How to Use a Rotary Tool

How to Use a Rotary Tool

Rotary tools are handheld devices used for different jobs such as sanding, polishing, etching, carving, sharpening, and a wide variety of other tasks. To understand how to use a rotary tool, you have to know the basics first.

Basic Designs and Functions

There are two main types of rotary tools. Basic devices with more versatility, and cut-out tools with a more specific function. The basic types are for sanding, etching, polishing, etc., whereas the cut-out variants are specifically used for cutting. Therefore, when you ask how to use a rotary tool, the answer depends on what kind of work you want to use it for. Cut-out designs are primarily used for cutting, and as such, they are heavier and more powerful than the basic designs. To be safe and effective, cutting requires precision and power. If you don’t have that power or the precision to support it, the tool is much harder to control and does below-par job.

When we talk about the speed of these devices, and generally how to use a rotary tool, it is all about the rotation. The measure is RPM or revolutions per minute, and this value shows you how many rotations the device can complete in a minute. Rotary tools generally fall anywhere between 12,000 and 20,000 RPM, which is an incredible amount of power. That comes with stress and wear, on the machine and the user as well. How significant that wear and tear is, comes down to five factors.

  1. Tool quality
  2. Surface uniformity
  3. Surface thickness
  4. Attachment geometry, i.e. which bit you use
  5. User habits, how you use the tool

Check out our recent post about some of the best Rotary tool

Attachment Outlook

Many workers can use rotary tools in their daily routine for a variety of tasks. The versatility of the machine stems from the attachments.

  • Sanding attachments: Ideal for sanding and carving, sanding drums are effective accessories. As far as the speed goes, these tasks require medium RPMs, and what can only be described as “good touch” on the user’s part. These are the more delicate jobs that cannot be completed with sheer power, but require a little bit of finesse and experience as well.
  • Polishing attachments: If you know how to use a rotary tool, there is a very good chance that you learned it while polishing a surface. This is probably the most common application for these devices. You can shine metal surfaces, and all you need is to add a polishing stone attachment to the head of the tool. Most models are very easy to modify.
  • Carbide attachments: These attachments are used for etching jobs, most commonly on glass. The carving attachments are usually smaller, and you can hold them like a pen. This allows for more precision, something you really want for these kinds of jobs. Carving requires a bit of talent as well.
  • Wire attachments: Wire wheels work best against the rust. When you want to take care of a rusty surface, the wire attachment is your best bet. That requires high RPM, and a powerful machine. If you have that combination, you can take care of a rusty surface in minutes.
  • Sharpening attachments: You can even sharpen your knives with a rotary tool, all you have to do is use the sharpening attachment. The experience can be sparky, so always sharpen your tools with an inside-out movement, away from your body, that way you will be safe from sparks and potential burns.
  • Tungsten carbide: There are also composite attachments like tungsten carbide, ideal for cutting. These require a high RPM and sure hands. This is where you want to pay extra attention, and truly understand how to use a rotary tool in a safe and efficient way.


When used properly, rotary tools are generally very safe devices. The manuals are helpful, they describe the rules of proper use relatively well. Everything starts with buying the right equipment. The machine and cord insulation must be flawless, and every attachment should be used properly and only on the recommended surface.

If you can follow these basic instructions, you can significantly lower the chances of injury. How to use a rotary tool safely really comes down to planned use. Stick to the intended purpose, and things should be okay. In addition to proper use, personal protection is also important. Tight-fitting clothes are ideal because they don’t get in the way. Safety googles guard your eyes and should be worn at all times, regardless of which attachment you use.

It is not just sparks that are dangerous, but splinters or debris as well, not to mention sharp or pointy objects. Even if you use the appliance properly, the material could have weak points where any outside force could send debris flying. Above a certain pressure level – generally above 85 dB – ear protection is also recommended.

How to Operate the Tool

How to use a rotary tool properly comes down to a combination of safety precautions and proper use. This implies using the machine in the proper way and using it on a surface it can handle, using the right attachment.

How to replace attachments

After loosening the screw and removing the protective cover, you can detach the attachment, usually with an Allen key. Once you’ve removed the blade, sanding or etching attachment, you can attach the replacement on the shaft, and screw it on tightly. This is very important if you want to use the tool in the safest possible way. While operating the device, you want to use both hands and take it slowly. If you feel the tool is not working properly or the surface could be compromised, do not risk it and stop until you are sure that everything is right.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cleaning and maintenance can add to the longevity of the tool, and make it safer as well. Regular maintenance can also help you to reveal potential design problems or malfunctioning parts. It pays to be proactive. How to use a rotary tool can mean different things to different people, but safety and maintenance should be part of everyone’s routine.


How to use a rotary tool comes down to the basics, safety and proper use. The main strength of these appliances is their incredible versatility, but this requires extended safety precautions. When you do make this a priority, you can enjoy the power of these appliances, and use them in a multitude of ways. Sanding, etching, polishing, whatever you need it for, your rotary tool will be a quality addition to your tool selection, if you take good care of it.