The Orbital Sander: A workshop essential!

The orbital sander is one of the few tools that is a must have for your home woodshop or workshop. Like a hammer, screwdriver, and a pair of pliers, you definitely want to have one of these sanders in your tool box. Solid and reliable, the orbital sander is designed to fit in your hand and it can work a wide array of surfaces and it should be considered as a must have for your home tool box, one of those tools that you really shouldn’t be without if you’re serious about woodworking or home repair. So whether you want to take off some paint from an old door, get a bookshelf ready for its final coat of paint, or smooth down the bondo on your car, this sander is going to be able to do the job for you.

What is the Orbital Sander?

Quite simply the orbital sander is the one sander that you should have when you’re starting to build your home workshop. This particular sander is small and can be used easily with one hand, a real blessing when you don’t necessarily have all of the clamps that you need to keep a piece in place and you need your free hand to hold it steady. In addition to its small size, the orbital sander is fairly light weight, and most models tend to come with cords that range around eight feet in length, a real plus if you don’t have an extension cord handy. To top it off, the sander can be fitted with a wide array of sandpaper grits, from the coarse fifty to the fine two twenties and up. With this ability to apply a fair amount of power on a small, confined area, you can really get into those difficult places.

Video by the woodworkers guild of america

Not only is the random orbital sander light weight, powerful, and easy to handle, you can use it on wood, metal, plastic, and just about anything that needs to be sanded if you have the right sandpaper. And since the sander is a common tool, finding the right sandpaper is a fairly easy task. With the sander and a variety pack of grits, you’ll be able to tackle most sanding tasks and save yourself a lot of time and effort before getting ready to apply that final coat of paint or finish.

Attention: The orbital sander isn’t designed to work large areas, or to take off large amounts of material from a given piece.

The way the tool works is that the sanding pad vibrates in small circles (or ‘orbits’), and it’s able to bring its power to a narrowly focused area.

Why should you get an orbital sander?

So, you’ve got a lot of tools, and maybe you’ve even picked up a belt sander or a disc sander and you’re asking yourself: “Do I really need another sander?”
The answer in this case is definitely yes, yes you do. A lot of sanders overlap in their job descriptions, and if you’re skilled enough, you can really get a lot done with just one sander before you have to dig into the elbow grease and really work a piece by hand. And while you can get yourself a portable belt sander to lug around the house or outside for various projects, and set up a disc sander for those bigger projects in your wood or workshop. But what neither the disc sander nor the belt sander can do is bring the strength and maneuverability of the orbital sander to the job. Whether you’re working in your shop, your home, or outside of both, there’s going to come a time when you need a sander that’s easy to transport and use. That’s where the orbital sander really comes into play. This sander isn’t for big jobs, but rather small jobs where you need to be able to apply strength and focus. You also don’t want to have to be trying to man-handle a sander while working on a job. The orbital sander, by its very design, will let you use one or both hands to get the job done. Not only that, but this particular power sander is compact and easy to carry, taking up only a small amount of room when you’re storing it in your workshop, or in your toolbox when you’re carrying it to a job.

Sure you’ll need a sanding block for the finishing touches on any job, but the orbital sander is the one sander that you can bring with you to get you closer to finishing the job.

What should you look for in an Orbital Sander?

So you’ve looked at the projects that you’ve got lined up ahead of you, and you’ve realized that you really do need an orbital sander. The question now is, what do you look for in one?

Some of the machines come with dust collectors, and dust collection is something that you really want to be concerned with. You’re going to be working up close and personal with the sander, and the sander’s going to be spitting out a lot of sawdust. A good collection system is going to be the difference between you wearing a pair of safety glasses while you work, or a full on respirator. If you are going to go for a sander that has a collection bag you’re also going to want to see how easy it is to take the bag off and reattach it. This is going to a fairly important part of any project as it’s going to directly affect your speed and frustration level as you’re working. The last thing you want to do is fight with a stubborn bag when you’re working the last few inches with the final grit.

One of the best orbital sanders on the market!
One of the best orbital sanders on the market! Click the picture for more information…

You are going to want to look at the sanders that the store has in stock, and see whether the store carries the sanding discs for the tools. Not only are you going to want to see if they carry the discs, but you’ll want to check out the variety of grits as well. You may find a sander that you love, but if you aren’t able to buy sandpaper for it at your local store, then you may not be getting the tool that you need for your shop.

And finally, when you’re getting ready to purchase an orbital sander, you need to do your on-line homework first. Read through the reviews that are out there, and they are out there. Other woodworkers and do-it-yourselfers will chime in and let you know how well a sander works, and how long the tool lasts. You may find a great, comfortable sander, but if it dies within the first year with only moderate use, then you aren’t getting your money’s worth. Make sure that you’re armed with some basic knowledge about the more common brands of orbital sanders before you pull the trigger on a particular model you fancy.

Frequently asked questions

Should I worry about cord length?

Some of the various models of orbital sanders come with cords as short as six feet and as long as ten feet. So, unless you can’t get yourself an extension cord, you really don’t need to worry about the cord length of your sander.

Do I need a higher amp?

These sanders come as low as 2.5 amps and as high as 3 amps, and some of the lower amp models have better reviews on-line than the higher amps. More amps doesn’t necessarily mean that the sander’s going to take paint off of an old door any better than a lower amp.

Should I be concerned about oscillations per minute (opm)?

When looking at reviews and descriptions of different orbital sanders you’ll invariably see the acronym opm. Some sanders have opms that run in the range of 5,000 to 12,000, while others run from 7,000 to 12,000, and, like the amp for the motor, the opm doesn’t directly affect the performance of the sander. Some sanders with a low starting range of opm have better ratings and overall performance reviews than those sanders which start with higher opms. So, higher isn’t necessarily better when it comes to the opm.

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