Rotary Tools: Types, Uses and Safety

What is a rotary tool and what can you use it for?
A rotary tool is a versatile power tool that can be used for different kinds of projects. The most commonly known know rotary tool brand is Dremel. It’s basically a do-it-all kind of device that’s especially useful for light cutting, grinding, and cleaning task, making it one of the must-have tools in any toolbox.

Rotary Tool

What Is a Rotary Tool?

In simple terms, a rotary tool is a handheld fast-rotating motor connected to a spindle to which you can attach a tool bit. There is a wide range of accessories and attachments such as cutting wheels, sanding bits, and polishing tools, to tackle different tasks around the workplace.

Dremel 3000-1/25 Variable Speed Rotary Tool Kit- 1 Attachment and 25 Accessories- Grinder, Sander, Polisher, Router, and Engraver- Perfect for Routing, Metal Cutting, Wood Carving, and Polishing
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Although rotary tools come in different models and power levels, they all share the fact that they have to spin at very high speed to achieve the needed results. Most rotary tools spin at around 20,000 RPM, while some can go for up to 35,000 RPM. Considering their small size, it’s easy to see how these handheld tools can reach such high speeds without causing muscle fatigue and discomfort.

What distinguish the different types of rotary tools is the amount of torque that they can deliver, which means that there is a rotary tool for basically any task, be it a light or heavy duty one.

The design of rotary tools is quite simple. First, there’s the spindle, which is the part that spins because it’s connected to the motor. The spindle is usually threaded to accept the collet and the collet nut. The collet fits directly into the axis while the collet nut screws into it to keep everything in place and clamp the flanges down.

On the body, you’ll find your speed control, which can be a slider or a couple of buttons that you can use to adjust the speed depending on the project and material at hand. You’ll also find the power button, which is pretty self-explanatory when it comes to what it does.

Many tradesmen consider rotary tools a must-have in their arsenal due to the versatility, portability, and power they pack.

7 Uses of Rotary Tool

What is a rotary tool used for? As we mentioned above, rotary tools are pretty versatile, and using them for different applications is as simple as switching the attachment. Here are some of the best uses for rotary tools:

1. Grinding

By attaching a grinding attachment, such as bonded abrasive stones, you can use your rotary tool to create sharp edges or eliminate them. In other words, a rotary tool can come in handy when you’re trying to grind metal edges into submission, sharpen kitchen knives, shears, and scissors, or clean old, rusty tools.

2. Cutting

Rotary tools are especially useful for cutting because you can tackle both big and small projects.

How, you might ask?

Well, simply by

  • Using straight bits to cut wood, drywall, plasterboards or any kind of light material.
  • Using cutting wheels to part metal or trim plastic.
  • Utilizing carbide burr to do fine cuts on tough metals like steel

Did you know that rotary tools are the secret weapon of plumbers, which they use to cut through tough situations when repairing kitchen or bathroom faucets? Maybe it’s time you added it to your do-it-all tools as well.

When cutting small pieces of metal, I recommend using cutting oil on the surface to reduce heat and increase the efficiency of the carbide metal-cutting wheel.

3. Carving

Rotary tools are small, comfortable, and versatile, making them the perfect companion for your engraving or carving projects. There are attachments, such as carbide bits, for both wood and metal, which means that you can use your rotary tool to work on designs, frames, and any decorative project. Even carving pumpkins is a breeze with a rotary tool!

4. Glass Working

Are you an artist or hobbyist who love making glass curios? Using a diamond point wheel (diamond bits) you can do etching, carving and engraving on glass.

Do not attempt to cut or work on glass with regular bits. The glass will break and you might get injured.  Diamond cutting bits are tools made out of steel with diamond grits impregnated on it. They can cut and remove the glass without damaging the glasswork.

Tip Keep a glass of water next your working area. When carving glass the bits can get really hot and you need to cool it down. Dip your cutting bit in water often to keep the temperature of the tool in check.

If you are etching on a glass tumbler or jar, fill it with ice-cold water. This will prevent them cracking due to excessive heat.

5. Drilling Holes

You can get a variety of drill bits and router bits for rotary tools, with which you can drill holes in soft materials like wood and plastic. You can also use it to drill drywall and gypsum board ceilings.

However, I would recommend going for a proper drilling machine to drill holes in hardwood and metals.

6. Sanding

Although mainly designed for small, light tasks, rotary tools can be used for sanding if you only need to work on moldings or little details. Simply use a sanding attachment, be it a disc, band, flap wheel, or abrasive buff, and you’ll be able to get impressive results every time.

7. Polishing and Cleaning

With the right attachment, be it a wire brush, polishing point, or polishing wheel, you can use your rotary tool to clean a helluva lot of things, including silverware, jewelry, or old devices. Just apply some wax or polish to the buffing/polishing bit before turning the tool at medium speed, and any surface will become shinier than ever.

Of course, those are only the headlines of what rotary tools can do, and you can get as creative as you want when using one.

Do you need to

  • Sharpen your chainsaw’s chain? A rotary tool can do that.
  • Fix an old kitchen rack? Just load a wire brush into your rotary tool, and you’ll get it done in minutes.
  • Cut curves in the tiles of your bathroom? It’s as simple as loading a tile-cutting bit into a rotary tool.

The sky’s the limit here.

Types of Rotary Tools

Is a rotary tool the same as a Dremel? The short answer is yes. Dremel is one of the most popular brands of die grinders. Dremel also makes other power tools such as oscillating multi-tools. And there are brands other than Dremel that makes rotary tools.

What about die grinders? What is the difference between die grinder and a rotary tool? Yes. Die grinders are a type of rotary tools which is bigger and more powerful than Dremel. The Dremel rotary tools work on electricity whereas compressed air powers the die grinder. You can see the detailed comparison between die grinder vs Dremel here.

Pencil grinder which also works on compressed air or electricity also falls under this category. These are slim rotary tools that you can hold in your hand like a pencil. You can control the movement of this tool very precisely and hence is an excellent choice for carving details.

In short, there are 3 types of rotary tools.

  1. Die grinder: The biggest rotary tool that is used for tough jobs
  2. Dremel style tools: These are the most popular type.
  3. Pencil Grinders: Inexpensive pencil grinders are easy to handle.

Safety Precautions

Since they’re basically fast-spinning motors, rotary tools can be dangerous if mishandled. While not as dangerous as an angle grinder, these tools also spit off ultra-tiny particles when cutting, grinding, or sanding. These particles can be hot, sharp, or anything in between. That’s why you need to take some safety measures into account when using one.

  • Wear a face shield or safety glasses. The last thing you want is a tiny particle hitting one of your eyes.
  • Protect your ears by using earplugs or headphones as rotary tools can be pretty loud, especially when it comes to heavy-duty models such as die grinders.
  • Wear work gloves or any kind of skin protection to protect your hands and skin, especially if you’re working with fiberglass or other sharp materials.
  • If you have long hair, be sure to put it in a ponytail or, even better, a bun because you really don’t want your hair sticking to a Dremel while it’s spinning.
  • If you’re working on a material that can produce a lot of dust, we highly recommend tackling your project in a well-ventilated room or wearing a face mask.
  • Always turn on the tool before getting in contact with the material.
  • Don’t forget to turn off the tool and disconnect the plug from the power source or battery pack when you need to change the attachment.