First choose corded or cordless. Corded has more power and is always ready when you need it -- a particular advantage if you use it rarely, because you generally don't want to leave a cordless device charging for long periods. Cordless is nice to work with and gives you a lot of freedom of location, and is great for working in cramped spaces. Rechargeable batteries also have a limited lifespan -- after a few years, it will have lost capacity, and will be expensive or impossible to replace. You'll probably go buy a new tool instead.
Bits from different brands are mostly interchangeable, but fancy attachments (like router attachments, drywall cutting guides, etc) are not. You definitely want a variable speed model -- not just two speeds, but infinitely variable. I'm not sure what the point of the digital Dremel model is -- you don't really need that kind of precision in the speed.
Dremel has a very nice, relatively new cordless model called the Stylus. I haven't tried it, but I lust after it. Seems like it would be excellent for working in tight spaces or doing detail work. On the other hand, I was using my corded Dremel a little while back to cut through 2x4s, drywall, and aluminum siding, and I'm pretty thankful that I had not only the extra torque of the corded model, but also a bigger body to hold on to for a steady grip. DeWalt makes a corded model that seems very similar, and I would probably look at that if I were to buy another corded one, just because DeWalt usually makes pretty tough stuff. RotoZip is the other big name, and again they're on the brawny side of the scale, for big jobs. But I'd take that cute little cordless Dremel over any of those for detail work, and I think cleaning out the inside of a boiler would fall in that category.
Essentially, I draw a distinction between hobby stuff (detail work), and construction stuff (cutting holes in siding). If you want the flexibility to do both, get a corded tool -- probably a Dremel, which I think is really more geared toward the kind of fine control needed for detail work. You can also get the flexible shaft attachment for a corded tool, which really gives the best of both worlds (other than being able to, say, take it camping).
Whoa, Wonderclown, that was just exactly what I needed.....a way to sort through the possibilities. I will definitely (ha !!!) be using this tool for small stuff, since I'm really really bad at big stuff, so it looks like I'm going to look for a corded, flexible shaft, variable speed item....
I have a (corded) variable speed Multi-Pro I believe it's called. Bought it maybe 10 years ago and it still runs like new and never had to replace anything, even the motor brushes. It's been incredibly helpful when polishing the brass parts from my machines, including the inner part of the Cimbali portafilters. Makes them look great when no other cleaners or scrubbing was working. I also have one of those flexible shafts that allows you to hang the main tool from a hook and just use the flex shaft for grinding, buffing, etc. and it helps a lot when you're doing something that takes a while. That way you don't have to hold the main tool which can tire your hand out after a while.
Edit: Mine was a kit that included a hard case and a bunch of accessories and bits.
Been thinking about a Dremel and thanks for all the info. The 3956-02 Variable-Speed Rotary Tool Tool Kit with Flex-Shaft goes for as little as $78 and amazon has an extra 20% off until May 28. click here .
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