U is for Ultraspeed rotatry tool

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U is for Ultraspeed rotary tool

There are other brands of rotary tools out there, but "Dremel" has more or less come to be the signifying term for the entire class of object, like Kleenex or Dumpster.

Rotary tools have their adherents and their detractors. For example, I've heard the Car Talk guys diss them on air as useless toys, capable of doing little more than make noise and sparks. I suspect that was as much a bit to stir some controversy as to stake out an actual position, but I have no way to independently verify that.

I have two Dremels, a corded and a cordless that uses a lithium ion battery. The former I bought a long time ago. The latter was a Christmas present of several years ago and came with lots of bits and attachments. Grinding wheels, polishing bits, grinding bits, rasps, buffers, etc. I haven't used most of them, since the Dremel is very good at some jobs, unsuited for others.

One place where it's great is in cutting thin metal, like inserts, spacers, sacrificial friction glide washers, drawer slides, drop ceiling rails, etc. For that, the Dremel has replaced my tin snips (left-cutting, right-cutting AND center-cutting) and my hack saw. I also use it a lot for sharpening big tools like axes, trowels and spades. Often, it's more convenient to bring the cordless Dremel out to the tool than it is to bring the tool in to the bench grinder.

Having said all that, I recognized that there's a case to be made for Dremels being underpowered for automotive work. They are pretty weak for that kind of thing. Drilling through any piece of metal calls for a drill, not a Dremel. Cutting through large pieces of metal calls for a cutoff saw, hacksaw, angle grinder or (in extreme cases) a torch.

However, the small size of the Dremel is useful in tight spaces in and around an engine block. For example, I once used my Dremel as part of a job replacing the head gasket on my 1986 Corolla. One of the bolts got stripped (1) and the configuration of the brake booster right near the exhaust manifold meant I couldn't get a bite on that head bolt, even with penetrating oil and a pair of vice grips.

In a surge of creativity (2), I used the Dremel and a high-strength cutoff wheel to slice a slot in the top of the bolt. The slot was enough to let me wedge in a big screwdriver with a handle long enough to clear the brake booster. Using the vice grips on the screwdriver gave me enough leverage to work the bolt free.

I relate that story, not because it has a single damn thing to do with woodworking, but because it has a Dremel in it and it makes me look good: clever, resourceful and persistent, i.e. sexy. Also, although it's been at least 15 years, my heart still warms at the memory of my victory over that damned bolt. Thanks, Dremel!

1. Notice the careful use of the passive voice: "One of the bolts got stripped". Let us not inquire too closely as to who stripped that bolt, or how.
2. And, it must be noted, with a tremendous amount of profanity and two extra cups of coffee.

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  1. I have a Dremel, and some pipe-dreams about making some cool-looking locomotives and/or train cars for Mason's Brio knock-off. I need photos of what I want to dupe, and a run to a hobby shop for wheels. And time, of course.


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