Foredom Carving Rotary Power

Monday 9 July 2018

Foredom is at the forefront of rotary power tool development and this gave me the ideal opportunity to test run two of their handpieces plus the control box and a variety of burrs and bits. Foredom is well known for flexi-shaft tools but not everyone wants that sort of fixed set-up. Here are my observations on the alternative solution.

My father, who was a sometime jeweller, among many other things, used a flexible shaft pendant drill. I found it tedious because it needed a fixed situation over the bench and it had a snake-like quality I couldn't get used to. So the Foredom solution with a small but heavy transformer sitting on the bench, plus a choice of two different handpieces with thin easily manoeuvrable leads, seems like the perfect way to work.

The control box

The transformer, known as the HP4-917 control box, is very dense and heavy. It has a power on/off switch, overload LED, a speed control, hand/foot switchover, forward and reverse, and a handpiece socket on the front. On the rear there is the foot variable-control socket, foot on/off socket, and voltage changeover. In other words, it has everything onboard.

Depending on which kit you buy, there is a choice of two hand pieces: the M.MH-120 Micro Grinder handpiece or the H.MH-170 handpiece. These are essentially quite different although they may accept many of the same accessories. Each kit also features the variable-speed foot control and a cradle upon which to rest the handpiece.

Micro Grinder hand piece

The Micro Grinder handpiece is heavy-duty and is intended for heavy grinding and deburring. Therefore, it isn’t the most compact unit but sits comfortably in the hand with a decent heft to it. It has a finely engineered three-jaw chuck that is opened and closed with a decent-size chuck key, which also features an integral handle. Foredom recommends regular clean outs and carbon brush checks.

H.MH-170 handpiece

The H.MH-170 hand piece is much slimmer, lighter and features a clever body twist switch for opening and closing the three-jaw 1/8in collet – not a chuck this time. This tool is strictly for lighter work such as power carving and light deburring and finishing. Changing collets is an interesting experience which may unnerve the beginner as it involves separating the front from the body, which is only possible with the tools supplied. You end up with several loose parts and care is needed on reassembly. However, the good news is that for smaller collet sizes you can use collet inserts that simply slip into the 1/8in collet and the body twist lock works just the same. So unless a collet is worn, you have no need for worry. Additionally, the carbon brushes do not require solder work if they are changed.

Various burrs

We were supplied with a variety of bits to try out. The list is too extensive to mention here but a full list can be found on the Woodworks Craft Supplies website. However, it includes bristle brushes, ceramic sanding bands and discs, rubber drum mandrel, CeramCut blue stones, plated diamond burr, aluminium oxide points, steel cutters for wood, carbide burr and Typhoon burrs, as well as a vicious-looking piercing/carving drill.

In use

Firstly, I tried the Micro Grinder handpiece and used a sanding band on the drum mandrel to shape a piece of mild steel, using increasing pressure until the overload light kicked in and the power cut out. It took quite a lot of force to induce that and a brief power switch-off reset the unit. I tried dial-only speed control, and then the foot pedal. The latter becomes more natural as you learn to adjust it while working much like a dentist would. It means you don't have to lift the tool away every time you want to ease off working.

The smaller handpiece was more comfortable and the lack of a drive shaft made it very easy to move around a complex carving. It had no lack of power for lighter work and with a Typhoon Rotor Saw mounted, it did a wicked job of carving in tiger oak, quickly creating fascinating patterns with depth.


Overall, I was very impressed with everything I tested here. The choice of handpiece is a difficult one; much depends on the work you envisage doing. Even harder is the choice of bits and burrs to buy. The best advice I can give is to start with a basic set and build on it as you find a need. I would encourage you to take advantage of the Micro Motor limited period offer if you are in the market for a new machine.