Power Tool

Introduction to Random Orbital Sanders and Pad Sanders

Applying a topcoat such as a paint or a varnish over a rough surface will make it look ugly and messy. That’s why sanding is a necessary step of preparation to achieve a smooth surface. Fortunately, the tedious and excruciating chore of sanding surfaces has been significantly made easier and quicker (and even more fun) with the advent of the power sanders such as pad sanders and random orbital sanders.

Pad sanders

Pad sanders were first introduced over 50 years ago and they're still around. It's because they're still the easiest, simplest and quickest way possible of smoothening rough wood. They are generally fitted with a square or rectangular pieces of sandpaper and fitted into place.

A pad sander, when turned on and in use, makes a circular sanding motion to reduce the wood's roughness. However, it can leave scratch marks especially when the machine sands firmly against the wood's grain, so you may even have to sand it more to remove these marks.

Pad sanders come in large and small sizes, depending on the size of the sandpaper used. Large pad sanders are fitted with a halved sheet of a standard sandpaper, while small pad sanders can be fitted with quarter or even 1/6-sized sheets.

Pad sanders come with various features and options, namely: electronic speed control, reduced noise and vibration, dust extraction and different types of grips.

Random orbital sanders

Over the decades, pad sanders have undergone a few iterations, including the random orbital sander, which is a pretty recent development. The random orbital sander is named as such because it sands in an elliptical orbit motion, thanks to its offset drive bearing feature. In addition, it also sands in a circular manner, just like its ancestor the pad sander.

The random orbital sander's very combination of eccentric sanding movements helps in reducing the chances of leaving scratch marks on the surface of the wood. This enables the random orbital sander to sand on any angle – be it with or against the grain (even diagonally) – without scratching. It works somewhere between a heavy-duty belt sander and a light-duty finishing sander.

Random orbital sanders typically come in three types:

  • Palm-grip – Most random orbital sanders have a one-handed, palm-grip handle, which makes sanding almost a breeze. It can do almost every type of sanding work, even on narrow surfaces like window frames. That's why most DIY-ers prefer this model.
  • Right-angle – Right-angle sanders are more powerful due to its gears that are directly linked to the motor. Their orbital speed is somewhat less enhanced compared to other sanders, but this can be addressed by pressing them down without causing the motor to overwork. This makes them ideal for stripping old paint, glue or varnish from wood.
  • Large in-line – Large in-line sanders have the strongest and most powerful motors and typically include adjustable speed controls.

Warning: All power sanders create lots of sawdust, which is potentially detrimental to one's health without wearing the proper protection. Even though most sanders come with a bag or a port to collect dust, it is still advisable to wear a pair of goggles and a face mask. Better yet, wear a dual-cartridge respirator especially if you're stripping away paint or varnish.