A Guide to Selecting an Orbital Sander
Over years of exposure to sun and precipitation, you’ll notice that the paint on exterior doors or walls will start to chip and peel. Applying a new coat of paint on top won’t be very aesthetic. But, removing the old paint by hand with sandpaper can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive task. An orbital sander significantly speeds up the sanding process, allowing you to cover larger areas efficiently. You’ll get the old paint off more quickly, and you won’t have to exert yourself!
But that’s not all an orbital sander can do for you. You can also use it to remove wood stain or varnish from a wooden deck or fence so that you can apply a new coat of stain. Sanders can work on other materials as well. And you can adjust the abrasiveness of the sandpaper that you use, to achieve different levels of abrasion and finish, adapting to the specific requirements of your project.
When used correctly and with the appropriate sandpaper grit, an orbital sander can enhance the quality and efficiency of your woodworking and surface preparation tasks. It saves you time, provides a smoother finish, and allows you to achieve professional-level results!
What can an orbital sander do for me?
An orbital sander can assist you in various woodworking and sanding tasks. Here's what an orbital sander can do for you:
Smoothing Surfaces: One of the primary functions of an orbital sander is to smooth surfaces. It effectively removes roughness, imperfections, and unevenness from wood, plastic, or other materials. The sanding motion of the orbital sander helps create a smooth and even surface, making it an essential tool for woodworking projects.
Refinishing and Restoring: An orbital sander can remove old paint, varnish, or finishes from the surface, preparing it for a fresh coat or allowing you to expose the natural wood underneath. The sander's versatility and ability to handle different grits of sandpaper make it suitable for both aggressive material removal and delicate refinishing tasks.
Removing Paint and Stain: When you need to strip layers of paint or stain from a surface, an orbital sander can expedite the process. By using coarse-grit sandpaper, the sander efficiently removes paint, varnish, or coatings, saving you time and effort compared to manual methods like scraping or sanding by hand. That way, the new coat of paint will adhere better.
What do the grades of sandpaper mean?
Some manufacturers sell sandpaper along with the orbital sander. You’ll notice that there are several grades of sandpaper that indicate the coarseness or fineness of the abrasive particles on the paper:
Coarse Grits (Low Numbers): Coarse grit sandpapers have lower numbers, typically ranging from 40 to 80. They have larger abrasive particles and are used for aggressive material removal and shaping tasks. Coarse grits are suitable for tasks like stripping paint or varnish, removing heavy rust or corrosion, or leveling uneven surfaces. However, they leave rougher scratch patterns on the surface, which require subsequent sanding with finer grits for a smoother finish.
Medium Grits: Medium grit sandpapers have numbers ranging from 100 to 150. They strike a balance between material removal and surface refinement. Medium grit sandpapers are often used for general sanding tasks, such as smoothing rough surfaces, removing small imperfections, or preparing surfaces for paint or finish application.
Fine Grits: Fine-grit sandpapers have higher numbers, typically ranging from 180 to 240. They have smaller abrasive particles and are used for finer sanding and surface smoothing. Fine-grit sandpapers are suitable for removing small scratches, refining surfaces, or preparing surfaces for a final coat of finish. They can also be used for sanding between coats of paint or varnish to achieve a smoother finish.
Very Fine Grits: Very fine-grit sandpapers have even higher numbers, usually ranging from 320 to 600 or more. They have very small abrasive particles and are used for fine finishing, polishing, or achieving a high degree of smoothness on surfaces. Very fine grit sandpapers are commonly used in woodworking for achieving a glass-like finish, smoothing out the wood grain, or preparing surfaces for staining or applying a topcoat.
It's important to note that the exact grading system may vary slightly depending on the country or manufacturer. Additionally, some sandpaper may have a combination of two grades, such as "100/150," indicating that it falls between medium and coarse grit.
Types of Orbital Sanders
There are several types of orbital sanders available, each designed for specific applications and preferences. Here are some common types of orbital sanders:
Standard-size Random Orbital Sander: Random orbital sanders are the most widely used type of orbital sander. They feature a round sanding pad that moves in a random or circular pattern. This random motion helps prevent swirl marks on the work surface. Random orbital sanders are versatile and suitable for various sanding tasks, from rough sanding to fine finishing. They are available in both handheld and benchtop models. An example is the Porter-Cable Cordless Random Orbital Sander (Model No. PCCW205B).
Porter-Cable Cordless Random Orbital Sander
Palm Grip Orbital Sander: Palm grip orbital sanders are compact and lightweight sanders designed to be held in the palm of your hand. They are great for small-scale sanding projects, tight spaces, or working on vertical surfaces. Palm grip sanders are easy to maneuver and offer good control, making them ideal for detail work and delicate finishing. An example is the Bosch Corded Variable Speed Palm Sander (Model No. ROS20VSC).
Bosch Corded Variable Speed Palm Sander
Orbital Finishing Sander: These work with a rectangular or square-shaped sanding pad that moves in a very tight orbital motion. They are specifically designed for fine finishing and smoothing surfaces. Finishing sanders are commonly used for woodworking projects, such as furniture or cabinetry, and they excel at removing light imperfections or preparing surfaces for paint or varnish. An example is the Bosch Orbital Finishing Sander (Model GSS20-40).
Bosch Orbital Finishing Sander
Detail Sander: Detail sanders, also called corner sanders or mouse sanders, are small orbital sanders with a triangular-shaped sanding pad. They are designed to reach into tight corners, crevices, and other hard-to-reach areas. Detail sanders are particularly useful for intricate work, refinishing furniture, or sanding small objects with complex shapes. An example is the Skil Corded Multi-Function Detail Sander (Model No. SR232301).
Skil Corded Multi-Function Detail Sander
What reviewers say
We went over some customers’ impressions of the orbital sander that they bought:
Handle for two-handed use: Customers like the extra knob handle on the Makita 5" Random Orbit Sander (Model No. BO5041). Besides giving you more control when sanding, it also keeps your hand from getting fatigued. Also, it lets you maneuver into corners and confined areas.
Makita 5" Random Orbit Sander
Attaching the abrasive pads: There are a number of ways that you can attach the pads to an orbital sander. The most common is the Velcro, “hook-and-loop” method, which attaches the fuzzy abrasive pad to the base of the sander. In addition to the hook and loop (Velcro) attachment method, abrasive pads for orbital sanders can also attach to the sander using alternative mechanisms. These alternative attachment methods include pads that use pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) or a metal clamping plate. The most common and widely used attachment method is the hook-and-loop system due to its convenience, ease of use, and compatibility with a wide range of abrasive discs.
Here are some tips and features to help you decide on which orbital sander to purchase:
Using different levels of sandpaper: Consider the task at hand and the level of material removal or surface refinement required. Starting with a coarser grit and gradually progressing to finer grits can help you achieve the desired finish. Remember to use sandpaper appropriate for the material you are working with to avoid damaging the surface.
Dust-gathering: You’ll notice that many orbital sanders have a dust collector, which you’ll have to empty every so often. Besides ensuring a cleaner and healthier workplace that’s easier to clean, you’ll also have better visibility of the surface you’re working on. Also, since the dust gets collected in a bin, it won’t interfere with the abrasiveness of the sandpaper. So you won’t have to change sandpaper pads so often.
Variable speeds: You’ll see orbital sanders can have variable speeds. For example, the Workpro 5-Inch Random Orbital Sander has 6 speeds, ranging from 7000 rpm to 14000 rpm. The rule is that soft materials such as wood benefit from slower speeds to prevent removing too much material and damaging the surface. On the other hand, harder materials like metal may require higher speeds for effective material removal. Also, smoothing rough material will require a high speed, while delicate sanding is done with a slower speed. Note that you’ll have to adjust the type of sandpaper to the speed that you use.
We went through some of the different types of orbital sanders and their various features. Whether you want to remove old paint when renovating your home or smooth over a rough metal or wood surface in a DIY project, a good orbital sander is a worthwhile investment!