by Paul Williams
In 1932, Albert J. Dremel founded the company that today bears his name. Mr. Dremel was an inventor. His specialty was applying electric motors to small, hand-powered tools, and ideas for this came thick and fast.
In rapid succession Dremel patented an electric razor blade sharpener, electric screwdrivers, electric fish scalers, various sanders and saws, and an electric nail trimmer for dogs. But he hit pay dirt with a small device he called the Dremel Moto-Tool.
This was a small tool that responded to needs people didn’t even know they had. It was light, hand-held, and its key features were the speed of its motor, and its versatility.
Over the years 17 million of these tools have been sold. Modern versions are called the Dremel MultiPro and the Dremel Professional.
I learned about Dremels when I got into the old-car hobby, and embarked on my quest for the perfectly detailed motor.
What can I say? I like a detailed engine bay. People like me love shiny carburetors, glossy headers, and polished fuel lines. When I asked a fellow enthusiast how to get the engine bay of my MGB as clean as his, he said, “just Dremel it.”
I had to confess that “Dremelling” was something new to me, so he took me to the trunk of his car, opened it, and showed me the secret weapon. As I say, it’s small, about 6″ from stem to stern, and it looks ordinary enough. There’s a simple chuck at the business end for your attachments, and a variable speed control on the side. That’s about it.
You can hold it like a pencil, or like a tennis racquet, or with both hands, depending on what you’re doing.
But the thing is, over 150 attachments are available for this simple device. If you want to cut, polish, buff, engrave, clean, sand, drill or otherwise fiddle with small parts, this is the tool for you.
Unlike bigger machinery, or other hand-held devices, you don’t need elbow grease to operate Dremel tools. The Dremel substitutes speed for brute force, and uses a special motor that runs to a dizzying 30,000 rpm. This is about ten times the speed of the fastest drill, and it enables the Dremel tool to achieve surprising results in a multitude of situations.
The tool is a solution looking for a task, and I use one regularly for a variety of underhood detailing chores. My favorite attachment is the carbon steel brush. Run it at about 15,000 rpm and you can remove rust and corrosion, polish metal surfaces, debur and blend surface junctures, and clean all manner of electrical and machine components. This is what I used on my carburetor linkage, steel brake lines, and all the nuts, bolts, washers and clamps that hold MGs together.
The newest device offered by Dremel is a clever right-angle attachment for the corded tool that allows you to get into hard-to-reach places. This is a long time coming, as there are many applications that benefit from this simple enhancement. Mari Randa, a spokeswoman for the Racine, Wisconsin-based company said Dremel developed the tool in response to numerous letters, calls and emails from consumers requesting such an attachment.
Now you can grind rust off brackets, clamps and seams that you couldn’t get to before. If the engine’s apart, you can even port and polish the cylinder head.
Dremel has a useful website that lists and pictures all the attachments, and suggests uses for them. However, if you’re like many users of this tool, you basically make it up as you go along. If one particular attachment does a good job, you stick with it. There don’t seem to be rules of use, but certain attachments are obviously purpose-designed. Also, you soon learn that different attachments require different speeds to be most effective. Some will disintegrate in short order if you run them too fast, an expensive proposition.
Speaking of Dremel users, there’s a club. This is the kind of thing the Internet excels at, and in this case it brings together thousands of Dremel buffs (no pun intended) from all over the world. They compare notes on how to best use the tool for various chores. It’s a useful resource accessed at the Dremel website.
I should mention that this is not necessarily an automotive tool. It’s a tool that’s as likely to see action in scientific labs, the dentist’s office, on construction sites, on your crafts table or in your basement workshop. It just happens to have great utility in your garage as well.
A single speed Dremel MultiPro retails for $70.00, and attachments start at $4.00. One step up is the variable-speed tool, good value when purchased as part of a kit that includes attachments and costs $95.00. A smaller, cordless version costs about $60.00 and has found its niche in pet pedicure.
The right-angle attachment is approximately $50.00, fits only the corded tool.
Most hardware stores and department stores are familiar with the brand, and companies like Sears and Canadian Tire offer their own versions.
Now, if only I had a heated garage to work in.