Drywall Sanders. What Sander is Best for Drywall?

More and more people are switching to gypsum board walls, also known as drywall, as the base material for their houses. It’s easy to see why such material is witnessing an increasing following by the hour. It’s more durable than concrete and wood, it’s resistant to a wide range of temperatures and weather conditions, and it’s relatively affordable. What else could you ask for, right?

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A dedicated dustless drywall sander is the best for drywall sanding work since they are equipped with dust collecting system and extension poles. However depending on the type of your work a belt sander, orbital sander or even a hand sander may be a better choice.

For any drywall project to be successful, you need to polish the surface of your gypsum board wall using the right sander. That way, not only will it look more attractive, but it will also be smoother, less messy, and ready for any priming and painting that you intend to get done. For that, you need a drywall sander. No matter how long you’ve been playing around with tools, you must know that sanders come in all kinds and shapes, which makes choosing the right type for your drywall quite the daunting task.

Worry not, as we’ve already done the heavy lifting for you and researched the top types of sanders for drywall so that you can make your choice easily.

So, without further ado, here are the different types of sanders that you can use to polish your drywall:

Electric Drywall Sander

An electric drywall sander is essentially a disc sander attached to a telescopic handle with a vacuum hose connected to a dust collection system. Doing this manually is a strenuous and messy exercise with a lot of airborne particles flying around. This metal detector shaped power tool will not only make your wall sanding effortless, but will also cut the time into half and makes it a lot less messy.
PORTER-CABLE 7800 4.7 Amp Drywall Sander with 13-Foot Hose
The articulating round sanding disc head enables this device to use it on walls and ceilings with ease.

There are models with variable speeds and fixed speeds. The advantage of an electric adjustable variable speed drywall sander is that you can reduce the speed when sanding difficult areas.  Faster speeds will remove more material while slower speed offers better control.

Another important feature of a power drywall sander is the brush skirt around the circular sanding pad. It serves 3 important purposes.

  1. The brush comes in contact with the wall first which will eliminate the chances of gouging.
  2. The skirt acts as a container for the dust and hence provides better dust removal.
  3. The brush will also clean the wall surface as you move the sander around.

The Porter-Cable 7800 drywall sander is one of the best electric drywall sander models. Other popular brands are Festool, Wen, PowerPro, and Aleko.

For typical drywall installation, you may want to use 3 layers of jointing compound or what we call the mud. You don’t need to sand the mud between each layer. But you should knock off the unwanted bumps and raised trails to get an even surface. Once the mud is completely dried use the electric-powered drywall sander to smooth the surface.

Belt Sanders

Belt sanders leverage the polishing power of a sand belt that spins over a roller to smooth or sand any surface. These sanders usually come with an adjustment knob, and they simulate the working mechanism of a conveyor belt by using an electric motor that spins a couple of drums on which a continuous loop of sandpaper is mounted. Simple and intuitive.
Belt Sander on wood
This kind of sanding tool is best suited for large areas with a lot of material, specifically flat and horizontal surfaces. It’s especially useful if you’re looking to remove paint, finish, stain, or varnish off the surface of your material.

Belt sanders are available in different sizes, ranging from 18 inches for small DIY projects and occasional home use to 24 inches for industrial use. Additionally, they can be either portable, in which case you need to move the sander over the material, or stationary, where you need to move the material over the sander. It goes without saying that a portable sander will be the best for drywall.

When looking for a portable belt sander, there are certain features to which you must pay special attention, including the motor output dB, the machine balance, the platen type, the location of handle grips, and the dust collection capabilities.

Orbital Sander

Compared to belt sanders, orbital sanders are more portable, quieter, and most of the time, cheaper. The orbital sander is the tool of choice when it comes to smoothing and polishing materials without the help of a professional, which is why it’s preferred by DIYers and homeowners looking to tackle small drywall projects on their own.

Being rectangular-shaped, orbital sanders usually use sandpaper that’s around 9 x 11 inches, but the exact measurement will depend on the size of your tool.

Not only is this portable power tool suitable for sanding drywall, but it can also be used for a plethora of other home improvement tasks around the house, such as removing, rust and paint and compound removal.

Sanding drywall with orbital sander

They are also great to install plasterboard and remove or smooth the drywall mud to get achieve even surface.

The only downside to orbital sanders is that they don’t come with an extension boom, meaning that you’ll have to use a ladder when sanding ceilings and high areas.

Tips: Use a 150 or 180-grit sandpaper. Always keep the sander moving or else you risk getting the paper gouging into the drywall.

Random Orbital Sander

Just like orbital sanding tools, random orbital sanders rely on sandpaper to smoothen and polish drywall and other materials. The main difference between the two is that random orbital sanders use circular sandpaper rather than squared one. Here, in addition to the vibrating action of a regular orbital sander, the sandpaper also rotates.
woodworking with Random orbital sander
The working mechanism is similar to that of vinyl records, where the electric motor spins the sandpaper as fast as possible to smooth your drywall with ease.  Basically, random orbital sanders offer the finishing capability of orbital sanders along with the speed and efficiency of belt sanders, thus giving you the best of both worlds.
Note: When Belt sander is a heavy-duty tool that can remove material at a much faster rate than a ROS. For more details see the comparison between a belt sander and an orbital sander.

What does “random” refer to?

Random orbital sanders use a sanding blade or sandpaper that delivers a random-orbit action, meaning that the angle of rotation of the disk and head is variable. This means that it eliminates the swirl mark that is often a problem with the regular orbital sanders.

When shopping for a random orbital sander for drywall, you should look for essential features such as dust collection, the motor size, body configuration, and the pad size.

Portable Cable Sanders

Portable cable sanders are sanding tools that are aimed at heavy-duty usage. They come with a 12-feet extension boom, making them ideal for smoothing and polishing high areas of your drywall as well as ceilings without the need for a ladder. These portable sanding machines boast state of the art features that allow them to polish large areas in a fast and facilitated manner.

Nevertheless, these power tools are used only in professional jobs, which explains why they’re pretty heavy, weighing as much as 8 pounds, and expensive, with a price tag that may exceed a thousand bucks.

Dustless Turbo Drywall Sander

The Dustless Turbo Drywall Sander is a lightweight sander with a rectangular head and an extension boom that makes this tool suitable for sanding tight corners and hard-to-reach areas of your drywall. Additionally, dustless Turbo Drywall Sanders come with their own vacuum to collect dust and drywall particles so that you can get your sanding task done without leaving too much mess.

Dustless Turbo Drywall Sander

In simple terms, this is a pole sander with vacuum attachment for dust collection. Hence they are cheaper than the dedicated electric drywall sanders.

Some models of Dustless Drywall Sanders come with extra features that can make your job easier. For example, certain models feature a special kind of sandpaper that has a mesh backing to prevent clogging and lasts longer than regular sandpaper, while others boast an air turbine that’s capable of generating 10,000 RPM to make the sanding process faster.

Hand Drywall Sander

Although this site is all about power tools, I won’t be doing justice if I do not mention these inexpensive tools. These are hand tools that work well for small home improvement and repair works.

There are two types of sanders that fall into this category; the pole sander and sanding blocks.

Pole Sander

A pole sander consists of a sanding screen affixed on a pad with a pole attached to it. The rectangular pad covers a much wider area when compared to sanding blocks. So you can cover larger areas in less time.
Pole Sander
* Note: The image on the above is for illustration only.  You should always cover your nose with a safety mask. The drywall dust can cause serious health issues.

Sanding Pad
The pivot joint of the pole to the sanding pad allows it to rotate freely. The long handle gives you access to places where you can’t get your bare hands. This ensures that the tool can be used for both walls and ceilings effortlessly and it can also reach tight spaces.

Have you noticed that this sanding tool utilizes a screen instead of paper?

Sanding Screen vs Sand Paper

A sanding screen is essentially a mesh with an abrasive coating. The holes between the meshes eliminate the clogging of dust particles. This works very well with some of the newest designs with a dust collection port on to which you can attach your shop vacuum.

The screen is coated with silicon carbide all around. So when one side of the sanding screen gets dull you can flip over and use the other side.

Sanding Blocks and Sponges

If you’re just looking to polish a small area of your drywall, you ought to opt for a hand drywall sander or a manual sanding block. Not only is this hand tool easy to use and maneuver due to its small size (around 2.75 inches in width, 4 inches in length, and 1 inch in height), but it’s also pretty cheap, making for an excellent drywall sander for small tasks. Manual sanding blocks are ideal for small jobs, such as sanding corners, smoothing round edges, and repairing small parts of broken drywall.

If you decide to go with a hand sander for your drywall project, make sure to use medium-grit sandpaper, such as 120 or 150-grit paper, to avoid ruining the material. I know that getting 80-grit paper seems more tempting as a way to speed up the process, but I recommend avoiding heavy-grit sandpaper as the modern lightweight joint compound is so soft that you’re probably going to end up with undesirable sanding marks because of coarse-grit paper.

You can also use a 220 grit paper or a sanding sponge to finish the mudding or joining compound.

Which power sander is best for your drywall?

I will summarize what I have explained above to make things easier for you.

  • Electric Drywall Sander: Buy this if you have a lot of drywall work including sanding high walls and ceilings.
  • Belt Sander: A heavy-duty power sander that is ideal for removing old paint, varnish, rust, and marks.
  • Orbital Sander: These are for finishing small area.
  • Random Orbital Sander: A versatile power tool that offers a high material removal rate as well as finishing capabilities.
  • Portable Cable Sander: For professionals who need a reliable and powerful drywall sander.
  • Hand Sander: Most budget-friendly option. If you only need to do occasional small sanding work, going for a manual sander will save you money.

Now that you know the different kinds of sanders that are suitable for drywall, it’s time to put on your safety gloves, wear your dust mask, and get down to the nitty-gritty (yep, pun intended) of your gypsum board wall!