Whether you’re installing a new kitchen, making furniture, or fancy trying your hand at ‘upcycling‘, inevitably one of the most essential tools in your arsenal will be a power sander. Electric sanders save hours of back breaking (not to mention utterly boring) labour – can you imagine sanding down a set of table and chairs entirely by hand? Doesn’t even bear thinking about does it?!
So sanding itself makes sense, but like all over saturated markets there are so many different options available that things can start to get confusing. Let’s start by taking a more detailed look at what types of sander are available to you.
For sanding down large flat surfaces such as doors and table tops there is no better option than a belt sander. These are the most powerful type of hand held sander available, and are ideal for removing a lot of material quickly. Besides sanding down wood, belt sanders are also ideal for removing old paint or varnish from items such as doors, and large pieces of furniture.
In terms of design, belt sanders are comprised of a reinforced flexible sanding belt positioned over two rollers, one motor driven and one free moving, and as the belt is driven around the two cylinders, so the sanding action takes place. To remove and replace the sanding belt is simply a case of pushing the tension release lever, slackening the belt enough that you can easily remove it, and to ensure the belt sits perfectly aligned a tracking adjustment knob allows you to fine tune its position.
When using a belt sander you should always aim to follow the grain to achieve a smooth finish, and only use as course a sanding belt as required, using progressively finer belts to ultimately achieve the smoothest finish possible.
Belt sanders are made in 4 standard sizes, and all manufacturers conform to the same standard so that non manufacturers specific sanding belts can be used by consumers. These sizes are:
- 3 x 18″
- 3 x 21″
- 3 x 24″
- 4 x 24″
The larger sizes, particularly machines that are designed to fit the 4″ wide belt are designed for the most labour intensive work across large flat surfaces. Something to bear in mind if you are considering going down the bigger, more powerful route is that the bigger and more powerful the sander, generally the harder to control it is. So be prepared to get some practice in before setting about that heirloom dresser that’s been in your family for generations!
Belt Sander Highlights: Bosch PBS 75A Belt Sander Review
A great mid range belt sanding option from Bosch, the PBS 75A has some real standout features such as an automatic belt tracking mechanism, and low vibration – this in particular means that you can use the sander as a standalone unit, inverted on the bench rather than held by hand should you have need to.
On the downside it’s a shame the nose of this sander isn’t set down lower for getting is closer to the work-piece – particularly important with the bottom of a skirting board for example, but as long as you know you won’t need it for this type of work you won’t have any problems.
Overall though this is a solid and reliable tool backed up by years of engineering design expertise from Bosch, so you’ll get a lot of good use from it for sure.
Belt Sander Highlights: Einhell EINRTBS75 Belt Sander Review
A great piece of German engineering from Einhell, the EINRTBS75 delivers on everything a belt sander should and more. Of particular note is the nose of the sander, not only is it low profiled so that you can get right in close to awkward and hard to reach areas, but you can even get underneath objects too thanks to a special flip up cover that reveals the top side of the sanding belt. If used with respect and caution this can be a really handy feature for sanding areas that would otherwise be not only awkward, but literally impossible to reach.
Orbital sanders are a cheaper alternative to belt sanders, utilising a fixed strip of sandpaper that vibrates in small circles, hence the ‘orbital’ sanding motion. Though less powerful than belt sanders, this type of sander is still useful for smaller jobs such as sanding the edges of wooden panels, removing imperfections and keying surfaces ready for repainting. Within the category of orbital sanders there are two distinct sub types:
Orbital Finishing Sanders
These are, as the name suggests designed for ‘finishing’ a surface, rather than taking off layer upon layer of wood or paint as in the case with a belt sander. To that end orbital finishing sanders are also the least powerful of all power sanders, and should only be used for finishing and detail work.
Orbital Finishing Sander Highlights: Black & Decker KA161BC Orbital Sander Review
Arguably the most iconic sander ever, the Black & Decker KA161BC Orbital Sander or ‘sanding mouse’ as it’s more commonly known is the ideal sander for detail work, lending itself perfectly to the same precise movements you might make with a computer mouse.
Thanks to its tapered nose design you’re easily able to reach tight and awkward corners in a way that other sanders simply don’t stand a chance, so if you’re stripping old paint from a a handrail and banisters, or prepping your electric guitar for a custom paint job, this would be our primary recommendation.
Random Orbital Sanders
Similar to a finishing sander but with one distinct difference, a random orbital sander is so called because it utilises a circular sanding pad that not only vibrates in an ‘orbit’ but also physically turns in circles too, effectively giving a greater level of sanding action that a finishing sander. Random orbital sanders take a bit of getting used to, purely because their movement is a bit erratic and unpredictable, however they are generally accepted as the best all rounders, not as expensive or aggressive as a belt sander, yet not as docile as a finishing sander. If you’re not sure which sander to get, it would certainly be worth looking a random orbital sanders as your starting point.
Random Orbital Sander Highlights: VonHaus 430W Orbital Sander Review
One of our favourite random orbital sanders, this model from the ever reliable VonHaus is perfect if you’re working to a budget, it has all the essential features you’d expect from more expensive models, such as a great range of oscillation speeds and ultra convenient Velcro backed sanding pads.
Whilst this sander will certainly take a bit of getting used to, not least because the sanding disc is fairly large, making controlling its movements a bit trickier than the average finishing sander, it is none the less still a great option for everything for all but the most intensive of tasks, and at less than 30 quid it’s hard to argue with that.
Benchtop Disc/Belt Sanders
To achieve the best results possible, a powerful bench mounted sander is the best choice if you’re able to bring the work to the sander rather than the other way around. This type of sander is typically far more powerful than a hand held sander and will in many cases be able to chew through the hardest of woods with ease, and with the correct sanding medium fitted, even metals such as steel and aluminium.
Bench mounted sanders usually come in the form of a rotating sanding disc that sits perpendicular to the bench top. This enables you to easily ‘feed’ the work into the disc – which incidentally you should always do in a downward facing direction. Better models also feature a sanding belt in addition to the disc to further increase the versatility of the tool, and also the ability to adjust the angle of the sanding surface to suit the size and shape of the work piece. To take care of the potential for massive amounts of vibration most bench mounted sanders are very heavy, often featuring a cast iron base to make sure the tool stays still during use.
A fine example of a bench mounted sander from a fine British manufacturer, the Draper 50021 does everything that a good sander should. With both a sanding disc and full adjustable belt, there
isn’t lot you can’t do with it as far as sanding in situ is concerned. You can even get precise angled results thanks to a mitre gauge, making it perfect for creating consistent and uniform sanded profiles.
General Sander Buying Advice
Like all power tools, sanders are noisy and belt sanders in particular have very fast moving parts. With this in mind safety should be at the top of your list of considerations when buying and using a sander, and you’ll want to be sure you’re comfortable with using whichever you choose to buy. Make sure the handles feel comfortable and that you’re happy with the weight of the sander.
You’ll find the best sanders on the market feature a dust extraction bag connected to the dust extraction port, this is a really useful feature as it keeps sawdust out of the air where you’re working, and it’s a positive sign that safety has been well considered by the manufacturer. However you shouldn’t rely on the presence of the dust bag alone, and it’s important to wear a dust mask as well, particularly if you’re working indoors. Safety glasses or goggles are also a must to keep stray saw dust out of your eyes.