What is the Best “Dremel Tool” Spindle for your CNC Router?

dremel 200 vs dremel 4000

The Dremel 200 beside the Dremel 4000

When I first built my CNC router from a kit, I used a Dremel 200 with my Zen Toolworks machine.  Although it worked acceptably, sometimes I need to use a Dremel outside of CNC machining.  I had a gift certificate to Home Depot and decided that an upgrade was in order.  After doing some research and trials, there are some other rotary tool options that I thought I’d include here as well:

Comparing the different models that I’ve tried or looked at, here’s what I’ve come up with in no particular order:

Chicago Electric Rotary Tool – At $10.49 from Harbor Freight Tools it’s hard to not at least be curious about this little guy.  It runs at 16,000 RPM and draws .7 Amps of current at 120 volts, so it’s not as powerful as any of the Dremel models listed.  It seems to have no speed adjustment either.  It is insanely cheap though, and comes with quite a few accessories.  It has been used in a CNC router before, so apparently it’s up to the job in at least some capacity.

Dremel 200 beside Dremel 3000

The Dremel 200 beside Dremel 3000

Dremel 200Available from Amazon
Most basic Dremel tool (that I’ve sen at least).  Two speeds, low, and high, or three if you count “off.”  Extremely loud in the high setting and not quiet on the low setting.  It’s done the job for me for a couple months now.  Motor is sized at 1.2 amps and it comes with a 3 year warranty.  See how I mounted my 200 here.

Dremel 300/3000 – also available from Amazon These tools spec-wise look nearly identical.  Both have a 1.2 amp motor (the 300 claims 1.15) and have similar speeds 5000 on the low end and 32000 RPM as a top speed for the 3000 and 35000 RPM as the top speed on the 300.  The 3000 does have a claimed better fan and a nose-cap wrench.  Both have a 4 year warranty.

After briefly checking out the 3000, it seemed quieter than the Dremel 200, but I didn’t have a 300 to compare it to.  Ultimately, it didn’t seem like much of an upgrade over the Dremel 200, so I returned it for the 4000 model.  Also, like the 4000, it’s not a drop-in replacement for the Dremel 200 model as it’s slightly fatter.

Dremel 4000 – obviously available from Amazon I finally “settled” on this tool since it was the largest Dremel that seemed like it would fit nicely in my router.  The pictures make it (to me at least) seem quite a bit larger than the 3000, but it looks like it’s simply longer.  At 1.6 Amps, this is the largest moto-tool that I looked at and it’s definitely quieter than the 200 model.  Also, it comes with a 5 year warranty instead of the standard 4 year.  I like it so far, but I’ve only cut MDF with it (to make this nice “random tree” model).

Is the performance of the 4000 better than the 200?  As far as the motor goes, I’m not sure if it makes a lot of difference.  The speed selection is very nice, and comes with a separate on/off switch.  It’s also quieter.  I’m hoping the the more powerful motor will allow for deeper cuts per pass, but I haven’t tested it enough to say definitively or even get a gut feeling.  Be sure to see how I mounted my Dremel 4000 here.

After I’d partially written this article, I managed to smoke my Dremel 4000 (literally).  I’m pretty unhappy about it, but it could have been avoided.  Definitely remember to tighten your collet or chuck with any of these tools.

The RotoZip Tool – I have little (no) experience with this tool, but at around $60 and with a 6 amp motor, the DR1 seems to be a bargain.  It’s much more powerful than even the Dremel 4000, however, it’s quite a bit “fatter” than the other tools mentioned here.  “CNC Mounting” may be a bit tougher than the other tools, but it’s definitely doable.  If you want to try one of these, I’d suggest poking around on ZTW’s forum – or doing a Google search.  CNC mounting of this tool has been done.

milling CNC router table flat with Zen Toolworks spindle

The Zen Toolworks spindle mounted and working

Zen Toolworks Custom Spindle – Zen Toolworks also sells their own spindle for $89.99 with a ready-made set of mounting hardware for it.  You’ll have to buy a separate power supply that they sell for $50 (or find another suitable one) so this is the most expensive option listed here.

Expensive, yes, but as with most things you get what you pay for.  As shown in the video above, the spindle is significantly quieter than the Dremel tool.  So much so that you may forget it’s on!  Mechanically, everything fits the first time and the mounts included are quite solid.  Additionally, if you don’t have any way – or simply don’t want – to make your own mount for the other rotary tools, this may be your only option.

Electrically, it will take more work to get everything hooked up than the Dremel tool which you simply plug in.  It isn’t terribly hard, and it’s much easier than making your own Dremel mount from scratch (in my opinion).  It’s something to consider if you’re not comfortable with some basic electronics (probably an hour’s worth of work).

My Opinion on Which Spindle to use would favor the ZTW custom spindle.  Although the most expensive, it seems to cut excellently and holds your end mill or engraving tool very securely.  That being said, if price is a huge factor, the Dremel 200 would be my next choice as it will do the job at about 1/3 the price.  I haven’t tried it, but the Chicago Rotary Tool is another option if you’re just learning and you think there’s a good possibility of breaking your tool before figuring everything out.

Here’s a video of my first cuts with the ZTW spindle:

Please note that ZTW gave me a spindle and power supply to review, but I’ve tried not to let that influence my write-up.

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  2. I see I am REALLY late to the party here. One thing you don’t mention about most of the Dremel/”Dremel(?)” based heads is the bearings on the output shaft are not known for their long term axial load capabilities. In other words, sooner or later your tool center may be trailing the centerline of your “Dremel” centerline. I would imagine your ZTW Spindle has bearings installed that will reduce runout.

    • No problem – thanks for the comment!

      Probably a good point – I didn’t know that about the loading capabilities. As much as I like my ZTW spindle, I’ve got to give the Dremel a lot of credit. It’s really taken quite a beating, especially since it’s not really designed for CNC use. I still use my 200 as a “general tool” quite successfully after many hours being tortured in my CNC frame!

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