Rockwell, we need to talk…

I have to preface what I’m about to write by saying that given the number of tools I own, how often I use them, and my rather unfortunate tendency to, uh, release them with some degree of force when things aren’t going my way… I’m a little surprised that I don’t have more occasion to bitch about tools that can’t quite hold their own in my shop. The truth is that I spend more time drawing little hearts around the initials of my tools than writing nasty letters to the manufacturers, which I attribute solely to the fact that I don’t buy shit tools.

I mean, listen, I love tools. Even the ones that cause me to occasionally furrow my brow still get googly eyes more often than not. Like this one, for example…


This Rockwell Sonicrafter is your typical oscillating multi-tool. It cuts, it grinds, it sands, it comes with 157 different “attachments” (132 of which are actually individual pieces of sandpaper, but whatever.)

Now, I didn’t actually purchase this thing… it was a gift from a boy who knew better than to get me flowers when he was in trouble. But, I probably would have bought one anyway, so that’s a bit of a moot point. What’s important is that this thing kind of stole my heart. It was my go-to tool whenever I found myself, say, laying on the kitchen floor with three saws and a pry-bar trying to get the french door with a screw broken off inside the jamb unstuck. Or, you know, similar situations.

So here’s the thing: I spent 6 hours on Tuesday using a multitude of hand-sanders to get the parlor floor ready for stain. By the end of the day it was like a hand-sander massacre had occurred in there…


And if you have a sharp eye, you may have noticed in that photograph that there are two Rockwell Sonicrafters lying on my parlor floor…

You may think this is because I loved the thing so much I just had to have another, but no, that is not the case. The real truth, and the reason why, Rockwell, I am writing you out of my will, is because this damn thing…


Is stuck with the most useless of the 157 attachments on it, for all of eternity.

I noticed every time I would use it, particularly for tough jobs, the bolt that holds the blade or sanding attachment in place would get stuck. At first I could “hulk it out” and finally get the thing to budge, but more and more often I would have to resort to increasingly desperate measures, like locking it in the bench vice and hitting the allen wrench with a hammer to loosen the bolt, or, even worse, asking for help.

Well, about 6 months ago the bolt finally won, and no amount of cajoling (or Liquid Wrench) would free it, and I basically stripped it out trying. So now I have a very effective and operational tool, with a mostly useless sanding attachment stuck on it. Unless you happen to be sanding the corners of your parlor floor, and then hey, everything works out fine for about five minutes until the pad on the sanding attachment gets too hot and melts…


True story.

For the most part this makes me… unhappy. Particularly when situations arose over the last six months where I could really use an oscillating multi-tool with a goddamn wood cutting blade on it instead of a melted sanding pad.

Of course, I refused to buy another one out of principle, until I finally realized the only person who was being taught a lesson in this situation was me. And that lesson was that no, in fact, you cannot cut through a broken off screw with an old nail file. So, it was off to get another oscillating saw of some kind. And listen, I was all set to break up with Rockwell. I mean, I know his tricks now, right? The way he lures me in with his usefulness and attachments, and the next thing I know is lying useless on my parlor floor.

I was definitely going a different direction.

Except when it came down to it, the shop version of the Sonicrafter was so much cheaper than any other option that Lowe’s had in stock, I came back to him in the end…


Rockwell, you make me unhappy. And I’m probably going to regret this in the long run. But I just can’t seem to quit you.


18 Responses

  1. I *LOVE* my Sonicrafter!!! But, I’ve only used it for cutting awkward things and never used any of the cheesy sanding attachments.

  2. You may have heard the line, but I’ll say it anyway. As a woodworker, I don’t know which tools I paid too much for, but I can tell you which ones I didn’t pay enough for. That junk comes back to bite you on the ass. I buy good tools. Period.

  3. Yeah, but it’s not always obvious what the problems with a tool are when holding a display model in the store. And I tend to side with everyone who says, “get good tools,” but there’s a flip side to it. When I was trying to run in screws yesterday underneath my countertop, angling my heavy-duty drill into place was a teensy bit awkward. Sure, I bought the best I could afford when I bought it, but there are certainly times when a cheaper/lighter drill would be handy.

  4. You just missed black friday to buy new tools. Lowes had two versions of the porter cable oscillating tool on sale. If I recall, they had the cordless 18V version along with a 18V drill for $69.

    I hate the process of changing attachments for mine with the allen wrench. I’ve seen the tooless versions lately and would love to get one – but there’s plenty of missing tools to buy until my older model breaks.

  5. This is just the tool I need for so many problems. I am sorry you two had a fight, but I might be interested in his twin brother.

  6. FEIN. you won’t be sorry. if you’re not careful, you will still melt the sanding pads, though.
    rock solid.
    nice case.
    really long cord.
    bosch has better cutting attachments. you may still be able to get the adapter for free.

  7. Dammit, are we really living parallel lives? I was thisclose to writing a post about my Porter-Cable oscillating tool burning out the motor (it doesn’t use a bolt or allen wrench, just pops on and off so I like that). I have to switch to the cheapo knockoff and can’t find all of the parts.

  8. Feel your pain Kit. When you want something to work and it just doesn’t. It could make a monk want to throw a small tool across the room.

    Let us know how the new oscillating version works for you. My Dremel has been a champ, I think it was $99. Oh well, that doesn’t help you much now but thanks for the heads up.

  9. Just to see if this tool would actually be helpful and do what is said it would I bought the cheap Harbor Frieght version about 5 years ago. Like you said it is THE GO-TO TOOL and has been used for hundreds of applications at all three houses I own and am constantly renovating. I figured if it did what it said I’d just go buy a good one when it shit out. We call it “The Tool” because it will do what nothing else will. And amazingly, it is still just chugging along wonderfully and it gets used ALOT! I have to buy HF’s better blades but it hasn’t given me reason to go elsewhere yet. I would like to find a good cordless model and will upgrade quality when this one does go, but meanwhile it keeps on doing the job.

  10. Feel your pain. I burned the motor out of out Rockwell two hours into our bathroom renovation. Lowes replaced it and our new one has lasted awhile, but I’m waiting for it to crap out again.

  11. Don’t know if you’ll see this but it’s worth a try on the stripped head:

    Use some really good 2 part epoxy to set an Allen wrench into the head. When completely hardened, get that puppy out one last time and order a replacement.

    You may need to retap the inside threads to make it work again, but an hours sweat equity might restore a perfectly useful tool. How cool is having two of those?

  12. Ugh! I know the pain of that infernal bolt not coming out! I’ve made the mistake of buying the lower end of multi-tools and they always came up stinging me in the rear end.

    Since then I’ve learned my lesson and stuck with DeWalt and the others and haven’t looked back. I use mine more for grout removal but my wife is always stealing it for her furniture work.

    I hope you have had more luck since then Kit!

  13. Before you strip out the allen try this. My blade was locked in the Rockwell, and no force could loosen the screw with the allen wrench. It dawned on me the washer collar might be fused to the screw. I tightened the washer sides into my vice, gave it a tug, and the washer moved. I then inserted the allen and the screw easily came out.

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