Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander: Which is Best?

What are the differences between a belt sander and an orbital sander? Let me explain to you the difference between the two tools and which one is best for what type of job.

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander vs Random orbital sander

Regardless of the type of project, sanding is typically a part of the process that most of us do not really enjoy. In its simplest form, a piece of sandpaper and some stamina is all it takes. However, if you need to quickly finish the process, then power sanders can do a much better job.

However, having the wrong tool for the job only makes it worse. So, it is crucial that you are getting the best type of sander for your projects.

And even though they’re both sanders, belt sander and orbital sander are different in the way they work. They are both power tools which use sandpaper in order to shape and smoothen wood, however, they have different application and specialty.

So, which one should you choose?

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sanders Comparison

Here is a quick comparison between these sanders. Please note that there are two types of orbital sanders. The regular orbital sander which is also known as the sheet sander and the random orbital sander with a round head.

Hence the following comparison chart shows the difference between Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander vs Random Orbital Sander.

Belt Sander Orbital Sander (Sheet Sander) Random Orbital Sander (ROS)
Primary Purpose:

To remove a large amount of material from the workpiece fast

A finishing sander that can achieve a smooth surface finish. Especially useful for sanding corners. ROS is also a finishing sander with a higher material removal rate that orbital sander.
Belt Sander design Orbital sander also known as sheet sander Random Orbital Sander
Working Principle:

A continuous loop sand belt circulates between two rotating drums.

The rectangular head moves in an orbital motion to remove the material. The round head rotates as well as orbits creating a random orbital motion.
Belt Sander Pros:

  • Aggressive material removal
  • Covers larger area
  • Works best for flat surfaces
Orbital Sander Pros:

  • Offers good surface finish
  • Better maneuverability
  • Ability to sand corners and edges.
  • You can use sandpaper cut from standard sheets.
ROS Pros:

  • Ability to finish without swirl pattern.
  • Higher material removal rate than orbital sanders.
  • More versatile
Belt Sander Cons:

  • Difficult to control
  • If not used carefully, it may gouge and spoil your work.
  • Rough surface finish
Orbital Sander Cons:

  • Low material removal rate.
  • May leave swirl marks on the polished surface.
  • Replacing the paper can be a pain.
ROS Cons:

  • Expensive tool
  • Low material removal rate compared to the belt sander.
  • Require special sandpaper.
Belt Sander Uses

  • Remove the uneven surface of large work-pieces such as tabletop.
  • To prepare the surface for fine sanding.
  • Remove paint
Orbital Sander Uses

  • Finish the surface of the furniture and woodworking projects.
  • Finish the corners
  • Remove paint and varnish
ROS Uses

  • Fine sanding without swirl marks
  • Automotive work
Best Belt Sander – Makita Recommended Orbital Sander – Dewalt Top Random Orbital Sander

Now let’s take a detailed look at each of these electric sanders.

Belt Sanders: For Aggressive Material Removal

Essentially, a belt sander has a motor attached to 2 rotating drums. As these drums turn, they move a sandpaper belt, running across the desired surface.
Belt Sander on wood
The primary purpose of a belt sander is to remove material fast. They can be used to smoothen up rough wood surfaces easily. Being the most aggressive type of sanding tools, belt sanders are great for processing large and rough surfaces, adding curves, smoothing edges, and can strip off not just the wood but also coating materials such as paint as well as removing beads of glue which bleed out from between boards.

Advantages of a Belt Sander

Broad Range of Use

Belt sanders can be used in providing finishing touches to metal, woodwork, and flooring. They can also be used for time-consuming projects like smoothing corners and removing burrs. You can even use belt sanders to remove stains and paint from woods, to resurface and renovate old furniture.

Fast Action

As I’ve mentioned before, belt sanders are the most aggressive type of sander and they can remove a lot of material from the surface in just a short time. It is usually used for initial stages of sanding where there are large amounts of materials are required to be removed.


Belt sanders can be stationary or handheld. Stationary or bench-top sanders are mounted on workbenches and are used to sand material which can be brought close to the tool, Handheld sander, on the other hand, are used for non-movable surfaces and floor.

Ease of Use

Belt sanders are super easy to use and operate. You only need to move the belt sander over the work-piece while applying even strokes. You don’t need to apply too much pressure; instead, move gently on the wood and let the sand-belt do its magic.

Also see: Recommended list of best belt sanders

Disadvantages of Belt Sanders

Because a belt sander is too aggressive, it may cause damage to delicate work-pieces. And no matter how fine a sheet of sandpaper you use, there will always be unsightly sanding marks left on your project.

Belt sanders are essentially for smoothing rough lumber in preparation for further sanding, this is not a tool to use for adding finishing touches or final sanding. Moreover, when sanding where 2 different grains meet, you are going to end up with nastier scratches.

In addition to being aggressive, belt sanders can be too loud to work with, so I highly recommend ear protection especially if you plan on using it for long hours.

Orbital Sanders: Finishing Sander

An orbital sander is a finishing sander that is used for fine sanding and polishing.

There are two types,

  1. Regular orbital sander which is also known as sheet sander and
  2. The Random Orbital Sander.

When you are ready to put the finishing touches on your wood piece and are going the power tool route, then you need to get an orbital sander.

Orbital Sander vs Random Orbital Sander

Well, they are 2 different tools made for different applications. An orbital sander is a handheld sanding tool with a rectangular or square sanding pad that moves back and forth at a high speed in order to remove a small amount of material. On the other hand, a random orbital sander has a round sanding pad and makes an orbiting motion to the spin of the discs.

Orbital Sander vs Random Orbital Sander
Orbital Sander (Sheet Sander) vs Random Orbital Sander Comparison
An orbital sander is what you are most likely to use on carpentry work in order to smoothen out uneven surfaces left after using a belt sander. And although it is much gentler in sanding, it still leaves some swirl marks going in a single direction. An orbital sander which is also known as 1/2 sheet sander and the 1/4 sheet sander is also known as palm sander.

Related info: Orbital sander vs palm sander

Advantages of Orbital Sander

1. Shape

One of the greatest advantages of an orbital sander is that it has a rectangular or square sheet that allows it to fit into corners and flush against edges. This makes finish sanding the underside of a cabinet or assembled table possible without leaving any parts untouched.

2. Sandpapers

Orbital sanders do not require you to purchase big sheets of sandpaper. You can purchase rectangular or square sandpaper sheets of different coarseness and stick it onto the sanding pad. Unlike random orbital sanders, you do not need to buy the special sandpapers. You can just buy sandpapers in bulk, then manually cut it to the correct width and length.

3. Smooth Surfaces

An orbital sander is used to sand projects which have just been sanded by aggressive belt sanders. It smoothens the surface while also eliminating deep gashes left by abrasive sandpaper. The back and forth motion help reduce the risk of any deep scratch marks while also making the surface free of splinters and smooth as possible.

Disadvantages of Orbital Sanders

Orbital sanders are not meant to remove a lot of material per second. It just scratches the top mildly, so you will have to spend a lot of time on a single section. And although an orbital sanders leave considerably fewer scratch marks than belt sanders, these marks are still noticeable.

Belt Sander VS. Orbital Sander— Which Should You Get

Truth be told, most sanding projects cannot be completed with only one of these tools. You will need a belt sander for aggressive and heavy-duty sanding and shaping. Then an orbital sander is used to eliminate deep gashes that are left by a belt sander and dealing with annoying edges and corners. Also, you might need a random-orbital sander in order to eliminate ugly marks that both sanders leave behind.

But, if I would recommend a tool over the other, I’d say go with a belt sander. It uses a belt of sandpaper that covers large areas for faster sanding. It can quickly remove lots of material with coarse paper and then you can mount finer sandpaper for final touches. And although there is no elegance in a belt sander, in terms of sanding large wood projects, it is the more time-efficient power tool.