If you are like me, then you are surprised by how many types of sanders are available for the woodshop. Each design excels at particular tasks. Those same designs also struggle with other sanding jobs.
I want to share with you details about various sander types. The information provided should help you identify what these sanders can and can not do. That will allow you to make smart purchases and keep your woodworking fun.
The Main Types of Woodworking Sanders
Random Orbital Sanders
One of the most popular types of sanders for the woodworking shop is the random orbital sander. Woodworkers use it to remove lots of material quickly, like a belt sander. It is also capable of producing a smoother finish, similar to that produced by an orbital sander.
These sanders have a round base that measures five or six inches in diameter. That base spins as it operates. An additional elliptical movement is added to the spin to create a more random pattern.
This sander will be the go-to device for most hobbyists. The random action it generates helps to cut through wood quickly. You can also use it to make a smoother surface.
Best random orbital sanders include variable speed settings so that you can match the speed to the application and material you are sanding. It will also include ergonomic features that reduce vibrations as you work, which is important as a random orbital sander uses powerful motors to help sand away rough surfaces.
- Leaves far fewer marks than other sanders
- Can be used with or against the wood grain
- It can be used for rough removal or more detailed clean-up
- They cost more than other sander designs
- Its round base can not reach into corners
One of the fastest tools at removing wood by sanding is the belt design. This device uses a sanding belt placed over a pair of rollers. Those rollers linearly drive the belt.
A belt sander can be used at an angle or across the wood grain. It will not leave swirling marks like an orbital sander since the belt move in a straight line. That helps it leave a cleaner finish when you move with the wood grain on boards.
Best belt sanders are ideal for woodworkers who work with materials that have rough surfaces. For instance, belt sanders work very well for deck refinishing. Other sanders are not as quick at cleaning up wood grain or leveling uneven surfaces.
Fast stock removal also makes this a good tool for sanding to a scribed line. Woodworkers who make curved furniture surfaces will find that very useful for saving time and maintaining their workflow. This power-tool also can be used for the free-hand shaping of curves with a little bit of practice.
- This tool is designed to remove material quickly
- It can be used to help flatten surfaces
- Belt sanders are good for sanding curves to a scribed line
- You can not do fine sanding with a belt sander
- It is harder to control than other types of sanders
A detail sander allows you to work in tight spaces where other sanders will struggle to reach. These types of sanders often have smaller baseplates, the key design component is its triangular-shaped toe. It is the point that allows you to efficiently sand into corners and along the edges where two surfaces meet.
These tools use smaller motors as well as less aggressive sanding materials. You can use this sander for more detailed work on projects that could be more easily damaged. Using a detail sander will leave the area ready for a finish, unlike a belt or orbital sander that creates rougher surfaces.
I have found the best uses for a detail sander to be cleaning interior corners on boxes, drawers, and shelves. The less aggressive action will also allow you to clean along the interior edges without damaging the converging surface. A detail sander is also a good choice if you make a lot of delicate projects with thin stock, as it will not take a lot of material off.
- The design works great for corners and along junctions between boards
- They are easy to use
- Can be used to sand more delicate woodworking projects
- The small baseplate makes it less-effective for large surfaces
- You can not take off large amounts of material quickly with it
1/4 Sheet Sanders
This sander is also called an orbital sander. It has been a popular choice in both home and commercial settings since the 1950s. The main purpose of this power-tool is to produce a smooth surface that is close to finishing.
A spring-loaded base is vibrated by the electric motor, moving in a circular motion. It has a square shape that covers a larger area with each movement when compared to the smaller detail sander. This design also employs a smaller motor that creates a less aggressive type of sanding.
The name of the 1/4 sheet refers to its ability to accept a quarter of a sheet of sanding paper. These sanders are easy to load and are operated with minimal effort from the user.
This sander is best used before topcoats are applied, or between those coats to help create as smooth of a finish as possible. The price makes them a popular choice for beginning woodworkers and those who are starting to build their tool collection.
- Produces a smooth surface on wood grain
- Can be used between finishing coats
- This style of sander is economical
- It is not designed to remove lots of material
- This sander can leave swirl marks on the wood surface
Benchtop Belt & Disc Sanders
A belt and disc sander is a more specialized power-tool that provides accuracy and control as you work. It consists of two major components, the belt portion, and the disc portion. These both run on the same motor drive.
A key component with this sander is stability, something that a benchtop platform provides you. The sanding surface remains at the same angle as you work, while a support table keeps your project in place. That creates faces and edges that are flat and consistent across the board.
Best benchtop belt and disc sanders are a good choice for woodworkers who do a lot of projects that need accurate edges. That can be critical for miter joints on frames as well as edges on glue-up panels. The table surface on both sanders also provides accuracy for novice woodworkers that may find it difficult to keep hand-held sanders in the proper position when smoothing a board’s surface.
- The benchtop design provides a stable platform
- Combining a belt and a disc component provides more versatility
- Can create accurate edges for butt joints and miter work
- A benchtop design requires that you bring the work to the tool
- These tools can struggle to reach tight areas or interior surfaces
Oscillating Spindle Sanders
This power-tool is usually a benchtop design, although there are hand-held products on the market. The spindle allows you to sand in tight spaces that other models can not, especially in holes where even a detail sander would struggle.
This sander uses abrasive material that is wrapped around a cylinder to remove wood. The cylinder moves up and down as well as spins. This creates a smoother surface when finished, and allows more of the sanding surface to make contact with the edge of projects.
Furniture makers will find this a valuable tool for cleaning along edges. It excels along curved edges as it remains in constant contact along the entire edge. These sanders are also good to use on more delicate wood pieces, such as thin stock or boards with holes bored into them.
- Can sand inside of holes and other tight spaces
- This sander can be used on more delicate projects
- Its cylinder stays in contact with curved edges
- The spindle can not smooth wide board surfaces
- It is not designed for high volume sanding
A drum sander is a machine that uses sanding grit on a drum to remove stock. The benchtop and stand-alone machine versions are fed wood that passes between the drum and a table. This is one of the few instances where a sander can help to produce parallel surfaces on the faces of boards.
This machine has a larger price tag, but it does provide users a way to thickness boards with less stock removal than a planer. You can also continuously feed wood into this tool, improving your work tempo on projects with many similar components. Cabinet makers and high volume shops will benefit from buying a drum sander more than occasional woodworkers will.
- It can be used to thickness a board
- A wide sanding path means less passes
- Provides a consistent surface for flattening
- Can only work on straight surfaces
- Not designed to sand on board edges
Other Sander Types
- A small hand tool with lots of versatility
- Best for small DIY projects
- Not intended for large surfaces or long boards
Oscillating tools are also known as multi-tools. These can use a variety of attachments for cutting, sanding, or polishing. An electronic motor vibrates the tool attachment to perform the job.
These devices are hand-held and are powered by an outlet or use battery packs. They can be used almost anywhere that you can reach.
- Benctop tool for smoothing edges and faces
- Good for precision sanding
- Struggles with large boards
A disc sander uses a circular piece of sandpaper that spins. It quickly removes wood from a project. A table allows you to hold the piece at the correct angle to the disc so that you can get a highly accurate surface.
I find the disc sander great for miter joints and flattening edges.
Straight Line Sanders
- Long baseplate is good for leveling surfaces
- Will not produce swirls from sanding
- Pneumatic tool that requires air for power
Straight Line sanders are air-powered tools that are often seen in autobody shops. They work great with wood as well, and sand in a straight line instead of swirling.
This type of product is best for larger surfaces that require flattening.
Right Angle Sanders
- Designed to operate with lots of power
- Heavy-duty build for a busy shop life
- May be too large or heavy for casual hobbyists
This power-tool has a horizontal housing with the sander positioned at a 45-degree angle. The longer body allows for potential increases in power and torque.
Busy amateur woodworkers and professional shops will appreciate the sanding power this tool provides.
- Uses more back and forth motion
- It is a good choice for finer surfaces
- You may need to sand longer if the surface is too rough
The motion of this sander is different than a random orbital sander. This design moves the base forwards and backward while adding some rotation.
It comes in electric and air-powered designs and offers a sanding alternative to builds that leave swirls in the wood.
- They are intended to provide the reach you need
- This is designed to clog less than other sanders with mud
- Will generate incredible amounts of drywall dust
Drywall requires multiple coats of mud that will need sanding to create a seamless appearance. Patches are another instance where the mud needs to blend into the sheet rock’s flat surface.
This tool will allow you to reach farther than hand-held versions and should clog less frequently.
- A thin belt provides easier access in certain areas
- Intended to speed up jobs requiring thin sand paper
- Others sanders work better on larger surfaces
Most powered sanders cannot reach into grooves or folds in the wood’s surface. The finger sander is designed to reach into these places to make sanding go by quicker.
It is a tool of convenience, but worth it for some woodworkers.
- Collects debris as you work
- Allows you to sand while standing
- A specialized tool for professional hardwood floor installers
These specialized tools might be for rent in your area. Otherwise, you will probably only use one if you work with hardwood flooring. They are great for removing topcoats and taking minimal grain from the surface.
Good units also provide a collection attachment that can hold debris as you work.
Which Sander is Right for You?
- Determine your typical types of projects
- Come up with an average size of the items you work with
- Calculate your budget
- Figure out how much space you have
Before deciding on one or more sander designs, you should consider the types of projects you work on. A belt or random orbital sander is a great option for woodworkers using rough sawn lumber, while those working with pre-dimensioned stock can get away with an orbital design.
Your needs as a furniture refinisher will be different from a person who makes cabinets. The size of your projects could limit your options for a sander.
Another consideration is your budget. A drum sander is a big investment for most small shops. Conversely, a 1/4 sheet sander can cost less than a meal at your favorite restaurant.
Finally, space can be an issue for many home woodworkers. A hand-held sander is easy to use and store while a benchtop or stand-alone model needs its own space.
Taking Your Woodworking to the Next Level
Sanding can be a labor-intensive job, so taking your time to figure out the right type of sander for your needs will save you time and elbow grease.
Save yourself some money by buying a sander that will see continuous use in your shop. The right sander will keep your woodworking journey as smooth as your project’s finished surface