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Sanders are essential tools that are necessary for almost all wooden DIY projects. So whether you fancy changing the finish on your floor or restoring your coffee table, you won’t be able to get by without one.
However, unless you’re a woodworking specialist, you may be bewildered by the seemingly huge array of different types of sander.
To help you choose the very best sander for your needs, we’ve compiled this ultimate guide, focusing upon three of the most popular sander types.
Namely, random orbit sanders for their versatility, belt sanders for their power and ability to tackle large areas and detail sanders which are useful for small areas and for getting into tight spaces.
So, whatever your sanding project, equip yourself with the right tools for the job. Read on to find out more and discover which top picks made it into our sander reviews.
In a hurry? If you don't have time to read our full guide, below are our favourite sanders in each category:
If you’re only going to buy one sander and are looking for the most versatile, then nine times out of ten, you should opt for a random orbit sander.
Let’s take a look at all you need to know about random orbit sanders, from what you need to look out for when making your purchase to how to best use one.
While random orbit sanders all work in pretty much the same way, there can be a lot of differences when it comes down to characteristics such as design, power type and weight.
Here’s our guide on how to choose the best random orbit sander for your needs.
Before you start looking at individual models, take a few moments to decide whether a corded or a cordless model would best fulfill your needs.
Cordless models offer greater freedom. You're not confined to only using your sander near a plug socket and you can take advantage of any good weather to work outside - cutting down on interior dust and mess.
Without a power cord, you can enjoy greater freedom of movement, especially when taking on larger projects with a greater surface area.
Many cordless models may require an additional purchase for the battery and charger if you don’t already have any from that range.
You may also need a spare battery for longer jobs, which can push the cost up considerably when compared to a corded model offering similar performance levels.
Corded models, on the other hand, tend to be more powerful and they won’t run out of battery. So, if you often have extensive projects that take up many hours of sanding at high power, then a corded model would be a better choice for your needs.
They are often a less expensive choice, as they do not require the purchase of additional batteries or chargers like cordless models.
In order to make your task go quicker or to take care over more delicate items, variable speed control can be extremely useful.
Furthermore, when you choose a cordless model with variable speeds, you may find it useful to work at a slower speed when you wish to conserve battery power - when waiting for a spare battery to charge up, for example.
Your random orbit sander will be more comfortable to use for longer periods if it is lightweight. However, you will also find that it will be easier to sand more effectively if it has some weight to it.
This will prevent you from having to continually push down over large areas to achieve the results you are looking for.
When choosing a random orbit sander, pay attention to the weight of the model, while also considering your strength and the type of projects you’ll be undertaking.
Sandpaper pads may attach with an adhesive back or using a velcro style attachment. For better longevity and improved adhesion, velcro fastenings are preferable.
Sanding for any amount of time can leave you with aching hands and wrists, so it’s important to check the quality of the handle before purchasing.
Ergonomically shaped handles with an easy to grip coating are a good choice to improve your comfort and safety.
Check the controls for ease of use. They should be located within easy reach, but not too close so that you risk of hitting them inadvertently. Rotary dials or thumbwheels offer great ways to adjust speed on the go.
While the majority of models will have dust bags or boxes that come as standard, they are not always highly effective and you may find that you have to frequently stop to empty them.
If you are taking on any coarse sanding projects or large surface areas, you will probably want to attach a dust extractor. Consider the availability and cost of compatible extractors for any particular model before purchasing.
It’s not essential, but a carry bag or storage box is a great way to keep your random orbit sander safe when not in use. Also, if you need to transport it, it will make life much easier and will enable you to have all of your essential bits and pieces close to hand.
While an included carry bag isn’t going to be a deal-breaker, it is a nice little extra that will make your workshop more organised and transportation simpler.
Random orbit sanders use a variable rotational sanding motion. As the disc spins, it also moves in small ellipses.
This means that, unlike other types of sander, the abrasive material will not leave swirl marks, as the rotational path continuously changes. This allows you to get that beautiful smooth finish with little hassle.
Unlike plain orbit sanders, random orbit sanders have round sandpaper pads instead of square ones.
Whereas belt sanders use sandpaper belts, random orbit sanders take sandpaper pads that attach either with adhesive or, more popularly, with a velcro fastening. Most models have an ergonomic grip handle that is designed to be used with one hand.
On the whole, they are generally fairly compact models with a low center of gravity to make them more maneuverable and comfortable to hold.
Random orbit sanders can be slightly more difficult to control than standard orbit sanders.
Always read the accompanying manufacturer’s usage instructions for your product and protect yourself with gloves, goggles and a mask.
Start your sander away from the material, then place it down and move it in the direction of the wood’s grain.
For some useful tips on how to best use your random orbit sander, take a look at this video:
Belt sanders are generally used to strip back finishes over large areas. They tend to be fairly heavy duty and are best used for coarse sanding.
So, if you are looking to sand back a floor or a tabletop, then a belt sander will be the right choice for your needs.
Here’s how to pick the best belt sander and some of their most important features.
While most belt sanders are built to a standard design, there are certain features that you should look out for to ensure you choose the best belt sander for your needs.
The higher the wattage, the more powerful your belt sander will be.
If you don’t have much experience or are looking to complete medium-sized jobs, a lower wattage model could actually work to your advantage. This is because some of the more powerful models can sand fairly aggressively, leaving you with lines that you will need to sand out.
However, for large tasks like stripping back the finish on a wooden floor or a large table, a higher-wattage model is the best choice.
The increased power will allow you to get the job done faster, without the need to keep passing over the same area.
It is important to ensure that your model will have a sufficiently long power cord for the kind of job that you envisage doing. A longer cable will also give you more flexibility over where you can plug in your sander, especially if you are not working at home or in your own workshop.
Make sure that the handles on your belt sander are well positioned so that you will be easily able to control your sander.
You should also check the grip as well as the positioning to make sure that your hands will be comfortable when using your belt sander over a large area. The controls should be within easy reach of the handles so that you can safely stop and start your sander.
Pay close attention to any systems that make changing the sandpaper belt easier and faster. This will make your job much easier and can also save you valuable time, rather than having to adjust each new sandpaper belt manually.
Automatic belt tensioning systems are generally safer and a great way to hassle-free belt changes.
If possible, look out for a belt sander with variable speed as this will allow you to adjust the pace to your needs. You’ll find that different densities of wood can be sanded more easily at different speeds.
You may also want to adjust the tempo to get through the coarser sanding stage more quickly, then reduce the speed down for a smoother finish when using finer sandpaper.
If you are planning on using your belt sander on its back, for example to sand the edges of boards or as a sharpener, then you’ll need to make sure that your chosen model has a flat top with no protrusions.
Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for using your belt sander invertedly. Some may require a special fixing kit in order to attach them to your workbench.
Most models come with an attached dust box or bag as standard. This will help keep your work area dust-free and reduce cleaning up time afterwards.
As coarse sanding over large areas tends to produce a lot of sawdust, you may have to stop frequently to empty your dust bag.
Check to see if your model is compatible with a dust extractor or vacuum cleaner to remove sawdust without having to stop as frequently.
Belt sanders rapidly remove the finish from wood and are an excellent choice for coarse sanding large areas. They are also frequently used to sand down the narrow edges of boards.
If you are looking to remove a varnish or paint finish from a large piece of furniture or a wooden floor, then a belt sander will get the job done quickly and easily. You can also switch to finer sandpaper belts for a smoother finish as you progress.
Belt sanders are easy to spot by their two cylindrical drums and a continuous loop of reinforced sandpaper. They are generally larger and heavier than many other handheld sanders.
You’ll need to use two hands to maneuver your belt sander over the surface of your work area, unlike more compact types designed for one-handed use.
When using a belt sander, always pay close attention to the health and safety guidelines from the manufacturer. As belt sanders have a fair amount of torque, always double-check that you do not have any loose clothing, hair or any other items that could become stuck in your sander.
Startup your belt sander and allow it to reach full speed before putting it in contact with the surface you want to sand. Slowly ease it down, making sure that the rear part comes into contact first.
Belt sanders tend to drive forwards fairly rapidly. Be sure to keep yours moving and stop to check on your progress regularly to avoid taking off too much.
For more tips and tricks on using belt sanders, take a look at this helpful video:
Detail sanders, as their name suggests, are used for sanding intricate areas or hard to access parts of bigger jobs.
Compact and lightweight, they are designed for maximum manoeuvrability, giving you added freedom of movement.
Let’s take a look at how to pick the best detail sander and how you should use yours for the best results.
When choosing a new detail sander, there are several things worth bearing in mind when choosing the right model for your needs.
As detail sanders don’t need as much brute power as other types of sanders, and they need to be easy to move around, cordless models are preferable.
Time spent on intricate sections may add up, but it is usually at a fairly slow speed which draws less power from the battery. Power cords can be an extra hindrance over tricky sections such as finiales or balustrades, so consider whether or not a cordless model would make your task easier.
The main advantage of opting for a corded detail sander is the price, as corded models tend to be cheaper. This is especially true if you don’t already own any power tools from the same product range with interchangeable batteries.
While a cord may get in your way, if you don’t have a charged up battery ready to go, it’s often more convenient to simply plug-in a corded model and get the job done.
Detail sanders are designed for one-handed use and generally feature straight handles that allow you to angle your sanding blade with precision.
Some models may have handles that sit over and above the sanding plate, making them better suited to tasks such as sanding small flat items of furniture and getting right up against walls.
Ideally, your detail sander will be fairly lightweight so that it is easier to move around and to get into tight spaces.
Corded versions weigh in around one-kilogram, preventing your hand from becoming fatigued and making it easier to angle your sander when accessing hard to reach areas.
Like random orbit sanders, detail sanders may use adhesive or velcro fastening pads. As previously stated, it is preferable to opt for velcro fastening which tends to stay in place for longer and is more durable over time.
When choosing a detail sander, aside from the fastening type, take a look at the availability and cost of extra sandpaper pads.
Detail sanders come with triangular-shaped sanding plates, making them look a little like an iron. This shape allows them easy access into tight corners and along edges.
Before purchasing, consider the size and width of the sanding plate and whether it is narrow enough to achieve the level of detail you are aiming for.
Your model should come complete with a dust bag or box to collect sawdust. As detail sanders don’t produce as much sawdust as belt sanders do, and given their compact size, detail sanders dust bags tend to be on the small side.
If you are going to be using your detail sander for long periods of time, you may want to check if it has the option to attach a dust extractor or vacuum cleaner. This will allow you to get on with your project without having to frequently stop to empty your sander.
Lightweight and compact, detail sanders are ideal for taking on small sanding jobs or for completing intricate parts of larger sanding tasks. Their primary advantage is that you can sand hard to reach areas such as tight corners.
Detail sanders stand out because of their triangular-shaped sanding plates. They are also more compact and lighter than other types of sanders such as belt sanders.
Designed to be easy to manoeuvre into tight spots and up against walls, detail sanders are designed for one-handed use and they are available as either corded or cordless models.
Detail sanders are fairly easy to use. Startup your sander away from your item that needs sanding.
Once the sander is running, simply place it down on the surface, and move across smoothly so as not to create an uneven finish.
This video has some handy tips on using your detail sander:
With simple touch buttons and velcro paper fastenings, you’ll find this Makita cordless random orbit sander extremely easy to setup and use.
For even better performance and results, the pad control system features a controlled spin start and a pad brake.
This Makita model has three-speed settings at 14,000, 19,000 and 22,000 strokes per minute, making it suitable for almost all sanding tasks and giving you the flexibility to reduce the speed if you need to conserve battery power.
Note that this particular model does not come with a battery. However, this makes it an ideal choice if you already own other compatible Makita 18V power tools.
There is no storage case with this model, which would be nice to have if you frequently need to transport your tools.
Compatible with Makita dust extractors, we think this cordless random orbit sander is your top choice for wire-free performance.
Batteries not included
No storage case
Velcro paper fastening
Dust extractor connectable
Pad control system
Its powerful 270-watt motor makes it suitable for large tasks, while its compact design and low weight mean that it won’t tire you out when doing extensive work.
Its ergonomic, soft-grip handle and low vibration design ensure maximum comfort. The controls are ideally located on the handle making it easy for you to change the speed on the go using the speed adjustment thumbwheel.
With a choice of speeds between 4,000 and 24,000 sanding movements per minute, this model can be used on a variety of projects, both delicate and rough.
The main drawback to this sander is its dust box. Unfortunately, it is not very effective and some dust escapes. You should also bear in mind that the velcro on the backing plate, to which the pads attach, is easily damaged.
However, there is a good quality stackable case included with the PEX, to keep it in optimum condition. A Bosch paper assistant guide also makes changing papers a quick & easy job.
For the price, this is an excellent model with a wide range of uses.
Adjustable speed control
Inefficient dust collector
Ergonomic soft-grip handle
Backing plate velcro is easily damaged
Dynamically balanced 270W motor
Compact and low weight
Bosch paper assistant included
Equipped with a 1,010 watt motor, this model has the endurance and capacity you need for big jobs. With a minimal amount of vibration, you can comfortably work with this sander for hours on end.
The long power cord enables you to cover large areas, which makes it ideal for stripping back wooden floors. You can quickly and easily adjust the speed from 210 up to 440 metres per minute, for fast-paced sanding to suit your needs. The design makes it easy to get the nose and side of the sander flush with walls for an unbeatable wall-to-wall finish.
The 9404 features a flat top, so you can use it upside down while fixed to your workbench. There is also a dust bag to help keep your work environment clean and dust-free.
Changing belts is simple, thanks to the auto-tracking belt system, meaning you’ll be able to spend more time on your project, rather than messing about trying to manually fit belts.
This high-performance sander is durable and well constructed; however, all this comes at a hefty price. So, if you are a beginner and only looking to take on smaller projects, you may be better off with a less powerful, and less expensive model.
Also, in spite of the price tag, this sander does NOT come with a carry bag or storage container!
That said, if you need a heavy-duty belt sander that you will use often, this is the one to go for.
Powerful 1,010W motor
No carry case
Flat top for inverted operation
Auto-tracking belt system
Equipped with a powerful 710 watt motor, this versatile belt sander has been designed to offer outstanding performance over all your large projects including floors, tabletops and other large furniture items.
Thanks to its soft-grip main handle, you’ll remain comfortable throughout, while the secondary handle helps to optimise grip and control. The integrated Bosch dust collection system helps you keep your work area clean, and the low vibrations improve your comfort levels.
Changing the belt is extremely easy on this model. The automatic belt tensioning system means you’ll waste little time fitting your belt during the middle of a big job.
However, bear in mind that given its power, it does tend to go through belts fairly rapidly. Also, it features just one speed setting which is its only real drawback.
All in all, this robust sander is a real powerhouse which features durable aluminium parts, as well as an excellent design for maximum user comfort and high performance.
Robust aluminium parts
High sandpaper belt consumption
Bosch soft-grip main handle
Automatic belt tensioning system
As its motor is integrated within the handle and not to one side, you’ll find that this model is surprisingly well balanced and easy to maneuver.
The adjustable file arm angle also makes hard to reach areas easily accessible, thus taking the strain off your wrist. Lightweight and compact, this model is simple to use with its on/off rocker switch and variable speed dial.
The rapid belt tensioning system makes changing the belt fast and effortless. Just be aware that this model is a little slow. Its maximum speed only comes in at 550rpm.
While this sander is slightly underpowered, this also makes it suitable for slower, more intricate/delicate sanding tasks. You’ll find it invaluable for getting into those tight spaces and corners.
Slim easy to hold design
Variable speed control dial
Rapid belt tensioning system
Adjustable file arm angle
This compact sander features LED battery level indicators, so you know at a glance how much power you have remaining and when it’s time to charge up.
This model’s power is intelligently managed, thanks to its integral Bosch Syneon Intelligent Power Chip which ensures maximum power and endurance no matter what you’re working on.
Please note that this detail sander is sold without a battery or charger, but is compatible with the Bosch 18V Power4All range (hence why it’s a good choice if you own other tools in this range).
While the iron-shaped sanding plate allows you to get into corners with ease, the velcro fastening system is quick and simple. The only drawback to this versatile sander is its dust collection, which like many other models, leaves a little to be desired.
That said, if you need a good all-purpose detail sander, capable of getting into corners and over rounded edges without a cord getting in the way, we highly recommend the Bosch PSM Cordless Multi-Sander.
Bosch Syneon Intelligent Power Chip
No battery included
Iron-shaped sanding plate
Poor dust collection
LED battery level indicators
Ergonomic soft-grip handle
This detail sander is ideal for your weekend projects, whether you’re a beginner or experienced DIYer. Its compact size and low weight, as well as its ease of use, make it a great choice for sanding furniture such as tables and chairs.
The iron-shaped design allows you to closely sand edges, corners and other hard to access areas. Sanding sheets attach easily and securely, thanks to the velcro fixation system, while the two-piece sanding plate improves your sanding paper’s durability.
The Bosch ergonomic soft-grip handle will keep your hand comfortable even during lengthy projects. However, if you are thinking of undertaking any extensive work, you may be better off with a higher-powered model, as at just 100 watts, this multi-sander is underpowered for heavy-duty jobs.
Also, the dust container can be tricky to remove and suffers the same issues as many of the sanders in this list.
On the whole though, as an inexpensive all-rounder, complete with sanding sheets and carry case, the Bosch PSM 100A Multi-Sander is good value for money.
Two-piece sanding plate
Difficult to remove dust container.
Compact and lightweight
Low powered - 100W.
Velcro fastening system
Ergonomic soft-grip handle
Carry case and sanding sheets included
Still having trouble deciding? Let’s take a look at a quick comparison of all the models in this buying guide.
Makita DBO180Z Cordless
Bosch PEX 300 AE
Makita 9404 Belt Sander
Bosch PBS 75A Belt Sander
Silverstorm Power Belt File
Bosch PSM Cordless Multi-Sander
Bosch PSM 100A Multi-Sander
Note for mobile users: scroll left/right to view the entire table above
Your choice of sander will depend heavily on your intended use. However, if you are looking for a versatile sander for home DIY projects, then we recommend the Bosch PSM 100A.
It has enough power for your weekend projects, while remaining compact and light. Its two-piece sanding plate helps your sanding pads last longer and it represents unbeatable value for money.
Whether you’re a novice or an experienced user, this handy, inexpensive sander will come in useful for most household sanding tasks.
Its triangular-shaped plate can get into tight spaces and up against walls, as well as sanding down medium-sized furniture including chest of drawers and tables.
And as if that wasn’t enough, the sanding pads attach quickly and easily with velcro fastenings, making this budget sander an extremely practical option for any home!
Kelly Rowett is a full-time writer and digital marketer who is passionate about creating high-quality content. When she’s not typing away at her laptop, you’ll find her up-cycling furniture, cooking Thai food or enjoying a clifftop hike with her dogs