Anyone who is even minimally into tools has heard of Dremel (actually a division of Robert Bosch Tool Corporation). They make all sorts of polishing and cutting tools based on a rotary design. When Fein’s exclusive patent on their oscillating tool expired last year and other manufacturers were allowed to manufacture similar devices, Dremel was first on-board. Sure, an oscillating tool only rotates a total of 3 degrees, but it’s still technically a rotary tool, right? Not really, but who cares, these are very cool tools that do things no other tools on the market can do. With Dremel bringing theirs to market at under $100, they have made this tool very accessible to consumers.
There are several oscillating tools on the market now, so of course this review is comparing the Dremel with the known competition, several of which we had on hand for a side-by-side analysis. The biggest thing to note about Dremel’s Multi-Max is that it is extremely lightweight and easy to hold in the hand. If anything, it’s slightly too small, as many of the cuts we made required precision and were better attempted with two hands on the tool. With the Multi-Max, the design is more for single-handed comfort and two-hands tend to get in the way, competing with the inherent design. Still, the rubber overmold is very comfortable in the hand and addresses the top and bottom grips.
The power switch is located on the top of the unit and is a simple sliding style on/off switch that is thumb activated. It comes across as sturdy, yet easy to activate so that the tool engages and disengages with ease. There is nothing worse than a really stiff switch when you’re trying to line up a tool and turn it on. The speed dial is meant to be changed on the fly and, though it has 10 marked positions, there are actually around 20 adjustment speeds that can be used. The dial is easy enough to use (in fact it’s so easy as to be a tad imprecise) and we found it simple to adjust speed (from 10,000 to 21,000 rpm) with our left hand while holding the tool steady with our right. This was important since many cuts involved using a medium speed to set the blade correctly into the wood and then ramping up to a higher speed to complete the cut.
If you break it down, each detent of the dial adjusts speed in roughly 500 OPM (oscillations per minute) steps. I don’t think the oscillation speed of this tool will typically need to be adjusted in such a precise manner for good results, but it’s helpful to know.
The Dremel Multi-Max comes with an overmolded case that does several things right. For a tool like this a case can be hit or miss. Dremel does well in that it provides ample accessory storage in the form of two plastic posts which serve as anchor points around which blades can be placed. When the case is closed, the posts are tall enough to lock the accessories down and keep them organized. There is a separate place for the hook & loop pad and some sanding paper as well. Overall it’s a convenient case and one that should allow for reasonably easy storage of this tool and enough accessories to get most jobs completed.
There is no dust collection on the Dremel Multi-Max and the tool overall seemed rugged enough for serious work, but its lightweight nature didn’t come across as something I’d consistently want to bring to a jobsite. This tool just seemed more like a precision instrument, and less like a rugged everyday tool that you’d toss in the back of your van.
Dremel labels its accessories connection system the “Quick Fit.” It’s actually quite ingenious in its design and works well in execution. Each accessory, with the exception of the hook & loop pads, is slotted, with 9 holes to fit into the 12 raised pins that exist on the Quick Fit system. Because each of the accessories are slotted, this means that the clamping screw and blade washer do not need to be fully removed in order to change accessories. With many other oscillating tools on the market (the new Fein MultiMaster 250Q being one of the exceptions) the central clamping screw and blade washer must be completely removed to change a blade for example. As a result, the Dremel provides one of the fastest accessory changes in the market.
In practical use, we discovered something very important to note: oscillating tools… well, oscillate. This means that if you aren’t careful to securely tighten the clamping screw all the way down, you’ll quickly find it backing itself out and the tool will let go of the blade. Trust us, we speak from experience and even managed to capture it in a series of pictures we took just before we realized what had happened:
The retail kit we received included the Dremel Multi-Max tool, molded case and several basic accessories, including:
- Flexible scraper blade – MM610
- 3/4″ wood flush cut blade – MM440
- 3″ wood and drywall saw blade – MM450
- Hook and loop base plate pad – MM11
- 60, 120, and 240 grit paper – M70W
We’d like to see the kit come with more accessories. The 1/16-inch carbide grout blade, for example, will set you back about $27, though that’s not a bad price overall. The bottom line is that the inexpensive price of this tool isn’t the full picture if you want to purchase additional accessories to go with it. Keep that in mind as you shop.
The hook & loop pad worked well, though the sanding paper just fit to the edges of the pad and seemed to drift over time when pressure was applied. It would be a safe bet that the pad will wear out prematurely due fact that the sanding area doesn’t extend beyond the boundaries of the pad itself. If you plan on using the Multi-Max as a precision sander you might want to pick up an additional hook & loop pad when you purchase additional sanding paper (the retail kit only includes 3 sample pieces). Sanding was a great experience – the Dremel really provided a lot of control and precision. This is not the tool you want to use on a large area of wood, but it’s an excellent tool for getting into corners and places where orbital sanders are going to give you problems. Because of the orbital action, vibration is actually minimized on the Multi-Max and sanding becomes more about the precision and less about controlling the random actions of the sander.
Testing and Use
We did some test sanding on a particularly tough piece of pressure-treated lumber. Not your typical sanding surface, but we wanted to give the Dremel Multi-Max as much of a workout as we could in a short amount of time. We focused on control and how it felt as we moved it about and attempted to follow specific patterns and obtain a precise control over the work material. The 60 grit sandpaper did a good job of taking off a base layer of the wood surface – and this was no easy task. Following up with the other grits we were able to quickly smooth the surface. This should be an excellent tool for anyone looking to get into tight places. In the supplied Dremel DVD they go over several uses for the sanding attachment. In my view one of the more intriguing uses might be the 60 grit diamond paper, which can be used to eradicate old thin set from underneath a broken tile. The only hindrance here is a short 6 foot power cord. This means you are pretty much required to use an extension cord unless your project is conveniently located right next to an outlet. We’d like to see at least a 10 foot power cord on a device like the Dremel.
The Oscillating Motion
Some of our readers don’t know exactly what the oscillating motion is, so we decided to illustrate it with a photo of the tool in motion, using our D-SLR camera. The first picture shows the 60-grit sandpaper at rest, the second is with the tool turned on. If you notice the pattern, you’ll quickly see that the tool pivots the center of the pad (the centerline of the accessory holder) plus and minus 1.5 degrees, for a full 3 degree arc. There is no up and down motion, so the tool has minimal vibration while executing lots of smooth, fast action for cutting and sanding.
We next tested out the 3/4-inch wood flush cut blade (MM440) which we liked very much and which included a built-in depth gauge printed on the top of the tool itself. In this way you can plunge the Multi-Max into a piece of wood and know exactly at what depth the blade is cutting. We found that the blade plunged easily enough into the wood when you started at a medium speed to get your blade positioned properly and then raised the oscillation speed up to at- or near-maximum. When cutting down the length of a piece of wood, angling the blade was the best way to get a consistent cut. Rocking the tool sideways slightly also helped. One thing we did note was that it was very easy to keep the blade level and hit your mark. Since the blade only pivots a total of 3 degrees side-to-side the tool vibrates only minimally and makes it very easy to get on target.
Wanting to find something to do with the flexible scraper accessory, we grabbed an old window that we planned on re-glazing. This was an excellent test for the tool’s oscillating motion. If it wasn’t smooth enough it could potentially shatter the thin single pane of antique glass. What we were after was the careful removal of the old glazing that surrounded the individual window panes. It was a tricky project, but we found that the Dremel Multi-Max found its way quite easily underneath the glazing and knocked it out progressively as we moved around the perimeter of each piece of glass. This tool really simplified the process of removing the old glaze and, in my opinion, it would have been a worthwhile purchase even if that were its only use.
In addition to what comes with the kit, the following accessories are also available for the Dremel Multi-Max Oscillating Tool:
- MM411 3/8-inch HCS (high carbon steel) wood flush cut blade
- MM422 3/4-inch BIM (bi-metal) wood/metal flush cut blade
- MM500 segmented 1/8-inch grout removal
- MM501 segmented 1/16-inch grout removal
- MM600 rigid scraper blade
- MM900 60 grit diamond paper
- MM70P sand paper
The Dremel Multi-Max seemed powerful enough to handle most finishing jobs and cutting into wood with its wood flush cut blade. We really liked the blade change tooling since it didn’t require complete removal of the clamping screw and washer. One minor thing we weren’t so keen on was the way it worked with a two-handed approach. On precision jobs we always felt like we were covering up at least one of the air vents – something you definitely don’t want to do on these tools. The Multi-Max also doesn’t come with very many accessories, but at less than $100 from many retailers, this is definitely a bargain-priced tool that exceeded our expectations. We recommend it for any do-it-yourselfer or hobbyist that needs a precision tool for sanding or cutting. Let’s face it, the cat is out of the bag with regard to multi-tools and Dremel has come up with a great implementation with lots of strengths. This is a great tool – and it’s inexpensive. I can’t think of two greater attributes to have side-by-side.