wachee, FL

DEAR BRENDA: I’ve owned and used electric multitools for years. I’ve had the pleasure of testing several different brands and can tell you most of them work very well and they make quick work of some projects that used to take a very long time. I feel lucky to have this tool in my arsenal of power tools and you’ll be amazed at how you got along this long without one! Pay attention to warranties when you look at these tools.

You’re very wise to recognize that the tools do have limitations. That can be said for any tool. For example, you could use a 16-pound sledge hammer to break up a 2-foot-thick slab of airport runway, or you could use a massive hydraulic powered hammer on the end of a huge trackhoe. Both tools will do the job, but the hand-held hammer will take you weeks to do what the other tool will do in minutes.

Here’s an electric multitool that can cut or sand wood, grind grout, cut metal, etc. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

Here’s an electric multitool that can cut or sand wood, grind grout, cut metal, etc. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

The electric multitools work much like clippers in a barbershop. The tools vibrate back and forth very quickly, thousands of times per minute, in very short strokes. When you equip the end of the tool with small cutting, sanding, grinding, polishing, etc. accessories, you can instantly see how the tool can do lots of detailed work in a short amount of time.

The tools come both corded and cordless. Both have their pros and cons. The corded tools will run constantly as long as you have power in the outlet, however you’ll have to use an extension cord if you want to use the tool far away from a wall outlet. The cordless multitools can be taken anywhere, but the lithium-ion batteries will run out in just an hour or two - or less - of continuous use. If you have to recharge the battery partway through a job, that can be irritating.

I’m attracted to the multitools because of their precision. With a small amount of practice you can do very detailed cutting and grinding with these magic tools. The first time I used one, I had to make a very precise cut into a piece of chair rail on a wall in a bathroom. The profiled edge of the marble vanity top as well as the marble backsplash abutted the chair rail. Using the correct accessory blade and good lighting, I was able to make perfect curved cuts into the chair rail molding. What might have taken an hour with a small wood chisel, I was able to achieve with the multitool in about five minutes.

Recently a subscriber of mine emailed me about how he purchased a small rotary saw tool and proceeded to burn it up in about 20 minutes. After asking him what he did, it was obvious he was expecting too much from the tool. My advice to you is to have a firm understanding of what an electric multitool can and shouldn’t do.

For example, if you intend to sand a small part of a project that’s got some tight corners, a multitool is a perfect tool for this job. But I’d never expect a multitool to be used to sand a large flat tabletop. Use a belt sander or larger oscillating half-sheet sander for the wide-open areas.

I think an electric multitool is perfect to grind out sections of ceramic tile grout, but I’d never expect it to do an entire floor the size of a basketball court. I’d use my multitool with a metal-cutting blade to cut off the ends of several half-inch diameter bolts, but I’d never expect it to cut off pieces of half-inch rebar all day at a construction site.

You’ll be amazed at how your new multitool will allow you to cut off the bottoms of door trim and door jambs if you need to install new flooring under them. Not too long ago this was a tough task with a hand-powered saw. The micro wood-cutting blades with small teeth make these cuts look like they were done with a surgeon’s scalpel.

To get the full grasp of what these amazing tools can do, just look at pages of the accessories that attach to the tools. When you see the variety of these accessories, you’ll then understand you can use the tool to help you do many jobs that you’ve probably put off because it hurt your brain to think how much work it would be to do by hand.

You can watch an informative video showing a new corded electric multitool and some of the accessories that attach to the tool. These tools allow you to dramatically increase your productivity and do tasks that used to be quite difficult to do by hand. Watch this video now:

http://go.askthebuilder.com/multitool

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