It can be tough to understand the different types of sanders and their uses, as there are so many varieties on the market. Belt, orbital, random orbital, palm, detail, and multi-tool sanders all have their own benefits and disadvantages.
But we can help! This guide will:
> Help you to create a list of key criteria that your sander must meet
You can then refer to this list as you read the rest of the guide.
> Describe the different types of sander
This will familiarise you with their names and the different ways in which they work
> Describe the best use of each variety
This will help you to establish what type of sander you will need for the task or tasks ahead
> Help you to decide between the different available models
Make sure that you consider all of the most important factors!
By the end of this guide you will have no trouble deciding what type of sander to buy! So let’s get going.
So what do I need to consider when choosing a sander?
Most of us know the basic purpose of a power sander: to finish surface materials. Before choosing between the sander types it is important that you also establish the specific requirements of the task. Ask yourself the following questions:
> What materials will I be sanding?
Most sanders are capable of sanding the most common materials when using the correct type
of sanding paper, but it is definitely worth checking.
> What sizes and shapes are the materials that I will most commonly be sanding?
Sanding a large, flat square is very different to sanding a small object with many curved surfaces
or small corners.
> Do I need particular levels of surface quality?
Some electric sanders are designed to give the best surface quality possible, while others leave
much rougher finishes.
> What compatible abrasive types and backing pads are available?
Consider what you may need in the future as well as what you need right now.
> What is my budget?
Balancing quality and price concerns is often very difficult, but very important. Also consider
accessories, as you will probably be buying them repeatedly for the lifetime of the sander.
Take a note of these questions and your answers, leaving space to add notes and make changes as you go through this guide.
Now it’s time to take a detailed look at the most common types of sander.
What is a belt sander?
An electric belt sander uses a continuous loop of abrasive paper called, as you might have guessed, a sanding belt. This belt is looped around two drums that are spun by the motor, which moves the paper continuously in one direction.
These tools have a very aggressive action on wood, and are generally used with coarse grit sanding paper. This results in rough and rapid stock removal, which makes belt sanders ideal for use on very large areas early on in the finishing process.
Finer-grit sanding belts are available and will leave a smoother surface, but there are other sanders that are much better suited to this task.
Although they are most commonly used on wood, electric belt sanders can also be used on plastics. They are available with belts of up to four inches wide, and are usually variable speed to allow flexible usage.
What is an orbital sander?
Also known as half-sheet sanders and finishing sanders, these tools have a base that moves in very tight circles, or “orbits”, to perform the sanding action. This minimises scratches and leaves a finer finish than a belt sander, but at the cost of a lower stock removal rate.
It may remove material slower but an electric orbital sander is still powerful enough to use on flat, medium-sized areas. It is also idea for smoothing rough materials such as paint and plaster between coats.
Orbital sanders may have declined in popularity over the years due to the emergence of random orbit sanders, but they are still worth considering. They are a very economical solution for performing most general-purpose wood sanding tasks.
What is a random orbital sander?
This tool is known by a variety of other names: “random orbit sander” and “dual action sander” are the most common after “random orbital sander”, whereas the term “eccentric sander” is a Festool-specific term. This versatile tool has become the tradesman’s sander of choice in recent years, and it’s easy to see why.
It has the same orbital motion as an orbital sander, but also spins the pad around a spindle at the same time. This action means that the grit travels in a different path on every orbit, which eliminates the swirl-patterns often left by orbital sanders.
An electric dual action sander can therefore bridge the gap between a belt sander and an orbital sander. It will provide you with a high level of stock removal on larger areas, but is also capable of creating a very fine finish without difficulty. Some models even have a “boost” function, giving a surge of power that enables even quicker material removal.
There is a huge range of different abrasive papers available, to help with faster stock removal or finer finishes. Many of these machines can sand a range of materials including wood, sheet steel and plastic.
What are orbital palm sanders and detail sanders?
A palm sander is essentially an orbital sander with a smaller baseplate and a design that fits comfortably in the palm of your hand. They are less powerful than orbital sanders but much more lightweight, and they can be easily operated with one hand even on vertical surfaces. They also tend to cost a lot less.
Overall, a palm orbital sander an affordable option ideal for light-duty jobs in smaller areas that are awkward to access with the larger models.
An electric detail sander is the same as a palm sander, except it has a triangular-shaped base plate. This allows it to easily navigate more awkward shapes and get right into corners. Awkward sanding jobs like window frames are made much quicker and with better results with a detail sander.
What is multi-tool sanding?
An electric multi-tool (also called a “multi-cutter”) is a small power tool that can be used for lots of different tasks. It works by rotating the attached accessory side-to-side by a small degree, producing a cutting or sanding movement. You can buy both corded multi-tools and cordless multi-tools.
A multi-tool sander is ideal for very small and very intricate jobs, although it has a surprisingly high rate of stock removal. The sanding pad is generally triangle-shaped and smaller than a detail sander’s pad, which allows you to get into very tight corners with ease. There are even accessories that allow you to sand away small areas of tile adhesive and mortar.
It is not worth buying a power multi-tool just for the sanding capabilities, but the wide variety of tasks it can perform may make it a very useful and worthwhile tool to have in your kit. With the appropriate accessory it can be used to saw, scrape, sand and cut materials like wood, metal, plastic, concrete and grouting.
I know what type of sander I need, but how do I choose between the different models?
Not all sanders are created equally, so it is important to consider which and how many features your budget allows for. When choosing a sander model, you should consider the following:
Different sander types have different levels of power, but consider the power level of each individual
model. The amount of power you need depends on the toughness of the jobs you’re going to
undertake, and how long it will take you on average to do them.
Does the sander have particular features that will give it a longer lifetime? This is very important if
your sander will be getting a lot of use.
> Vibration control
Overexposure to vibration can not only be uncomfortable but also very dangerous. It can even do
permanent damage if you do not follow the manufacturer’s usage recommendations. Lower
vibration levels mean you can work for longer in greater safety and comfort.
> Dust extraction
Sanding creates a lot of dust, which is not only messy but can also be hazardous. Does the sander
come with a dust bag, and if so how big is the bag? Will you need a vacuum extractor?
If you’re working on a budget then this is one feature you may have to sacrifice. However, if you’ve
got the money to splash out then comfort-enhancing features light low weight, well-positioned
switches, and ergonomic designs are well worth it.
That’s a lot of information to take in, so let’s go over it all one more time.
> A handheld belt sander is ideal for working with very large and/or uneven areas, when a fine
finish is not required.
> An orbital half-sheet sander is a cost-effective solution for creating a nice fine finish on
> An electric random orbital sander provides rapid stock removal and a very fine finish, free
from swirl-marks. It can perform a range of jobs at different stages in the finishing process.
> A palm sander is ideal if you will only be performing small, light-duty jobs and want a
lightweight tool that is easy to handle.
> A fine detail sander is ideal for intricate jobs and sanding small, awkwardly-shaped areas.
> Multitool sanding is only appropriate if you are going to perform small sanding jobs, and
will make use of the rest of multi-tool’s functions.
Still got questions? Then just ask away in the comments and we’ll be happy to help.
Otherwise: buy your perfect sander right now so you can go out there and get sanding!