WHAT IS A SANDER?
A sander is a remarkably simple power tool that helps you to smooth surfaces harnessing the abrasive qualities of sandpaper.
This sandpaper is attached to the sander by an assortment of methods depending on the type of tool you buy. You’ll get a mechanism within the housing to move this sandpaper rapidly.
Sanders can be handheld or benchtop style. They are usually powered electrically but sometimes, particularly in garages, they use compressed air.
You might already own a drill or multi-purpose tool with a sander attachment but there really is no substitute for a dedicated machine.
Whether you’re a keen home DIYer, woodworker or contractor, negotiating the minefield of electric sanders can be incredibly confusing. We’ll walk you through the different types up for grabs next so you can see which of these variants would work best for your needs…
Random orbit sanders are arguably the most versatile way to buff up an array of surfaces and they are certainly the most popular choice today.
These sanders act as a kind of bridge between orbitals and belt sanders. They are flexible and also generally very affordable. With a random orbit, you’ll have enough power to deal confidently with rough timber but you’ll also be able to apply them to finishing work for the double-win.
Random orbital sanders are circular which allows you to work your way into awkward spots and corners with ease. They use a hook and loop system to keep the sandpaper attached.
The orbital action allows for a very clean finish with an absence of the swirl marks or scratches that can mar your workpiece.
These square sanders are also known as ¼ sheet sanders since they take one-quarter of a sheet of regular 9 x 11 sandpaper.
An orbital sander normally makes use of some form of clamp to keep the sandpaper in place. Where the pad vibrates in tiny orbiting circles, you’ll be able to sand in any direction.
Since they are not very aggressive, this type of sander doesn’t respond well to rough stock removal. On the plus side, they’re ultra-lightweight and easy to control one-handed.
If you want your wood sanded super-smooth, edges rounded over or dried coats of paint sanded away, an orbital finishing sander is the go-to tool.
If you need to smooth very large areas of often rough material, little can compete with the pace and raw force of a belt sander. Belt sanders also work well if you need to remove old finishes or smooth the edges of boards.
These sanders take belts which are loops of very abrasive cloth stretched over a pair of cylindrical drums. The rear drum is driven by the motor and the front drum runs is free running.
Belt sanders are available in 4 sizes from 3 x 18 inches right up through 4 x 24 inches. These figures refer to the size of the belt. Larger sanders offer more sanding surface but they’ll also be trickier to control and you’ll sacrifice a little stability.
Disc sanders are used to smooth wood and plastic as well as removing smaller amounts of waste material.
The extreme power kicked out by a disc sander makes these a great choice for woodworking professionals.
The disc in these sanders makes an oscillating movement parallel to your work surface.
Disc and belt sanders are frequently mounted on the same machine.
Who Needs Sanders?
In short, pretty much anyone engaged in woodworking, whether casually at home or professionally, would benefit from buying a great sander.
From making and repairing furniture through to preparing surfaces for painting, a good sander comes into its own for a vast array of applications.
These are extremely simple tools but that doesn’t make them any less effective. The alternative, hand sanding, is really not practical in terms of either speed or finish if you’re looking to work with any reasonably large projects.
So, if you are a woodworker of any skill level, you need a sander. It’s really just a question of which one would work best for you.
THE COMPLETE WOOD SANDER BUYING GUIDE
Whenever you’re looking to add a new tool to your workshop, it always pays to take your time rather than rushing in and potentially wasting your money.
And money is where you should kick things off… Think about your budget and this alone will immediately narrow your choices. We would never encourage you to spend more than you can comfortably afford. What we would advise is that you buy the best tools you can muster rather than trying to scrimp and save a few bucks at the expense of results.
As ever, we would point you towards user feedback to get a rounded and frank idea of where these tools excel and where they fall down. It’s also wise to read a decent selection of reviews so you can find out from people who have tested the tools which one would work best for you.
To help you further, we’ve broken down 8 leading factors to consider when you’re looking for the best sander…
What To Consider When Buying a Sander
We rarely flag pricing as something worth considering above all else when buying any given power tool but sanders are slightly different…
Where a sander is such a fundamentally simple tool, there really is no need to splurge a fortune to get something more than capable of delivering superb results. You won’t notice a chasm of difference between cheaper and more expensive models so pay close attention to the price and ask yourself whether you really need to spend what you have in mind.
The exception to this is if you are a professional carpenter or woodworker. In this case, you’ll need to laser in on a sander that’s designed for heavy, sustained use and this usually commands a premium.
- Type of Sander
Flick through the main types of sander outlined at the beginning of this article. To refresh your memory, they are:
Random Orbit Sander
Orbital Finishing Sander
If none of these sanders seems suitable, there are more variants on the market so think very careful about the projects you’ll undertake and make sure you start things rolling by doubling down on the best type of sander for you.
Some sanders demand that you use a specific type of sandpaper. If the model you’re interested in has limitations in this area, check the sandpaper is readily available and affordable.
- Type of Sander
- Comfort and Grip
Ergonomics should be uppermost when you are investigating the purchase of any power tool. Portable sanders are no different.
Look for user reviews that comment on comfortable handles, well-balanced tools and also think about the weight.
Even if you plan to buy your sander online, it should still be possible for you to pop into a physical store and at least hold the sander you have in mind to see whether the handle and grip feel just right.
If you are looking for a benchtop unit, think about how user-friendly it is in general and whether or not it’s appropriate for your skill level.
- Trigger Lock-On Mechanism
Anyone looking to engage in continuous sanding is well advised to track down a sander with a lock-on mechanism on the trigger.
There’s nothing worse than needing to apply constant pressure as you work and this feature can be worth its weight in gold for heavy users who just want to concentrate on the job free of all distractions.
- Comfort and Grip
- Power and Portability
Sanders vary considerably in shape and size from small cordless units right through to large benchtop corded models.
There’s no right or wrong answer in this regard, simply honestly analyze your sanding needs and home in the most fitting solution. There’s no need to buy an industrial beast if you’re a home hobbyist. Equally, it’s senseless thinking a weaker and cheaper sander will make the grade for prolonged commercial use.
If you’re looking to take the sander onto the job site, it’s also worth taking into account whether it has a hard carrying case and whether or not it’s convenient to carry without straining yourself.
- Variable Speed
Sanders with variable speed control allow you to use lower speeds for delicate work and finishing then ramp it right up if you want to churn through larger, rougher pieces quick-smart.
Again, think about the applications you have in mind and decide whether variable speed is a necessity or luxury for you. Buy accordingly.
- Dust Collection
Obviously, sanding is a messy business and you’ll generate a great deal of sawdust and debris as you work.
Check that the sander you’re looking into has a suitable dust collection port so you can hook it up easily to a shop vac and keep your workshop safe and free of dust.
- Power and Portability
Now you have an idea what to consider when you’re looking for the best sander, a quick overview at some useful tips to help you use and maintain your new tool…
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USAGE AND MAINTENANCE TIPS
The first step in safely using a sander is to choose the right type of tool…
Belt sanders work well on larger surfaces, vibrating sanders impart excellent finishes, disc sanders are better suited to smaller surfaces.
All usual safety guidance should be followed…
– Wear safety glasses
– Wear a dust mask
– Make sure the sander is switched off before connecting it
– If you are making adjustments, changing the sandpaper or belt, always switch the sander off
– Do not use worn belts or discs
– Keep your hands well clear of the belt
– Clean the dust away regularly
That aside, using a sander is really rather simple and any specific advice depends on the type of sander you’ll be using so practice on some waste material and you’ll be up and running in no time.
Much like with usage, maintenance differs according to the type of sander you have. In general, make sure everything is clean, make sure the rollers are properly aligned if you are using a belt sander and check for any wear and tear on a regular basis.
The leading cause of sanders malfunctioning is dust working its way inside so it’s a good idea to periodically vacuum your sander to keep it top-top.
Maintenance is not taxing so take care of these basics and your sander should give you many years of faithful service.