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  • by David Kranker March 22, 2021 5 min read

    Quick Summary

    Orbital disc sanders can be a great tool for producing wood products with a fine finish. Choosing the best orbital sander for your needs can save you time and money while improving the quality of your work. The important factors to consider when shopping for orbital sanders are the dust removal system, grip, available speed options, and power source.

    To achieve great results in woodworking, you want the right sander for the job. But should you reach for an orbital sander or a random-orbit sander? And how do you select the best one for your project? 

    Orbital and random-orbit sanders are different tools that let you excel at different applications. Understanding their strengths and drawbacks will ensure that you choose the right sander for the job every time.

    Orbital Sanders: An Overview

    Out of these two tools, the orbital sander has been around the longest. It’s simply designed and affordable, which is why it’s been a woodworking staple for so long.  

    Most designs have a square foot that accommodate one-quarter of a 9” x 11” sandpaper, which is why orbital sanders are also called quarter-sheet sanders. (You can also get half-sheet orbital sanders for bigger workpieces.) This square shape makes it easier to sand in tight corners and up against edges.

    When activated, the foot of the sander vibrates in small circles, or orbits. Orbital sanders don’t cut aggressively, so they’re a great option for veneers and other surfaces that are easily damaged. Other recommended uses include:

    • Preparing a surface for sealing or painting
    • Removing a layer of paint
    • Sanding along baseboards and in corners

    If you have to remove a lot of wood stock or are concerned about cross-grain marking, a random-orbit sander is a better option. In fact, when both machines are outfitted with 100-grit sandpaper, the random-orbit sander removes more material every time.

    Random-Orbit Sanders: an Overview

    Random-orbit sanders have a unique cutting motion: the abrasive disc spins in a circle while the entire pad moves in an oval loop. Consequently, none of the abrasive grains move along the same path twice, so you have a pattern-free finish even if you sand across the grain.

    This ability to avoid cross-grain marking, combined with a more aggressive cutting rate, makes the random-orbit sander the preferred option for rougher workpieces and wider work areas, such as wood flooring and tabletops. The key is to choose a machine that has the features you need for your preferred woodworking application.

    Use Quick-Change Sandpaper Discs

    Random-orbit sanders have hook-and-loop abrasive discs that are easier to switch out than the sandpaper sheets clamped on orbital sanders. The velcro-like attachment system lets you go up or down a grit level without having to waste a disc. While hook-and-loop discs are more expensive than the adhesive variety, they’re more economical in the long run because you can reuse them.

    Abrasive discs come in a wide range of sizes to accommodate different woodworking functions. Smaller or hobbyist woodworkers will do fine with 5” or 6” sanding pads, but if you work on different types of projects, you might want to invest in different sizes. At Red Label Abrasives, our line of abrasive discs includes both hook-and-loop and adhesive types, the latter of which comes in sizes of up to 30”.

    Go for Variable Speed

    Instead of buying a single-speed model, go for a random-orbit sander that has a variable-speed switch, so you can control how much cutting force is used. This way, you can remove material quickly when necessary (e.g. stripping varnish from an old piece of furniture) and reduce the speed when you have to work with delicate finishes or thin veneers.

    With most sanders, you can change speed and cutting aggression on the handle, ensuring maximum control during use. This control is the key to superior finishing results, and you won’t find it on single-speed sanders.

    Choose Premium Dust Removal

    Dust is the bane of any woodworking shop. Not only does it get in your eyes and airways but it can also coat your workpiece and leave unsightly burn marks during sanding.

    While a dust canister or bag will help you contain fugitive dust, a random-orbit sander with a vacuum hose connector will do a more efficient job. Make sure that you buy one with a connection that will fit standard vacuum nozzle sizes, so that you’re good to go wherever you work.

    Get a Comfortable Grip

    Sanding can be intense, so you want to buy a sander that you can hold comfortably for extended periods of time. Look for one that has a soft overmold on the handle, so that your hands don’t become fatigued from extra-long sanding sessions.

    Although most random-orbital sanders have a top grip, if you do a lot of sanding, you may want a machine with an additional side grip for two-handed control. This way, there’s less pressure applied to a single wrist.

    Choose the Best Power Option for Your Shop

    Random-orbit sanders generally have three power sources, each one with its benefits and drawbacks:

    • Electric cords: Corded sanders don’t have a battery to recharge, so they always work when there’s an outlet nearby. When there isn’t, you’ll have to go cordless.
    • Cordless: Building a treehouse for the kids? Too far from an outlet? This is where a cordless sander will come in handy. The only drawback is that you’re limited to the battery run time (generally 30 to 45 minutes) so be sure to have an extra battery handy for extended sessions.
    • Pneumatic: If you use a central air compressor to power any of your tools, a pneumatic sander may be a good choice. For best results, use a compressor that can produce an air volume of at least 40 cubic feet per minute (CFM)- anything smaller probably won’t be powerful enough to run a sander without frequent recharging.

    Get the Weight Right

    The average 5” to 6” random-orbit sander weighs anywhere from two to four pounds while larger ones can weigh over seven pounds. If you sand wide vertical surfaces, a lighter model will create less hand and wrist fatigue, allowing you to work longer without having to take a break.

    Contact an Abrasive Specialist

    Red Label Abrasives has you covered if you need sanding discs for your orbital sander. Red Label Abrasives is a family-owned manufacturer that has been producing premium-quality abrasives at affordable prices for over 35 years. We take great pride in offering exceptional sanding discs and unrivaled customer service. 

    Our sanding discs are available in both hook-and-loop and adhesive styles. Our abrasive technicians can recommend the product that will deliver the best results for your application if you’re not sure which disc would be best for you. If you would like to speak to an abrasive technician, please call 844-824-1956 or fill out our contact form.

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    David Kranker is a writer and creative maker who has been covering the abrasive and knife-making industries on the Red Label Abrasives Blog since 2020. David spends his time continually researching sanding and bladesmithing to provide readers with the latest and greatest information. In his free time, David utilizes abrasives for many different home and auto projects at his home in Delton, MI.