How to Choose a Power Sander For Woodworking

While palm sanders are less expensive and can use plain sandpaper, the random orbital version doesn’t sand in patterns, but in a random motion. This will reduce any sanding marks that may appear on the stock. Be certain that your local woodworking supplier has sanding disks readily available in a number of grits to fit the model that you choose.


Pad or Palm Sanders are small and light, and use 1/4 or 1/3-sheets of sandpaper that you cut yourself. Depending on the model, you can attach the sandpaper to the sanding pad with hinge-clips, hook and loop fasteners (velcro style) or simply use precut sheets with peel-and-stick backing. Palm sanders vibrate in a slight circular pattern and must be moved in the same direction as the wood grain to avoid leaving scratch marks in the stock. Palm sanders are versatile and handy in many different applications.

Random Orbit Sanders have round pads that move in a circle. The pad is attached to an offset bearing that gives a random pattern to the pad’s motion. The random motion lets the operator move the sander in any direction without scarring the work surface. Some random orbit sanders have variable speed control allowing the operator to customize the tool to the material. For example, if you are working on a soft species of wood or have little sanding left, you can easily switch the sander to a slower speed which provides better control. Random sanders require special sanding sheets that vary between manufacturers, so keep these on-going costs in mind when making a selection. The pads have holes through which sanding dust is removed during operation. In order for the dust removal system to be effective, the holes in the paper and the pad must line up. If you’re looking for a multipurpose tool for most sanding jobs, check out random orbit sanders.

Detail Sanders are small handheld sanders designed for sanding around odd shapes and small nooks in woodwork. They are also referred to as contour sanders and used frequently for craft projects and millwork, such as window and door casings. Detail sanders are available in corded and cordless models and usually come with multiple attachments. Once again, keep in mind the availability of the special sandpaper these sanders require, as they may not be as readily available (or as economical) as you might want.

Belt Sanders have a continuous loop or belt of sandpaper that stretches across two wheels. When the drive wheel is engaged, the belt spins and removes stock. They are excellent for the initial phases of rough sanding jobs. Since belt sanders remove a lot of material quickly, they are definitely not for finish sanding. Some have variable speed controls, which allow the operator to adjust the sander to run at a more comfortable level, but even with lower speeds, belt sanders can remove alot of material. Belt sanders are often heavier than palm or random orbital sanders, which may be a consideration.

Disc Sanders are bench-mounted tools with a circular pad that accepts specially-made sanding sheets. Most disc sanders also have a belt mounted vertically or horizontally on their frame. Some disc sanders have tilting tables with sliding miter gauges. The tilt feature is for sanding angled edges, and the miter gauge helps maintain specific angles during sanding operations. A disc sander finishes end grain and angled edges quickly and efficiently.

Spindle Sanders are bench-mounted tools with a cylindrical spindle located in the center of a large worktable. The spindle holds special sanding tubes of various grit sandpaper. Some spindle sanders have an oscillating feature that raises and lowers the spindle as it rotates. The oscillating feature increases the rate at which the sander removes stock. Spindle sanders are good for edge sanding, especially around curves and circles.

Power Supply

Palm, random orbital, detail, and belt sanders are all available in corded and cordless models. Corded models offer the benefit of unlimited sanding time, but cordless models offer portability and manoeverability. A limiting factor in cordless models is the amount of sanding time available.

Miscellaneous Features

A palm sander that has a dust collection bag or a hookup for a dust collection system helps to maintain the air quality in the work area. Wood dust from some species (and wood finishes) is known to be allergenic and some are even toxic. Always wear a dust mask, even if the tool you are using has a dust collection system.

How To Use a Sander

Always read the manual that came with your power tool! Always follow the safety percautions, especially while you are getting acquainted with your tool!


Keep a Smooth Base

If the base of your sander is not reasonably flat, it will aply extra pressure in some sections, and little or no pressure in other areas. At the extreme, this will lead to your workpiece being gouged in some areas.

Edge Use

Your sander will either be a rectangle, circle, or some customized shape. Keep in mind that when you sand one surface beside another surface that is perpendicular to the first, your sander will hit and bounce off the perpendicular surface. This may cause your sander to mark the perpendicular surface. When choosing a side of the sander to hit the perpendicular surface, choose one what has no clips or protrusions.