6 Plumbing Uses for an Oscillating Multi-Tool

The versatile tool can be a valuable addition to your equipment arsenal.
6 Plumbing Uses for an Oscillating Multi-Tool
The compact multi-tool is ideal for cutting or notching floor joists or wall studs.

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Technically speaking, an oscillating multi-tool isn’t a plumbing tool. In fact, originally it wasn’t even a construction tool. When they were first invented in the 1960s, multi-tools were used to safely remove plaster casts from broken limbs. The first woodworking version didn’t appear until the mid-1990s.

Today, however, the oscillating multi-tool is arguably the most versatile and popular power tool on the market. It has already won over an entire legion of professional contractors, including home remodelers, cabinetmakers, HVAC techs and tile setters. If you aren’t using a multi-tool already, here are some of the reasons why you should consider adding one to your arsenal of plumbing tools.

Multi-Tool Defined

For the uninitiated, an oscillating multi-tool is a compact, portable power tool that accepts a wide range of interchangeable accessories that can be used to sand, cut, scrape, grind and polish. The accessory vibrates — or oscillates — back and forth at very high speed, making the tool much easier and safer to use than a circular saw, reciprocating saw, or even a jigsaw. It’ll slice through virtually any material, including wood, metal, drywall, cement, leather, resilient flooring, tile, mortar, plastic and fiberglass. A multi-tool will work in places other power tools wouldn’t dare go, including narrow spaces, tight corners and awkward angles. Both corded electric and cordless battery-powered versions are available from all major tool manufacturers.

Here are some important features to consider when shopping for an oscillating multi-tool:

  • Brushless electric motor with at least three amps, or 18 or 20 volts for cordless models
  • Variable-speed motor with top speed of at least 20,000 oscillations per minute
  • On-board LED work light, which helps when working in dark, shadowy areas
  • No-tool blade-change mechanism that accepts accessories from any manufacturer
  • Vibration-dampening design with easy-grip body
  • Extra-long power cord to prevent hang-ups and snags, or in many cases, the need for an extension cord

You may also consider buying a multi-tool kit, as opposed to an individual tool. The ready-to-use kits come with a carrying case and wide assortment of accessories for sawing, slicing, sanding and grinding.

Multi-Tool Uses

Here’s a look at six plumbing jobs that an oscillating multi-tool can do quickly and efficiently. Keep in mind that this is just a small sampling of the many ways this versatile tool can save you time and trouble on the job site.

  1. Cut Wood Framing
    The multi-tool excels at sawing wood, including wall studs, roof rafters, floor and ceiling joists, and plywood or OSB subfloors and wall and roof sheathing.

    A standard wood plunge-cut blade will perform well when sawing into or notching wood, but there are also several specialty blades to consider. This includes carbide-tipped blades for superior performance when cutting extra-hard or resinous woods, extra-broad (2 1/2 inch wide) or super-narrow (3/8 inch wide) blades, and — perhaps the most useful — a blade specifically designed for cutting nail-embedded wood.   
  2. Saw Metal Pipe
    When equipped with a metal-cutting blade, the multi-tool provides a quick way to slice through copper tubing as well as galvanized-steel and iron pipe. The fine-cutting blade cuts cleanly, but also with very little vibration, unlike a reciprocating saw.
  3. Cut Plastic Pipe
    Cutting long lengths of PVC or ABS pipe to length with a power miter saw or even a handsaw is easy and efficient. But when you need to trim plastic pipe during retrofit, remodeling or demolition situations — including under sinks, behind walls or deep in trenches — reach for an oscillating multi-tool.

    Any standard woodcutting blade can be used to slice through plastic pipe, but be aware that it’ll cut with surprising speed and very little effort. In fact, in some instances, you might want to use a slower cutting speed to gain more control.
  4. Scrape Caulking
    Using a putty knife to remove old caulk can be a frustratingly difficult chore but not with a multi-tool. Install a flexible-steel scraper blade and let the high-speed oscillations do the work for you. The blade’s beveled edge slices beneath and through the most resilient caulking, even tenacious 100 percent silicone sealant. 
  5. Cut Cement Backerboard
    There are several different ways to cut cement backerboard, but few are as quiet, clean or precise as using an oscillating multi-tool. Because the tool is compact and lightweight, you can easily plunge-cut round holes and make square notches or odd-shaped cutouts.

    You can cut cement backerboard with a carbide-tipped plunge-cut blade, which is also useful for sawing through drywall and plaster.
  6. Remove Mortar and Grout
    Although plumbers don’t usually install tile, there are occasions when you may need to deal with existing mortar beds or grout joints. Fortunately, an oscillating multi-tool fitted with the appropriate accessory is well-equipped to work with various tiling-setting materials. In fact, it can even be used to cut tile and stone.

    Use a carbide-grit rasp to remove old thin-set mortar from a substrate. The super-aggressive cutting action of the ultra-sharp carbide grits in combination with the high speed oscillations pulverize even the hardest mortar into fine powder in a matter of seconds. Because the rasp is triangular, it easily fits into corners and other tight spots.

    To quickly remove grout — sanded or unsanded — from between tiles, install a semi-circular abrasive-grit blade onto the multi-tool. This type of blade is available with either tungsten-carbide grits or diamond grits. Both work well, but diamond-grit blades typically last longer. The  blade doesn’t spin, so it doesn’t spew out a cloud of dust.

A Final Word

Oscillating multi-tools are available from all major tool manufacturers, and they’re sold at home-improvement centers and online. Expect to pay between $90 and $200 for a pro-duty corded electric multi-tool kit, and $100 to $300 for a cordless kit.

About the Author
Joe Truini is a home-improvement expert who writes extensively about do-it-yourself home remodeling and repair, woodworking projects, and tools and techniques. He has authored six books and his work has appeared in several national magazines. Truini also writes articles for the Home Depot, which carries the oscillating tools needed for projects like these.


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