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Tools

Best Sander

Of all the power tools manufactured, there are probably more types of sanders than any other category. A wide variety of sanders have been developed through the years, each of which performs a specific function different than the others. While there may be some overlap between different types of sanders and their use, there is enough difference to justify each style.

Sanders are used more for finishing work than anything else. They’re intended for final shaping and smoothing after cutting to remove tool marks while smoothing out the shape of the workpiece. Determining the type of sander to use for a particular project depends upon the shape and size of the workpiece as well as how fine of a sanding job needs to be performed.

It is not unusual for a do-it-yourselfer to buy several different types of sanders. Since there’s no one sander which can work for everything, having several different ones to choose from in the toolbox is a real advantage. To help you pick the best sander for your needs, we have prepared an informative buyer's guide provided for you below.

Dynabrade 58436 6-Inch DynaLocke Dual-Action Sander

Dynabrade makes an entire line of high quality sanders for both the automotive and industrial markets. This particular one produces its own vacuum when in random-orbital mode for collecting dust and sending it on to a dust-collection system. There is a 1-1/2 inch vacuum port on the handle for connection to standard hose fittings. It’s adjustable speed, with a high end of 12,000 RPM and the orbital action is 3/16 of an inch. The control for switching between standard and random orbital is recessed to prevent accidental bumping and the motor is covered with a soft grip housing to protect the user.

National Detroit DAQ 6-Inch Quiet DA Sander

This is the original version of National Detroit’s sander which has been copied successfully by many other manufacturers. Since the pad is always changing planes, you don’t have to worry about the abrasive clogging up while the motor produces up to 10,000 RPM. One really nice thing about this sander is the larger orbital action which is much larger than most at 3/8 of an inch. This allows faster material removal, less scratch tendency, lower heat buildup, and longer pad life due to less loading. It comes vacuum ready, so you can hook it up to your shop vac or dust collection system.

Ingersoll Rand 311A Heavy Duty Dual Action Sander

The 311A from Ingersoll Rand features a built in muffler for quiet operation and could make a real difference in your work experience. It weighs just four pounds, one of the lightest around and makes a big difference for operator fatigue. This sander runs at 10,000 RPM and the air consumption is 4CFM and 17CFM under load. It has an adjustable built in regulator for speed control.

Chicago Pneumatic CP870 Dual Action Sander

The Chicago Pneumatic CP870 is a manual set dual action sander running at 10,000 RPM, consuming 5 CFM and produces .5 horsepower. It has a regulator to match the speed to the job and there is also a lock off feature in the handle to prevent accidental starts, adding to tool safety. At a total weight of 4 pounds, it matches the Ingersoll Rand for lightweight use.

Campbell Hausfeld PL150499AV 6-Inch Pnuematic Sander

Campbell Hausfeld has been a favorite for dual-action sanders on woodworking boards, likely  because of a combination of high quality and reasonable prices. They produce a wide range of air powered sanders, many of which are for industrial uses but this is more of a general-purpose homeowner model. This sander works well for wood, fiberglass and auto body fillers, making it a good investment for a lot of different projects. An onboard air regulator controls the speed for fine work and the patented ergonomic design is supposed to be one of the most comfortable ones around. It’s designed to work off of 13 SCFM at 90 PSI, producing 10,000 RPM.

Rockwell RK4248K 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander

I’ll have to admit it; I’m a sucker for innovation. This Rockwell sander is a very unique design, specifically created to reduce vibration, thereby reducing fatigue. The pad is two-part, consisting of an outer ring around a central round pad. The two counter-rotate, directing the vibration into the workpiece, where it helps with the cutting action rather than into your arm, where it only helps make you tired. You can actually sand faster with this sander, than a conventional random orbital. The only problem is that you have to use their special sanding disks.

This model replaces the RK4245K, making it the second generation of this technology. While I can’t say why Rockwell revised the design, I’d have to say that they learned from the first one and wanted to improve upon the design. I definitely approve.

They’ve given this one a pad brake, which helps to eliminate any swirl marks and gouging when stopping, the most critical time. They’ve also installed a really effective dust collection system, which uses a cyclone air action to extract the dust into a plastic canister, rather than a cloth bag to filter it. The base is cast aluminum, to help guarantee flatness.

Festool RO 90 DX Rotex Sander

This is probably the most versatile dual-action sander I’ve ever seen. It’s actually a three-mode sander, with a standard random orbital mode. an aggressive sanding mode for material removal, and a polishing mode for use on finishes. It also comes with two different shoes including the typical round shoe as well as a pointed shoe much like a mouse sander.

A removable edge protector prevents damaging adjacent surfaces while working. All of the options install tool-free for a quicker and easier work experience. Like all of Festool’s line, this tool is designed with integral dust extraction for a cleaner work area and to prevent dust from damaging your finish.

Bosch 1250DEVS, 6” Dual-Mode Random Orbit Sander/Polisher

For people who are expecting to get a little more out of their random orbital sander, Bosch provides this dual-mode unit. The 6.5 amp motor has more power than you’d normally expect to get out of an orbital sander and the dual-mode allows you to select whether you want fast material removal or a fine finish. A soft start feature makes it easier to deal with all that power, preventing the sander from jumping out of your hands when you start working.

This sander is variable speed to match the material you’re sanding and there’s circuitry imbedded in the unit ensuring speed remains constant, regardless of the load. An internal vacuum port allows connection to a dust collection system while a side-mounted handle will attach to either side for better control.

Milwaukee 6021-21 5'' Random Orbit Sander

Milwaukee does it again, producing a tool that has more power than their competition. This sander has a 3.0 AMP motor, making it the most powerful random orbital sander out there. If you’ve ever leaned on a sander to get out a bad spot and had it bog down on you, you’ll appreciate the extra power.

Although the sander comes with a dust bag, it’s really designed to work with a dust collection system because the dust bag just doesn’t cut it. Just hook it up to a shop-vac with either a 1-1/4 inch or 2-1/4 inch hose with it and you’ll hardly see any dust. The electronic soft-start goes a long way towards eliminating start-up jerk which causes a lot of gouges as well as wear on the brushes and bearings. This sander is also variable speed, allowing you to adjust the sander from 7,000 to 12,000 oscillations per minute.

DeWalt D26453K Heavy Duty 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander Kit

This sander from DeWalt is probably the most comfortable model there is to work with. While it really doesn’t look like it (especially since they didn’t give this sander any rubber coatings), the knobby plastic “handle” areas are comfortable and very easy to hold onto. In the power department, this tool is comparable with the Milwaukee, having a three amp motor. However, it seems Milwaukee always gets a little more juice out of their motors than anyone else does. This sander is variable speed, so that you can set it to match the work you’re doing.

Black & Decker MS2000 Multi Sander with Smart Select

If you’re looking for versatility, this sander from Black & Decker wins, hands down. They’ve really put a lot into this package, creating a sander that can be used for a wide variety of applications. The “SmartSelect Dial” automatically adjusts your sander for your application, changing speed and sanding style to be best for your substrate. The two amp motor runs up to 8.000 rpm, or orbits per minute (OPM). They’ve even included four interchangeable bases for all sanding needs, including a round replacement shoe for use as an orbital sander, such as in automotive finishing applications.

Base change-out is push button and accomplished without any tools. Their integral dust collection system is probably one of the best on the market. Like other mouse-type sanders, the sandpaper at the point of the sander tends to wear out faster than the rest of the pad. Black & Decker has dealt with this problem in the common manner, by making their sanding sheets with extra points which can be replaced, leaving the rest of the sheet intact.

SKIL 7302-02 Octo Detail Sander with PC

Skil comes in with the newer version of their Octo mouse-style finishing sander. This sander comes with a very unique feature, a series of LEDs letting the user know if they’re putting too much pressure on the pad. I’ve known a lot of people that this could help, especially those that think they have to push the sander through the workpiece.

Skil’s sander runs at an amazing 12,000 OPM, 50 percent faster than the Black & Decker that I’ve got as the #1 pick. It also comes with 8 attachments that can be used in place of the tip part of the sanding shoe. That greatly helps in the versatility area, especially when sanding unusual shapes.

Milwaukee 1/4 Sheet Orbital Sander

It’s hard to have a list of power tools, without including Milwaukee on it. More than anything, they’re the experts in high power tools. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about an electric screwdriver or a worm drive saw, theirs will put out more power than anyone else’s. Such is the case with this 1/4 sheet palm sander as well.

With a 3.0 amp motor, it’s a powerhouse which allows you to really bear down on the sander when you need to get some impurity out of a finish or some deep saw marks out of the edge of a board. The cast pad is nicely padded, reducing any risk of swirl marks, so you can have a smooth finish. The top of the sander is removable for easy brush replacement and other service tasks. Although it comes with a dust-collection bag, it works better when connected to a vacuum hose. Adapters are provided for both 1-1/4 inch and 2-1/4 inch hoses. The large paper clamps make changing sandpaper easy.

Makita BO4556K 1/4 Sheet Finish Sander

Makita’s sander provides 14,000 OPM for fast smooth finishes. The sander’s motor and operating mechanism sports ball-bearing construction for smoother operation, lower vibration and long life. A large clamping lever makes it easy to change paper and the sanding pad is backed by a cast aluminum shoe, with an efficient through-the-pad dust collection system. It will work with the included dust collection bag or a dust collection system. The switch is also rubber sealed for extra-long life.

Hitachi SV12SG 1.7 Amp Orbital 1/4 Sheet Sander with Cloth Dust Bag

There are two really great things about Hitachi’s entry in the palm sander competition. First of all, their overmolded handle is probably one of the most comfortable available. This is something that Hitachi really shines at and overall, their tools are extremely comfortable to work with. The second thing is the speed. This baby runs at an amazing 14,000 OPM, making it the fastest palm sander I’ve seen. The advantage of this great speed is it helps maintain an incredibly smooth finish, not giving opportunity for gouges caused by the same oversized sanding particle staying in the same path.

This is the first traditional styled palm sander I’ve put in this list. Overall, I think the mouse style sanders have it beat for versatility. However, if you’re after economy, a traditional square 1/4 sheet sander will beat a mouse any day. The one drawback to those mouse style sanders is paying for the special Velcro backed sanding sheets.

Rockwell RK5151K Sonicrafter Hyperlock Universal Oscillating Tool Kit

Although this is technically a multi-tool, I rate it the highest for both multi-tools and detail sanders. The main thing that this tool has going for it, when compared to others, is the clamping system, the only truly universal clamping system out there which is able to accept anyone’s accessories. It’s also extremely easy to use since the clamp is tool-free, with a top mounted over-center lever. This clamp provides over one ton of clamping force, so you never have to worry about your sanding pads or other accessories coming loose. This upgraded version of the tool has a 3 amp motor to provide plenty of power. It comes with a number of accessory blades, plus a sanding backing pad and several sanding sheets/pads.

Fein FMM 350Q Top MultiMaster Oscillating Detail Sander Tool Kit

I had to get Fein on this list, as they are the ones who invented the detail sander/multi-tool and their quality is excellent even though they are a bit pricey. However, as with any other tool, you get what you pay for. This upgraded tool has a 350 watt motor, making it more powerful than the older 250 watt version. Although this is called a detail sander, it comes with a wide assortment of accessories for cutting, scraping, and sanding. Like the Rockwell, this has a top mounted tool clamp. The clamping system is tool-free as well, although not as universal as Rockwell’s system. Overall this is an excellent tool.

Festool DX 93 E Detail Sander

Like all of Festool’s lineup, this sander is designed to connect directly to a dust-collection system. That’s something Festool believes in strongly and it shows in their tool design. They also believe in quality and this tool speaks quality all the way around. It has a 2.5 mm orbital stroke, which is considerably bigger than many others. This means that there will be less swirl pattern in the finish and the tool will work faster for you.

Dynabrade 57900 DynaFine Detail Sander

This is an air driven detail sander, so you’ll have to use it with a compressor. While that might be a bit inconvenient for some people, one nice thing it does is to make a smaller barrel diameter and a lighter tool. That’s great for people with small hands, such as women. The head is angled from the handle, giving more clearance for your hands. It is only designed to be used as a sander, not a multi-tool. In fact, I don’t think multi-tool accessories will fit on this one.

Proxxon PS 13, 12 Volt Pen Sander #28594

If the other sanders are detail sanders, than I’d have to call this one a fine detail sander. This tool is designed to run off of 12 VDC, from a 1.0 A or larger Micromot transformer so don’t think you can just buy it and plug it in. Check their website to make sure you’ve got everything on hand you’ll need.

The truly great thing about this is that it’s a pencil sander with eight different pads. That’s four straight ones and four angled ones, in a variety of shapes. These can get into places that the other detail sanders I’ve mentioned can’t even think of thus allowing this sander to be used for shaping, finishing carvings, and may other truly detailed jobs with irregular surfaces.

Festool 567696 RS 2 E Orbital Sander

Festool has long been known for their top quality tools. One of the company’s focuses with their power tool line is to have everything designed to be compatible with their dust collection systems, to create an integrated system. This sander, like all the rest of their tools, is designed to be connected directly to their dust collector. It can also be used with the included Turbo dust bag.

Sanding sheets adhere with a hook and loop system, or integral clamps. The 3/32 inch stroke provides for fast action and consistent results, even on lightly veneered surfaces. A variable speed control allows you to match the tool’s speed to the work you’re doing. While these units are expensive, for those that can afford them, they’re worth it.

Bosch OS50VC 120-Volt 3.4-Amp Variable Speed 2-Sheet Orbital Finishing Sander with Vibration Control

Bosch’s 1/2 sheet sander stands out from the crowd for its excellent dust collection system. It really doesn’t couple easily with a dust collection system, but that’s okay, as the integral through the pad system works extremely well. The dust canister is hard, with an integrated paper filter for optimum dust filtering down to 1/2 micron. Not small enough to be considered HEPA, but pretty darn close.

Bosch has added a variable speed control to the powerful 3.4 amp motor on this one, an improvement over their last model. Set the speed, pull the trigger and there’s even a trigger lock to hold it on. Bosch has also put a lot into vibration control, making this tool much more comfortable to work with. Their SheetLoc sandpaper holder works extremely well and you can flush sand up against a vertical edge on three sides. The extra thick closed cell foam pad conforms to the work surface extremely well.

Makita BO4900V 2.9 Amp Variable Speed 1/2 Sheet Sander

Makita actually produces more than one sander in this category; however, I feel this model is their best. It has variable speed from 4,000 to 10,000 OPM to match the work being performed. The pad and clamp are designed to accept both hook and loop sanding sheets and half sheets of standard sandpaper, giving more options to the woodworker. Although it will easily connect to a dust collection system, it has an internal dust collection system, which uses disposable paper bags. The bag itself forms the filter, and can be taken off to be disposed; much faster and better filtration than cleaning out a cloth bag.

Festool 567863 RTS 400 EQ Orbital Sander

I don’t normally like putting two tools from the same manufacturer on the same list, even if they are as good as Festool. Nevertheless, I decided to include this sander from Festool because it’s so unique. While this has a rectangular shape, like the other sanders we’ve looked at, it’s only got a 3-5/32 inch x 5-1/4 inch pad. That doesn’t make it a quarter sheet sander or any other typical category of sander and this model has been designed for use in situations where a narrower finish sander is needed, without going to a detail sander. The drive is the same as its larger cousin, just in a smaller package. Sanding sheets are attached via hook and loop.

Craftsman 2.5 Amp, 1/3 Sheet Sander

For those that can’t afford to put a lot of money into their sander, Craftsman puts out a nice 1/3 sheet sander. The 2.5 amp motor runs at 11,000 OPM, making this a very fast sander to work with. An onboard dust collection system includes a micro-fine dust box for a cleaner work environment. The grip is designed to reduce vibration and rubber over-molded for comfort. Onboard LED work light illuminates your work surface, something you don’t normally find on these sanders.

Buyer's Guide

 

Sander Buyer's Guide

Before sanding, skilled carpenters had to use planes and scrapers to smooth out a piece of wood they were working on. This is why there’s so much old woodwork around in which you can still see cutting marks. Unless it was necessary, the time consuming process of smoothing out a surface was seen as an unnecessary cost.

Sanding has made it possible for anyone to properly finish a project, giving a smooth, even surface to finish. When electric sanders came along, that just made it possible to finish off workpieces all that much easier. For people who don't have a lot of patience for sanding (like myself), having a sander or two (or three) around makes projects much more enjoyable.

The trick is figuring out the type of sander you need in order to provide the finish you’re looking for. While the grit of the sandpaper has a lot to do with the finish a sander gives you, so does the type of sanding action said sander provides.

Types of Portable Sanders

While we could break down the types of sanders there are into a wide range of specialties, there are seven basic categories of portable power sanders.

Belt Sanders
Belt sanders, whether portable or hand-held, are designed for taking off a lot of material quickly. This makes them perfect for final shaping of workpieces, before finishing sanding. However, the same thing that makes them good for taking off a lot of material quickly makes them a poor choice for finishing sanding. Even with a fine sanding belt, a belt sander will reshape material quickly and possibly destroy it if you’re not careful; you’re really not going to get a smooth finish with a belt sander either.

Palm Sanders
Palm sanders fall into two sub-categories; quarter sheet sanders and "mouse" sander with both operating the same way, being vibratory sanders. That means the motor is attached to an eccentric cog, which is in turn attached to the sanding pad. This creates the vibratory action which cuts the material. This is a fairly typical sander for woodworking and probably the most common one you'll find in a woodworker's shop. It is not used for metalwork at all.
The basic difference between the two types of palm sanders is their shape. Quarter-sheet sanders are designed to use a quarter sheet of sandpaper. There’s a clamping system used to hold the sanding sheets in place but they’ll also work quite well with self-stick sanding disks which stick directly to the pad without having to use the clamps. The mouse style usually uses sanding sheets that stick with Velcro. The biggest advantage of these types is they’re extremely good for getting into inside corners.

Detail Sanders
Detail sanders are the new kid on the block, stealing that title from the mouse style palm sanders. They’re based on the oscillating tools that perform so many tasks and in fact, many are the exact same thing. Like the palm sander they work by vibration; however, the vibration in a detail sander is much finer which helps eliminate scratch marks from the sanding medium. The sanding pad is smaller on these tools so they don't take off a lot of material at any one time.

There are also a few unusual detail sanders which still fit best in this category rather than any other. These would include pneumatically driven sanders and pencil sanders. These don't operate the same way as the oscillating ones do but still designed for detail-oriented work.

Finish Sanders
In reality, all of the sanders we’re talking about can be called finish sanders because that's what they’re used for. However, we are actually referring to a specific type of sander when we talk about finish sanders, either the 1/3 or 1/2 sheet sander. These are essentially the big brother to the quarter sheet palm sander and have clamps to hold the sanding sheet as well.
These sanders have two main advantages over the quarter sheet sander. First of all the larger pad size means you can cover more territory at a time, speeding up the sanding process. To speed it up even more, they operate at a faster speed. These sanders are usually heavier, meaning you don't need to provide as much pressure when sanding horizontal surfaces; but you might want to have a quarter sheet sander available for sanding vertical surfaces.

Orbital Sanders
Orbital sanders fall somewhere in between the extremes of being a fine finish sander and taking off material like a belt sander will. They can take off material much faster than vibratory sanders, while providing a much better finish than belt sanders can. Originally, orbital sanders were developed for auto-body work, but woodworkers are starting to use them as well, especially for use with tight grained hardwoods. The caution that needs to be taken when using orbital sanders with wood is sanding isn’t done across the grain.

Orbital sanders almost exclusively use self-stick sanding disks, although Velcro sanding disks are gradually replacing them. These higher quality disks will last a long time if used correctly.

Dual Action Sanders
Random orbital sanders, a sub-category of orbital sanders combine the orbital pattern with a second rotating pattern, eliminating the possibility of causing a swirl pattern in the surface being sanded. This is especially good for fine finish work, whether in wood or metal.

Dual action sanders allow you to choose between normal orbital action and random orbital. This allows you the faster cutting of the orbital pattern and then you can switch over to the random orbital for the fine finish work.

What to Look for in a Sander

The first thing is always to select the type of sander you need for the work you’re going to do. Don't be surprised if you can't find one sander to do everything as most people end up with multiple sanders.

When looking at sanders, the issue isn’t power but rather control. Being able to accurately control the sander, especially for finish sanding, is a major issue. Sanders operating at a higher speed will cut faster and provide a smoother finish along with less swirl than slower operating ones.

Operator comfort is a major issue with any sort of sander. Both vibratory and orbital sanders shake constantly which contributes to operator fatigue. Rubber over-molded handles, shock-mounted mechanisms, and dual hand grips all help in dealing with operator fatigue.

Many vibratory and orbital sanders now use self-stick sanding sheets. These can either be adhesive or hook & loop. The added convenience of self-stick sheets is time since changing sanding sheets is limited to a few seconds, rather than several minutes of struggling with latches and trying to make the sanding sheet smooth. Although costlier, these very convenient self-stick sheets really pay for themselves.

Rich the Tool Man

Before embarking on the current stage of my life, I spent 15 years as a Manufacturing Engineer in both the medical equipment field (medical electronics) and automotive engineering (city transit buses). After that, I owned a small construction company, mostly doing residential remodeling and commercial tenant finishes. I am no longer in either of these fields, but still get my hands plenty dirty as a consummate do-it-yourselfer; working on everything from remodeling my own home to rebuilding my car’s engines. My hobby (when I can find the time) is woodworking; making everything from toilet paper holders, to shelves, to music stands for my own home. My wife long ago gave up the idea that a two car garage is for parking two cars; it is my workshop.

While I cannot claim to having worked professionally with all types of tools, I have worked professionally with some. This comes from my previous careers, where I had to specify, buy and at times live with those decisions. Additionally, I would have to say that my engineering background has given me a thorough understanding of the construction of such tools. So, while I may not have used a particular type of tool personally, I have the knowledge to cut through all the advertising hype and statistics; in order to get at the truth of how well a tool will operate and last.

In my current career as a writer, I've written over 90 books. This includes my own titles and those I've written on contract. I've also written a complete website on how to build your own home.

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