Orbital Sander vs Palm Sander

In any woodworking project, Sanding is one of the final tasks you have to do on a finished product to achieve a smooth wood surface. This task must be done correctly, and to do so, you must have the right tool. So here, we will compare two popular types of sanders and their uses to help you find the right tool for the task.

Random Orbital Sander vs. Sheet Sander (Palm Sander) Comparison

What is the difference between an orbital sander and a palm sander or a sheet sander?
Orbital Sander vs Random orbital sander vs Palm Sander
The main differences are the amount of material the sander can remove, the size of the tool, the shape of the sanding pad, and the direction of movement. A palm sander is nothing but a small orbital sander that uses a 1/4 sheet on a rectangular pad, and hence they are also called 1/4 sheet sander. There are larger orbital sanders (for example, 1/2 Sheet), which are not considered as palm sanders. The large orbital sander works on a similar principle, but they are bigger in size.

On the other hand, a random orbital sander is a different tool that has a round base that rotates and moves forward and backward at the same time. This creates a random pattern that reduces swirl marks. When you hear someone talking about orbital sanders, usually they are referring to random orbital sanders. The normal orbital sander is often referred to as sheet sander.

Random Orbital Sander Palm Sander (Sheet Sander)
Head Shape Round Rectangular
Sanding Material Standard circular sheet that can be velcro attached You can use a cut sheet. Standard sheet also available
Sheet Size 5-inches and 6-inches sheet A quarter of standard 9×11” sheet
Motion Circular and orbiting motion Orbiting Motion
Uses Smoothen rough surfaces, removes paint, finishing. Light duty finishing work
Two of the basic hand-held finishing sanders used by most is the Random Orbital Sander and the Palm Sander. If we compare Palm Sander vs. Orbital sander, the Orbital Sander is a lightweight yet powerful and easy to use sanding tool that you can utilize using one hand. Moreover, it is stealth and discreet while delivering a powerful performance.

On the other hand, a Palm Sander is considered the lightest and the smallest among all power sanders. However, it has the weakest motor power and is used for finishing. You will usually utilize sandpaper in a grit range of 160-220. Let’s see both the tools in detail.

Orbital Sander

An orbital sander is a type of sander that has a sanding surface moving in a very tight orbital (tiny circles) manner. It moves at high speed, and an electric motor powers it.

The movement of its head derives the name, Orbital Sander. It moves around in tiny circles, also called orbits, and this sanding tool also has subcategories that are best for different purposes. This includes the orbital sander and Random Orbital Sander.

Orbital Sanders

These are large sheet sander (usually 1/2 sheet) with a rectangular or square base. This kind of sander is substantially bigger and more powerful than Palm Sander.
TACKLIFE Sheet Sander, Super Large base sander
A large base 1/2 sheet Orbital sander from TACKLIFE. Click the image for details..

Random Orbital Sander

This type of sander has a round head that rotates and moves around in random orbits. It is different from a normal Orbital Sander that has a head moving in a similar pattern throughout.
BLACK+DECKER Random Orbit Sander

Most commonly, it utilizes sandpaper in a grit range of about 80-160, and it is a delicate tool that you must handle with care. You must continuously move the tool to ensure even finish. If you keep the ROS (random orbital sander) in one position for too long, it can dig into the wood. With my many years of using different kinds of sanding tools, I can say that a random Orbital Sander is more powerful and bulky than the 1/4 sheet Palm Sander.

Typically, you can use an Orbital Sander with one hand alone. But with the emerging technologies today, there are top-tier Orbital Sander models that have more power and includes an extra handle. This will allow you to use it with both of your hands.

A random Orbital Sander is ideal for removing varnish and paint. Like so, it is best for prepping woodwork before painting it. You can also observe that a random Orbital Sander utilizes a round-shaped pad. Meanwhile, a normal Orbital Sander uses a square sanding pad, which makes all the difference.

But it is notable that compared to palm sanders, the Orbital Sanders are a little more expensive.

Palm Sander

If you are looking for a sanding tool that is ideal for light jobs, Palm Sander is the first kind of sander I will recommend to you. This smallest and most portable among all power sander is called Palm Sander due to its handle that can commonly fit into the palm of the user.

A palm sander is also known as sheet sander or ¼ sheet sander since it typically uses a quarter of a standard 9 x 11” sandpaper sheet.

Bosch Orbital Finishing Sander

In terms of grit range, this sanding tool typically uses sandpaper in 160-220. For this reason, it is considered as an ideal type of sander for light jobs such as smoothing a finishes woodwork that you aren’t going to paint.

On the other hand, this tool is not ideal to use if you want to remove any stubborn rust or paint. Also, do not try to apply too much pressure or push the sander into a workpiece. Since it is specially structured to work with a significantly light touch, pushing it down too strong will only damage your Palm Sander. And expect to get a lot of worn-out pads if you tend to do so.

Palm Sanders is considered the most affordable kind type of sander among all power sanders there is.

Which Type of Sander is the Best for Me?

There is always a time that you need a sander in a particular woodwork project. Sanding will always be at the last steps of finishing woodwork, and it is essential in many cases because it provides a smooth and friction-free surface for any piece of wood.

Since there is a lot of sanding products that you can find in the market, there are chances that you might pick the wrong one. At first, I have also encountered the same problem. But when I finally learn the difference between these sanding tools, I don’t remember the last time I made an error in choosing the right tool for my woodwork projects anymore.

So, which type of sander is the best? Just like the other articles about Best Belt Sander & Buyers Guide, I will also illustrate some of the tips to guide you in buying the right type of sanding tool for you.

When to go for a Palm Sander?

Choose a Palm Sander if you require a tool in sanding a finished work. If you are done making a piece of small furniture that you are not planning to paint, this one is the ideal tool for you. It is also suitable for sanding edges, which is one of the advantages of its relatively compact design as well. Another option is to go for a detail sander that has a triangular-shaped pad.

Go for a Random Orbital Sander

But if you need to sand large surfaces, better choose Orbital Sander. It is designed to smoothen a broader and larger piece of wood that has flat surfaces. Moreover, it is incredibly easy to use for removing paint, varnish, etc. While having a significantly bigger built than Palm Sander, an Orbital Sander is agile enough to use in sanding curved wood.

In general, you will have much more use for a random orbital sander than a sheet sander (palm sander). Hence if you have to choose one, I would suggest you go for the random orbital sander.

If you need a more powerful sander, consider getting a portable belt sander. And if you are curious about the difference between Belt Sander vs. Orbital Sander as well, here is a little bonus for you. Belt Sander is used mainly in removing material aggressively and fast. It comprises a sand belt to that circulated continuously between two rotating rollers.