Guide written by:
Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds
Got a damaged floor in need of some care and attention, kitchen furniture to repaint, or doors to sand? Don't worry, there's a sander out there for every task! Read on to find out more about belt sanders, orbital sanders and random orbital sanders.
- Base plate shape
- Sanding motion
- Type of job
Choosing the right sander for the job
If you're looking to sand wooden joists or beams, you'll need a belt sander; this is the most powerful sander available and is your best option for heavy-duty tasks. If you plan to sand any curved surfaces you should look for an orbital sander. Random orbital sanders can be used for both flat surfaces and finishing work, and are just as easy to handle as orbital sanders as they do feature a similar design. For overhead sanding jobs, use a drywall or long reach drywall sander. These models should ideally be hooked up to a dust extraction system. Various types of sander can be used to sand flooring, but the most efficient option will be a drum floor sander. When it comes to flat surfaces and finishing work, an orbital sander will generally work just as well as a random orbital sander!
Why choose a belt sander?
Belt sanders are used for rough sanding tasks (flooring, joists, etc.) and can only be moved in a back and forth motion. These sanders are made up of two parallel rollers designed to secure the sandpaper. Belt sanders are powerful and noisy, and can create impressive dust clouds! What's more, as these machines can weigh between 4 and 8 kg, you'll need both hands to operate them. A belt sander can come in handy for sanding wooden floors but bear in mind that a floor sander is best suited to this task as it will save you from having to work in awkward positions. Belt sanders are essentially used to rough sand large surfaces. As for any type of sanding job, you will generally need to sand your surface three times working from the roughest to the finest grit. Finally, remember to sand down all edges!
Electric power files
Electric power files can be used for rough sanding and fine filing. The main applications of these tools are as follows:
- Sanding curved surfaces
- Shaping wood
- Removing excess weld
- Filing down nail or screw heads
- Cleaning apertures (e.g. mortise joints)
- Rounding off ceramic tiles
- Rust removal
Power files are particularly useful for hard-to-reach spots as the file itself can reach up to 160 mm. They are lightweight, easy to handle and are designed to sand as well as file.
Why choose an orbital sander?
Used for finishing work, orbital sanders are great for flat surfaces and offer high-quality results. The plate is designed to turn in tiny orbits at speeds of up to 15,000 rpm. These tools can be used for a wide range of applications using a 150 or 125 mm plate. Suitable for small to medium-scale sanding tasks, these tools can be used on wooden or metal surfaces. Pneumatic orbital models are popular among professionals as they are are able to cope with prolonged and frequent use. Pneumatic sanders must be used with a compressor and the correct air flow rate to ensure optimum performance.
What is an random orbital sander?
A random orbital sander is an orbital sander with an oscillating plate. The orbital diameter can be up to 4/5 mm. The combination of the oscillating and rotating motion makes these tools more efficient and flexible than other models. For example, this type of sander can be used for both curved and flat surfaces. They usually come with a softer pad for high-quality finishes on wood, etc. Random orbital sanders are particularly well-suited to finishing work. They are also commonly used for vehicle body repair work. Sanding pros may want to invest in a pneumatic model!
Random orbital sander
Other uses of random orbital sanders
Random orbital sanders (or orbital sanders with circular base plates) can also be used to polish. Simply replace the sandpaper with a polishing sponge or pad. Be sure to purchase the correct pad diameter and if you are only looking to polish, buy a polisher!
Finally, a quick reminder in basic geometry: sanders with circular base plates are not suitable for use in corners.
1/2 sheet, 1/4 sheet and delta sanders
These sanders work best for finishing flat surfaces. They are lightweight and reasonably priced. The plate of these orbital sanders vibrates in tiny circles. For larger surfaces, use a rectangular (1/2 sheet) base; for tight corners, go for a triangular (or delta) base. Generally speaking, sanders with square bases (1/4 sheet) are easier to use than random orbital sanders and orbital sanders with circular bases.
Triangular (or delta) base
Stay safe with dust extraction
Sanders with dust extractor adaptors can be plugged directly into your dust extractor hose. As such, you will have to check that your hose nozzle is compatible with the adaptor. Dust bags or other dust extraction systems are highly recommended in order to protect your respiratory system. They will help to keep your working space clean and reduce the risk of breathing issues caused by inhaling dust. Dust extraction is especially important when dealing with harmful materials.
Drywall and long-reach sanders
These sanders are specially designed for overhead use. The heavier they are, the more work they are to use. Bear in mind that these models generally weigh between 2.5 and 5 kg, meaning you can get your sanding and workout done in a one go! Some long reach models feature a telescopic pole meaning that they can be used from a stepladder. You should keep in mind, however, that these models can weigh up to 12 kg – another good opportunity to get a weight-lifting session in! Drywall sanders are ideal for plasterboard sanding. In this case, be sure to use a dust extraction system as well as anti-clogging sandpaper. Invest in good dust extraction and your lungs will thank you in the long term!
When it comes to choosing a sander, you should focus on the type more than anything else as each model is designed for a specific task and material type. That said, sanders can range from less than 100 W up to 1200 W in power, depending on the model. It's worth noting that the more detailed the work, the less powerful and heavy the machine. With the exception of belt sanders, the following characteristics are generally more important than power rating:
- Rpm and sanding orbits (for random orbital sanders);
- Orbit diameter (for orbital sanders).
Additional options for sanders
When working with large surfaces, use a dust extraction port. For sanders with a built-in extraction system, be sure to check how easy the dust chamber is to remove for effective cleaning. A plastic dust chamber will prevent you from having to buy bags, which is a plus for the environment!
This can be a useful option for any type of sander. Lower speeds are useful for finishing work or dealing with hard woods or metal; you can crank up the power for rough sanding.
Anti-vibration system and sandpaper fixing system
Used like a shock absorber, an anti-vibration system offers greater user comfort for even sanding. A good sandpaper fixing system should not be overlooked; mid- to high-range models will offer higher quality.
Brushed or brushless motors
Motor brushes are wear parts used in electric motors. High-end sanders will usually have a brushless motors; these offer a longer lifespan and better performance.
Corded or cordless sander
With a doubt, corded sanders are best for prolonged use. In terms of cordless models, the most commonly found and the most efficient type of batteries are lithium-ion batteries. Designed to charge in just an hour, these batteries do not have any memory effect. They should be bought in pairs. Nonetheless, cordless sanders are not as common as corded models. Go for a high ampere hour (Ah) rating for longer battery life, and a high voltage (V).
Tips and tricks for using your sander
Choosing the right sandpaper is essential if you want to achieve good results. Choose the right grit for the task at hand. Do not sand over the same area for too long and always follow the grain of the wood – if you fail to do so, you are guaranteed to mess up the job! Wear protective gloves and goggles if you want to stay in one piece. Hearing protection is also advisable, especially when using a belt sander. You must also wear a respiratory mask to protect yourself from breathing in wood dust.
Guide written by:
Pauline, Self-taught handyman, Leeds, 107 guides
With a handyman-father, I grew up with the soft sound of the sander and hammer on weekends. I am both manual and cerebral (yes, it is possible.), I learned the basics of DIY and the customization of furniture because I was passionate. The salvage mentality is a true way of life that allowed me to know how to use all the tools and products needed to give something a second life, from sander to varnish. I have two favorite activities: the transformation of old furniture and decoration tips. I am always ready to lend a helping hand to revamp a table or to restore a mirror that was intended for the trash that will become a friend’s centerpiece. I’m convinced that it’s possible to reinvent an interior by small, regular modifications, I constantly research low-cost, test ideas.