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Buying Guide: Sanders
A good sander is an indispensable part of your workshop. Whether you work with wood on a regular basis or only occasionally, make sure you have a sander that is easy to use and provides a high-quality finish. For busy contractors, speed is essential to running a healthy business, so look for sanders that work quickly in addition to getting the job done right. There are a range of different sanders available, and each is appropriate for a different type of task. When you begin shopping, determine which types of tasks you're most likely to undertake, and keep the following questions in mind:
        • What type of sander do you need?
        • What kinds of surfaces do you work with most frequently?
        • Will a cordless or corded model be most convenient?
        • What steps can you take to ensure safe operation?
        • What features and options are important to you?

Types, Power Source and Usage

Choosing a sander can be an overwhelming task unless you know what you're looking for. With random-orbit, finishing, belt, detail, oscillating and drum sanders available, you'll have no problem finding the ideal tool for whatever jobs you need to tackle. In addition to finding the right type of sander, you'll also need to choose between electric models or units that are powered by batteries or a compressor. Safety is of the utmost importance when working with any power tool, and sanders are no exception. Following a few basic guidelines will help prevent accidents.
Random-Orbit Sanders: Random-orbit sanders are amongst the most versatile units available. They feature a round pad that moves in a random pattern to prevent gouging and can handle everything from rough to finish sanding. There are four different types of random-orbit sanders available, palm grip, pistol grip, right angle and pneumatic palm grip. Palm-grip units are ideal for smaller projects like sanding drywall or stripping furniture. They're small, lightweight and easy to use. Pistol-grip sanders are larger and usually more powerful. You'll need to grip them with two hands to ensure more consistent operation, and they're perfect for working on tabletops and casework. Right-angle models are heavy-duty tools that work quickly and are better for rough sanding. Unlike the other three types, pneumatic palm-grip sanders are powered by a compressor. They're compact, powerful and extremely versatile.
        • Available in a wide range of prices
        • Random-orbit sanders provide versatility and high-quality performance
        • Palm-grip units can be held over the top or around the neck for greater comfort
        • Palm units are generally more economical
        • Pistol-grip units often provide smoother finishes
        • Palm-grip, pistol-grip and right-angle units are powered by electricity
        • Pneumatic sanders require air compressors to power them
Types: In addition to random-orbit sanders, there are a number of other types available. Use the chart below to determine which one best fits your needs:




Belt • Utilize a pulley-driven loop
• Remove large amounts of wood
• Inline units weigh less and work well
  for small parts
• Transverse units accommodate
  heavy motors
• Different sizes available
• 3" x 21" and 3" x 24" are ideal for
  general-purpose work
• Ideal for doors, tabletops and uneven
• Best for large areas and rough
• Sand wood aggressively for quick
• Inline units are portable and versatile
• Transverse units handle heavy jobs
Detail • Feature triangular pads
• Interchangeable sanding pads
• Sand curves and profile shapes with
• Ideal for tight spots such as around
  chair spindles
• Finger-shaped pads work well in slots
  and grooves
Drum • Use interchangeable rolls of
• Single-drum, open-end units take up
  little room
• Single-drum, closed-end units are
  generally more powerful
• Double-drum units cut work time in
• Work quickly and efficiently
• Handle large jobs with ease
• Wide range of grits available
• Handle both small and large boards
• Excellent for maintaining square
Finishing • Feature squared-off pads
• Move sandpaper in small circles
• Handle a variety of tasks
• Work well in corners
• Economical
• Ideal for fine veneers and plywood
Oscillating Edge/Spindle Sander • Combine belt sanding and spindle
  sanding into one unit
• Convert back and forth with ease
• Provide fast, accurate sanding
• Handle everything from sharpening
  knives to polishing applications
• Work well with both wood and metal

Safety and Use: No matter which type of sander you employ and what type of job you're working on, always be sure to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from flying debris and keep your hands away from the sander while it's running to avoid injury. Don't apply pressure when sanding as it may result in the machine kicking back at you. The weight of the unit should be sufficient to do the job. When using orbital sanders, keep in mind that units with higher orbit-per-minute (opm) rates tend to sand more quickly. Sanders with variable speed provide extra control for working in close quarters or on more delicate tasks.
        • Always follow the manufacturer's safety guidelines
        • Use respiratory protection for materials that create a lot of sawdust
        • Wear ear plugs when using noisy sanders to prevent hearing loss
        • Avoid sanding near sparks and flames to prevent fire hazards
Power and Sandpaper: Sanders may be powered with electricity, batteries or air compressors. Electric units are generally more economical and portable, making them convenient for moving between job sites or even to different rooms within your home. Pneumatic sanders are often more powerful and work faster, but they require the purchase of a compressor. Some compressors are very large and awkward to transport. Regardless of which power source is a better fit, you'll need to determine which type of sanding accessory works best. Surfaces range from very fine to rough and coarse, depending on the task at hand.
        • Larger sanders tend to be more powerful
        • Different types of sanders use different types of sanding accessories
        • Accessories are available in various grits (fine to coarse) for different applications


Sawdust Collection: Sanding any kind of wood creates a considerable amount of sawdust. Look for sanders with bags to collect dust or ports that give you the ability to hook the sander up to a dust collection system or wet/dry vac to whisk away debris as it's created.
Trigger Lock: Trigger locks allow you to keep the unit locked in the on position without having to manually depress the trigger, freeing up your hands to focus on guiding and controlling the sander. 
Clamps: Generally used with smaller, more portable sanders, clamps allow you to lock sanders in an upside-down position to create a sanding stand. Rather than bringing the sander to the wood, clamps let you bring the wood to the sander for small, delicate items. 
Grips: Look for units with two-handed or large front grips that make it easier to guide the sander accurately. 
Portability: A carrying case and long cord come in handy when you need to move your sander from room to room or jobsite to jobsite.
Pad Brakes: Pad brakes allow you to lift the sander from the work surface and put it back down without gouging the material. Once in place, you may want to remove them to ensure the highest-quality performance.   
Tracking Adjustment: Look for sanders that feature convenient knobs or thumbscrews to make adjusting the tracking quick and easy.