An orbital sander is a small hand-held sanding tool designed for delicate or controlled sanding work on flat surfaces. It functions to make touch-ups on fine wood surfaces go more quickly than if sanded by hand. Because of this, orbital sanders are frequently referred to as finishing sanders. They are also one of few power tools that can be safely operated with just one hand, though larger two hand models do exist.
When compared with other tools in the sanding category, it is important to remember that orbital sanders are not intended to be a work horse. They are great for smaller, more sensitive projects but will encounter problems when pushed too far, sometimes with irreparable consequences. When using a random orbital sander it is very important to stay within the tools functionality.
#1 Paper Loading
Unlike a belt sander or oscillating spindle sander, the sanding surface of an orbital sander is in constant contact with the surface being sanded. At around 5-inches in diameter, that sanding surface or “disk” also has comparatively less surface area than more heavy duty sanders. This combination of factors produces a dilemma known as paper loading. While not specific to orbital sanders, paper loading occurs when the small spaces between particles of grit on a piece of sand paper becomes loaded with particles of saw dust. This renders the affected piece of paper useless and in need of replacing. While this happens to all variety of sanders eventually, it occurs with great regularity during orbital sander use. To get the best results out of your orbital sander, replace the sanding disk as soon as you suspect that the paper is loaded.
#2 Disk Slipping
Many models of orbital sander on the market today use a velcro system to hold their sanding disks in place. This system allows the operator to seamlessly change out sanding disks in the middle of a job. While convenient, this system is prone to disk slipping. When the sanding disk slips free of the velcro, it no longer follows the random orbiting motion of the sander, diminishing the performance of the tool. The solution to this slipping is a combination of two things. First, find the best disks for your model of sander. While many brands market disks claiming to be universal, some brands of disks do work better with certain brands of sanders. Second, always store your orbital sander with a sanding disk stuck to its base. This allows the hooks of the velcro to remain lofted. If stored without a disk, the velcro hooks on the base of the sander will flatten and no longer work correctly .Here are some more “sandpaper tricks”
#3 Uneven Sanding
Though orbital sanders work by sanding away a relatively small amount of material at a time, it is still very easy to sand a surface unevenly using one. When using a orbital sander always keep the disk flat and work in overlapping passes that follow the grain of the wood being sanded. Also make sure to let the weight of the tool do the work. If you are pressing the sander into the surface, you are working against yourself. Pressing down on an orbital sander actually slows the speed of the disks rotation effectively slowing the efficiency of the sander. To insure even sanding use a pencil to lightly sketch a squiggly line across the surface of what is being sanded and make sure that all of the pencil markings are sanded away at an even rate.
#4 Sanding Smaller Surfaces
Orbital sanders frequently have the problem of jumping around when used on surfaces smaller or more narrow than the dimeter of the surface of their sanding disk. This problem has to do with the random oval rotation that the sanding disk makes as it functions. When seated on a large flat surface this problem does not exist. When sanding a piece of material that is smaller than the surface of the sanding disk it is important to fix that piece of material in place using a vice of clamp of some kind and to use very light pressure. Also, using a finer grit sand paper can help mediate the problem.
#5 Spinning Without Random Orbit
If your orbital sander is leaving circular sanding scars on a piece of wood it means that your device is spinning but not randomly orbiting. This issue arises when the oscillation bearing freezes up and can be solve by lubricating the engine bearings thoroughly. This involves disassembling the outer housing of your orbital sander in order to access the engines bearing shaft. While this process is quite involved, it should be detailed to some extent in your owners manual.
You see, it is of paramount importance, that you buy a quality orbit sander. One way to make sure of this is to as friends or personal at the hardware store. I have also written a comparison between the two (in my eyes) best orbit sanders to help you out here.
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