Every wood working shop needs a random orbital sander. That may seem like a bold statement, but in the world of sanding machines, the random orbit type stands out as a true all-around machine. It is capable of taking down hefty amounts of stock, stripping old paint and varnishes, and, by simply changing to a finer grit, even creating silky smooth finished surfaces.
The secret ingredient of these sanders is the motion in which the sanding disc is moved. It doesn’t just go in a circle, which would leave huge swish marks all over your surface. It also moves in an elliptical pattern, usually altering a perfect circle motion by an eight of an inch. The result is movement of the sanding pad in a nearly arbitrary manner, which leaves no telltale sanding streaks on your finished surface.
It’s a critical piece of equipment in a shop, and we’re here to help you choose the best random orbit sander for your needs.
There is a lot of great information in our extensive reviews, but if you just want the headlines, here they are.
A variable speed sander with a removable second handle. All wrapped in a great ergonomic design and priced at just $80. Makita quality makes this an easy choice
Another quality tool company makes this low-slung model with a sealed switch and durable motor. Only single speed, but it a powerful sander.
You’ll only spend $30 to get this little monster. Small enough to get into tight spaces, but a bit underpowered.
One mode is standard orbital sander, and the other is an aggressive material removing beast. Big power, big sanding disc, big price. For heavy tasks, this is the one.
Why Do You Need These Power Tools?
Random orbital sanders are among the most versatile of all sanding machines. They can be used to aggressively remove material or to delicately fine tune a smooth finish. They are often used for stripping old finishes as well as on materials like metals and even plastics.
For professional wood workers, a random orbital sander is a must-have tool. With an 80 grit pad, these machines can smooth down rough wood or strip an old finish in no time at all. Then switch to a 120 or even 220 grit pad and no other sander design will give you a better glass-smooth finish.
If you are a homeowner just looking for one sander to add to a modest collection of tools for household repairs, a random orbital sander may be the only sanding machine you need. It is better than a belt sander to some extent. It can take down the edge on that sticking door or shave away that old paint finish in no time at all.
Our Testing and Selection Process
There are hundreds of random orbital sanders on the market, and many of them are very good. So, it’s a complicated task of online research of studying features and reviews of all of these machines, just to narrow our search down to a hundred or so potential selections. Then we start getting picky.
Upon closer examination, we narrow the field even further, and then begin testing. We base this part of our process on real-world users wrapping their hands around these sanders and doing real tasks. Their feedback helps us discover the good and bad in each of these machines. The reviews they provide are an integral part of our report to you.
As the field narrows even further, we put our own hands on these machines and give them a test run, mercilessly doing our best to give each machine a bad day. The ones that come through with flying colors just might end up on our random sander list. The ones that don’t, well, they were trash to begin with, weren’t they?
Our Top Ten Product List
What Is a Random Orbit Sander
These machines are among the most versatile power sanders on the market. Because they move the sanding pad in an elliptical fashion, they can take down many layers of paint on old pieces of wood in no time at all. Or, they can give a piece of finished work an extraordinarily smooth finish without leaving any telltale sanding marks or streaks.
Why Use Random Orbit Sanders
You'll get smoother surfaces with an orbit sander if you know how to sand properly. For both the roughest and finest forms of sanding tasks, random orbital sanders simply perform better than most other machines. They are also hands-down better at the job than hand sanding, in most applications.
Many of these sanders are also not large machines (a 5-inch sanding pad is the de facto standard for most of them) so they are easy to use. Getting great results from these machines isn’t that hard.
How Random Orbit Sanders Are Different from Other Types of Sanders
The difference is in the motion the machine uses to sand a surface. It spins in an elliptical manner, so as you move the machine across the surface, every point on the surface actually gets sanded from a different angle up to 14,000 times per minute (depending upon the speeds of your machine).
A sheet sander only moves back and forth. An orbit sander only spins on a single axis. A good sander drags the sanding medium across the surface in one direction. Each of these does a good job for certain applications, but they are prone to leaving streaks across your surface that mirror the design of the sanding motion. Because the random orbital sander attacks from so many angles, it is a virtually streak-free sanding method.
Top Factors to Look For
My main concern with a random orbit sander is user comfort. Sanding can be a tedious task, and if the machine you are using is hard to hold or vibrates too much, you are going to get fatigued. This leads to a less-than-satisfactory result and even to mistakes or injury. So, the first think I look for is whether the machine has a comfortable gripping area. Is it rubberized? Can I hold it in different ways to reduce fatigue? Can I hold it with either hand? Are the grip positions adjustable or fixed?
Next, I look for power. An underpowered sander can bog down, resulting in a poor workflow and even damage to the surface you are sanding. Excess power never causes a problem, but insufficient power always leads to poor results.
Then I look to added features, like variable speed, dust collection systems, base plate design, and warranty terms.
Variable speed on a random orbit sander isn’t actually as big a deal as it might seem. Yes, it’s nice to have. But I find myself using the highest speed setting almost all of the time anyway. These machines simply do a better job the faster they are orbiting. There is one very notable exception to this point. If I am sanding the edges of a piece of clear plastic, I will choose the slowest speed possible on my sander. Run your sander too fast, and the heat build-up caused by the sanding motion can actually cause the plastic to melt rather than be abraded away by the sanding medium.
Dust collectors are vital on sanders. The microscopic dust generated is annoying, gets everywhere, and isn’t something you want to breathe. Hooking up to a vac is always a good idea, but not always practical. So the random orbit sander should have a reasonably good dust collection system built into its design.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Nothing is more irritating than a random orbital sander that vibrates so badly it makes my hand go numb. An ideal random orbital sander will have a soft grip area (and preferably more than one way to hold it) and a counterweighted system that absorbs the vibration generated by the elliptical behavior of the pad. You can tell in two seconds whether a machine vibrates too much. Pick it up and turn it on. If it immediately feels like it’s dancing in your hand, put it down and walk away.
An underpowered motor is also a concern for two reasons. First, it will lead to a poor quality result because the machine will bog down and fail to orbit at a high enough speed. Secondly, since you’ll be fighting with it to get the task finished, the motor will probably burn out prematurely.
Usage, Maintenance, and Safety Guide
How to Use a Random Orbit Sander
This is a simple machine. Sanding discs attach to the base plate by a simple hook-and-loop system. When sanding, you don’t have to bear down on these machines too much. Rough sanding jobs, like stripping old finishes, do require putting a little weight into it. But when doing the finishing passes with a fine grit disc, the weight of the machine itself should be enough to do the job. Simply guide the machine in the right direction, and let it do the work.
Keep an eye on the sanding disc to know when it’s time to change it out for a new one. Here’s a basic rule of thumb. If you feel like the sander isn’t accomplishing as much as it was a minute ago, your disc is probably due for replacement. Don’t fight it.
Keep the dust collector clean. This is a vital part to making the sanding job enjoyable. Nobody wants to stand in a dusty environment. Empty the bag and clean the filter regularly, at least every time you change the pad.
Random orbital sanders are relatively safe machines to use. The only real danger is abrading your skin by coming in contact with the sanding disc. Keep your fingers away from the disc area, and you should be fine.
Always wear eye protection and a dust mask. The fine dust generated by sanding can be a nasty irritant in the eyes, and it is certainly not something you want in your lungs.
Modern random orbital sanders are virtually maintenance free. Simply clean all of the dust off the machine every time you are finished. Empty the dust collector and clean the filter if it has one. That’s about it!
It’s Time to Wrap Up
I have five sanding machines in my shop, and they all have a purpose. But the one I reach for most often is my random orbital sander. It is the most versatile, easiest to use, and just does a great job. I have a small confession to make. I love woodworking, but the sanding part bores me to death. However, when I’m using the random orbital, seeing a rough surface turned into a glassy-smooth one so quickly and without sanding streaks makes me so happy that I actually forget that I’m sanding.
There’s no denying that this machine is indispensable for any woodworker. I hope that my reviews have helped you decide which is going to be the best random orbit sander for your needs. Pick one up today, and you’ll be glad you did!