If you’re renovating your home, at some point, you’ll be thinking about buying a sander. A sander is great for working with different types of wood – whether you’re fixing a door that keeps sticking or leveling hardwood flooring, you’ll need a powerful sander that can make the job quick and easy for you.
You may be interested in making new furniture, or stripping, reshaping and repainting old furniture. In that case, a sander is a great choice for you, as they make the work of removing stubborn paint and varnish a breeze.
The question is: which sander do you buy? With so many types out there, you might not know where to start. With our belt sander vs. orbital sander comparison, you’ll be able to tell which is the right choice for you. We’ll explore the main differences between the two, and then go into each one in detail, looking at their uses, pros and cons, and how they work. We’ll then try to decide which one is the best tool to choose.
Let’s get started with the main differences between the two.
Main Differences Between Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander
The main differences between Belt Sander vs Orbitar Sander are:
- Belt Sander uses continuous loop of sandpaper, whereas Orbital Sander uses sanding discs which spin in small circles.
- Belt Sandler is a better option for powerful and large amounts of material, wheres Orbital Sander is better for smaller pieces of furniture and fitting into tight spaces.
- Belt Sander works on flat surfaces, whereas Orbital Sander can work with difficult angles.
What is an Orbital Sander?
Orbital sanders utilize sanding discs that spin in small circles (orbits). They are square-shaped, which is great for dealing with corners and edges. They’re great for working on large pieces of furniture as they can work relatively quickly.
However, the downside is that they can leave swirl marks – so they’re better suited to wood or furniture that you will be painting later.
Speed is measured by ‘orbits per minute,’ which shows how fast your orbital sander will rotate. Typically, an orbital sander will work at around 10,000 orbits per minute. A faster speed is great if you’re working with large surface areas, but the faster it goes, the less control you’ll have – meaning you may be more likely to make mistakes.
Some models offer variable speed. This is great if you plan to use your orbit sander for different sander types of tasks.
The power of an orbital sander is measured by amps. The higher the number, the more powerful it is – and the faster it can run.
An orbital sander isn’t powerful enough to remove a lot of material – if you need to strip away a lot of wood, you might be better off with a more powerful tool.
There are a few sander types of handles you can get on an orbital sander:
- Pistol-grip handles: these give you good control, allowing you to use both hands (one to direct and one to apply pressure). These are normally found on professional-level orbital sanders
- Jug-grip handles: these are best suited for when you have to reach under a piece of furniture or wood to sand it
- Palm grip handles: these are the most common, and usually come with a comfort grip
The larger the sanding pad on your orbital sander, the bigger the surface area you can work with. The most common size of an orbital sander is known as a ‘quarter-sheet sander’ because it’s the size of a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper.
You can simply attach sandpaper to an orbital sander using a peel-and-stick system, or Velcro. You can buy any sandpaper to use with an orbital sander- this is great if you’re on a budget, as sandpaper is fairly affordable.
You may be wondering whether to go for a corded or cordless model. The obvious advantage of a cordless model is that you may be able to reach tighter spaces without worrying about a cord holding you back. The downside is that they tend to be a bit less powerful than corded varieties, and you have to remember to charge the batteries after you use it.
What about dust? Any kind of sander generates a lot of it, and it can be harmful to breathe it in. An orbital sander will usually have some kind of dust collection system. Passive dust collection usually consists of a dust collection bag which will collect the sawdust as you go. A vacuum-powered collection ‘hoovers’ up the dust as you work.
A good orbital sander will have filters and sealed switches, too. This prevents dust from entering the mechanism of the tool, shortening its life span.
What Can I Use an Orbital Sander for?
Because of the swirl marks an orbital sander can leave behind, they’re not as good for sanding furniture or surfaces that you wish to leave untreated. They work really quickly; however, and they’re great for getting into difficult corners, and they also work well on rounded edges. If you’re sanding a piece of furniture that you want to paint later, an orbital sander would be a great choice.
They’re also great for sanding stairs or baseboards, or anything that has corners, due to its shape.
What is a Random Orbital Sander?
A random orbit sander is slightly different than regular orbital sanders. They use a circular sanding pad instead of a square one, and the movement is different – a random orbit sander spins and rotates at the same time, to reduce marks on the finished product.
What is an Orbital Finishing Sander?
A finishing sander is a much smaller, lighter tool. A finishing sander is great for reaching into tricky corners or edges, but they’re not as powerful as a regular orbital sander.
The Pros of an Orbital Sander
- They work really quickly – this is great if you have a large surface area to work with
- They deal with corners and difficult angles with ease
- They’re perfect for sanding furniture that you plan to paint later
- Random orbital sanders are designed to reduce swirl marks
The Cons of an Orbital Sander
- May leave behind ‘swirl’ marks if you use a traditional orbital sander
- Not as powerful as other types of sanders
Orbital Sander Recommendation – Makita BO5031K
Makita makes great-looking, reliable tools. This random orbital sander is no exception. It has a large 1/8” random orbit action – this means it works incredibly quickly. It has variable speed control, which is great.
Plus, they’ve really thought about dust collection – it has a through-the-pad dust collection system and a sealed dust switch. It’s also excellent value for money and has great reviews. If you want a random orbital sander, this could be a great choice for you.
What is a Belt Sander?
A belt sander looks different to an orbital sander. They consist of an electric motor, which turns a pair of drums, to which is attached a loop of sandpaper. They’re a bit bigger than orbital sanders.
Belt sanders are also powerful, capable of removing a lot of material rapidly and working with large surface areas. They’re best suited to the beginning stage of the process when you are shaping and finishing wood and need to work quickly. They’re great for creating a completely smooth finish surface.
Stationary Belt Sander
A stationary belt sander is usually mounted on a workbench (and are known as bench sanders). To use it, you must bring the material to the sander, holding it against the sanding belt as it turns. This is obviously better suited to small pieces of wood. You can use it as a tool sharpener, too, as it can work with metal as well as wood.
Handheld Belt Sander
A handheld belt sander is, as the name suggests, a bit more portable. They’re normally combined with a disc sander. You use two hands – one on the trigger, and the other on the forward handle. You can then gently ease the sander down. They’re very powerful, so you have to hold on tight – but with a bit of practice, you can sand a piece of material very quickly.
The speed of a belt sander is measured in ft/min (feet per minute). The higher the number, the faster it can spin. Again, a variable speed belt sander is great if you want to switch up the speed for different tasks.
Belt sanders are incredibly powerful. Power is measured in amps, and they usually have around 8-11 amp motor. The more powerful, the tougher the wood the machine can work with, and the faster it can work. You have to be careful when using a belt sander, as they have a high amount of torque (the force used to turn the belt).
Unlike orbital sanders, a belt sander uses a loop of sandpaper. The most common size is a 3-in. Wide sanding belt – these are the most versatile. The smaller the loop, the smaller and lighter the tool, which is good for smaller tasks. The larger you go, the bigger the surface area you can work with – this is great if you have large pieces of wood to work with.
Belts can be made from aluminum oxide or zirconia (these are sharper and tougher and tend to last longer). They’re more expensive than traditional sandpaper, which is something to consider.
By changing the grit, you can vary the use of your belt sander. A coarser grit is great for quickly removing layers of material or removing varnish or stains.
Like orbital sanders, belt sanders create a lot of dust. Some belt sanders come with a dust collection bag, which simply collects the dust into one place. Others have a vacuum system, which actively sucks up the dust as you work.
What Can I Use a Belt Sander for?
A belt sander is not best suited to working with smaller pieces of furniture. The large size and power mean that they are better suited for sanding or leveling rough surfaces, like hardwood flooring. You can sand with the grain – this means you’ll get a very even and smooth finish. If you’re renovating your home, you may find that a belt sander is a tool for you.
You can use a belt sander on large pieces of furniture, like tables and cabinets, and they’re great for fixing doors.
They’re also versatile in that you can use them to strip finishes from metal, too – if you choose the right sandpaper.
The Pros of a Belt Sander
- Works very quickly, stripping down large amounts of wood at high speeds
- Great for large surface areas, like bigger pieces of furniture or doors
- Also works with metal
The Cons of a Belt Sander
- It can be easy to accidentally sand away too much material
- They’re not as well suited for smaller pieces of furniture or tight spaces
Belt Sander Recommendation – Skil 7510-01 Sandcat Belt Sander with Pressure Control
This is a great belt sander for beginners. It has a pressure control warning system – this warns you when excessive pressure is applied, hopefully preventing you from sanding away too much material.
It has an auto-track system for keeping the belt in the right place, and it has a micro-filtration system to capture and contain fine dust particles. It’s also got a clear view of dust canister – this will help you to see when it needs to be emptied. It’s easy to change the belt, too, with a single-lever belt system.
Although it’s not the fastest model out there at 1,050 feet per minute, it’s fast enough for the average user. Plus, it has an excellent price point – so it’s great if you’re on a tight budget.
What to Look for When Buying a New Sander
There are a few things you’ll want to look out for when you’re buying a new sander.
Set your budget before you begin shopping. It can be easy to get sucked into the hype when a particular tool has lots of extra features, and you can easily get carried away buying the most expensive model. Sometimes, though, the most expensive model isn’t the best in terms of reviews. Always check what other people have to say before you make a purchase.
For what can you use your new purchase? If you’re renovating your home, you’ll probably be wanting to complete a whole range of tasks, in which case, you want to make sure any new tool can do different sanding jobs. Also, you never know what you might need to repair or build in the future – so the more your sander can do, the better.
What safety features does your tool have? Does it have enough vents to prevent overheating? Does it have a dust collection bag to prevent you from breathing in too much dust, and does it have good reviews in terms of safety?
Most power tools come with a warranty, usually between one and three years. It’s definitely worth checking this first. Also, it’s worth checking reviews to see how good the company’s customer service is, and how easy it is to get hold of them if something were to go wrong.
Sander Safety Tips
A sander is a great tool – but like any power tool, it needs to be used with caution. Here are a few tips on how to stay safe while you work:
Check yourself for loose clothing or jewelry
Baggy sleeves, ties, long hair, and dangly jewelry are out – these can easily be sucked into the mechanism of the sander. It’s always best to just double check you have nothing that could get tangled up into the machine.
Protect your ears and eyes
It’s really important to protect your ears as you work. Sanders can be noisy, and over time, they can damage your hearing if you don’t protect them properly. Consider wearing ear protectors if your sander is particularly loud. Also, you’ll need to wear safety glasses to protect your eyes from dust and any flying wood chips.
Be careful of dust
If your tool is producing a lot of dust, you might want to consider wearing a mask to stop you from breathing it in. Over time, breathing in a lot of sawdust is not good for you, so make sure you protect yourself from it.
Disconnect the power supply before making changes
That includes emptying the dust bag and changing sandpaper. Make sure you totally disconnect the power before you start tinkering with your sander.
Read the instructions before you start
This is really important! Make sure you’ve assembled your new tool correctly and that everything is in working order.
Maintain your sander properly
Read the instructions to see how you need to maintain your sander. Make sure you empty the dust collection bag regularly and change the sandpaper when it wears down.
FAQ’s About Orbital vs Belt Sander
Orbital sander indeed can be used as a polisher, but in order to do so, and to avoid doing any damage, you have to attach a polishing sponge that will gently make the surface ready for applying paint.
An orbital sander can be used for auto bodywork, but since these sanding tools can easily become hot, it’s recommended that you use a cooling time every time you notice the tool is warm, in order to avoid creating a fire.
Yes. The orbital sander is an excellent tool to refresh and restore old furniture, and while you can also use small sandpaper to reach out to small surfaces and corners, the orbit sander will do the job on the larger areas and will make a smooth surface that is ready to be repainted again.
Orbital vs Belt Sander: The Final Verdict
So, which sander is best? Really, it depends on what you want it for.
An orbital sander is perfect if you need to sand at awkward angles, for example, if you need to sand stairs. It’s a bit more portable than a belt sander and very easy to use. It also has the big advantage of being able to use regular sandpaper, which is very easy to obtain and cut to size. It’s powerful enough for most DIY sanding jobs, and it’s perfect if you want to prepare a surface for painting or varnishing.
However – a belt sander is a lot more powerful. It can also be versatile, especially as you can use it to sand metal too. It’s great for getting large surface areas done quickly and efficiently. It’s also great if you have a thick, tough piece of wood and you need to remove a lot of it. For doors and flooring, a belt sander would be the top choice.
However – given its versatility, smaller size, and ease of use, we’re going to pick the orbital sander as our top choice today. For most homeowners, woodworkers or DIY enthusiasts, an orbital sander is going to get the job done – it may not be as powerful, but it’s still enough to get the most common tasks done. The swirl marks are a definite downside, but if you go for a random orbital sander, you might be able to eliminate most of them. The Makita BO5013K we recommended earlier is a great choice.
We hope this has helped you to decide which is best for you. If you enjoyed this article, you might like to read the following:
- The Best Sanders for Deck Refinishing
- The Best Power Sanders: How to Find Them and Which to Buy
- The Best Detail Sanders: How to Find Them and Which to Buy
- Best Drywall Sanders – How to Find Them and Which to Buy
- Guide to Best Bench Sanders: The Best Options Available!
- The Best Sanders for Furniture On The Market!