Best Orbital Sanders: How to Find the Ultimate Orbital Sander

Best Orbital Sanders: How to Find the Ultimate Orbital Sander

You could say Jack Grubisich knows a thing or two about the value of investing in the best orbital sanders. In the heart of Southern California, he spends his days repairing vintage cars–mody often, Corvettes. Southern California may be known for its mild weather, beautiful scenery, and of course, Hollywood, but it’s also especially rough terrain for vehicles.

It’s not that people are off-roading that gives Grubisich a packed schedule, but that drivers are notoriously aggressive on the freeways. Most commonly, debris damage the fiberglass. In worse incidents, of course, Grubisich has to repair cars that have been damaged in fender benders.

Repairing fiberglass is not too difficult in of itself, but a vintage car like a Corvette can pose some unique challenges. For one, the cars he works with tend of course to be older, which means they may be both more susceptible to damage and are constructed a bit differently than modern cars.

The Corvette C2 and C3, for instance, is built on a fiberglass frame as opposed to a steel one. If something becomes damaged, you can’t merely replace a single part, but must instead essentially sculpt a huge chunk of material back together.

You may well be wondering where an orbital sander comes in. The process of repair is a tedious one at times, requiring a series of steps where the material is repaired and replaced. Laminite resin is used to help new material and filling stick together. While there are many steps to the process, the fit of the pieces is crucial–they must not be too small or overlap.

Orbital sanders allow Grubisich to fit those pieces precisely and sand circular pieces and hard to reach places for the best fit possible. While all of the tools he uses are important to his process, you could go so far as to say that the ultimate saving grace is a high-quality orbital sander.

What is an orbital sander?

Put in the most simple terms, an orbital sander is any sander that is able to sand in a circular fashion, just as the name implies. Orbital sanders actually typically have a square exterior and are among the most prized tools for home improvement projects, both large and small. Contrary to some belief, there are actually many different varieties of orbital sanders, but all orbital sanders are distinguished by their circular sanding motion.

Orbital sanders–at least the kind we usually think of–tend to also be prized because many accept a wide variety of sandpaper.

How do I know if I needed a sander for a project?

It may sound like a silly question, but sanders can make any project, from repairing wood furniture to even building some of your own or working with other materials more efficient. Sanding in of itself is important not simply for a splinter-free, smooth finish, but for ensuring pieces fit together as seamlessly as possible. Objects are also sanded before being given a finish or polish.

What most people are asking which this question is whether or not they can get by with merely sanding by hand using sandpaper alone. In theory, you can complete many sanding projects this way but after a while it becomes insufficient. For one, even if you’re using sandpaper for working on a small project, it is very tiring. For another, sanding without a sander means you’re far more likely to miss hard to reach places, such as a corner or odd shapes, and you’re also far more likely to not sand evenly.

What about power vs a hand sander?

Make no mistake: hand sanders are a step above simply using sandpaper. Not only will they save you time and apply the sanding more evenly, but they make the most efficient use of sandpaper, because, by applying power evenly, you won’t get pieces of sandpaper worn out simply in the corners, for instance.

But when we launch into discussing orbital sanders, you’ll find that the best tend to be electronic. While some may think that’s just a matter of convenience, it actually goes beyond that. Power sanders, as opposed to hand sanders, tend to work faster but can also at times and more finely and precisely. While more expensive, for many, a power sander is more worth the investment.

Of course, not all tasks require an electric sander. Small tasks, such as sanding off the edges of a small piece of furniture, may be done by hand. But overall, power sanders will prove more versatile for a wide range of projects.

What are orbital sanders used for?

Orbital sanders, in general, are considered one of the best tools to have on hand for home improvement projects. Orbital sanders, of course, are able to be used on curved surfaces and edges and also irregular shapes.

They are most useful for stripping paint or varnish and preparing the wood. They can save a lot of time if you’re working on a large project, as opposed to palm sanders. They are more powerful, though more lightweight and less overwhelming than other sanders. Lightweight or finishing sanders can easily be operated with a single hand. Some larger random-orbit sanders, however, require both hands to operate properly.

Are orbital sanders more or less the same?

No. As you might have guessed if you’re still reading, there are two main types or orbital sanders. When someone uses the term ‘orbital sander,’ it’s likely they’re referring to the traditional orbital sander, also known as a finishing orbital sander. But there are also random-orbit sanders. While both have the ability to sand in hard to reach areas, there are some notable differences:

  • Orbital Sander (Finishing): These orbital sanders are best for, as you can imagine, smaller projects and finishing touches. The best of these tend to both fairly light, and also a bit quieter than other sanders. They typically use ¼ of a typical nine by an eleven-inch sheet of sandpaper and are especially useful for woodworking projects. It follows a circular motion or orbital and is helpful when other sanders can’t reach certain parts.
  • Random-Orbit Sander: A random orbit sander combines some features of a belt sander and an orbital finishing sander. Unlike an orbital sander, which has a square pad, a random-orbit sander has a circular pad. This both spins and rotates in a variety of circular patterns. It is not as powerful as a belt sander and will take longer to strip off wood, and it is also a bit more powerful than a finishing orbital sander. It’s considered more versatile of the two, as a random orbital sander can be used for a variety of projects. The angle varies quite a bit, meaning it’s more adjustable for different projects and materials. The random rotation patterns can also reduce finishing swirl marks.

Would you always recommend a random-orbit sander over a finishing one?

As we have already discussed, there are pros and cons to both kinds of orbital sanders. A finishing sander is useful for those final touches. They tend to easier to operate and are more lightweight. But if you’re hoping to select the best orbital sanders for a wide variety of sanders, then a random-orbit sander is the better way to go.

While both provide circular sanding motion, a random orbital sander has the undeniable advantage of avoiding swirl marks, being powerful to use on a wide variety of projects, and providing a nice balance between control and power.

If you only anticipate using your sander for very light or brief projects, you might prefer a finishing orbital sander. Just make sure there isn’t a more lightweight random-orbit sander that fits the bill first.

So what projects are a random-orbital best for, and what projects is a finishing orbital sander best for?

  • Random orbit sanders are most suited for working on larger surface areas, such as cabinets, doors, and tables. They are considered the best option overall because they do not leave behind scratch or swirl marks like regular orbital sanders can.
  • Finishing orbital sanders are most useful for fine details and hard to reach corners, for small projects.

What features should I look for in order to find the ultimate orbital sander?

Finding the ultimate orbital sander may sound like a tall task, but it doesn’t need to be. By setting down some criteria you can find the best orbital sander for your next task, as well as avoid some pitfalls. Here are the main criteria you need to keep in mind. Do know that most of these criteria apply to random-orbit sanders, but we will also provide a suggestion for one of the best finishing orbital sanders you can buy.

How much should I spend?

With orbital sanders, more isn’t always better, but you don’t want to go for the cheapest option, either. A smaller orbital sander, also known as palm size, intended for more precise detail work, should run around fifty to one hundred dollars. For larger projects, aim for a random orbit sander that cost around one hundred and fifty to two hundred dollars. There’s a large degree of wiggle room, but those price range should give you an idea of what’s normal. Too far outside of those ranges and you may either be spending too much or buying something that may not last as long.

Prices can increase by brand but also by features. It’s always a good idea to compare and contrast orbital sanders to see the discrepancy in terms of features. In other words, the will price point is important to keep in mind, it also doesn’t tell the whole story.

What about dust?

Dust and more specifically, dust collection is an important feature for any sander, and especially for something you may use often, like a random orbit sander. Some of the best sanders actually have built-in dust control. While you can use a mask while operating your sander, you want added protection from breathing in the dust–and a way to reduce mess.

Look for sealed switches to prevent dust from escaping, dust trapping filters, easy to remove dust collector bags, and filters to prevent dust from ruining or stalling the motor. Dust control is one of the most important features to consider not just for yourself, but also for the longevity of your sander.

How powerful does it need to be?

Power is indicated by amps. You’ll also want to pay attention to orbits per minute. For a versatile and decently powerful orbital sander, aim for around three amps but no less than two amps. A two amp sander would be just fine, perhaps for smaller projects, while the ultimate in the versatility you’ll get from a three amp motor.

When it comes to rotations per minute, you’ll normally see it in terms of orbit per minute. You want to look for something that hovers around ten thousand orbits per minute, give or take. Of course, less means the job will get done a bit more slowly, and vise versa. However, it is not necessary to go for the quickest sander. Keep in mind that with more rotations per minute, you’ll have a little less control, or it will be slightly more difficult to maneuver the sander.

Do I need to worry about a ‘smooth’ finish?

The benefit to a random-orbit sander is that it does tend to produce a smooth, swirl-free finish. That said, the sender does not need to specifically state this in order for it to be true. It’s mostly for marketing purposes, so don’t worry if this phrase isn’t included in the sander’s product description.

Should I go for a corded or battery operated orbital sander?

There’s always a debate over corded versus battery operated sanders, though most do prefer battery operated sanders. While corded sanders tend to be more powerful, battery operated sanders are easier to use in terms of using it anywhere you like, and also without the fear of tangling a cord. When it comes to orbital sanders, this is even truer. Since you likely will be working with more challenging angles, including curved edges, you’re going to want to go for the maneuverability a battery operated orbital sander offers. Still, if you can also make a corded sander work.

How long can you use it at a time?

How often the sander needs to be recharged is also of consideration. You may be surprised that most sanders cannot be used for a very long period of time in a row. Forty to thirty minutes is a good run time before you need to give the sender a break.

How comfortable is it to operate?

Make no mistake, sanding, especially when using an orbital sander, can cause some discomfort with prolonged use, so make sure it’s aa as comfortable as possible. Ergonomic design and comfort grips are a plus. You’ll also have to think about having heaving the sander is. Finishing sanders need not be more than a few pounds. While random orbit sanders will and likely should be a bit heavier, you’ll also want them easy enough for you to operate. You may also want to consider a more compact design. Just keep in mind sometimes you are sacrificing power for more comfort, so it’s best to go for a happy medium.

How much does pad size matter?

Pad size, of course, determines how much surface area the sander will cover at any given time. For random or finishing orbital sander, five or six-inch pad sizes are typical and a reasonable choice. There is, however, a notable difference between the two. In general, five-inch sanders tend to be more lightweight and are more common with finishing orbital sanders. They weigh a few pounds and re better for those fine details. In contrast, six-inch pads often come with random orbit sanders and are far more efficient for projects such as stripping wood.

Never go below a five-inch pad for your best orbital sander, and a six inch is best for a wider variety of projects, though not as ideal for detail work.

How can you make sure I’ll get a higher level of precision?

If you’re concerned about precision, adjustable handles and changeable disc angles are both important. The more settings the more control and the more precise you can make your sanding. Some orbital sanders also even come with side tools. Of course, these are not always necessary but if you do anticipate needing finer detailed sanding yet want the power of a random orbit sander, these are the best features to look for.

Does a ‘hook and loop system’ matter?

While not a necessity, a hook, and loop system will provide the ultimate in efficiency, by allowing you the ability to change sandpaper as quickly as easily as possible.

What about compact design?

We’ve already touched on this, but when it comes to the compact design, it tends to be easier to operate. However, with orbital sanders, there’s an added advantage. More so even than with other sanders, orbital sanders need to be easy to maneuver. So long as you aren’t sacrificing power too much, compact design offers the ultimate benefits in terms of versatility.

Do I need different speed settings?

One thing that you may forget about is not the speed itself, but the ability to adjust to different speed settings. This is quite important when it comes to random orbit sanders when you’re working with a variety of materials. Fragile materials at too high of speeds can risk ‘sand through’ while heat sensitive materials, such as plastic and acrylic require lower speeds.

How important is the handle?

We’ve already touched lightly on overall comfort, but the handle is also important in terms of using an orbital sander. Two grip handles are ideal for ultimate grip and control, but there are some instances where it’s better to not have that handle in the way for tight corners. Because of this, the very best option will have a handle that you can also remove.

Are there any other features I should consider?

While there are many other features you might consider, one thing some customers overlook is a warranty. If you’re spending over one hundred dollars, your best option is to select an orbital sander that offers a warranty–just make sure you understand what that warranty covers, and its length. Typical warranty lengths are one year, three year, and lifetime. Many also allow you to return it within a period of time, with the most generous hovering around sixty or ninety days.

What are some of the best orbital sanders?

Now that we’ve addressed some key criteria you need to be aware of, let’s take a look at some of the best orbital sanders available so you can have the ultimate experience.

  1. Skil 5” Random Orbital Sander: This five-inch random orbital sander is actually a bit below our price range but with great reviews and a number of excellent features it’s a great option for a bit under fifty dollars if you have a tighter budget. The sander features a 2.8 amp motor, can rotate up to 13,000 orbits per minute, and features an easy to clean, transparent dust collector. Variable speed control, dust-sealed power switch, and low vibration makes this an all-around great choice for sanding in tight corners–though it may be less suitable for larger or harder tasks.
  2. Dewalt Variable Speed Random Orbital Sander, 5”: Acclaimed by outlets such as Business Insider, the Dewalt sander has a more powerful three amp motor, and can spin from eight thousand to twelve thousand rotations orbits per minute. The rubber over the molding is meant to both reduce vibration and fatigue. A one-hand locking system makes for easy and safe use, and the switches are also dust sealed.
  3. Bosch Power Tools Electric Orbital Sander and Polisher, 6”: If you are looking for a corded option, this is a great pick. This orbital sander by Bosch is among the most powerful, featuring 6.5amp motor and varying turbo and fine finishing sanding modes. A special dust tube collection system and easy to use, flexible handle means you get the most out of your sander. While more of an investment, this orbital sander can be used for a wide range of projects.
  4. Dynabrade Supreme Non-Vacuum Orbital Sander, 5”: This orbital sander from Dynabrade is also highly rated and comes with a number of excellent features. With conversion kits, you can switch from a vacuum to a non-vacuum dust collection option. The five blade system is meant for maximum power, while the ergonomic design is suitable for longer use. It has a respectable 12,000 rotations per minute and comes with a six-month warranty as well.

If we had to choose just one orbital sander, it would be something like the Bosch Orbital Sander and Polisher. This sander is essentially a two in one, making it suitable for everything from heavy sanding to more fine polishing. We also love the attention to comfortable use and efficient dust collection.

Further read:

Erin Jamieson

Erin Jamieson is passionate about making the space you live in as comfortable, affordable, and personal as possible. With her vast nonprofit experience, including for organizations like Habit for Humanity, as well as experience writing for startups, she brings both financial, mechanical, and stylistic advice to make your home uniquely yours. Erin Jamieson holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University of Ohio.

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