What is an Oscillating Tool? Uses and Buying Guide.

It is always nice to have a tool that can do multiple jobs; not only is it more efficient, but it also saves you the money and hassle of buying a separate tool for every little job. So, you might be delighted to learn that a lot of common household carpentry and home repair jobs can be done with a single tool; specifically, an oscillating multi-tool.
Oscillating Tool
In this comprehensive guide that I’ve complied, you will learn all about oscillating-multi tools, some of the many jobs they can do, and what to look for when buying an oscillating multi-tool.

What is an Oscillating Tool?

An oscillating multi-tool (also known as an oscillating saw, multi-tools, multi-function tools, or oscillating tools) is a power-tool that uses rapid oscillating movement to do an assortment of jobs; including, but not limited to, cutting, sanding, scraping, polishing, and grinding. The power tool can accept different types of blades such as cutting blades, scrapers, rasps, sanding pads, etc. The unique design of the tool enables it to reach and maneuver at tight spaces with ease.

How Does It work?

In an oscillating tool the blade moves or oscillates sideways (hence the name) at very highspeed ranging from 0 to 20,000 OCP. The high-speed side-to-side movement or oscillation looks like a vibration action. The angle of oscillation generally varies from 2 to 3 degrees.

How Oscillating multi-tool works.
How oscillating multi-tool works to cut wood.

Oscillating Multi-Tool Uses

Oscillating tools are highly useful for repair, home improvement, and DIY work. But that does not give you a good idea of just how much an oscillating multi-tool can accomplish.

So, let’s go over a list of common home repair jobs that the oscillating multi-tool can do.

Plunge Cuts

An oscillating saw is an ideal tool for doing a plunge cut. With other power tools like a jigsaw, you need to drill a starter hole for the blade to enter. With the oscillating tool, you can plunge into your decking and drywall easily.

You could cut a square opening on a drywall and gypsum board ceilings to install lights, switches and power outlets. All you need to do is mark the opening that you need and use an oscillating saw with a wood cutting blade to plunge cut the opening.

The other tool you can use to do plunge cutting is the reciprocating saw. However, they are heavy-duty tools suitable for demolition work.

Shorten door casings

Whenever you install a new floor, you may need to trim door casings and jambs so that your flooring will fit. An oscillating multi-tool will easily cut through door casings and jambs. Simply attach a wood cutting blade to the tool, then plunge cut straight through the casing.

Sand wood

Most oscillating multi-tools offer a huge variety of sanding attachments. Simply pick the sanding attachment that works best, and you can sand just about anything with your multi-tool.

Why sand with an oscillating tool?

You might be wondering why you should use an oscillating tool for sanding instead of a sander. Normally you would use a belt sander, random orbital sander or a palm sander to finish the woodwork. However, furniture often has hard to reach areas where these traditional sanders cannot reach. This is where an oscillating tool with a sanding pad shines.

Cut piping

If you pick the appropriate blade attachment, then you will be surprised to see just how quickly the tool can slice through old piping. The tool is not just limited to weak copper pipes either, it can cut through plastic and metal pipes with ease. Also, because oscillating multi-tools tend to be smaller, you can work in tight spaces and cut hard to reach pipes.

Trimming Bolts

How many times have you noticed a screw or bolt protruding out too much, but you can’t trim it off because your regular saw can’t reach there. An oscillating saw with a metal cutting blade is a plumber’s best option to trim the excess length of the bolts.

Removing paint

This is a really common household job, after all, no one likes seeing blistered or peeling paint on their walls. Thankfully, removing paint with an oscillating multi-tool is very easy. Simply attach the metal scraping attachment and then proceed to scrape away the paint.

Once you are done that, you can easily switch to a sanding attachment and then proceed to start smoothing out the surface.

Get rid of old grout

Getting rid of old tile grout is very simple with an oscillating multi-tool. All you have to do is get the blade attachment specifically meant for getting rid of grout, and you can get to work removing grout from tiles and walls.

The grout removal blades usually have carbide or diamond edges. These blades can penetrate through hard materials without producing excessive heat.

Mortar Removal

How do you remove mortar from a floor tile easily? Use an oscillating tool with carbide rasp to get rid-off the mortar, adhesive, and fillers from the tile.

The carbide-grit rasps are usually triangle-shaped and they work very well as a mortar grinder.

Corded vs Cordless Oscillating Saw

As with most power tools, oscillating multi-tools come in corded and cordless varieties. I’ll briefly go over the advantages and disadvantages of each to help you chose between corded and cordless.


Corded multi-tools are powered by a cord that plugs into an electrical outlet.


They are more powerful than their cordless counterparts (in most cases, the corded version of a power tool is more powerful than the cordless version). They are also a bit lighter because they are not weighed down by a heavy battery.


The downsides are the fact that you need to work near a power outlet, and your mobility will be limited by the cord. You can get around the cord issue by getting a more flexible rubber cord, as opposed to the stiff plastic cords that many power tools use.


Cordless tools are battery-powered devices.


The main advantage of using a cordless oscillating multi-tool is the ease of use. You can freely move around without having to worry about there being an outlet nearby; this gives you an extra level of freedom when doing a job.

The other advantage is the fact that there is no messy cord around your feet that you have to worry about.


The disadvantage of using a cordless multi-tool is that it has the additional weight of the battery and you have to charge the battery. This can be really annoying, because if you forget to charge the battery, it can die in the middle of a job, and that is really an inconvenience.

If you are going to get a cordless oscillating multi-tool, then get one with high battery life. Look for tools with lithium-ion batteries, they last longer and charge quicker (this applies to all power tools, not just multi-tools). Battery life on tools is measured in AH or Ampere hours. The higher the AH, the longer your battery will last before it needs to be recharged. Another solution is to get a spare battery. This way you can use one battery while the other battery charges; and if your battery dies, you can simply swap them out.

Cordless multi-tools are expensive when compared to the corded versions.

Which Version Should I buy?

There is no clear winner in the cordless versus corded match up; it all depends on what your needs are. I recommend you to go for a cordless model.

My reasoning is that since the purpose of a multi-tool is to do a lot of jobs with one tool and to reach tight spaces, you do not want to be constricted by their being an outlet nearby. Since you are going to be using the multi-tool all around the house, you want to have a lot of freedom of movement.

Buyers Guide

What are the features you should look for in an oscillating multi-tool? Here are the major once.

Power & Speed

These are the main things to look for when buying a multi-tool. Power and speed in multi-tools are measured in two ways.

The first is OPM or oscillations per minute. The higher the OPM, the higher the cutting speed. The second is volts or amps (depending on whether you are using a cordless or corded model); more voltage or more amps, equals more power.

Variable speeds

Another thing to keep an eye out for is the ability to change the speeds on your multi-tool. You never know when a job is going to require faster speeds or lower speeds.

Cutting through certain materials or sanding certain materials is easier at lower speeds (metal is an example of something you need to cut through at lower speeds), whereas certain other materials need to be cut at high speeds (wood is a good example of something that you should cut at the highest speed possible).

Oscillating Angle

This is another important specification that you should look for. The oscillating angle is the amount of angular distance the blade can move sideways. Depending on your power tool model, this angle will vary from 1.8 to 3.2 degrees. Higher the angle the more aggressive the tool will be.

Control vs Material Removal Rate

Now you will be tempted to go for an oscillating tool with the maximum oscillating angle. But there is a caveat. You will have more control over your tool with the higher angular movement of the blade. This means that an oscillating saw with 1.8 degrees is better for precise cutting than an oscillating multi-tool with 3.2-degree oscillating angle.

Which brand?

Most of the top power tools brands produce excellent multi-tools. Bosch and Makita have the most powerful models in the market. Dewalt and Milwaukee produce professional-grade oscillating multi-tool while Ryobi and Porter-Cable models are ideal for DIY and home improvement works.