How to know what type of sander you need

December 16, 2014

Whether you’re building furniture from scratch or refurbishing antiques, the right sander can elevate your project from looking good to looking great. There are different sanders for all kinds of jobs. Here’s how to find the right one for you.

Types of sanders

Here's a look at different types of sanders:

Belt sander: These sanders use a pulley-driven loop for rough sanding of larger wood surfaces. They work best for doors or cabinets where you have a lot of surface area but are less effective for detailed finishing.

Drum sander: Drum sanders are popular in woodworking shops because they can sand a large volume of wood in a short time. They work by feeding wood through rolls of sandpaper. They are best for wide beams and 2x4s that need a rough finish or for creating your own edge banding or veneer from thin strips of wood.

Detail sander: By using triangular pads instead of square sheets, detail sanders can get into every crevice of a sanding project like chair spindles or bookshelves. Also called contour sanders, detail sanders should be lightweight and easy to use so you can sand every nook and cranny to perfection.

Sheet sander: Designed for the home instead of the shop, sheet sanders are small, affordable machines used mostly for finishing. They use square sheets and are best for plywood, veneers and sanding corners.

Orbital sander: Orbital sanders use a round pad that moves in a random pattern to prevent gouging. They’re the most versatile sanders available and come in four different subtypes: palm grip, pistol grip, right angle and pneumatic grip. Palm grips are one-handed and designed for smaller detail jobs. Pistol grips are larger, more powerful and require two hands.

Right angle orbital sanders are heavy-duty machines, meant for rough sanding. Pneumatic sanders use compressors instead of electricity and are extremely light and versatile. Each type is best-suited for a specific task, but as a class, orbital sanders have the most applications.

Features to consider when buying a sander

  • Sawdust collection: Sawdust collectors gather dust in a bag attachment to reduce cleanup time and airborne debris
  • Trigger lock: Trigger locks free your hands from holding down the trigger so you have a better grip and more control
  • Clamps: Usually found on smaller models, clamps lock the sander in place so you can bring the wood to the machine.
  • Grips: Make sure your sander’s grips feel natural in your hands, especially if you’re planning on prolonged use.
  • Portability: Smaller sanders are intended for finishing and detail work, so they should be easy to hold and lightweight.

Any decent collection of woodworking tools includes several types of sanders for performing different tasks. Choose the sanders best-suited to your hobby or pastime and take the appropriate safety precautions. Wear eye protection, and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for safe handling and operation.

How to know what type of sander you need
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