Things to Know Before Buying an Orbital Sander
An orbital sander (or random orbit sander) performs the hard work of sanding for you; it’ll extract the dust and help to reduce scratches, all in a compact and comfortable palm grip tool.
Why the Random Orbit Makes a Difference
One of the biggest problems with sanding is trying to avoid scratches in the workpiece. Whether you’re sanding by hand with a block or using an electric belt or detail sander, there’s a good chance you’ll leave scratches that are a pain to remove.
In steps the orbital sander. As it sounds, instead of moving in a predictable way that can lead to scratch marks, the path of the sanding pad is randomised with an offset cam that creates ellipses as well as standard rotations. Sounds complicated, but it’s basically a wobbly head that means you don’t get those irritating tiny looping scratches common to detail sanders.
Get a Grip
Anyone who works with power tools for a living will instinctively know that getting a good grip is the key to drilling accurate holes, sawing straight lines and sanding down materials quickly and efficiently.
The bit where your hand goes on a random orbital sander is for more than just grip though, the best ones reduce the vibrations that travel up your arm and tire you out, especially when you’re sanding acres of timber or plastics.
Most of the best orbital sanders are single-handed machines, they’re light and nimble to use but still pack a punch when it comes to smoothing out surfaces. Try out a few different sanders before you find a grip that’s comfortable and lets you work for long periods of time without having to rest a shaken arm.
Dust Extraction for a Cleaner Workshop
There’s no way around this- sanding is a dusty, dirty job. It’s not just messy, it’s harmful as well. Fine particles of dust in your lungs can be extremely bad for your health over time, so make sure you’re sucking as much out of the air as possible.
All the orbital sanders I’ve featured on my list come with dust collection systems- either little bags or filtered boxed that promise to remove the dust from the air and stop the sanding pads from clogging up so quickly. They work, to a point, but it’s always a better idea to connect your sander to a shop vac if you can.
A standalone dust extraction system will help to keep the dust out of the air and away from your lungs and won’t fill up and need changing every ten minutes. The little dust extraction bags are great when there’s no alternative, but for the best results you should invest in a shop vac if you can afford it.
Hook and Loop Pads for Easy Disc Change
Most orbital sanders take 125 mm sanding discs, and they usually attach with a hook and loop system. Convenient and quick to change, you can go through the grits without needing special tools or much patience either. Just make sure you’re lining up the dust extraction holes on the pads.
You can almost always elevate an average power tool with premium accessories- an average drill with a professional drill bit can do a lot of good work, and the same can be said for sanding. You can save some of your hard-earned money in the long run if you get hold of quality sanding pads. As they say, “you buy cheap, you buy twice.”
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Orbital Sander FAQs
Why is an orbital sander sometimes called a random orbit sander?
If you were to use normal rotational energy in a sander, it would remove material, but you would also create a lot of circular shaped scratches. In order to shake things up and create what’s known as `an “eccentric pattern”, the best random orbital sanders use an offset cam to rotate the sanding disc and wobble it a bit to make sure the grit doesn’t move in the same direction for enough time to scratch the surface.
What can I use an orbital sander for?
The most common way to use an orbital sander is with discs of different grit sandpaper to smooth out and finish surfaces like wood or metal, ready for painting or varnishing. They’re great because they’re easy to handle and can remove a lot of material quickly, but they’re also effective at other tasks.
If you attach a polishing disc, you can use your random orbital sander to clean up paintwork, varnish or clear coat without using all that much elbow grease. The same random orbit that helps to avoid scratches in timber or plastic will work wonders on your car’s paintwork. Add a little polishing compound and you’ll buff things up to a deep shine in no time at all.
How can I get the most out of my orbital sander?
As with any power tool, practise makes perfect, but there’s a few techniques I use to get the most out of my sander:
Try to keep a firm, even pressure on the sanding pad to avoid creating ridges and get the most out of each sweep of your hand.
But don’t press too hard. A great mantra for using any piece of equipment is “let the tool do the work” Your sanding discs will last longer, and you won’t get nearly as tired.
Use a pencil and scribble across the work surface- this will help you keep track of where you’ve sanded, and once the pencil marks have disappeared, you’ll know you’ve sanded enough.
Use a variety of sanding grits- Usually the trick is to work up in numbers- start with a low grit to remove the bulk of the material and change for higher grits to create a smooth, glass-like finish.
This is probably the most important tip for using even the best random orbital sander- go slow! There’s no rushing if you want to get the best results, it’s as simple as that, the slower you go the more random the orbit, the less noticeable scratches there will be and the better the finish overall.
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