One of my favorite DIY projects to do is building custom furniture from pieces of scrap wood. From coffee tables to desks, the possibilities of your DIY efforts are seemingly endless. These projects are a great way to get compliments from your friends, too.
Building furniture yourself allows for a lot of customization. It allows you to decide what size, decorative features, and color your piece will be. One of the most satisfying parts of these projects is finishing the wood and staining it the perfect color. Unfortunately, this also comes along with a tiring sanding process that often leaves your piece looking a little raggedy.
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Features of Orbital Sanders
Orbital Sheet vs. Random Orbital Sanders
There are two major types of motorized sanding tools. The older technology, orbital sheet sanders, work by using a motor to move standard sandpaper attached to the tool back and forth. The sheet sanders work well for large, flat surfaces, and are generally cheaper. It’s also easier to find standard sandpaper that can be cut down to size than the specialized disks that random orbital sanders require.
Random orbital sanders are a newer technology and have recently taken off in terms of popularity. They work by moving the rotary disks in a “random,” elliptical fashion, which leaves a much smoother, cleaner, more-professional looking finish. They work great for cleaning up a finish job that doesn’t look quite right. However, they are far more expensive, can easily ruin a piece if not used carefully, and aren’t great for working on small spaces or corners.
Choosing between a sheet sander and a random orbital sander will depend on the type of jobs you typically do. The random orbital sanders are much more versatile, so for the occasional DIYer that is doing general projects, it is likely worth it to buy a random orbital sander. However, serious woodworkers will probably benefit from owning one of each–you will definitely run into situations that a sheet sander will work better, like sanding between coats of stain or in narrow corners.
Types of Random Orbital Sanders
There are several different types of random orbital sanders. Although all of these sanders will work for your general projects, they do have pros and cons that you would do well to know in case you like to specialize in a specific type of project.
Palm grip sanders are great for more fine-tuned sanding, like in narrow corners, fragile features, or small spaces. Right angle style sanders are good for projects that require a little more power, like removing paint or glue. They offer a slower motor speed that allows for the user to press harder on the surface, offering a rougher sanding. Large inline sanders are more customizable and can be used for big projects. They’ll need two hands to operate, but they often offer far greater speed customization that allow for their use on a variety of projects.
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The control of the speed of your sander is an important factor when working on wood surfaces. A lower speed is required for more fragile surfaces, and you can use a low speed to sand between coats of paint or wood stain. On the other hand, a faster motor speed will allow you to power through tough surfaces, and also make quick work of large jobs.
A sander that offers variable speeds can bridge the gap between the different settings and is thus a more general tool for a DIYer to own. If you work on a wide range of different projects, that’s something you should think about.
Many sanders will come with attachments like dust bags or dust guards to keep the onslaught of wood shavings at bay. Purchasing a sander with these included dust collection features is an important thing to consider, especially if you work indoors.
Some sanders are capable of being attached to shop-vacs, further preventing your workshop from becoming inundated with wood dust. This is a feature that those who work in small, indoor areas should consider–dust can quickly build up in the course of a DIY project, and your lungs will certainly thank you for the clean air.
Portability and miscellaneous accessories
As with any tool, the different orbital sanders out there will vary greatly in terms of build, accessories, and materials. Some sanders have more ergonomic, comfortable grip, which will make longer projects much easier on your hands. Others come with high quality carrying cases, making your tool portable–an important feature if you move around a lot.
Other features, like longer cords, trigger locks, sealed switches, and pad breaks can make or break your decision to buy a sander. A longer cord gives you flexibility when working on a large piece. Trigger locks prevent you from having to hold in the trigger, a nice feature if you’re working on a project that takes a long time. Sealed switches will prevent dust from entering your tool, extending the life of your sander. Pad brakes will prevent you gouging your project with an inadvertent motion–a lifesaver for the clumsiest among us.
There are a lot of variables when it comes to orbital sanders–make sure to read each of our overviews carefully and select features that you think you’ll benefit from. Remember though, there’s nothing like getting your hands on a product–try to test out these models at your local hardware store before ordering them online, if possible.
Comparing Top Options
DEWALT DWE6423K Random Orbit Sander
The DeWalt D26451K is a fantastic sander for the general DIYer. It’s got a rotational speed of 12,000 rpm, which is a good middle-ground between creating a smooth finish and having the power to tackle tough jobs. It’s fairly expensive, but it can be used as a sander and a grinder with external accessories.
What we like:
- Very durable design makes it long lasting
- Included dust bag to keep your workspace clean
- Comfortable, ergonomic grips
- Easy to replace sandpaper
This sander is the perfect middle ground tool for general projects, and would be a great addition to any workshop. It also has a dust-sealed switch, which prolongs the life of your sander, as well as a port for a vacuum. This is a fantastic all-around product and should definitely be considered when purchasing a orbital sander.
Some downsides include the non-variable speed, which limits the scope of projects you could potentially do with your sander. Some of the plastic attachments, such as the switch cover or the dust bag clasp may crack with age, as they’re made of slightly cheaper plastic than the body of the sander.
Bosch ROS20VSK 120-Volt Variable Speed Random Orbit Sander
This Bosch orbital sander is a little cheaper than the DeWalt one, and it also includes a 120-volt variable speed motor. This will obviously make the list of your possible projects a little longer–now you can sand fragile pieces with the same tool that you can use to power through tough, caked on paint or glue. That’s not the only thing we like about this product–it also has features like a “anti-spillback” dust canister that will prevent the dust from coming back towards the motor, for example.
What we like:
- Variable speed motor gives more flexibility
- Great fabric carrying case makes this sander very portable
- Sturdy dust hopper prevents huge mess
- Light, portable casing with comfortable grip
The variable speed and the small size give this sander the ability to leave smooth, quality finishes on fragile pieces. Because of the small size, however, it will be a pain to do huge projects requiring lots of elbow grease–if you tend to do more of those types of projects, it might be worth it to get a bigger, more powerful sander. If you’re in the market for a great general orbital sander, though, this offering from Bosch is hard to pass up.
Black & Decker BDERO100 Random Orbit Sander
The Black & Decker BDERO100’s main draw is its affordability. This little sander packs a motor speed of 12,000 rpm into a tiny 5” casing. This compact sander is great for around-the-house DIY projects, such as refinishing a porch, some cabinets, or an old coffee table. It even has some of the features of more expensive sanders, like a dust collection bag, a carrying case, and a side handle.
What we like:
- Affordable without sacrificing performance
- Small enough to tackle very small projects
- Comfortable grip
- Dust collection bag and canister
The BDERO100 is probably not as durable as some of the more expensive sanders on this list, but that’s to be expected. It also does not include a sealed switch to prevent dust from entering the casing. The dust canister/bag is not nearly as effective as the DeWalt sander, and this Black & Decker model also lacks a vacuum adapter.
All-in-all, though, it’s hard to fault this little machine for its deficiencies because it’s so darn affordable. This is a fantastic tool for a DIY beginner or someone who limits themselves to relatively modest projects.
Makita XOB01Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless Random Orbit Sander
This Makita model is a little different than the sanders we’ve talked about so far. It has a variable speed motor with speed settings at 7,000, 9,500, and 11,000 rpm. It has an orbit radius of ⅛” that is marketed as being engineered for “fast material removal,” so this tool might be better for more coarse projects and maybe not so great for working with antiques.
The most intriguing feature of this sander is the fact that it is cordless! With the included battery, you will get 20 minutes of high-speed sanding or 40 minutes of low-speed, so we recommend purchasing a second battery unless you only rarely plan on using your sander.
What we like:
- Convenience of being cordless
- Variable speed settings offer project customization
- Ergonomic, comfortable handle (although you won’t be holding it for long, with a short battery life)
- Large ⅛” orbit to make sanding jobs speedy
This is not a sander meant for large, complicated projects that will take more than a few minutes, due to its short battery life. However, you won’t find a more convenient and effective sander for household projects than this Makita model.
PORTER-CABLE 7424XP 6-Inch Variable-Speed Polisher
This Porter-Cable sander/polisher hybrid offers a lot more customization than the other sanders on this list. Meant for more fine-tuned sanding, the variable motor can be adjusted between speeds of 2,500 rpm to 6,800 rpm. It has a handle that can be switched from the right side to the left side, increasing comfort and control of the sander. This thing is great for more specialized projects like marine, automotive, or antique furniture.
What we like:
- Its 4.5 amp motor and variable speed settings make it a versatile tool
- It’s got the longest cord of any sander on this list at ten feet
- Doubles as a polisher–great for cars and boats
- Counter balance in the handle prevents excessive movement, smoothing the final result
If you’re looking for more of a pure sander, you might be better off investing in one of the other tools on this list. But the Porter-Cable polisher is capable of small woodworking projects in addition to being a fantastic car and boat care tool. If you’ve ever worked on a paint job on your boat or car, you know how difficult it can be to get things perfect. This polisher will make those jobs a piece of cake.
Orbital sanders are among the most important tools for a DIY project. No matter how soundly a piece of furniture is built, if the surface of the wood looks subpar, you won’t be satisfied with the finished product. A good orbital sander can take a mediocre piece into a masterpiece you will be proud of.
There’s no sander out there that we can say is definitively the best for you–it all depends on what types of projects you get into. However, the best choice for someone in search of a good, general sander to have in their workshop is the DeWalt D26451K Random Orbit Sander. This tool from DeWalt is a reliable, durable sander that will be great for most sanding projects and will last for a really long time.
To be sure, owning an orbital sander can take you from a hobbyist to a genuine DIY pro. Doing a little research and selecting the best tool for you is important, and we hope that this guide can help you do that.