ManMade Essential Toolbox: Why Every Workshop Needs a Great Oscillating Multi-Tool (and Which One to Buy)
Each week in 2015, ManMade is sharing our picks for the essential tools we think every creative guy and DIYer needs. We’ve selected useful, long-lasting tools to help you accomplish a variety of projects, solve problems, and live a hands-on lifestyle that allows you to interact with and make the things you use every day.
We’ve all heard: “I didn’t know I needed it until I got it.” It stands true for so many tools in my shop that streamline and tune up my jobs, but no tool has done more to make my life easier than the Oscillating Saw. Once you get your hands on one, I guarantee you’ll agree. I first used an oscillating saw when installing some hardwood floors at a friend’s house. If you’ve ever installed that some of that beautiful planking, you know how much of a pain trimming up door jams can be with hand tools. I got my hands on a loaner oscillating saw towards the end of the job, and after the butter smooth cuts with that little handheld wonder, I was completely sold. I went out the same day to get one myself.
The beauty that an oscillating saw provides lies in the small rapid movement of the post (about 20,000 oscillations, or back-and-forths, per minute) and the number of heads can be attached. With my mind simply on cutting, I bought a kit and was amazed at the variety of jobs this small workhorse can manage.
The most useful aspect of this tool, is that it can get into many areas that a normal saw just fails at. The low profile and ability to dive directly into a cut makes it ideal for small or cramped spaces. At the same time, a variety of blades and other attachments mean that it’s ideal for detail jobs like sanding, grout removal, and scraping. On my current project (building/rehabbing a cedar play structure) I’ve used it to cut stubborn screws, sand some tight corners, and cut a few slots for joints.
On other recent projects, I sliced through a rusted faucet pipe, cut a hole in the drywall and roof sheathing for a skylight, and used it to scrape and sand a wall prior to setting tile. With all those uses in mind, it’s no wonder that the tool touches just about every job that comes through the shop. It’s such a versatile tool that saves time, and effort while producing exceptionally precise cuts.
Most of the quality saws I’ve used are very similar in form and function. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Blades are expensive – The standard blade for wood and metal can go for up to $20. This adds up fast cutting metal, and harder woods. It’s important to pay attention to the mounting pattern on the hub, so you’re not locked into brand-specific blades. Most tools should have a standard pattern that allows for a generic compatibility, (it looks like a modified star pattern). This allows a huge range of blades to be available so pick up some cheap everyday blades and save your nice ones for dedicated cuts where they need to shine. Be sure to buy ’em in bulk to save cash.
2. The higher power (3 amp vs 2.5) makes a difference when pushing through tough cuts. For the most part cuts will be standard and easy with just about any quality oscillating saw, but if you plan on pushing through metal or cement on a regular basis the more powerful version is probably worth it.
3. Cordless is a toss-up. In my experience, paying more for a cordless option is great in the short term, but generally comes back as a problem down the road. Even high quality battery options wear out over time, and unless you have a situation where power is hard to find it’s a good bet to go with the cheaper, dependabl,e and powerful plug-in option.
4. Get a Kit. For the price, kits are always the way to go. Sure, you may not immediately use every piece and accessory in the box, but it’s always nice to have the options available as the need arises… like when its 10:30 at night and all the hardware stores are closed. I’ve used every piece of my kit over the past hundred projects, and then expanded on the collection as the project needed. But it was great to have all the pieces close-at-hand when I first got the tool to know what it could really do.