Oscillating Multi-Tool vs. Rotary Tool (Dremel): Which to Use?

Oscillating Multi-Tool vs. Rotary Tool (Dremel): Which to Use?

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When it comes to woodworking, metalworking, masonry, and everything in between, two of the tools that you are very likely to run into are the oscillating multi-tool and the rotary tool, also often referred to as the Dremel.

Now, both of these tools do look quite similar, and yes, they can both perform many of the same tasks, but no, they are not the same thing. Let’s find out what exactly oscillating multi-tools and rotary tools are, what the differences between them are, and which one is best for your next big project.

Oscillating Multi-Tools and Rotary Tools: The Basics

Before we get into talking about the differences between oscillating multi-tools and rotary tools, let’s first figure out which both of them are.

What is an Oscillating Multi-Tool?

Oscillating Multi-Tool First is the oscillating multi-tool, which is often considered to be one of the most versatile power tools with the most applications around.

When it comes to its shape, it has a long and cylindrical body. It has a length of about 15 inches with a 90-degree bend at the front, which is where the head of the tool is. The head is where the various accessories and blades are attached. More or less, you can just imagine this tool having the shape of the letter L.

The head of the oscillating power tool features an oscillating motion, which means that it works by moving the tool head side to side very many times per minute, up to 20,000 times. It moves so fast that it looks more like a very rapid vibration than anything else.

The cool part about the oscillating multi-tools is that it can be used for a plethora of tasks, which is all thanks to the fact that they can accept many different attachments, and accessories. These can allow for sawing, grinding, cutting, polishing, and more, all with a single tool and a few attachments. These tools can be both battery powered and electric.

What is a Rotary Tool?

Rotary Tool What we want to say right off the bat is the fact that the word Dremel refers to the most popular brand of rotary tools. That said, it is often used interchangeably with the word rotary tool.

Ok, so a rotary tool is a small handheld power tool, one that does look similar to an oscillating multi-tool. It is a small handheld tool that features a rotary tip, or in other words, a tip that spins in a circular motion at very high speeds, a tip that can accept a wide variety of accessories and attachments.

What is interesting to note is that although the rotary tool and the oscillating multi-tool move in different ways, they can both accept many different attachments, and therefore perform many different jobs, many of the same ones in fact. However, as you are about to find out, there are some fundamental differences between them.

Oscillating Multi-Tool vs. Rotary Tool: What Are the Differences?

OK, so now that we know what both oscillating multi-tools and rotary tools are, let’s figure out what the main differences between them are.


One of the major differences between these two tools is of course the way in which they move. As we have mentioned above and also lading, multi-tool features an oscillating motion. That means its attachment moves back and forth up to 20,000 times per minute so fast that it almost seems like it’s vibrating.

On the other hand, a rotary tool or Dremel features a rotary or circular motion, which means that the tip spins in a circle around its own axis at very high speeds.

One of these tools moves back and forth at high speeds, and the other spins.

Dremel in Use

Speed and Attachment Size

Speaking of speed, what does need to be said here is that Dremels do move at far higher speeds, almost twice as fast as oscillating multi-tools on their highest settings. Oscillating multi-tools can move at up to 20,000 oscillations per minute, whereas a rotary tool can move at upwards of 35,000, or even close to 40,000 revolutions per minute.

Now, what is super interesting to note here is that due to the fact that the attachments that oscillating multi-tools can accept, specifically in terms of their size, they do make much quicker work out of various tasks than rotary tools.

Although an oscillating multi-tool moves much slower, the size of the attachments can often be two or three times the size of the attachments on Dremels, thus allowing you to cover more ground at once.

Size and Weight

The next major difference between these two tools is that oscillating multi-tools tend to be much larger and bulkier than rotary tools. Oscillating multi-tools tend to be well over a foot in length, sometimes as long as 18 inches and can weigh up to five pounds.

On the other, while you can also find large rotary tools, they do tend to be much smaller and lighter, generally about half the length and weight of oscillating multi-tools.

As you can guess, this does make the rotary tool the more portable of the two tools, and moreover, it does also mean that the rotary tool won’t cause as much fatigue. What does need to be said as well is that due to the much smaller size of it, the rotary tool is much better suited for tight spaces.

Oscillating Multi-Tool in Use

Precision and Ease of Use

What needs to be said here is that many people say that oscillating multi-tools are the much more user-friendly of the two, mainly because the accessories are larger, and therefore allow larger tasks to be completed with relatively good speed.

Yes, this is indeed true, an oscillating multi-tool is probably easier for newbies to use, particularly for larger jobs.

However, with all of that said, keep in mind that because a rotary tool is much smaller and more compact, and also has much smaller attachments, it’s the much better choice for small jobs that require precision.


In terms of the price, the difference between the two tools is negligible, although you can probably find entry-level rotary tools for a slightly lower price than entry-level oscillating multi-tools.

Accessories and Applications

The simple fact here is that both oscillating and rotary tools can handle many different attachments, and therefore perform a wide variety of jobs.

When it comes to oscillating multitools, they can be used to saw, grind, polish, cut, and scrape. However, a rotary tool is the more advanced in terms of functions, as it can do everything an oscillating multi-tool can do, and much more, including carving, routing, and cleaning.

What needs to be said however is that due to the larger size of the oscillating tool, it is much better suited for accurate sawing.


On a side note, due to the much smaller accessories that a Dremel uses, the tool does tend to produce a lot more airborne dust than oscillating multi-tools do.

Rotary Tool in Use

Which of the Two Should You Use?

If you are working on larger pieces, you need to work on a lot of material at once, and you need a tool that is ideal for accurate sawing, sanding, and polishing, then it is an oscillating multi-tool that you want.

On the other hand, if you need a small and lightweight tool that is ideal for precision work, and can perform basic sawing, sanding, and polishing, as well as carving, routing, cleaning, and more, then it is the rotary tool that you want.


The bottom line here is that while both tools might look quite similar, in essence, they are very different, and are designed to excel at different tasks.

How well your project turns out will in part depend on what tools you use, so choose wisely!

How Do Multi-Tools and Dremels Compare with Other Tools?

See how oscillating multi-tools compare with: angle grinders | jigsaws | reciprocating saws

See how Dremels (rotary tools) compare with: angle grinders | die grindersdrillsrouters