Sanders 101: How to Pick the Right Wood Sander for Any Project

What Are the Different Types of Sanders?

Sanders come in all shapes and sizes to meet the needs of DIY weekend warriors and professional contractors alike. Virtually every sander on the market today falls into one of the following categories.

Random Orbital Sander

If you had to choose just one sander to handle all woodworking tasks, the random orbital sander is the obvious choice. Unlike straight rotary sanders, random orbital sanders oscillate in an irregular fashion while rotating. In practical terms, this means that they’re more forgiving as far as permanently damaging wood is concerned. They’re easy to use and can be outfitted with a wide array of coarse or fine-grit sandpaper discs as needed.

Belt Sander

As the name would imply, a belt sander uses a wide circular belt or loop of sandpaper to polish wood. These handheld tools allow woodworkers to sand a large surface area in a short amount of time. An entry-level belt sander will typically use a belt or loop of sandpaper that measures roughly 3 inches by 18 inches. Contractor-grade belt sanders use loops as big as 4 inches by 36 inches.

Bench Sander

There are numerous kinds of bench or stationary sanders that can be used to accomplish a variety of tasks. For instance, an oscillating spindle sander boasts a vertical sanding drum that moves up and down. These sanders are employed to make fine, smooth curves in pieces of wood that are often used to create finish trim. Non-oscillating bench disc sanders do the same thing but are typically used for working with straight pieces of lumber.

Drum Sander

As the ultimate heavyweight of the sanding world, the powerful drum sander is a behemoth that can blast anything off of wood in a hurry. Drum sanders are normally used to polish hardwood floors before being painted or sealed. They’re essentially belt sanders that look like vacuum cleaners. They’re quite expensive and are typically rented rather than purchased by homeowners. Drum sanders should never be used on delicate flooring materials like engineered laminate wood.

Rotary Sander

Rotary sanders were once very common tools found in shops and garages around the country. While rotary sanders are less popular today, they are often used by woodworkers to quickly sand down rough surfaces and strip paint. A rotary sander simply rotates an abrasive disc or square of sanding paper in a circular fashion. You can easily convert an angle grinder into a powerful rotary sander by mounting a flap disc on the spindle.

What Are Orbital Sanders Good For?

A better question would be: what aren’t orbital sanders good for? Essentially the Swiss Army knife of sanders, orbital sanders of all stripes can pretty much do it all if you have enough patience. Straight orbital sanders allow DIY home improvement warriors to quickly blast away both paint and rough edges. Random orbital sanders can be used on everything from stock 2×4 or 2×6 timbers to finish trim.

What Are Belt Sanders Good For?

Belt sanders are great if you need to even out expansive surfaces in a hurry. Many people use belt sanders to make decks as smooth as possible before applying paint or sealer. The best thing about belt sanders is that they provide operators with the ability to apply a lot of force to a piece of wood. The only downside is that they can only sand a thin strip of wood at a time.

What Are Disc Sanders Good For?

Generally speaking, disc sanders are a great option if you have a smaller piece of wood that needs some finishing touches. They’re often firmly bolted to a workbench, which provides some serious stability when you need to make relatively fine alterations to lumber or trim. While they definitely cost more than a random orbital sander, they’re an essential purchase if you want to take your woodworking game to the next level.

Finishing Sanders: How to Use Them

Hand-held finish sanders or “palm sanders” are easy to use with a little practice. The key to making the most of these sanders is choosing the right speed for your specific woodworking scenario. Start off on a low setting, and carefully observe how much material you’re shaving away. Be sure to move the sander around in a consistent pattern to avoid gouging the wood. Use a high-grit sandpaper to achieve a glassy surface.

Should I Get a Hand Sander or an Electric Sander?

A good hand sander is a must if you’re serious about woodworking. While power or electric sanders make jobs a lot easier, there are times when they should be avoided. Hand sanders are preferable when you need to make final adjustments to cabinets and furniture that are nearly complete. Chucking a few hand sanders in a variety of sizes and shapes into your tool chest is a wise investment.

Buying a couple of electric sanders is a no-brainer if you plan on doing anything more intensive than polishing away stray burrs. Start off with a random orbital sander and go from there. Once you’re comfortable with a random orbital sander, you’ll quickly recognize its limitations and desire a belt sander for other jobs. If and when the need should arise, a good bench sander will make you all the more productive when it comes to polishing wood.

What About Battery-Powered Sanders?

Long gone are the days when battery-powered tools were weaker than their corded counterparts. The reality is that cordless sanders are every bit as capable as their corded brethren and easier to work with to boot. If you like a corded version of a sander, the cordless version is probably identical to it as far as performance goes. Just be sure to stock up on extra batteries and a replacement charger.

Sanders and Dust Control: How to Keep It Clean

Keeping sawdust out of your eyes is pretty easy due to the fact that most if not all sanders come with dust bags right out of the gate. Just keep a close watch on how full the bag is getting as you work and empty it regularly. As good as the integrated dust bags on sanders can be, it’s always a smart idea to keep a portable shop vacuum on hand to scoop up errant debris.

How to Get the Perfect Sander When You Need It Most

When you require a high-quality sander that’s right for the task at hand, you don’t want to wait days for your hardware to arrive in the mail. Fortunately, for you, all types of power sanders are available at your local True Value location at a moment’s notice. Use our friendly store locator tool to find a location in your neighborhood, and start sanding!