Sanding, whether during carpentry, remodeling, general contracting, or even during an at-home DIY project, is one of the more time consuming tasks one can be burdened with while working on a job. While you can typically get away with some good, old-fashioned elbow grease and a piece of sandpaper (as this writer had to use on the hull of a 54ft. sloop in the Florida heat one summer; if memory serves, that boat is still sitting in the same dry dock as it was 10 years ago), in 2023 there are plenty of powered sanding options to save you the time and hassle. They are all, of course, better suited for their own specific purposes, but one of the most common questions we get here at Ohio Power Tool regarding sanders is, “Which is the best all-around sander?” Is there even a best all-around sander? To answer that question, let’s break down the types of powered sanders there are out there and what each one brings to the table.
Belt sanders are physically the largest of the sanders, with the ability to move across the largest amount of space at one time to strip it of material. The sanding sheets used in a belt sander, which typically are about 3” wide, loop around the tool (almost like a belt), and the sander then rotates, bringing the entirety of the sheet into play while in use. The uniform size of belt sander sheets makes for easier purchasing too–all you have to worry about when looking is the grit of sandpaper you’re looking for rather than having to remember that along with the size of sandpaper you need for your specific sander. Belt sander speed is typically measured in surface feet per minute (SFM); the higher the number, the quicker the sander is able to move.
When deciding which sander is right for you, one with variable speed dials might not be a bad feature to look for in a belt sander, especially if you don’t have a lot of experience using them. Milwaukee’s M18 Belt Sander is a strong contender in the belt sander arena. This sander features a variable speed dial that is able to boost your performance from 750SFM up to 1350SFM, and its tool-free belt change lever allows for quick and easy sanding sheet changes while on the job. It also features automatic belt tracking technology, allowing for the sanding belt to remain centered on their drive rollers, mitigating the chance of the sheet slipping off while in operation. Also important to consider when selecting any sander, this tool comes with a dust bag, which you’ll certainly want to attach on any one you end up using. These things are QUICK and kick up a ton of dust, so those bags will become dear friends while you’re using a belt sander. One last pro tip for belt sanding–you always want to go WITH the grain rather than against or across it for an easier time with the design of these tools.
These next two sanders are very similar to each other, and you may hear people use the terms interchangeably, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they’re completely different machines. Orbital sanders use abrasive pads, rather than the larger sanding sheets found on belt sanders, and the motor in the head moves in tiny circles, allowing the pads to bring up material. Orbital sanders aren’t made for the heavy material stripping that belt sanders are capable of; you’ll want to use these for your finer sanding work, rounding corners, finishing touches, that sort of thing. Most orbital sanders run at around 10,000 orbits per minute (OPM), though some of them, Milwaukee’s M12 Orbital Sander for example, can run as high as 14,000 OPM. Unlike the larger belt sanders, orbital sanders actually benefit from a lower number of orbits per minute due to the nature of the tools themselves. More orbits means the tool moves faster, giving you less control while in use. For this reason, that M12 Orbital Sander benefits from a variable speed trigger, dropping to speeds as low as 4,000 OPM with infinitely greater control on the tool and direction of the sanding pattern.
While looking into orbital sanders, you’ll run into 3 options of handles: those of the palm, the jug, and the pistol. Thankfully, the names are quite apt descriptions of the handle shapes. Palm handles are smaller and able to fit right into the palm of your hand, while jug handles are shaped somewhat like the handle on a jug or pitcher, and pistol handles are a bit longer and able to be held in the hand comfortably. The handles themselves have no bearing on the operation or capability of the tool, but are more for your personal preference. Try each of them out and see which is most comfortable for you!
Random Orbit Sanders
Random orbit sanders, as we mentioned above, are indeed quite similar to standard orbital sanders, but a few key differences mark them out as a different tool altogether. While orbital sanders move their pentagonal-shaped sanding pads in small circles to remove material, random orbit sanders, such as Bosch’s GET75-6N, are able to move in circles as well as back and forth on their motor housing. The pads are circular in shape rather than pentagonal, so they’re not as good at getting into corners and crevices as orbital sanders, but random orbit sanders are phenomenal at removing material and stripping wood.
You’ll find the same variety in handles in random orbit sanders that we talked about previously (the GET75-6N is, all together now, a jug handle sander), along with variable speed dials on most models. Random orbit sanders are quite versatile as far as sanders go, and are best at projects deemed too large for standard orbital sanders but too fine for belt sanders. You’ll also find less of the swirl pattern that some orbital sanders can leave behind due to the nature of the motor movement, giving you a smoother finish that you won’t have to buff out later.
The final type of powered sander we’ll be covering are sheet sanders–sometimes called finish sanders or palm sanders (not to be confused with palm handle sanders; we know, it gets tricky). These sanders are similar in shape to belt sanders, albeit much smaller and significantly less powerful. Sheet sanders, such as DeWalt’s DCW200B, use rectangular pads to remove material, and are perfect for edges, corners, or other harder to reach spots on your project. The variable speed dial on DeWalt’s offering is able to boost your OPM from 8,000 up to 14,000, giving you freedom of control while you’re operating the tool. While the sheet sanders aren’t able to remove as much material as the more powerful belt sanders, you may still want to get a dust bag to attach on the end of your sheet sander if one wasn’t included in the box to save a significant amount of time in cleanup at the end of the day. For the most part, you’ll want to bust out your sheet sander for more detailed work, especially on smaller surfaces. The lower power output (especially compared to belt sanders) means you won’t be able to remove as much material at once, and most sheet sanders have a continuous runtime of below an hour.
So What Do I Pick?
And so we return to the original question posed at the beginning; is there a best all-around sander? While there are certainly contenders, each of the sanders have their own strengths and weaknesses, and one person’s best all-around sander might be someone else’s least favorite or most unnecessary sander on the market. If possible, having a menagerie of sanders for each type of situation to choose from would be ideal, though of course that may not always be practical or even possible. If we had to make a recommendation, we’d say determine which application you need a cordless sander for the most (removing a large amount of material, buffing out fine details, etc.), conduct some research and comparisons by heading to your favorite online shop (Ohio Power Tool, of course), and choosing the one that best suits your specific needs. As always, we are here to help with any questions or concerns at 614-481-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and be sure to follow us wherever you get your social media kicks to stay up to date on news, deals, and more!