What Is A Rotary Tool? – A Simple Guide

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A rotary tool might seem like a strange name for a tool since the main function of so many tools is rotation. Drills rotate, die grinder rotate, even mix masters have rotation as their main function. So what exactly are we talking about when we say that a tool is a rotary tool.

A rotary tool is a small handheld tool with a rotating spindle. A bit is attached to the spindle which rotates at a rate of 5000 to 35000 RPMs. Different bits are used depending on the task. The main uses of a rotary tool are light tasks like sanding, polishing, grinding, sharpening, cutting different materials, engraving, and more.

A rotary tool is a very versatile tool with so many different purposes and uses and I think everyone should have one in their tool kit. Let’s get to know the rotary tool and all the different things it can be used for.

What Is A Rotary Tool?

Rotary Tools And Bits
Rotary Tools And Bits

A rotary tool is a handheld tool with a rotational shaft that spins quickly and uses different bits and attachments for different tasks

A rotary tool can be any tool where the main function is its rotational power. So it can be anything from a die grinder to an angle grinder to a Dremel. But when people are talking about rotary tools, they are usually talking about the small handheld Dremel-like rotary tools that are used for a wide variety of tasks.

The image above shows a rotary tool. More specifically it is one of the flagship rotary tools from the Dremel Brand, the Dremel 4000.

A rotary tool usually has a speed dial where you can choose how fast the shaft will spin, rotary tools have an RPM range between 5000 and 35000 RPMs.

Rotary tools can be corded and cordless. I find the corded rotary tools the most useful because you do not have to worry about the battery running out.

Rotary tools are mainly used for lighter tasks that do not require too much power or torque from the tool. Surface work is good examples, like sanding, removing surface rust, or deburring a metal edge. I will explain more about the uses further down in the article.

A rotary tool can also do “some” heavy work, like cutting stainless steel. But the tool is limited to the cutting of smaller pieces of hard materials because of the lack of power and the small size of its bits/cutting discs.

Rotary tools come in many different sizes and the power of the different rotary tools will also vary. You can get small rotary tools for lighter tasks and DIY uses, and you can get bigger and more heavy-duty rotary tools if you need the extra power.

Here are three different rotary tools in different, sizes, shapes, and for slightly different uses:

Dremel Stylo+Dremel 4000 Wen 23114
Weight (ounces)7.220.822.4
AMP0.51.6 1.4
Used ForDIY, CraftsDIY, Cutting, Heavier WorkDIY, Cutting, Heavier work
RPM5000 – 220005000 – 350008000 – 35000

Bits And Collets

Rotary Tool Bits And Collets
Rotary Tool Bits And Collets

A Dremel uses collets to secure the different bits of the tool. We use different sizes of collets for bits with different shank sizes. The collets come in four sizes. 1/32-inches (0.8mm), 1/16-inches (1.6mm), 3/32-inches (2.4mm) and 1/8-inches (3.2mm).

When the collet nut is tightened, the collet will clamp and secure the bits that are inserted into the collet.

Bits are what we use to perform the different tasks we can do with a Dremel. There is a wide variety of bits for rotary tools, you can even make your own.

You will find bits for sanding wood, grinding metal, engraving glass, carving wood, cleaning, removing rust, cutting different materials, and so much more.

Want to learn more about the different bits for rotary tools: Check Out This Article!

Main Uses Of A Rotary Tool

A rotary tool can probably have an infinite amount of uses, you can even use them to trim dog nails

Uses Of A Rotary Tool
Uses Of A Rotary Tool

Here are some of the main uses of a rotary tool:

Sanding – A rotary tool can be used for sanding a wide variety of materials. But sanding bands and discs are mainly used for sanding wood.

Engraving – A rotary tool can be used for engraving materials like glass, metal, stones, and wood. Fine diamond bits are the bits mainly used for engraving.

Cutting Metal – A rotary tool can easily cut through thin pieces of metal, but it will have a harder time cutting thicker pieces of metal. Normal-sized bolts and screws can be cut by a rotary tool. Cutting discs of different sizes and qualities are used for cutting metal with a rotary tool.

Cutting Wood – A rotary tool can cut through wood with little effort. There are several attachments and bits the user can utilize for cutting wood. A great example is the Wood Cutting Disc #EZ544 that the Dremel company produces.

Sharpening – A rotary tool can be used for sharpening anything from chainsaws, to knives, to scissors, to shears, and garden tools. Different grinding stones are used for this task.

Grinding/Deburring – A rotary tool is great for deburring and grinding sharp metal edges after a cut. Different grinding stones are used for this task.

Cleaning – A rotary tool can be used for cleaning many different substances. A good example can be hard spots that are hard to reach with a rag in the shower and needs some extra power to be removed. We use a wide variety of steel and silicone brushes for this task.

Routing – A rotary tool can actually become your own little mini router, this is mainly used for wood. You can use attachments like the plunge router or the cutting guide depending on which type of routing you want to do.

DIY/Crafts – A rotary tool is a must-have for any kind of DIY’er or crafter. It can cut, shape, and decorate most materials. A great rotary tool for DIY’ers is the Dremel Stylo+.

Drilling – A rotary tool can be used for drilling tiny holes in wood, plastic, and metal. The small size of the rotary tool gives you the ability to drill precise tiny holes.

Polishing – A rotary can be used for anything that needs to be polished to a smooth shine. Many jewelry makers actually use rotary tools for finishing oof and polishing their jewelry to a shine.

Many Different Attachments

A rotary tool is designed so it can be used with many different attachments. An attachment is an addon and a piece of equipment for your rotary tool that is designed and used for more specific tasks. This increases the uses and usefulness of your rotary tool.

Here are three attachments for rotary tools that I find really useful:

Quick Change Chuck

The quick-change chuck gives you the ability to change bits without worrying about collet sizes.

Flex Shaft

The flex shaft is an extended handle for the rotary tool that is easier to control, lighter, and better for detailed work.

Cutting Guide

The cutting guide gives you the ability to cut more accurately and use the rotary tool as a router.

Wanna Learn More About Rotary Tool Attachments: Check out this article I made!

The Dremel Brand

Dremel is the leading brand when it comes to making rotary tools. The Dremel rotary tools are actually so popular that people are using the word Dremel when referring to rotary tools of other brands as well.

So when someone mentions a Dremel, they are probably talking about the rotary tool. And it does not have to be made by the Dremel brand.

Dremel makes several different rotary tools for different purposes, some are small for DIY work, some are larger and more powerful for heavier work, and some are cordless and useful when you don’t have an electrical socket nearby.

Dremel also makes other tools like oscillating tools, scroll saws, 3d printers, and more.

Is A Rotary Tool The Same As A Drill?

Even though the main function of a drill and a rotary tool is rotation, they are very different in use. A rotary tool is meant to be used for light work, it has little torque and has a high rpm. A drill is meant to be powerful enough to drive in screws and for drilling, it has a large amount of torque and operates at a low rpm.

A Drill does not have RPMs to do the tasks of a rotary tool effectively.

A rotary tool does not have the torque or motor power to do the tasks of a drill effectively.

More About The Difference Between A Drill And A Rotary Tool! Check This Article!

Is A Die Grinder A Rotary Tool?

A Die Grinder is technically a rotary tool. But since die grinder tools have a name, we use their names when talking about them. The main function of a die grinder is to rotate and has many of the same uses as conventional Dremel-like rotary tools. The die grinders are just more powerful.

Is A Rotary Tool The Same As A Dremel?

Most rotary tools can be referred to as a Dremel. And most people would understand that language. But a rotary tool is not technically the same as a Dremel. Dremel is a brand that produces many different types of tools like scrolls saws, 3d printers, saws, rotary tools, and more. But the rotary tools made by the Dremel brand have become so popular that a Dremel has become the term that people use when talking about rotary tools.

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