Some folks thoroughly enjoy sanding while others despise it. It’s a time-consuming project that honestly does gauge an individual’s level of commitment to a project and their attention to detail. But that doesn’t mean power tools can’t aid the process. Don’t get me wrong, an electric sander can be overkill at times, but it can effectively reduce the amount of time you spend putting the finishing touches on some things.
But they aren’t all the same. There’s a lot to consider when purchasing an electric sander. The materials you are sanding, the amount of room you have to work with, and how much money you have to spend all come into play.
What is Electric Sander?
An electric sander is a power tool used to smooth and finish surfaces. To remove material from a surface, the sander moves a piece of sandpaper or another abrasive rapidly, often in a circular motion. You can use an electric sander for a variety of tasks in many industries, including woodworking and auto body repair.
Potential applications for an electric sander include:
- Removing old paint or varnish from wood
- Preparing a surface for finishing
- Smoothing the edges of planks
- Removing excess material from a surface
- Stripping and prepping floors
Benefits of Electric Sanders
- Easy to use. If you’ve ever tried to sand a large item by hand or attempted to tackle one big finishing project, you know just how awful and tedious it can be to do by hand with pieces of sandpaper. An electric sander takes all of the hard work out of this process. Powered by electricity and a speedy motor, an electric sander can work almost effortlessly. All you need to do is choose the specific settings, put the sander onto your material, and maneuver it wherever it’s needed.
- Quick and efficient. An electric sander works far faster and more efficiently than you ever could by hand. These power tools are true machines when they get to work, sanding at slow to high speeds so finishing work is done in less time. You can slash your work time and speed up your project by employing an electric sander instead of your own two hands.
- Improves technique. Sure, wielding sandpaper isn’t the hardest job in the world. But with an electric sander, you don’t have to worry whether you’re smoothing and finishing flawlessly. The power tool will take care of the technique for you — and it’ll offer even better results. Electric sanders can offer enhanced results and finishing techniques because they’re specially designed to create professional-level end results.
- Eliminates fatigue. Forget about tired hands and wrists. If you have an electric sander, you can essentially eliminate fatigue altogether when you need to sand down material. Powered by their strong electric motors, these power tools can handle all of the movement and vibrations without requiring you to put in literal elbow grease that exhausts you. The sander will take it all on without any fatigue at all.
- Limits hand injuries. While power tools can still be dangerous if they aren’t used properly and with safety in mind, an electric sander can reduce your risk for potential hand injuries. You won’t have to come into direct contact with the sanding process, limiting your odds of developing abrasions, blisters, or even cuts. As long as you’re using your electric sander properly, you can keep yourself out of the fray.
Types of Electric Sanders
Each sander type has its specialized purpose. However, often these purposes overlap and one type of sander can do similar wood finishing work as another. The difference at this fine line usually lies in the skill of the hands holding the sander.
1. Orbital Sander
An orbital sander is probably the most common type of electric sander available. They are available with rectangular, square, or round base plates. When using an orbital sander, there is no need to worry about the direction of the wood grain.
Some rectangular and square models, clip the sandpaper to the base plate, other models need special sanding paper with an adhesive back that sticks to the base plate. Models with round base plates require special sanding discs which adhere to the base plate.
Rectangular and square sanders usually come in various sizes to accommodate 1/2, 1/3, or 1/4 sheets of a normal sheet of sandpaper.
2. Detail Sander
A detail sander, sometimes known as a mouse or corner sander, gets its name because you use it to give a workpiece the finishing touches larger sanders can. They are handheld tools with a triangular pad that allows you to reach into tight spaces or corners and touch them up.
Detail sanders are effectively Orbital sanders with small, usually triangular, base plates which can fit into awkward areas such as window frames, small items or furniture, etc. Special, self-adhesive sandpaper needs to be used. The small, pointed-shaped base plates make them ideal for sanding into corners where other types of sanders cannot reach.
3. Belt Sander
Belt sanders are the rough guys in a woodworking shop. Belt sander design allows them to remove large amounts of material in a very short time. However, in controlled and capable hands, these tools don’t run amok.
Belt sanders work on a continuous loop principle. They use a fully looped sanding belt instead of static abrasive sheets such as in disc, orbital, or finishing sanders. Sanding belts fit within the tool housing and surround the motor’s driving wheel at the rear and a free-wheeling guide wheel at the front. Tension controls and alignment guides keep the belt in place while the electric motor spins the sanding belt in a forward motion.
Belt sanders are highly effective tools for removing roughness and preparing woodwork for less aggressive tools in the process like random orbit and finishing sanders. It is crucial to belt-sand with the wood grain rather than across it. Otherwise, the belt sander’s lateral action can ruin the work.
4. Bench Sander
Bench sanders are usually belted sanders often incorporating a rotary sander. They are used not just for sanding but for shaping as well, these machines are powerful and make easy work of rapid removal of material from the workpiece.
5. File or finger sander
File or finger sanders have a very narrow (in the order of 12.5mm) sanding belt which can get into narrow areas.
6. Disc sander
Disc sanders cover a wide range of uses. There are several different disc sander models and configurations, but all have a common denominator: the disc-shaped abrasive surface that gives the sander its distinctive look.
While random orbital sanders are all disc sanders, not all disc sanders have random orbital motion capability. Some disc sanders have non-orbital sanding faces that spin in a fixed motion. These sanders are best for rougher work where a lot of material needs removal before moving on to a finer surface.
Stripping paint from old furniture is a good example of what regular disc sanders do well. Disc sanders can get into places belt sanders can’t. One model type called an angle grinder or right-angle disc sander lets you sand areas otherwise impossible for larger and bulky power tools like belt sanders.
Large disc sanders normally require a two-handed operation. Smaller disc sanders are easy to control with one hand while the other remains free to grip the work.
7. Floor sander
Floor sanders would normally be hired by a dryer when required rather than purchased. There are basically two types of Floor sander: The large drum machine which is used by walking behind – like a lawnmower across a wooden floor. The edging sander is used to sand the edges of a floor where the drum machine cannot reach. Most good hire shops will stock both types and supply abrasive papers.
When To Use A Wood Sander
Woodworkers know there is a time and place for sanding by hand. You will usually hand-sand for small and intricate jobs where powered wood sanders can damage or obscure sharp edges and fine details. For large sanding jobs, where work progresses from rough to fine-finished stages, there is no replacement for electric sanders. They are the power tools of choice when it comes to efficiency.
In many situations, nothing beats an electrically powered sander. Hand sanding only goes so far until the sheer convenience of letting a power tool do the work outweighs the savings of using your hands and multiple sandpaper sheets. Here are common examples of situations where you cannot beat putting a power sander to work.
- Furniture making: No matter if you are a hobbyist or professional craftsperson, every furniture maker needs an assortment of electric sanders. It’s difficult to recommend the best sander for furniture because there are so many different applications. It’s quite possible you will benefit from all sander types.
- Cabinetry making: There is a difference between furniture making and cabinet making. Furniture involves many free-standing pieces, whereas cabinetry usually refines to built-in and interlocking components. There is little difference between sanding requirements, though, and you will likely use both belt sanders and sheet finishing sanders.
- Staircase building: More than a carpentry task, staircase building is closer to an art form. This skill requires vast amounts of sanding where power sanders make an enormous difference in speed and smoothness. Here, cordless random orbital sanders are irreplaceable.
- Toy manufacturing: If you are one of the craftspeople who builds children’s toys, powered sanders will make your job much easier. Fine work like toy making requires unique tools such as disc sanders. You might also spend a lot of toy-manufacturing time with a palm sander.
Sandpaper And Other Abrasives
No electric wood sander, regardless of make or action, can work without sandpaper. As with the quality of your power tools, you get what you pay for with sandpaper. Abrasives, of which sandpaper is part of the family, have unique terminology and ratings. Here are the basics of what you need to know about sandpaper and other abrasives
- Abrasive grit: This number refers to how many abrasive particles there are per square inch of sanding surface. Grit ratings range from very coarse such as 40-grit, which has 40 particles per square inch, up to ultra-fine at 600 particles per square inch. Most woodworkers stock sandpaper ranging from 60-grit to 220-grit.
- Composition: This refers to what the sandpaper abrasive particles are made from. Woodworkers use four sandpaper particles. Aluminum oxide is the most common and long-lasting. Garnet sandpaper creates the best look and smoothest surfaces. Silicon carbide sandpaper works well on wood, but is even more effective on metal or plastic surfaces. Occasionally, woodworkers purchase ceramic sandpaper for really rough work that requires drastic cutting.
- Size: Sandpaper belts or loops range from 3” to 4” wide and from 18” to 24” long. Sandpaper pads are usually 9”x11” rectangular sheets that are easy to divide into half, third or quarter sections. Most sandpaper discs are either 5” or 6” diameter, but big tools can take 7”, 8” or 9” diameter sandpaper discs.
Even though it’s far easier to use a power tool for wood sanding, there are times when nothing can replace good old hand-sanding. In that case, selecting the right sandpaper is crucial. So is having a hand-saving rubber sanding block.
Wood Sander Features
Each electric sander type has features that make your work easier. They also make your sanding jobs safer and more enjoyable. These engineered tools have a lot of thought behind them, and they are the result of years of experience from woodworkers and product designers. Here are some of the features to look for when buying an electric or cordless sander.
- Hand grips: Holding on to your sander in a safe and controllable manner is vital. Powerful sanders have heavy vibration, while small sanders need intricate control to avoid damaging fine details. The most essential component of sander grips is the composition. Soft grips make it much easier to hold and control your sander.
- Dust Collection: Creating dust when sanding is unavoidable. There is, however, a way to get around breathing and sweeping dust. Many electric sanders have built-in dust catching bags. Some are compatible with shop vacs or external dust collection systems.
- Speed: Many electric sanders have variable speed controls. They allow you to run at slow speeds for cautious preliminary work or at flat-out rates for high polishing. Some sanders have controls like throttles where you can adjust speeds as you sand. Others have selection switches that range from one-to-nine rates.
- Trigger Locks: This handy feature lets you lock your sander in motion and allows you to free up your hands. You can also lock your trigger on a run setting and clamp it to remain stationary while you feed your work to the sanding belt, disc or pad.
Maintaining Your Sander and Yourself
Sanders doesn’t need a lot of care, but they do need a little. The best thing you can do for it is to blow the dust out of it using compressed air (or a can of compressed air purchased at an office supply store) or use a shop vacuum and work over its exterior, especially its air vents.
Now protect yourself, especially your lungs: Wear a dust mask when sanding. Better models have a foam strip to help the mask make a better seal to your face; they may also have a vent that reduces moisture buildup under the mask.
Clean up as you work to prevent large piles of talc-like dust from accumulating. And when you’re done sanding and ready to take a break, either brush or vacuum yourself off before going inside the house or other clean area.
It’s also a good idea to wear an old shirt, coveralls, or a shop apron and leave that in the sanding area, rather than bringing dust into the house. Having a floor mat outside the shop is great, too. Remember what your mom said: Wipe your feet (or take your work shoes off)! This cuts down on tracked dirt, which is more than just a nuisance.
Remnants of sanding grit on your shoe soles can scratch finished floors, and tracked-in dust can form an eye-watering or throat-scratching irritant as it spreads throughout the house.
When it comes to using a sander, it’s pretty simple, and there are only these key rules:
- Move the sander slowly and steadily over the work surface. Racing back and forth is hard on the tool and whatever you’re sanding.
- Don’t skip more than one grade of grit as you move from coarse to smooth. Example, you can go from 100 grit to 150 (skipping 120) but don’t go from 100 grit to 220 grit. It doesn’t hurt to move through each size of grit, from coarse to smoothest, but for all but the finest of work, it’s not necessary.
- Vacuum the surface clean with a shop vacuum and a brush attachment when you’re done with each level of grit. This removes any trapped particles hiding on the surface. For furniture-grade finishing, wipe the surface clean with a tack cloth (a sticky piece of cloth used to pick up dust; it’s sold in the paint aisle) before proceeding to the next grit.
- Don’t tip the sander near the edges because it will round them off. Of course, if you prefer a slightly rounded corner, that can be a good thing. For example, paint sticks better to a gently rounded corner than to a sharp one.
- All sanders achieve similar goals but are not all the same. Always be sure to pick the right tool for the job.
- Always keep the dimensions in mind. The size of the sanding pad and the overall size of the tool determine how it performs and what you can use it for.
- As always, a power tool isn’t still the best option. Be mindful of the fact that sanders remove material rapidly, which may cause irreversible damage.