Rotary tools have a lot of uses for home improvement—whether you're a casual user or a serious tradesperson. For tasks that are delicate or close-up, it's common to use a rotary tool to cut, polish, and carve. Many people even use them to trim their pet's nails. An ideal rotary tool will combine a powerful motor, compact size, and light weight with a wide variety of high-quality accessories and attachments.
To find the best, we put a well-rounded group of rotary tools from popular brands and different price ranges through a battery of tests to give us a good idea of what kind of versatility and capability you can expect.
Although the Dremel 3000 2/28 didn’t score on the top of this list, we think it deserves to be called our best overall because it's powerful and very versatile. It's a smart kit that seems to anticipate your needs and includes the features and accessories you're going to need before you know you know you need them. And it's all packed into a durable, well-designed case. Included with the Dremel 3000 2/28 are an assortment of attachments for sanding, grinding, polishing, and cutting. The quality of the tool, the kit, and the accessories are top-notch. Everything has been well thought out, from the way tools are changed, to the design of the tool itself, with a continuously variable speed control that's easy to reach while in use, not to mention the deep universe of accessories and attachments for a lot of versatility. It's sized just right and seems to be designed with input from experienced users.
The Dremel 3000 is easy to handle. Its 1.2 amp motor has enough power to do just about any small task like carving, cutting, grinding, or polishing. Matching the attachment to the work will get you the best results. None of these tools were all that happy cutting shapes out of our thick piece of birch plywood using a spiral bit, though the Dremel put in one of the best showings for that test. The motor brushes are replaceable, which will extend the life of the tool, and Dremel stands behind its rotary tool with a two year warranty.
Touted as the most powerful tool in its class, the Black & Decker RTX packs a 2-amp three-speed motor. This little orange unit didn't shy away from the tough stuff like cutting the letter "E" or a circle out of plywood, or even drilling into cinderblock. The design has thoughtful touches and it comes with a storage bag and five accessories.. Instead of fumbling about with a button and collet wrench, its shaft lock is a lever, leaving both hands free for tool changes. The collet itself was a tight fit with tools, which made it hard to separate the two when it came time to change. That should improve with some wear, but it led to some frustration during testing. It's easy to take the RTX to work, though.
Despite its big motor power, the RTX is compact, so it's easy to transport and it'll fit into some pretty tight spots. The Black & Decker RTX is easy to get around with and the cord is long enough that it doesn't limit your movement. The speed selection knob at the back of the tool body is a little awkward to adjust during use, and the maximum speed is still fast at 30,000 rpm, but not the highest in the test. The storage bag is less durable than the cases other tools come with, but the tool itself is backed by a two year warranty. The RTX is a good option for most people.. It would be nice if it came with more tools or accessories, but its low price leaves plenty of room in the budget for getting what you need separately.
Take everything we said about the Dremel 3000 and apply it to this cordless version. It’s amazing what you can get 12 volts to do when other cordless tools pack 20 volts or more. Easier carving, etching, or sanding tests were no problem, but the lower voltage provided by the compact battery made us question this tool's ability to stand up to our most challenging cutting tasks, but it rose to meet the challenge. While it may seem pricier than some of the other options, the Dremel 8220 N/30H is a comprehensive kit.
You get a nice case, the tool itself, a 12V MAX lithium-ion battery, charger, and selection of accessories. It's useful out-of-the-box, with no hidden additional purchases for battery or charger required, unlike some of the other options we tested. Without a cord, the Dremel 8220 is also exceptionally portable and versatile. And there didn't seem to be a performance penalty for choosing the cordless tool, either.
You get the same 5000-35000 rpm speed range as our overall winner and it feels just as strong with a fully-charged battery. The performance holds up under most loads, but you’re limited by how long the battery holds out. That said, additional batteries are available to keep you working. You'll pay more for a cordless rotary tool that can keep up with a corded model, but the Dremel 8220 is a high performer and a good value in kit form.
I'm Dan. I own a 120-plus year old house and am stubborn enough to DIY as much as I can. That means I'm familiar with a lot of tools and my experience helps me figure out what's worthwhile and what's a gimmick. I've spent decades building and fixing, from cars in the driveway, to plumbing in the basement, and recently a glass tile backsplash in the kitchen. I hope my experienced do-it-yourselfer perspective is helpful for you when you're trying to choose between the vast array of options out there.
To find the strengths of each of our assembled tools, we tested in two phases. First, we tried some close-up work like carving a design into a piece of wood and sanding down the edges of a plank. We also used the rotary tools to polish up some tarnished metal and de-burr (grinding smooth) the edges of a newly cut piece of sheet metal. We switched from the mandrels and polishing pads to a spiral cutting bit and traced and cut out an "E" from a 3/8" piece of birch plywood. The 3/8" thickness and different orientation of the layers were a tougher challenge than something lighter, like lauan, which all of these tools would easily power through. A soft wood like pine would also be a less difficult task, though the challenge there is to find the right speed for the tool so you don't scorch your work with an overheated bit.
For the second phase of our test, we cut circles out of the same piece of birch plywood, etched designs into glass, and drilled into cinder blocks. With the right bits, some tests, such as drilling into cinder blocks, were surprisingly easy. You may have trouble getting through mortar or cement, but something like old brick is softer than you'd think. These tasks, from the small stuff to the big challenges tested the full range of these tools power and ease-of-handling. For continuous cutting, like our "E," your best bet is a corded model to avoid abusing batteries or running out of a charge before you finish the task. We found a surprising amount of similarity in design and performance among several of the tools, as well as stand out showings from our winners.
What is a Rotary Tool?
A rotary tool spins at a high fixed or variable speed, and can be used for detailed work such as cutting, polishing, engraving, and even carving. You can use them with drill bits and there are some accessories available to turn rotary tools into a sort of miniature drill press. There are many accessories and bits, and swapping accessories and attachments is easy and quick.
Most rotary tools fit in the palm of your hand, and the latest cordless rotary tools are highly portable, but usually less powerful than any you'd plug in. That will change as batteries and motors keep improving, and one of our top picks was a battery model with impressive performance.
Are Rotary Tools and Rotary Drills the same?
Rotary tools have a lot of uses, from fine miniature details to speeding up a wallboard installation. A rotary tool isn't the same thing as a rotary drill or rotary hammer, two terms you may come across while searching for one of these. Those are lower-speed, heavier-duty devices for different jobs including general carpentry and construction, masonry, and demolition.
Rotary Tool Accessories
The wide range of tools and attachments available to accessorize a rotary tool can make your head spin. Every tool we tried at least came with abrasive cutting discs. These are miniature versions of the bigger cut-off wheels used on angle grinders, and they'll chew through wood, metal, or plastic material. Grinding attachments in a variety of shapes – conical, spherical, round, etc – are useful to sharpen things such as shears, lawn mower blades, or other metal shaping tasks. There are small wire brushes and soft polishing pads, too, for making things shiny. Small drill bits, often made out of very hard material such as carbide are used for precise work in a variety of materials including metals, tough composites and plastics. Stone and diamond grit tools can cut and shape glass and some rock, and are available in a wide array of shapes and sizes. Spiral, or "Rotozip" (after the tool that originally made them popular) bits are used for cutting. We used some on our wood cutting tests, and drywall installers keep them handy to quickly trim pieces around electrical boxes or other detail cuts. We even found a carbide bit for cleaning away grout for a kitchen tile installation happening at the same time as our testing.
The attachments further adapt a rotary tool's set of capabilities. There are cutting guides that set a fixed depth-especially handy when cutting sheet materials. Guides make it easy to use the tool as a router, along the edge of a piece of material, or cut a perfect circle several inches in diameter. Flex shafts allow a user to hang the motor and have very precise control over the bit. The possibilities for bits and attachments seems nearly endless, and it makes a rotary tool a very versatile purchase.
Why is Speed Important?
We've drawn attention to the speeds these tools are capable of throughout our review. That's because it's important for a rotary tool to be able to achieve both a very high rotational speed, but also have enough choices to run slower when necessary. High speed is suited for things such as drilling, especially with very small bits, while the higher speed may generate too much heat when carving or sanding. The ability to dial up the speed when necessary makes for cleaner work, because the tool has the power to cut and shape properly. For people who use these tools as pet nail trimmers, for instance, too high a speed can actually hurt an animal. Any polishing task should also start at the lowest speed setting and work up to something in the middle of the range. The wider the range of speeds is, the better-matched your rotary tool will be to the task at hand. It will be safer, too.
Other Rotary Tools We Tested
Aggressively priced, the Tacklife RTD35AC is a tool that feels good in your hand and includes a detailer handle, cutting shield, flex shaft, and a cutting guide attachment. It also comes with 80 accessories for cutting, polishing, grinding, and other tasks. The Tacklife RTD35AC has ten speeds, ranging between 10,000 and 32,000 rpm. It's among a group of similar tools in our test that share roughly the same specifications, performance, and even the same case design. The quality of the tool is good and the power and maneuverability are solid.
The Tacklife struggled in our hardest cutting tests where the more powerful tools had less trouble, but there's a smaller performance gap between this RTD35AC and our winning Dremel models. It's best-suited for small, close-up work like the carving, polishing, grinding, or etching tasks than lots of heavy-duty cutting of thick wood or metal. It can handle cutting drywall with a spiral bit without any trouble, and that's a common task for rotary tools. This tool provides a 2-year warranty, so if all-out performance isn't necessary, this seems like a good value. It's also a bit nicer than other similarly priced tools we tried.
The Goxawee G4007-US has a lot of appeal. It includes a flex shaft and more than 100 pieces for sanding, grinding, cutting, polishing, and more. There's a three-jaw chuck and cutting shield included, too. The kit even throws in replacement brushes for the electric motor. However, the quality isn’t that great.
The Goxawee doesn't seem like the kind of tool that's going to last many years. The flex shaft is a nice feature to have but probably won't get much use. The included tools might not have the longest life either and the case isn't that large or as high quality as the Dremel case.
We also had trouble getting the sanding drums to be snug on the mandrel attachments, even though we tightened them quite a bit. On the spec sheet, its 1.3 amp motor is competitive with the best and its speed control dials between 8000-30,000 rpm. However, it’s best considered as a light-duty, occasional-use tool.
Includes more than 100 pieces and replacement brushes
The WEN brand has been around since the 1950s, but has more recently started popping up more with lots of value-priced tools of all kinds. The price of the WEN 2305 is a bargain, especially considering it includes the 80-piece accessory set, flex shaft, and a hard shell case. The tool itself doesn't feel flimsy, but it does feel cheaper than some others in the test. Its 1 amp motor is down on power as well.
The WEN 2305 and its included tools are probably fine for lighter jobs, though the assorted attachments don't have the same gloss of quality as the higher-priced kits. Its case is smaller than others, providing less room to grow. But for the price, the savings have to come from somewhere, and this kit is likely to satisfy many buyers' occasional needs.
Ryobi tools are smartly-designed and above average quality. The 18V One+ Cordless Rotary Tool fits that description. But it's also one of two rotary tools we tried that use a cable-drive between the motor and the tool itself, which locks you into a benchtop scenario. That said, the benefit of the flexible cable drive is that the tool itself is small in your hand, more like using a pen.
The tool itself is great at the small stuff like buffing, engraving, sanding, and carving up-close. All the mechanical bits are in another housing that you can attach to the back wall of a workstation. The Ryobi 18V One+ batteries power an entire family of tools, so many people may already have a battery and charger they can use for this tool. If not, you’ll need to add the cost of those items to the price of the tool itself, and that makes the Ryobi kind of expensive compared to the other choices here. Its quality and design put it above the bargains, though. It's pleasant to use on the light-duty tasks it's best suited for, such as etching, carving or sanding soft wood, or polishing, but it choked on our harder tests of cutting a letter "E" or circle from 3/8" birch plywood, and it's not meant to be as portable as others we tried.
Hart is a new tool brand from WalMart. This cordless rotary tool is thoughtfully designed and well-made. It's best suited for the hobbyist craft bench. That's because of its design that uses a flex shaft between the motor and tool end. There's a slot in the side for storing the case of tools and tool holders on the front of the unit for commonly-used attachments. Designed for a fixed installation, you could easily hang this up as part of a workstation. The 20V battery also makes for a clean installation without having to string cords everywhere. That said, we had a few nitpicks with this tool.
The downside is that the Hart 20V cordless rotary tool is definitely not suited for more difficult tasks. The shaft-drive is more delicate than the direct motor drives of other units. It's also on the expensive side, and that's just for the tool itself, no battery or charger comes with it. You have to spend quite a bit to get the tool, a battery, and a charger. For delicate work in the hobby shop, the Hart Cordless Rotary Tool may be just the thing, but it's expensive and less versatile than the others we tested.
With 5 amps of power, the Dewalt DW660 is the strongest tool we tested. Rugged, chunky, and designed for lots of hard use, there's little doubt that it’ll hold up to even daily action. On the other hand, this tool's mission in life is mostly as a rotary cutting tool, using spiral bits. Drywall installers love them, and it's well-suited for cutting through sheets of material when matched with the right bit. It includes a cutting depth guide, and the tool-free collet is big and durable for longevity and easy tool changes on the fly. Despite clearly being designed for hard work, the DW660 isn't a versatile rotary tool, and it's not meant to be.
There’s no speed control, it's larger and heavier than other tools here, and that makes it harder to control for fine detail work. It's got a lot of muscle and the included 1/4" collet lets you use die grinder tools with it. If your needs are in the trades and not the hobby shop, give it a look.
Chicago Electric is one of Harbor Freight's brands and the company is known for its tool bargains. The Chicago Electric variable speed rotary tool may not be as fully-featured a kit as some of the competition, but easy retail availability is a plus versus some of the others here, that must be shipped to you. Despite its 1.3 amp motor and 8-35000 rpm speed range, the Chicago Electric variable speed rotary tool didn't feel as powerful or as high-speed during use. It did fine with the lighter-duty tasks, but it struggled with more challenging tasks like cutting shapes out of plywood. Quality of the tool, case, and attachments all lag behind the leaders, but there are lots of favorable reviews from buyers who had their expectations met.
Milwaukee calls this a kit, but it's got a stripped-down selection of tools among the competitors we assembled. That's fine because what it does come with are good quality cutting wheels, meaning it doesn’t include fluff tools you're never going to use. The Milwaukee M12 Cordless Rotary Tool doesn't shy away from the challenge of cutting tough materials like the 3/8" birch plywood we cut shapes from.
Its speed range is wide, from 5,000 to 32,000 rpm, so it can run slow enough for even the most delicate of tasks (like trimming your pet's nails). Plus, it won't overheat when sanding accessories. You can also crank up the speed for cutting drywall or wood. Its design feels good in your hand, with molded-in grips, and a speed control that's easy to reach. With batteries on board, the M12 is a little larger than some corded options, but it's still very portable. Plus, there's no cord to fumble with. In practice, it felt a little heavy and long, and it may feel chunky in smaller hands. Most users will probably find it comfortable, but those without big mitts might have to squeeze harder to keep tight control for some tasks, which can lead to fatigue.
Depending on the material you're cutting, the Milwaukee is up to the task. It struggled with our toughest test, cutting shapes out of dense plywood, but it will zip through softer material. The price of this kit, while a bit pricey, includes a carrying bag, a battery, and a charger, so you're ready to go out of the box. If you already have other Milwaukee M12-powered tools, you can save some money by just buying the tool itself.
Makita tools are popular, so we tried hard to include the brand in our test. The GD061 is the closest we came up with, but it's much larger, heavier, and more rugged than anything else we tried. It's a true die grinder, the kind of tool that originally inspired the original Dremel and created the rotary tool category in the first place.
The Makita GD0601 was the largest and most impressively well-built tool we tried. It's also heavy and its 3.5 amp motor is more powerful than any but the Dewalt. The 1/4" collet (the sleeve and nut that secures attachments to the tool) is a signal that it's not suited for the delicate tasks you can use the smaller players for. On the other hand, it had no trouble with our hardest tests.
If you feel as if you'd be pushing one of the smaller choices to its limit, this heavy-duty Makita is worth considering. Its speed isn't variable, but the fixed 25,000 rpm no-load speed is within the capabilities of every tool here, and it has a lot of torque behind it to do the work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.