Orbital vs Palm Sander: Which is Right for You?

Orbital vs Palm Sander

If you work with wood in any capacity – building furniture, working with decking, fitting flooring – you’ll need a sander. A sander will allow you to shape wood, remove paint and varnish, and create a smooth finish. Both Orbital vs Palm Sander are well-loved and heavily used by anyone from a DIY enthusiast, to a newbie house renovator, to a seasoned woodworker.

There are, however, different types of sanders, to be used for specific tasks. Today, in our Orbital vs Palm Sander comparison, we’ll be taking a look at two of the most commonly used sanders.

On the surface of it, they’re similar: after all, they’re both sanders, used for stripping paint and shaping and finishing wood, and they’re both hand-held. They both use regular sandpaper. How different can they be?

In reality, there are a few differences between the two that you need to know about. We’ll tell you those differences, and then take you through each type in detail, so you’ll know exactly what to look for. If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by choice, don’t worry – we’ll help you to figure out which type is best for you.

If you do any work with wood at all, at some point, you’re going to need a sander. The question is – what is the difference between an orbital sander and a palm sander? Here’s a quick overview of the main differences between the two:

Main Differences Between Orbitals vs Palm Sanders

The Main Differences Between Orbitals vs Palm Sanders are:

  • Orbitals are heavy duty tools, whereas Palm Sanders are smaller and more lightweight
  • Orbitals are better for working on large pieces, whereas Palm Sanders is best for small pieces
  • Orbitals will get bigger sanding jobs done much more quickly, whereas Palm Sanders gives a much smoother result
  • Orbitals can be an inversion, whereas Palm Sanders are more affordable

Those are the basic differences – now let’s take a look at each type in more detail.

Orbital Sanders

Orbital Sanders

Orbital sanders work by spinning a sanding disc in small circles (or orbits). They’re normally square shaped – this means that they can deal with corners and edges with ease. They can also be used on curved pieces or rounded edges.

The larger the sanding pad, the bigger the surface area that an orbital sander can deal with – so what size you get will depend on the type of project you’re working on. The most commonly used size is known as a ‘quarter sheet sander’ because it’s the size of a quarter of a sheet of sandpaper.

Orbital sanders do leave swirl marks – so they may not work if, for example, you’re building a piece of furniture and you want to leave the wood unpainted.  If you want to prepare a piece of wood for painting later, they work really well.

Power and Speed

Power is measured by amps (the higher the number, the more powerful the tool), but you can also keep a lookout for ‘orbits per minute.’ This shows you how fast your orbital sander will rotate, and the standard is usually around 10,000 orbits per minute.

If you’re working on very large pieces of wood, a faster sander is a great choice – but you’ll have less control, and you may end up with a few more marks on your finished piece. If you’re working on smaller pieces with more corners and intricate details, around 10,000 orbits per minute should be fine.

Some models have adjustable speed control settings. Going at a slower pace may be useful if you’re working on a particularly tricky area and you want greater control, but a faster pace will obviously enable you to work much more quickly – so having the choice will make the tool much more versatile.

Generally, an orbital sander will not be powerful enough to remove a lot of material. This is good if you want to avoid accidentally sanding away too much wood while you work, but not so good if you need something with a bit more power behind it.

Orbital Sander Features Characteristics

Handles and Grip

You can get a few different kinds of handles on orbital sanders. Pistol-grip handles give you good control, as you use both hands (one to direct and one to apply pressure).

These tend to be found on professional orbital sanders. Jug-grip handles are more unusual, and better suited for occasions where you have to reach under a piece of wood to sand it. Palm grip handles are the most common – these are usually lightweight and come with a comfort grip for ease of use.


You can attach sandpaper to an orbital sander via Velcro or a peel-and-stick design. The great thing is, you don’t need to buy special sandpaper to use with an orbital sander – you can use any sandpaper you can get. This is brilliant in terms of keeping costs down.

Random Orbital Sanders

When you’re shopping for an orbital sander, you may see the term ‘random orbital sander’ and think it is the same thing. In fact, they’re a little different. Random orbit sander moves in a different way to a regular orbital sander – it spins and rotates at the same time and is designed to reduce marks on the finished product.

It has a circular sanding pad instead of a square pad. It’s not as powerful as a regular orbital sander, but it’s a little more versatile – you can vary the angles as you work, giving you greater flexibility in terms of which projects you use it for.

Finishing Orbital Sanders

Finishing orbital sanders are much smaller and lighter (and, as a result, much quieter). Finishing sander is used to reach tricky corners and edges.

What Can I Use an Orbital Sander For?

Orbital sanders are great for working with baseboards, stairs, or anything that has corners that another type of sander may have difficulty reaching. However, they can be used for anything that needs to have paint or varnish stripped away – so if you’ve bought a second-hand piece of furniture that you want to repaint, an orbital sander will prepare it much more quickly than if you were to sand it by hand.

Cordless Orbital Sander

Corded or Cordless?

You can get corded or cordless models, depending on preference. Some people prefer cordless because it saves you having to worry about the cord getting in the way as you work (particularly in hard-to-reach corners or tight spaces). However, the downside to cordless models is that you need to remember to charge the batteries between uses.

Corded models may be a little more powerful, too, so bear this in mind as you’re looking at different models.

Dust Collection

If you’re working with wood, you’re going to be creating dust. Sanding creates a whole lot of dust – but some models have features to deal with dust collection. They’ll either be passive or vacuum powered – passive dust collection usually involves a dust collector bag which you can attach to your regular vacuum’s hose for removal, whereas vacuum powered collection sucks up the dust as you work.

They may also offer filters and sealed switches, to stop the dust from getting into the mechanism and shortening the life of the sander.

Pros of Orbital Sanders

  • Can work very quickly, which is great for bigger projects
  • The square shape means you can fit into corners with ease
  • Works well in tight spaces

Cons of Orbital Sanders

  • May leave behind marks
  • Will not remove a huge amount of material

Product Recommendation – Bosch Power Tools Electric Orbit Sander and Polisher

Bosch Power Tools Electric Orbit Sander

Although it’s on the pricier side at around $250, this model by Bosch is great because it offers you so much flexibility. It has two sanding modes – random orbit mode for normal sanding or finishing, and ‘turbo’ driven orbit mode, which is much more aggressive and great for working on larger pieces. It has a 5.5 amp variable speed motor, which gives you around 3,100 – 6,500 orbits per minute.

It’s super flexible, easy to use, and has a comfortable handle. It has a passive dust collection system which you can use with your vacuum cleaner, so dust clean up isn’t a problem. It can be used for most sanding jobs, wood floors, furniture finishing, and polishing – making it a great, versatile tool to add to your collection.

Our Choice
Bosch 1250DEVS Electric Orbital Sander | Amazon

Even though Orbital Sanders are typically more expensive than Palm Sander, they are ideal if you have tons of woodworking tasks, you can use them for all kinds of projects and come with a lot of warranties.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Orbital Sanders

If you’ve still got a few questions, don’t worry – we may have the answer.

How much should I spend on an orbital sander?

It depends on how many extra features you’d like. You’re going to be spending around one hundred to two hundred dollars on an orbital sander. Like anything, however, you can choose to go for the cheapest budget model or splash out on a model that comes with a lot of extra touches. It’s best to set out your budget and then try to find a model that fits around that. Be wary of going for the cheapest model, however – check out the reviews before you buy works more quickly.

Can an orbital sander be used as a polisher?

Some people use orbital sanders as polishers, by attaching polishing cloths to the bottom – there are tutorials online to show you how to do it. This will be done at your own risk, however!

Can an orbital sander be used on drywall?

Yes – just make sure you get the right sandpaper for the job (usually 180 or 220 grit).

Can you use an orbital sander on hardwood flooring?

It isn’t really recommended by most people, but some people do use their orbital sander on the hardwood flooring and find that it works well.

Palm Sanders

About Palm Sanders

Orbital sanders are smaller than orbital sanders but very affordable – they’re usually priced at around fifty dollars. They are also known as sheet sander. Like an orbital sander, it’s square-shaped, which makes it great for getting into corners and difficult to reach places.

It uses a back and forth, patterned motion as opposed to an elliptical one. You have to feed sandpaper into the machine as you go, as the sandpaper doesn’t last very long.

What Can I Use a Palm Sander For?

If you want to work on smaller projects, or you don’t see yourself using a sander very often, a palm sander could be a great choice. They’re flexible enough to work on most smaller DIY projects, but they’re lightweight and great for those on a tighter budget.

Their smaller size means they’re good for working with precision, and they don’t tend to leave marks in the same way an orbital sander does – so if you want to sand down a piece of wood that has been treated or painted, a palm sander is a better choice.


In terms of power sander, a palm sander is a little more gentle than an orbital sander. A 2.0-amp motor will be great for most projects you’d want to use a palm sander for. Any more powerful than 3.0 amps, and you’ll be paying extra for something you potentially don’t need.


Palm sanders are designed to be lightweight and easy to use. You want to make sure you can keep hold of it as you work! Go for a model that has comfort-grip handles – making it easier for you to hold onto it, as well as making it more comfortable to use.

Palm Sander Features Characteristics


The most common size of palm sander is a half-sheet or quarter-sheet sander size. The smaller size is better for more detailed work, whereas the larger size is better for bigger surface areas. You can even get miniature palm sanders. This is great for very small, precise work that a larger sander would be too big for.

Dust Collection

Just as with an orbital sander, dust collection is something that you have to consider. One of the main drawbacks of a palm sander is the dust collection system – they don’t tend to be as robust when it comes to dust collection.

You want a dust bag with a good seal on it – check the reviews to see what others think of this. You can get vacuum systems with palm sanders, too. Again, look for a model that has sealed switches and filters to protect the sander from dust.


Like an orbital sander, you can use regular sandpaper with a palm sander. This is great, as sandpaper is pretty affordable. You’ll be getting through a lot of it, however! It uses a clamp system to hold the sandpaper nice and tight as you work.

Electrical Detail Sander

An electric detail sander is a type of palm sander, although it looks quite different. It has a triangular base and is good for less common shapes. Many people use it on window frames as it allows you to reach into difficult spaces.

Corded or Cordless?

Again, you have a decision to make here –whether you want a corded or cordless model is a personal choice. Many power tools have interchangeable batteries, allowing you to use the same battery in multiple tools – this could be something to look out for if you’re collecting tools by the same brand.

Pros of Palm Sanders

  • Compact and lightweight
  • You can use it with a regular sandpaper
  • Cheaper than orbital sanders
  • Doesn’t leave as many marks as an orbital sander (with practice!)

Cons of Palm Sanders

  • Uses a lot of sandpaper
  • Less robust in terms of dust collection than an orbital sander
  • Not as good for working with larger pieces of wood

Product Recommendation – DeWalt DWE6411K ¼ Sheet Palm Grip Sander Kit

DeWalt DWE6411K Sheet Palm Grip Sander

Orbital sanders is a great brand, and they’ve produced a solid palm sander here. The 2.3-amp motor is a good amount of power for most projects. It’s designed to be smaller in height, allowing you to get closer to your work.

They’ve included a counterweight to reduce vibration, and they’ve clearly thought about dust collection. You can lock your vacuum hose up to the sander to remove dust. They’ve also included a dust boot over the switch to stop it from getting into the mechanism.

It also comes with a soft bag to keep everything together.

Dewalt DWE6411K Palm Sander | HardwareWorld

Locking dust-port system that allows the user to lock vacuum hose up with the sander. Reduced overall height of the sander to get the user closer to their work.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Palm Sanders

Here are a few of the most common questions about palm sanders:

Can I use a palm sander on drywall?

You can, in theory. However, an orbital sander is much better suited for this as it works more quickly.

How do you load up a palm sander?

Once you’ve measured and cut your sandpaper to the correct size, you simply open the clamp lock, place the paper inside, and tighten the clamp lock again.

Can I use a palm sander if I have arthritis?

A palm sander isn’t the kindest sanding tool for arthritic hands, sadly. Although they are lightweight, you have to hold them in a tight grip.

Can I use a palm sander on my decking?

You can – but most people would find a palm sander would take way too long for this kind of task (and it would use a lot of sandpaper in the process).

Which Type of Sandpaper Should I Get?

Whichever type of sander you choose, you’ll want to build up a decent stock of sandpaper. It’s always best to have the most commonly used types hanging around, as there’s nothing more frustrating than getting halfway through a project and then realizing you’re going to have to drive to a hardware store.

Sandpaper is categorized by ‘grit’ – it’s based on a gradation scale established by CAMI (Coated Abrasive Manufacturers Institute). The lower the number, the larger the grain – this will mean the sandpaper is much coarser. On the flip side, the higher number of grit will mean the grains are much smaller, and therefore, the sandpaper is finer.

Here’s a quick overview of the different grits of sandpaper:

What Type of Sandpaper Should I Get

40-80 Grit

This is the coarsest you can get and is best for removing stubborn paint and varnish. You’ll normally use this with a heavy duty sanding tool, like belt sanders. If you want to remove a lot of paint fast, this is the grit for you.

100-150 Grit

The common uses for the 100-150 are removing stains and sanding wood – it’s pretty versatile. You can use it with all sorts of projects and with many different types of sanders.

180-220 Grit

This is a little finer – this is great for sanding unfinished or untreated wood.

320-400 Grit

You probably won’t be using this too often. It’s used for very lightweight tasks – if you want to finish off a project, this grit is great as it is very gentle.


So, to sum up: which sander you buy will obviously depend on what you plan to use it for.

If you’re renovating your home and you have tons of tasks to complete, or you’re a woodworking enthusiast, and you love to build furniture as a hobby, then you’ll probably get much more use out of an orbital sander.

The increased power and speed means you’ll be able to work much more quickly, and that makes it a very flexible tool. You can use an orbital sander for all kinds of projects. If you go for a random orbital sander, you should hopefully avoid the worst of the ‘swirl’ markings that a regular orbital sander might leave behind.

Whether you’re building something from scratch or you’re removing paint or varnish from existing pieces of wood, an orbital sander will be a great addition to your power tool collection.

Yes, it’s a little more expensive, but they tend to come with good warranties, and you’ll be able to use them on so many projects that it will be a good value for money in the long run. Our top pick, the Bosch Power Tools Electric Orbit Sander and Polisher, is even better value for money as it offers you so much versatility.

However, if you’re on a tighter budget, you only plan on using a sander occasionally, and you don’t need it for very large pieces, a palm sander could work great. In fact, if you plan on having untreated wood furniture around your house, then a palm sander will probably be the better choice for you, as it’s easier to avoid swirl marks, and better suited for intricate work.

Plus, buying a palm sander will be cheaper, so it gives you a bit more room in your budget to go towards another tool that you may get more use out of.

Either way, we hope this article was a help for you to decide which suits you best!

Our Choice
Bosch 1250DEVS Electric Orbital Sander | Amazon

Even though Orbital Sanders are typically more expensive than Palm Sander, they are ideal if you have tons of woodworking tasks, you can use them for all kinds of projects and come with a lot of warranties.

Buy at Amazon.com Buy at Lowes.com
We earn a commission if you click this link and make a purchase at no additional cost to you.

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