Go to the nearest hardware store and you can find server different types of electric sanders and sanding products in the market. Each of these sander types has its own specific purpose.
If it is your first time buying a power sander and you are not sure which type to choose, I have here the list of various sanders and their uses that can help you out.
In this article, I have included 10 different types of Sanders and their uses. This is to provide you with useful insights on which one to choose for a specific task.
The list includes electric sanders such as Belt Sander, Disk Sander, Combination Disc & Belt Sanders, Oscillating Spindle Sander (OSS), Orbital sanders, Random Orbital Sander, Drum Sander, Palm Sander, Detail Sander, Drywall Sander. See which type of sanding tool is applicable for the task you have.
10 Different Sander Types & When to Use Them
There are several different types of power sanders and their variations. In addition to that, I found out that some of these sanding tools may have different regional nicknames that make it even harder to determine which type to work with. For this reason, I am going to tell you about the 10 most commonly used sander types that will cover all your sanding and polishing needs.
1. Belt Sander
In any modern workshop, the most common type of Sander you can find is the Belt Sander. This sanding tool is called Belt Sander because it incorporates a sanding belt that is wrapped around two drums. The back drum is powered by an electric motor while the front one freely spins.
It also has a tension release lever that I find useful because it allows the belts to be easily changed. Also, most models feature a tracking adjustment knob that keeps the belt always in the center.
A portable belt sander is the best electric sander for flattening and smoothing wood surfaces. Woodworkers and carpenters use this type of sanders extensively for leveling table top, rough wood boards, dressers etc.
Belt sander is also excellent for scribing.
The stationary or bench-top version is useful for sanding smaller work pieces.
The brutal power of the belt sander is its strength as well as it’s disadvantage. Gouging is a serious problem with belt sander. If not used in the right way, this powerful tool can leave gouges especially at the end of the boards.
2. Disc Sander
A Disc Sander as the name indicates has a round disc-shaped sanding pad on which the abrasive is fixed. Depending on the design there are 2 types of disc sanders.
- Portable or hand-held Disc Sander and
- Bench-top Disc Sander
Portable Disc Sander
One of the rarest Sander types is the portable Disc Sander. It is most commonly known as inclusion on power drills but it also has a table-mounted version. Also known as offset disk sander, the portable disc sander works similar to an angle grinder except that the disc is rotating perpendicular to the body of the power tool.
You must secure the workpiece tightly using a vice or other clamping devices and bring the rotating disc on to the work to do the sanding.
They have more or less similar uses of a portable belt sander. However, a disc can cover larger areas and it is possible to sand edges and curves that a belt sander cannot reach.
Bench-top Disc Sander
The stationary bench-top disc sander has a round backplate on to which the abrasive disc is fixed. The circular backplate is usually made out of steel or aluminum and is fixed on the driving motor with a screw at the center. The diameter of the disc can be anywhere from 4-inches to 12-inches.
An adjustable height work table that will act as work-piece support is fixed in front of the disc. You will move the work-piece or wood against the sanding disc that rotates at high speed. Make sure to set the gap between the work table and the abrasive disc as close as possible to avoid the work-piece getting caught in between.
You may also tilt the work table to different angles to match the miter cuts that made to sand a smooth and straight edge.
In addition to that, you can use different grit sized paper to this type of Sander according to the task. And due to the speed of the disc rotation, this provides a smooth finish that is perfect for large areas.
A benchtop disc sander is an excellent machine tool when the work-piece is small and you need to sand it quickly.
3. Combination Disc & Belt Sanders
You probably can’t even imagine at first how it would look like to combine these two professional grade machines. But the Combination Disc-Belt Sanders is, in fact, a pretty useful tool if you have a lot of work that requires you to hold by hand and shape.
While you can actually buy it as two separate sanding products, combination disc & belt sanders are ideal to use for smooth belt sanding along with great support. Plus, this combo allows you to save space and they are highly versatile too.
Combination Disc & Belt Sanders are perfect for two task types. And that is to sand edges with precision and flatten edges and faces.
4. Oscillating Spindle Sander (OSS)
An OSS or Oscillating Spindle Sander is included in the drum family which features a sleek sanding drum that protrudes from a freestanding table or benchtop. This benchtop sander is an excellent tool for finishing curved edges as well as straight edges.
It works in a way that when the Sander runs, the drum will also go up and down on its spindle. This allows the wood surface to touch the entire drum that not only helps to remove grooves but also reduce wear upon the drum surface using its even distribution.
An Oscillating Spindle Sander also comes in different sizes. This includes the benchtop models that have a length of 4 inches and ½ – 2 inches diameter drums. On the other hand, the freestanding tables feature 4-inch length and 4 inches diameter drums.
Primarily, an OSS is especially utilized for smoothing board edges. Moreover, several large OSS models include the ability to angle the front of the table of about 45 degrees in order to make beveled edges. And because of the vertical design of the drum, this sanding tool excellently works on curved surfaces.
But it is also efficient in sanding straight surfaces which makes it highly-flexible compared to other types of Sanders.
5. Orbital Sander
An orbital sander has a rectangular or square sanding pad that moves in tiny circular paths or obits and hence the name orbital sander. You can cut a rectangle piece from the standard size sandpaper and clip it on the sanding pad. Hence this power tool is also known as sheet sander.
Electric orbital sanders are mainly used for finishing large surfaces that are pre-sanded with belt sanders.
Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander
A Belt Sander is relatively cheap and it is ideal for heavy-duty work that require a lot of material to be removed. However, if not careful it can impose damage on softwoods.
On the other hand, an Orbital Sander specializes in all types of finishing. The only drawback of using Orbital Sanders is that they are not that useful for large-scale material removal.
For a more detailed explanation see the belt sander vs orbital sander comparison here.
6. Random Orbital Sander
This type sander has a round sanding pad and works similar to an Orbital Sander. Its round pad moves in tiny circular orbits and also spins. That means the movement of the sanding pad on the work-pieces is random. This results in smooth and clean surfaces unlike with orbital sanders that leave a visible swirl pattern.
A Random Orbital Sander also has different pad sizes that are offered in either 6-inches diameter or 5-inches. Aside from that, it is also available with PSA or pressure-sensitive adhesive discs. Otherwise, with Velcro-like surface discs that depend upon the sanding tool model.
An electric random orbital sander is used for finish sanding without swirl marks. It can quickly finish large areas and is more powerful than an orbital sander or palm sander.
The most notable thing about this Sander type is that it is applicable for almost all sanding tasks. As a matter of fact, it can do the function of an orbital sander and belt sander in one; particularly ultra-smooth sanding and stock removal. However, don’t get surprised if this sander shows less efficiency than the belt sanders which intended for heavy stock removal.
This power-tool is ideal for those who are opting for a versatile all-purpose sander.
Orbital Sander vs Random Orbital Sander
The main differences between the two sanders are in the shape of the sanding pad, the head movement patterns, and the material removal rate.
A Random Orbital Sander (ROS) has a round pad whereas an Orbital Sander has a square-shaped pad.
The sanding pad of an orbital sander moves in a specific pattern which can leave swirl marks on the job. On the other hand, Random Orbital Sander moves in random patterns that produce almost no swirl patterns.
The random orbital sander is more powerful among the two and can remove material at a faster rate.
Finally, the Random Orbital Sander costs more when compared to an orbital sander and a palm sander. You will also need to buy special sandpaper specifically made for the round head of the ROS.
7. Palm Sander
Palm Sanders is also called as a finish sander. This incorporates a square pad that oscillates in tiny circular orbits that provides ultra-smooth finishes. It is also great for sanding corners because of its square sanding pads.
A palm sander is also called as ¼” sheet sander since the size of the sanding pad is quarter of a standard 9 x 11” sandpaper. It utilizes spring-loaded clips that keep the sandpaper perfectly in place. And if I were to compare it with other basic sander types, I can say that it is quiet and light enough which makes it easier and more convenient to control. For polishing work, this type of sander is one of the most popular choices.
Aside from that, this sanding tool is also perfect for smoothing paint, varnish, or plaster. It is also great to use for fine veneers and plywood but you wouldn’t want to use it for removing rough stock.
Orbital Sander vs Palm Sander
If you want to know the difference between Orbital Sander vs Palm Sander. Here are the things that vary between the two.
The main differences between the two are in size. A palm sander is a smaller version of an Orbital Sander. Other differences include ease of use, price and type of application.
For a detailed comparison between the two, read the orbital sander vs palm sander guide.
While an orbital sander is moderate to control a Palm Sander is very easy to maneuver. The smaller sized Palm Sanders are significantly cheaper. When it comes to specialty, an Orbital Sander is ideal for large-scale removal as well as polishing. More so, it is perfect to use for finishing and prep but it is easy to over-sand so better be careful when using it.
On the other hand, a Palm Sander specializes in sanding corners and finishing. You can use it usually for smooth surfaces and finishing tasks but there are chances that it can leave marks if you have trouble using it.
Furthermore, these two different types of sander look quite similar to each other. However, their differences reside in the tasks they are good at.
8. Drum Sander
There are two types of drum sanders.
- The benchtop drum sander for woodworking
- Flooring drum sander
Benchtop Drum Sander
This kind of drum sander has a large rotating drum on which the sandpaper is fixed. A drum sander is highly efficient in reducing the thickness and finishing the wood boards.
Place your board on the conveyor belt and adjust the gap between the abrasive drum and the conveyor belt. As the wood board passes through, the sanding drum will start removing the high points.
Once the board is flat you can further sand it to reduce the thickness. However, keep in mind that a drum sander cannot replace a power planer. A planer can remove material at a much faster rate, but the sander provides a better finish.
Flooring Drum Sander
Similar to all drum family members, a drum sander is particularly bulky and incredibly powerful. As proof, it actually demands two people in order to be transported from one place to another. Like so, a drum sander is most commonly rented because of its huge built that is paralleled by its unfriendly price. And due to its power, I actually find it hard to control which is quite worrying if users are not being careful. If a worse thing happens, it can leave a gouge mark on the floor.
In addition to that, this sanding tool is also perfect for removing adhesives as well as other annoying and unwanted substances. It is also worth noting that a large-size version of the random orbital sander is also utilized for wide floor areas just like a drum sander. The only difference is that drum sanders are harder to control.
One of the best things about Drum Sanders is that these tools are consistent in terms of thickness. Like so, they are fast and highly efficient. More so, they can handle both large and small boards which makes them great when it comes to versatility.
There are two things that stood as a drawback to this sanding tool. The first one is its relatively expensive price and its weight that is quite heavy. This makes it hard to carry that will require you to ask others help.
9. Detail Sander
This type of sander closely resembles an iron better than an actual sander. A Detail Sander is actually a family member of orbital sander that includes a triangular-shaped pad that utilizes self-adhesive special sandpaper.
Sometimes, this type of sanding tool comes with different attachments for a better and more precise or specialized task. The unique shape of this tool is actually designed to reach crevices that a basic sander usually fails to get to. It is utilized for fitting through tight spaces and around corners like for example is the spindles of a classic chair leg.
In addition to that, Detail Sanders is also efficient and effective in terms of sanding uncommon shapes. They are also useful to use for crafts and more.
This type of sander is great for smoothing tight and narrow spots. Since it is compact and easy to control, beginners can also use it with ease. It is also relatively affordable but it produces an audible noise when running. Moreover, it is not applicable to heavy stock removal.
10. Drywall Sander
Are you curious about this metal detector-like tool? At first, I also thought the same but Drywall Sanders only appears like a metal detector because it’s a disc sander attached on a long pole. It is used to smooth the surfaces of the drywall as well as remove the remaining adhesives stuck into it. Aside from that, people usually attach its handle near its hub in order to achieve a closer work.
Most Drywall Sander models include a vacuum in order to collect dust particles that fall off while it works. The reason why another variation of this sanding tool has longer handles is to allow the device to sand higher places like ceilings and high walls etc. that normally require a ladder or a stepping block.
Do I really need to buy a drywall sander?
This really depends on the work you intended to do. You could use a regular belt sander to remove the paint. But for finishing you may need a finishing sander.
Refer to my detailed guide on the best sander for drywall where I explained the pros and cons of different types of sanders.
Which power sander is best for you?
Now that you have learned about the different types of power sanders, which one best for your work?
Back to Contents
- 1. Belt Sander
- 2. Disc Sander
- 3. Combination Disc & Belt Sanders
- 4. Oscillating Spindle Sander (OSS)
- 5. Orbital Sander
- 6. Random Orbital Sander
- 7. Palm Sander
- 8. Drum Sander
- 9. Detail Sander
- 10. Drywall Sander