These handy tools can sand, scrape, and cut a range of materials—but some are a lot more pleasant to use than others
CR put corded and cordless oscillating multi-tools through rigorous tests and found high performers in both categories.
By Paul Hope
An oscillating multi-tool might just be the most helpful tool that you didn’t know existed. It’s a small handheld device with an oscillating head, which moves side to side while oscillating around a center axis, as opposed to a drill chuck that spins. By swapping out attachments, you can change the function—from cutting drywall (or grout, metal, plaster, plastic, or wood) to sanding and scraping. And as our rigorous testing proves, certain models can do the job remarkably quickly and quietly, too.
These tools (which are also called just oscillating tools or multi-tools) are widely available in both corded and battery-powered configurations.
Fein is probably among the best-known brands for these tools, but you’ll find options from others like Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ryobi, too. Because the batteries used by cordless models are often the same 18- to 24-volt batteries used in other tools from the same companies, you can save money by using a battery and charger that you already own from other household tools (such as cordless drills and impact drivers) of the same brand.
What Is an Oscillating Multi-Tool Used For?
Oscillating multi-tools are particularly good for removing old grout, or cutting off exposed nails or screws that are too difficult to pull out. They’re great for making precise plunge cuts in drywall and are helpful if you’re laying a floating floor and need to notch door casings or baseboards. These tools can also work on metal and plastic piping, making them fabulous for cutting a section of pipe to fix a leak, or for an all-out bathroom renovation.
Bernie Deitrick, CR’s test engineer in charge of testing oscillating multi-tools, adds that they are especially useful for flush cuts or tight cuts in obstructed areas—cutting into the back of a cabinet to allow access for a pipe or cord, for instance. “Other tools just won’t work as effectively.”
While an oscillating multi-tool may seem like overkill, avid DIYers will find that owning one makes many home-repair projects quicker and easier.
How Consumer Reports Tests Oscillating Multi-Tools
In our Yonkers, N.Y., headquarters, our test engineers set up a battery of tough projects for each model to tackle.
To evaluate cutting, we used the oscillating multi-tools to cut a variety of difficult materials: pine and oak molding, standard 1x4 pine boards, plastic PVC pipe, steel conduit, and copper water pipe.
In each case, we noted how long it took each tool (with the appropriate attachment) to slice completely through each material. The faster a model cuts, the less time vibration is transmitted to the user’s hand, and the smoother the experience.
To test for sanding, we painted pine boards with enamel paint and allowed it to cure. Then we used each oscillating multi-tool to sand off the paint and timed how quickly the tool would complete the challenge.
For our grinding test, we removed grout from between tiles, using lines of different sizes, with tiles set at ⅛ inch and ³⁄₁₆ inch apart. We also used each tool to grind off 4x4-inch areas of dried thinset (tile adhesive)—similar to what you might need to do to replace a broken tile.
Lastly, we measured the noise produced by each tool, taking precise measurements at the ear of the operator.
Test engineer Eric Hado uses a Fein MultiMaster to cut through metal conduit pipe in our test lab.
Photo: John Walsh/Consumer Reports
How We Picked the Best Oscillating Multi-Tools
We tested 14 oscillating multi-tools, including those from popular brands like Bosch, DeWalt, Makita, Milwaukee, and Ryobi. The good news? Most work quite well, and we found only a small handful of subpar models. However, the best of the best were quite exceptional, delivering top-notch results, test after test—making them, overall, a pleasure to work with. Here’s what they have in common.
- They cut quickly. Any oscillating multi-tool will handle most materials, though the worst of the bunch in our test struggled with wood and metal. The top models highlighted here excel at slicing through all materials with ease, from oak molding to a copper water pipe.
- They’re versatile. The best oscillating multi-tools not only cut extremely well but also are top-notch at sanding and removing grout, and doing it quickly. Because these tools vibrate, Deitrick says, “the less time a job takes, the easier it is on the user’s hands."
- They’re less noisy. A loud indoor tool is a nuisance. You won’t be able to enjoy a quiet conversation while using one—in fact, you should consider using hearing protection for some tasks—but our top picks were noticeably quieter in our tests.
3 Best Oscillating Multi-Tools
Our recommendations land top scores for each of our rigorous tests. For more options, see our comprehensive oscillating multi-tool ratings, where you can sort by brand, price, and other features.
Flex Oscillating Multi-Tool Kit (FX4111-1A)
CR’s take: The Flex Oscillating Multi-Tool Kit is the best multi-tool we’ve tested. It aces every task and was the single fastest model, across the board. The other models featured in this roundup also aced key functions, but the Flex gets the edge for being the fastest tool of the bunch. Like all Flex tools, it’s sold at Lowe’s, and you can use the 24-volt battery to power other tools from the brand, including its top-rated cordless drill and impact driver. The Flex comes with three accessories. It uses the Starlock attachment system, which allows you to attach accessories without a tool and offers higher-power transmission to the attachments than a traditional attachment system would.
FEIN Multimaster MM 500 Plus Oscillating Multi-Tool Kit
CR’s take: The Fein MultiMaster excels in every single cutting test, along with sanding and grout removal. The Fein is the best option we evaluated that uses a power cord instead of a battery. While that can limit mobility, it also means you never need to worry about charging. Fein’s cord is a generous 16 feet, so you won’t be hindered in most cases. So if you’re planning to tackle only projects where you have access to an outlet, it’s a great bet. The Fein comes with 13 accessories and uses the StarlockPlus attachment system, which offers even higher-power transmission to the attachments than the Starlock system does.
Avid Power Tools 3.5A Oscillating Mult-Tool (MW146)
CR’s take: Avid Power Tools is a brand that sells inexpensive tools, largely on Amazon. Its oscillating multi-tool is a standout, costing about a third of what you’d pay for the options above. While performance is just a bit behind the Flex and Fein, it still cuts a range of materials incredibly fast. Like the Fein, the Avid is corded, though it comes with only a 6-foot cord. That’s enough for nearby jobs, but you may want to grab a heavy-duty extension cord if you need to travel further from an outlet. It comes with 12 accessories. The Avid uses the traditional attachment system, requiring an Allen key for attachment changes and offering lower-power transmission to the attachments than the Starlock attachment system does.
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