Best Orbital Sander 2018: Orbital Sander Buying Guide
Even if you accurately cut each part of for your woodworking project, assemble it without any glue stains, apply the perfect stain, and lay down a beautiful coat of lacquer, your project won’t look it’s best if you leave planer and saw marks showing.
Orbital sanders are a main stay in woodworking and can help you get the sanding out of the way quickly. So, we’re going to present some options to help you pick out the best orbital sander for your needs.
As for sanders, there are a number of options available: corded, battery powered, air powered, inline, orbital, and random orbital. In this article, we are going to focus on the tried and true orbital sander. Why not? They are economical enough to fit any craftsman’s budget, and when used correctly will result in very smooth surfaces.
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Choosing the Best Orbital Sander
So, what is an orbital sander?
As the name implies, the sander uses an orbital motion to do the work. The sanding pad is driven by a shaft that has an offset center mechanism. As the shaft spins, it moves the sanding pad around in a very minute orbital manner.
The pad is not spun, as it is loosely fixed to the sander body, but only enough to keep it in place. This allows the pad to move enough to get the job done.
You may have heard of random orbit sanders.
These are similar to the orbital sander, but the mechanism is a bit more complicated, so as to provide a very random sanding pattern.
Orbital sanders do not have this random pattern and if moved quickly across the surface, a spiral sanding pattern may be left in the material.
Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that the orbital sander is not a good tool.
On the contrary, for the money spent you can get great results from these sanders, if you use the properly. Who doesn’t like saving a little money, by not upgrading, if you don’t have to.
The best orbital sander will do what you want, for a reasonable amount of money, without wearing out your arms and hands.
Uses for Orbital Sanders
If you’re going to work with wood, you’re going to want smooth finishes. Well, most of the time. This can be accomplished by hand sanding, but that takes more time than necessary and it’s tiresome.
The orbital sander is a great tool for this job.
Sanding isn’t the only thing that orbital sanders can do, though. They can also be used to polish, as well as remove rust and scale.
When working with soft materials, such as balsa wood and foam, orbital sanders can even be used for shaping. Just pick the right grade of sandpaper and go to town.
So, who are orbital sanders best for, beginners or advanced?
Easy answer, both. I’ve been woodworking for decades and have an orbital sander, a random orbit sander, and a couple of belt sanders. Actually, I have two orbital sanders, a quarter sheet sander and a “Mouse” finish sander. Both of the orbital sanders still get pulled out and used when they’re best suited for the task at hand.
As mentioned above, orbital sanders can be used in a variety of situations. Wood, plastic, metal, foam, and many other materials can be worked on with an orbital sander. It’s really all up to the craftsman’s imagination.
Heck, I’ve even heard of folks strapping bottles of modeling paints to their orbital sanders, so they don’t have to shake them by hand.
Types of Orbital Sanders
All orbital sanders work on the same principal.
A sanding pad is driven by a spinning shaft that has an offset drive system. This causes the pad to move in a minute orbital pattern.
Okay, so how do orbital sanders differ?
Here’s a few examples.
“Mouse” Orbital Sanders
These sanders get there name based upon the mouse like shape of the sanding pads and sanding sheets.
Some manufactures, such as Black and Decker, have even shaped the entire sander to resemble a mouse. Well, if you step back and squint.
The sanding pads and discs resemble a drop of water, sharp at one end and roundish at the other end. The point allows for getting into tight corners. The tapered sides and roundish end are good for work up against edges.
These sanders tend to be smaller than others, which is hand for folks with smallish hands.
Quarter Sheet Orbital Sanders
Quarter sheet sanders get their name from the fact that a single sheet of sandpaper can be cut into quarters, providing four sheets for the sander. These sanders’ pads are almost completely square.
They offer more sanding area than “Mouse” sanders, but can’t reach into tight spaces as well.
Where “Mouse” sander require the use of specially shaped sanding sheets which might not be readily available, quarter sheet sanders can use sanding sheets that are widely available.
Half Sheet Orbital Sanders
As the name implies, half sheet sanders use half of a standard sanding sheet.
Other than that, there’s no real difference from quarter sheet sanders.
Corded sanders have been around for years. As the name implies, these sanders have a power cord and run off of standard 120 volts ac.
You simply plug them in, turn them on, and go to work. They have been a mainstay in woodworking, and other craft areas, for ages.
Well, you can guess what this name implies. Yep, no cord.
Battery powered sanders took a while longer to come to market, but once battery technology became better and batteries lasted longer, these became popular.
Keep a couple of batteries charged and you can work “Cord Free” for hours.
Pneumatic (Air Powered) Sanders
Pneumatic sanders differ from corded and cordless sanders in that they use compressed air for power.
These sanders are widely used in auto body and metal shops, where large air compressors are usually found. Many auto finish techniques require wet sanding, which is not an option with AC powered sanders.
Not a good idea to be standing in a puddle of water while using an electric sander.
Okay, so know you know a bit about the different types of sanders. Here’s the next step in choosing a sander. For the remainder of the article, only electric sanders will be discussed.
What to look for in an orbital sander?
So, you’re ready to buy a sander. There’s a number of things to consider and we’ve put together a list for your review.
This is probably the element that most folks consider first.
What can your bank account handle? There’s a range of prices out there, but you don’t have to spend any more than you can afford.
There’s a number of options through out the price range.
As with most any power tool, orbital sanders are available in a range of motor sizes.
Corded sanders are rated in amps. The higher powered sander will usually be larger than smaller rated tools. You’ll usually find that “Mouse” type sanders are rated smaller than quarter sheet sanders. Half sheet sanders tend to be rated higher than the both.
Cordless sanders are usually rated according to their voltage. A secondary rating is based upon the battery capacity. More voltage does not always mean a better sander.
The capacity of the battery pack will determine how much time you can sand before you have to recharge. A 4 amp hour pack will not last as long as a 6 amp hour pack, no matter the voltage.
Size can be important in selecting a sander.
If you plan to work on large surfaces such as table tops, you might consider a half sheet sander. You don’t have to have one to do those sized projects, as a quarter sheet sander will get the job done, although it will take a bit more time.
I wouldn’t recommend using a “Mouse” sander on large projects. Their smaller footprint is fine for smaller projects, but not so for large ones.
Even if you don’t start out on large projects, but plan to do so, we recommend that you spring for a larger sander.
Sanding Pad/Sheet Size and Shape
“Mouse” sanders require special sanding sheets, which are die-cut to match the sanding pad, and have a “Velcro” attaching system.
If you run out of these and don’t live near a store that carries them, you’re down until you can go pick them up.
Quarter and half sheet sanders use regular sanding sheets, which are available at a variety of sources. Many times sandpaper can be picked up at the local grocery store. Mouse sanding sheets won’t be found there.
Of course, “Mouse” sanders can get into tighter spaces than quarter and half sheets, so if you find the need for one, make sure and keep plenty of sanding sheets handy.
Many sanders come with dust collection options, using a catch back or by attaching a shop vacuum to keep the work area clean.
Smaller, less expensive sanders won’t have this option. You’ll have to decide if you can live with uncollected dust or not.
If you’re sanding trim inside a house, in preparation to repaint, a dust collector is a must. If you’re working out in your shop, it’s not a big deal to have a little bit of mess.
Unlike tools such as routers and drills, variable speed is not so important in a sander.
When sanding, you want to smooth the surface as quickly as possible, so a high speed is a good thing. Variable speed can come in handy when sanding plastics. A high speed will tend to melt the surface instead of smoothing it.
This is when dialing down the speed can come in handy. Polishing plastics will also benefit from dialing down the speed.
Many sanders are known as “Palm” sanders, as they fit in the palm of your hand.
They have no handle extending out from the body, instead the body is the handle. Palm sanders place the downward pressure over the sanding pad. Extended handle sanders are good for two-handed work, but tend to be awkward when used with one hand.
When looking for a sander “try them on” by picking different ones up and checking out how the handles feel.
If it feels wrong in the first minute or so, it really will after several minutes of sanding.
Corded vs Cordless
If you want uninterrupted power, have access to outlets, and don’t mind with pulling out and working with a cord, go with an AC powered, corded sander.
Corded sanders are great if you want mobility, have extra batteries, or don’t mind down time when charging. So, you’ll have to think about how you plan to work.
Brand Name or Non-Brand Name
Years ago, name brands were the thing. Now, non-name brands can be as good as they come.
Most of sanders we’ve reviewed are name brand, but that doesn’t mean that they are the only good sanders.
Best Orbital Sander Roundup
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DEWALT D26441K 2.4-AMP Orbital 1/4-Sheet Sander with Cloth Dust Bag
DeWalt is well known for quality power tools, and this sander is no exception. This corded sander will serve you well for a long time.
As the name says, it’s a quarter sheet sander, so sanding sheets will be easy to come by.
This sander also has a dust collector port, which can be used with the included catch bag or a shop vac.
Either way, you’ll keep the dust under control.
Sanding sheets are attached with spring clamps. Simply pull the lever up from the latch and lift the clamp.
Both spring clamps are well within the edges of the sanding pad, so they won’t hang up on any part of your project.
- DeWalt, a name well known for quality
- 2.4 amp motor
- 14,000 rpm sanding speed
- Dust collector port
- Some people complain the clip mechanism does not hold the sandpaper well
BLACK & DECKER BDEMS600 Mouse Detail Sander
Black & Decker is another well known name in the power tool market. I’ve got a B&D router that my mother bought for my father for their first anniversary. That was 35 years ago and the router is still going strong.
Definitely different, in that this sander is a “Mouse” sander, so sheets are not going to be so easy to come by.
That’s not a big deal, if you stop up when you buy the sander.
The neat thing about “Mouse” sanders, they have a very pointed tip on the pad which makes it easy to reach into tight corners. Quarter and half sheet sanders will get the big jobs done, but mouse sanders can really reach into tight spots, where the other two can’t.
- Black & Decker, a name well known for quality
- 14,000 rpm sanding speed
- Dust collector filter
- “Mouse” design allows sanding pad to fit in tight corners
- Dual style grip (Pistol and palm) allows for the most comfortable for the user
- Dust collector port only accepts the supplied filter
- Smaller foot print, due to mouse shape
Makita BO4556K 2.0 Amp 4-1/2-Inch Finishing Sander with Case
Makita is another well known name in the power tool field. A while ago I really tried to wear out Makita sanders and cordless drills while working in a cabinet shop.
Nope, I moved on before either died. Makita tools last. Me, I left the cabinet shop years ago.
This is another ¼ sheet champ, with 14,000 rpm in sanding speed. The housing allows for a number of grip techniques providing comfortable use for hours.
- Another name well known for quality
- Deals are available with storage/carry case
- Dust collector filter
- Sanding pad is not the stoutest
WEN 6304 1/4 Sheet Orbital Palm Sander
Wen is not a well known name, but don’t count this sander out, especially with a 2.0 amp motor and 15,000 rpm sanding speed. Wen’s sander also includes a dust collector bag.
Another positive for the Wen is the dual sanding sheet mounting systems.
One can use the clamps for regular sanding sheets or use hook and loop back sanding sheets.
The low cost of this sander provides big bang for the bucks.
- 2.0 amp motor
- 15,000 rpm sanding speed
- Dust collector bag
- Low cost
- Sanding sheets mount via hook and loop or clamps
- Unfamiliar brand name
- Square dust collector port, cannot attach shop vac
Ryobi P401 ONE+ 18-Volt Corner Cat Finish Sander
We had to include at least one cordless sander and this one is by Ryobi, which is also well known for quality power tools.
As one suspect, this sander is going to cost more than the corded versions, plus the sander comes without a battery and charger.
Not a problem, as they are readily available, and the battery fits many other Ryobi tools.
This sander has the lowest sanding speed at 11,000 rpms, but still provides enough power to get the job don. It is also a “Mouse” style sander, so it will work well in tight spaces.
Keep in mind, it uses the special shaped sanding sheets. This is the only sander that does not provide for dust collection.
- Well known brand name
- Quality production
- No cord to drag around or tangle up
- Battery and charger sold separately
- Down time when battery needs charging
- No dust collection system