These are the most popular hand-powered sanders for woodworkers and DIYers.
Photos by Manufacturers; Illustration by Len Churchill
Their combined rotating and orbiting motion produces a more consistently randomized scratch pattern than other sanders. For best results you should always finish by hand sanding in the direction of the grain. Most random orbit sanders are corded. All come with either a 5″ or 6″ backing pad (platen) that has 5 or 8 holes through which dust is extracted. Use sanding discs that have a matching number of holes. The orbiting motion, referred to as the ‘stroke,’ can be as small as 5/64″ (best for fine-finish sanding) to as large as 3/8″ (for very aggressive sanding). A 3/16″ stroke is fairly common. Options to look for include a detachable front handle for sanding large panels, variable speed control (helpful when sanding veneer and plywood), a lock-on switch, quick pad stopping when the trigger is released, and a dust port that accepts a vacuum hose. If you do a lot of power sanding choose a model that offers vibration-dampening control.
Price: $35 – $850
Pad Size: 5″, 6″
Stroke: 5/64″ – 3/8″
OPM: 3,000 – 14,000
Motor: 1.5A – 6A
Weight: 2.5 pounds
Let the sander do the work and don’t rush it. If you feel the need to apply downward pressure, change to a coarser grit. Don’t let dust accumulate on your work – remove it periodically, and always before you begin sanding with a new grit.
To avoid creating depressions in your work surface or rounding over edges, keep the sander pad flat on the work surface and keep it moving at all times.
To avoid swirl marks, start the sander when it’s off the work surface, and wait until it reaches full speed before sanding. When you’re finished sanding, lift the sander off the work surface and then turn it off.
You’ll get much better dust control by connecting your sander to a dust extractor. If your sander doesn’t have this option, empty the dust bag or canister frequently – well before it fills up.
Sanders generate a lot of very fine dust, so ensure you wear suitable respiratory protection. Wear gloves to absorb vibration if doing a lot of sanding.