TLDR; For a tool that will have permanent place on your bench, the Foredom 2230 Flexible Shaft Rotary Tool is the best tool on the market. For occasional work, you can’t go wrong with a Dremel tool such as the Dremel 4000-6/50-FF High Performance Rotary Tool Kit with the large assortments of accessories available.
A rotary tool is a small powered tool with a rotary tip that accepts a variety of attachments for cutting, sanding, polishing, drilling engraving, and more. A good rotary tool can handle a variety of jobs on wood and metal, but the attachments are generally small. You won’t be replacing your power drill with this, but it will be a great help for precision work.
Some people use them to cut drywall, sand small details on furniture and sharpen knives or cutting their dog’s nails, but I’m going to focus here on how they can be used by a maker to create small parts. Anyway, for a rotary tool, you’re not shopping for the biggest motor anyway: it’s the rotary speed that will do the job for you.
You have to be careful using those tools. They’re not as big or impressive as a power saw or a drill press, but the attachments are pretty small and can break easily if you make a wrong move or if they are attached improperly. You should wear safety glasses at the very least to protect yourself from flying debris.
Here are the rotary tools that will be reviewed here:
- Dremel 4000-6/50-FF High Performance Rotary Tool Kit
- Dremel 8220-2/28 12-Volt Max Cordless Rotary Tool
- WEN 23190 1.3-Amp Variable Speed Steady-Grip Rotary Tool
- Foredom 2230 Flexible Shaft Rotary Tool
- Dremel 9100-21 Forti-Flex
The original rotary tool: Dremel 4000-6/50-FF High Performance Rotary Tool Kit
Dremel is the brand name against which all the other rotary tools are measured. It’s a good, reliable tool that will do the job and is easy to use. There is a large choice of accessories and attachments you can get, and replacements are easy to get. The work station to use it as a drill press is very popular, for instance.
The case is not as well built and the small parts don’t always stay in their place. You also have to break in the tool as described in the manual when you first get it so it works at peak performance.
This kit is already pretty complete with a large choice of accessories and a flex shaft that’s easy to hold for jobs that require more precision. On the other hand, this is not designed to work continuously for several hours: after a few minutes, the Dremel or the flex shaft will heat up and you’ll need to let it cool down.
Best battery-powered rotary tool: Dremel 8220-2/28 12-Volt Max Cordless Rotary Tool
This kit is the best if you want to use your tool on the go. This battery-powered Dremel is as powerful as the corded model and compatible with the same attachments and accessories.
On the other hand, it’s heavier and slightly bigger than the standard tool since you have to factor in the weight of the battery. You may want to purchase in the flex shaft so it’s lighter and easier to work with.
I prefer corded tools in general since batteries don’t last forever, are expensive to replace and need to be charged from time to time. If you need to go without a power outlet and will use it relatively often, it’s a good kit with two batteries and a quick charger so you can keep working.
Best budget Dremel alternative: WEN 23190 1.3-Amp Variable Speed Steady-Grip Rotary Tool
A cheaper alternative than the Dremel in build quality and in price. The attachments that come with it are also cheaper and will break more easily, but the tool is compatible with the better-quality Dremel attachments. It’s not exactly the same size and not all accessories such as the drill press will work with it.
The carrying case has a better design than the Dremel one, the attachments stay at their place on top. It also comes with a steady grip handle and a flex shaft. Like the Dremel, the tool or the flex shaft will heat up after being used for too long.
It’s a good option if you won’t use very often and don’t need to do really tough work.
Best overall rotary tool (and hanging rotary tool): Foredom 2230 Flexible Shaft Rotary Tool
The Foredom is a flex shaft controlled by a pedal, with a motor that you must hang. I’ve tried this kind of tool for the first time in a jewelry class and Foredom is an industry standard in that field. You can run it continuously without problems and it won’t overheat; in fact, it’s pretty quiet.
The shaft is strong and sturdy, and is a pleasure to handle. The pedal makes it a lot easier to control the tool than a button on the flex shaft, and you can vary the speed like a sewing machine. You can also use standard Dremel attachments on it (but not the other accessories obviously).
The only thing is that you have to hang the motor somewhere to use it and you will need to be in a position to use the pedal, unlike a Dremel that you can carry with you. It’s not a problem if you want to use it at a dedicated workbench, and stands are also available if you need to occasionally move.
In my opinion, this is the best rotary tool you can get, even with those few limitations.
Best budget hanging rotary tool: Dremel 9100-21 Forti-Flex
Dremel’s answer to the Foredom, this is their version of an hanging rotary tool. It’s of cheaper construction than the Foredom which is all metal while this includes plastic. On the other hand, the quality is good: it’s a lot stronger than the handheld Dremel and can run continuously unlike those.
This is a good alternative if you don’t want to buy a professional tool like the Foredom, but like the freedom and precision of working with a pedal.
Cheaper copies of the Foredom are available, but most of them have reviews saying that the flex shaft is really flimsy or the pedal wore out really soon, so I can’t really recommend any of them for now.
For a permanent place on your bench, the Foredom 2230 Flexible Shaft Rotary Tool is made for professionals and is the best tool on the market, with the Dremel 9100-21 Forti-Flex a close second if you don’t need to use it that often.
For more occasional work all around, you can’t go wrong with a Dremel tool such as the Dremel 4000-6/50-FF High Performance Rotary Tool Kit with the large assortments of accessories available and flexibility of being able to carry it around.