The Definitive Guide to Wood Sanders: Types, Uses and Comparisons

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Wood sanders are a crucial bit of equipment for any kind of woodworker. Sanding down surfaces is an essential part of the finishing process whether that is finalizing a piece of furniture or getting the best finish on a new wooden floor. Sanders come in many different shapes, sizes, styles, and with lots of different features. Here is everything you need to know about the multi-faceted and highly versatile sander.

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1. What Is A Wood Sander?

Image of a wood sander in action

Sanders are primarily used to polish surfaces and remove unwanted surface materials. You can think of them as horizontal (instead of circular) lathes.

A sander of wood is one of the most essential pieces of equipment that craftsmen require and they come in various types.

Let’s start simple. A flat lightweight sander is used by hand to rub against surfaces. Then there are more modern versions also known as power sanders (the different types of power sanders will be discussed later on). Most power sanders can polish the surface in different patterns, using sandpaper.

Most power sanders are handheld tools so they are easy to move around. Some even come with batteries so you can be away from a power source and still be able to sand down surfaces. This is particularly useful in outdoor work. Some larger types of sanders are designed to be installed on a workbench or at a construction site so these aren’t very portable but they are great for larger and more demanding jobs.

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i. What Are The Coarse Grits Of Sandpaper?

Let’s specify what coarse grits of sandpaper are. The grit of sandpaper is a classification of the bulk of abrasives that sandpaper contains. Coarse grits vary in range. The higher the number of coarse grit, the higher the quantity of the abrasive. Higher coarse grits (80-120 grits) result in smoother surfaces. 

Whereas, the lower the coarse grit (40-60 grits), the lower the quantity of the abrasive which means that it’ll be appropriate for merely scraping off materials. Moreover, there also exist fine sandpapers of about (360-400 grits) which are most suitable for finishing off surfaces.

It is important to note the difference between scraping, smoothing, and finishing off surfaces. It is also necessary to choose suitable coarse grits of sandpapers that will work well with the nature of your work.

ii. An Amusing Overview Of The Origin Of Sanders

During the 20th Century, there was a significant personage by the name of Clarke who lived in Dallas, Texas. It is proclaimed that he tended to pay consistent visits to his neighborhood tavern. 

Now, it is no secret that he found the wood bar tops to be disturbing, for they would cause bruises to his elbows. Therefore, in 1916, he designed and created a sanding machine specifically innovated to refurbish the bar tops. Here we are centuries later still inspired by his genius invention.

iii. What Does A Wood Sander Do?

Image of an orbital sander

A wood sander is a power tool designed for the purpose of smoothing and shaping wooden surfaces. It’s an essential tool for woodworkers, carpenters, and DIY enthusiasts. Here’s what a wood sander does:

  1. Surface Smoothing: The primary function of a wood sander is to smooth rough or uneven wooden surfaces. Wood often has imperfections, such as bumps, ridges, or rough spots, which can be removed with a sander.
  2. Removing Imperfections: Sanding can eliminate imperfections like splinters, knots, and small cracks, creating a smoother and safer surface for various woodworking projects.
  3. Finishing Touch: Sanding is an integral part of the finishing process in woodworking. It helps prepare the wood surface for staining, painting, or applying a clear finish, ensuring a uniform and attractive appearance.
  4. Shaping and Contouring: Some sanders, like belt sanders and spindle sanders, are used for shaping and contouring wood. They can be used to round off edges, create bevels, or form intricate shapes in wood. For instance, many Victorian doors’ finished are done with door sanders.
  5. Material Removal: Depending on the type of sander and the grit of sandpaper used, sanders can remove varying amounts of material. Coarser grits remove more material, while finer grits provide a smoother finish with minimal material removal.
  6. Size Reduction: In some cases, sanders can be used to reduce the thickness of wood. For example, a thickness sander is specifically designed to make boards thinner while maintaining an even surface.

There are several types of wood sanders available, including belt sanders, orbital sanders, random orbital sanders, palm sanders, and more. Each type has its unique features and best-suited applications. Woodworkers use these sanders to achieve different finishes and to address specific needs, whether it’s quick stock removal, fine finishing, or intricate shaping. The choice of sander and sandpaper grit depends on the specific requirements of a woodworking project.


2. Sander Types and Uses 

i. Belt Sander

Image of an Electric belt sander

This is one of the major requirements of any contemporary workshop. The belt sander, true to its name, uses a sanding belt that comes enfolded upon its two drums. The drum placed at the front moves freely whereas the back-end drum is motorized.

The belt sander comes in various sizes, and if you are new at woodworking; the small size of about (3*18 inches) would be most suitable since it is easiest to handle and learn on. The larger belt sander (3*24 inches) is favored by professionals for its more pronounced speed, balance, and power.

ii. Orbital Sander 

Image of the best orbital sander

These are also labeled as quarter-sheet-sanders because they use a 1/4th of a caliber (9*11) sheet of sandpaper, which can be cut manually.

Orbital sanders for wood have high-quality handling. A benefit of this lightweight quality is that damaging the surfaces of your project will be near impossible.

This sander seems to be designed for very top-class work, like achieving an extremely smooth surface and softening out any sharp edges.

iii. Detail Sander (Triangle sander, Corner sander, Mouse sander)

Image of a detail sander

A detail sander is a modification of an orbital sander. This sander is unique because it uses a self-adhesive sandpaper that comes in the form of a triangular pad at the bottom. 

Fun fact: A fun fact about mouse sanders is that they get their name from their compact, mouse-like design, with a triangular or teardrop-shaped sanding pad.

Due to its admirable shape and small size, this sander is most pertinent to doing peculiar and detailed works. This often includes reaching into tight corners or enclosed spaces, like the rods of a table. That’s not all, unusual shapes can easily be sanded using a detail sander.

Therefore, a detail sander is ideal for furniture and crafts making (but is not limited to these industries). If you need to restore furniture in the UK, jump to that locale’s top list.

iv. Random Orbital Sander (Dual Action Sander)

Image of a dual action orbital sander

The random orbital sander is a sort of offspring of the Oscillating Spindle Sander. This is because they both have similar features and are not square-shaped but rather have circular pads. The pad’s movement is said to be similar to the orbital sander in terms of the small circular motions that it performs, but in addition to that, it can also spin in circles.

The pads use alternate discs depending on the variant. This might either be a pressure-sensitive adhesive or a rather velcro-like surface. Furthermore, the pad sizes also vary and can range from 5 to 6 inches in diameter.

The dual-action sander can combine the speed and combativeness of the belt sander to obtain a better finishing look. Not only that, but it can also perform the tasks of an orbital sander, though perhaps not as effective as the traditional orbital sander.

It is a must-have and one of the first tools every maker and DIY hobbyist should have.

v. File Sander (Finger sander)

Image of the best file sander

Fun fact: Because of its slender belt the file sander closely resembles a chainsaw.

These file sanders can either be air-powered or electrically powered. Because of its narrow structure, it is very helpful when it comes to sanding the most minuscule spaces and is, therefore, appropriate for detailed work.

File sanders are ideal for auto body repair.

vi. Disc Sander

Image of the best disc sander

This is not a traditional sander because it does not operate on its own. It is most commonly used as an attachment for other drills. The disc sander perfectly resembles discs (as indicated by the name itself). These discs are prone to spinning when attached to the end of any drill. 

Disc sanders have umpteen advantages. Firstly, disc sanders can obtain a higher surface area when mounted, because in that case, they use wheels instead of discs. Secondly, the woodworker can use their preferred grit size according to the requirements of the job. Thirdly, thanks to the rotational speed of handheld versions, finishing of large areas should be no obstacle. And lastly, the stationary form of disc sanders for wood can be used on metal and plastic as well (what a bonus!). 

The stationary version can adjust according to the surface which is a great aid when it comes to arranging the angle at which your piece is set.

vii. Oscillating Spindle Sander (OSS)

Image of an oscillating spindle sander

Would you like to guess what this sander resembles? I simply cannot refrain from shooting a fun fact out; it bears resemblance to a drum! This is because of its drum-like feature jutting out from a tabletop.

Any indentations are a guaranteed goner with this spindle sander! All because the drum moves up and down, through the pole, allowing the surface to be completely embedded into the tabletop. Therefore, it prevents any burn marks from being caused on the wood. Moreover, by spreading the friction across a greater surface area the wear of the sanding surface is reduced (which also increases the durability of the drum).

The OSS comes in various sizes (ranging between 1/2 to 4-inch diameters). Additionally, a few versions also come with plug-ins that can increase their functionality. These plug-ins can convert the drum into a belt sander, making it a multi-purpose sander of wood.

Generally, OSS is used to smooth out the edges of planks or boards, however, with the introduction of larger versions, it is now possible to create sloped edges by tilting the drum at an angle of 45 degrees.

Because of its vertical formation, it is ideal when it comes to large-scale projects (especially on curved surfaces) however, the smaller versions also work effectively for DIYs.

viii. Drywall Sander

Image of a drywall sanders

Another interesting fun fact: it greatly resembles a metal detector. The drywall sander appears to be a long pole ending circularly at the end. 

There are different models when it comes to drywall sanders. One has its handle near the center, for better grip to perform close-up jobs, while the others have rectangular sanding platforms.

The sander is mainly used to smooth surfaces and remove any surplus fixatives. The long pole-like feature also allows for a longer reach resulting in the sander being extended up to ceilings (say no to ladders!). 

Moreover, to the relief of woodworkers, these sanders are installed with a vacuum. Now there will be a less chaotic storm of sawdust, how wonderful!

Drywall sanders are ideal for house construction projects. For more insights into how to make the most of them on drywall, read the in-depth “Drywall Sanders” guide written by our very own Ethan (a.k.a. myself).

ix. Sanding Block

Image of a sanding block

Are you an efficient conserver of energy? If the answer is yes, you’ll be pleased to find that this specific tool does not function on power. 

Simply put, a sanding block is used to carry sandpaper. One side of the block remains flat and this is where the sandpaper is placed. On the other side you can install add-ons which can be used to hold the sandpaper in place. These add-ons could include bar handles, clips, or even teeth.

Since this simple sand block calls for no electricity it can be used in wet locations that lack power supplies (how useful!). 

However, since it is a hand tool it could take a while, especially for new woodworkers to grasp the skill for the best finish. But worry not, for they are much easier to handle than power sanders.

x. Table Sander (bench sander)

Image of best table sander

From the moment you hear the name of the bench sander, you are hit with its greatest downfall. It lacks geographical mobility and cannot be moved around. 

But here’s the merit of it; they have a greater power force for sanding compared to the other portable sanders. 

Want to know it’s best feature? You can use both hands to control the workpiece which means greater control and better results. Furthermore, with the help of fine grit paper, you can end with a smooth leveled finish.

However, it is worth noting that due to its overpowering supply of power, it is not appropriate for precision work.

The table sanders for wood are ideal for many tasks one of which is guitar making.

xi. Floor Sanders (deck sander, drum sander, floor edger, random orbital floor sander)

Image of the best floor sander

The two main variations of floor sanders are drum sanders and edge sanders.

Let’s firstly talk about floor sanders as a whole. as their name suggests, they are used for sanding and prepping floors; including the trademark concrete floor.

xii. Drum Sanders

Image of the best drum sander

Here’s another fun fact: This drum sander resembles a lawnmower. A larger, stronger, more powerful picture of a lawnmower is a spot-on semblance. 

Drum sanders, similar to lawnmowers, are pushed around and are used to rid floors of all unwanted substances (such as paint, varnish or adhesives).

xiii. Edging Sander

Image of the best edging sander

This edging sander often aids the drum sanders. Because of the immense size of the drum sander, it might be difficult for it to reach the edges of floorboards or stairwells.

Much like the drum sander, it must be handled with caution to avoid any injuries or to avoid indentations or hooves on the floor.


3. How Much Does A Sander Cost?

  • Price of a Belt Sender: can vary between $7200 to $8000.
  • Price of an Orbital Sander: Can vary between $40 to $95.
  • Price of a Detail Sander: Can vary between $10 to $30.
  • Price of a Random Orbital Sander: Can vary between $12 to $60.
  • Price of a File Sander:  Can vary between $43 to $63.
  • Price of a Disc Sander: Can vary between $20 to $30.
  • Price of an Oscillating Spindle Sander: Can vary between $1600 to $1900.
  • Price of a Drywall Sander: Can vary between $40 to $80.
  • Price of a Sanding Block:  Can vary between $0.2 to $0.6.
  • Price of a Table Sander: Can vary between  $10000 to $26000.
  • Price of a Drum Sander: Can vary between $5000 to $75000.
  • Price of an Edging Sander: Can vary greatly and comes up to a $1000.

 A wood sander can be ideal for cabinet making. This is mostly because cabinetries usually end up with built-in and interlocking components, which are most appropriately sanded by Belt Sanders.

Similarly, belt sanders for woods can also be used for finishing off furniture pieces. It is also perfect when it comes to removing previous finishes such as those of paint or varnish.


4. How To Use A Wood Sander?

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Because of all the different variations and models of sanders that are now available, it is impossible to have a singular method of using sanders for wood. Each sander of wood is unique in its quality, function, features as well as mode of use. For that reason, the above descriptions have disclosed the in’s and out’s of their distinctive usages and features.

Unravel and decipher the type of sander appropriate for your task, and get moving on your work!


5. Important Specs & Features

Every wood sander has different types of important features and specs. Some are useful for dust collection while some others are most effective for their speed.

Engineers and designers are trying their best to make our sanding more enjoyable and comfortable. Here I am going to tell you some important features that you can look for while buying a cordless or electric sander.

Speed: Different types of electric sanders have different variable speed controls. Control is the key to a smooth finish and variable speed is the most important aspect of control. Some sanders for wood give you selection switches and you can change it between a range to get a smooth finish.

Dust collection: You can not avoid dust while sanding. Nowadays, most electric sanders come with a built-in dust-collecting bag or canister. Some sanders for wood offer options with which you can connect your sander with your shop vacuum or external dust collection system.

All sanders do not offer this option though but I recommend buying one in which you will have this option.

Better hand grip: You have to find a sander which you can hold for a long period. As sanding is a difficult and lengthy job, you have to find a grip with which you can feel comfortable. There are lots of parameters you have to think about, such as hand size and hand strength. 

There is a variation in the width of the handgrip in different sanders where you will wrap your fingers. You have to notice how easily you can reach the on/off switch and how easily you can wrap your fingers on the grip. Till now no sander has been made which is suitable for all handgrips. So none can tell you which sander is good for your hand grip and which sander will make you feel comfortable. 

Besides the size of the grip, you have to choose a sander with a soft over-mold on the grip of the sander that will help in reducing vibration and fatigue. I recommend you to visit a retailer where your preferred sanders for wood are available and hold the grips of the machines with your hand to test if it is suitable for you or not.

Long leash: There are lots of sanders that come with 12-foot-long cords and some with even longer cords. Always choose a sander that comes with a long cord so that you don’t need to have an extension cord. Long cords help you to get from one end of a big frame to the other.

Lastly, once you have narrowed down which type of sander will work best for your requirements you should also learn about which types of sandpaper and what grits you need to achieve the best results.


6. Different Types of Sanders

The following are the main types of sanders:

Image of different types of sanders (collage)

Belt Sander: Belt sander also known as a strip sander has two drums and an electric motor. The electric motor helps to turn the back drum and the front drum spins independently. The sander has a belt wrapping around the drums and the belt size also has a variation such as 3” x 18”, 3” x 21”, 3” x 24”, 4” x 21”, and 4” x 24”.It is also considered to be one of the most aggressive sanders.

Orbital Sander: There are two types of orbital sanders on the market today. Such as:

Standard Orbital Sander: The first one being the standard orbital sander which is normally classified by the size of the sanding pad and by its shape which is normally a square or rectangle. 

There are at least two subcategories to the standard orbital sander. The first being the quarter sheet orbital sander which can hold a quarter sheet of 9 by 11 standard size sandpaper. The next category is the half sheet orbital sander. This holds a half sheet of sandpaper and this provides two usable pieces out of one sheet.

Random orbital sander: This Sander is characterized by a round sending pad with round sanding discs. 

Disc Sander: Disc sander consists of a wheel. The wheel is attached to circular-shaped sandpaper which is replaceable. An electric motor or compressed air turns the wheel. The idea of a disc sander is that it’s meant for sanding your end grain of timber because it is very hard to get a good clean cut with a hand on its grip.

Finishing Sander: Finishing sander is usually used for those tasks which can’t be adequately done with a belt sander, orbital sander, or disc sander. Best finishing sanders always consist of a square or rectangular standing pad. The sander is used for fine finishing and smooth work. 


7. Some Sander Type Comparisons

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i. Which sander will be best for you? 

It is quite difficult to choose as there are lots of sanders available. Here I’m presenting a comparison between the main sanders for wood which will help you to decide the best sander for you.

  • Random Orbit Sander vs Sheet or Finish Sander: Random Orbit sanders for wood are more commonly sold today. A finish sander has a square bottom and it sands by just moving back and forth in the same motion over and over again. 

A Random Orbit Sander by contrast also has a pad of back and forth. It’s usually round and that pad also turns in a circular motion. So that makes a big difference because when you are sanding the finish sander tends to leave marks. That is obvious as it will just move in back and forth in the same motion. 

A random orbit sander by contrast, because it’s turning as it sands can help limit some of those obvious marks. So that’s the key difference between the two.

A random orbit sander tends to be far more aggressive in sanding. A finish sander by contrast is less aggressive because it just moves in the same motion. So it is a little bit easier to control if you are a beginner. 

  • Belt sander vs. Disc Sander: Belt Sanders for wood are ideal for medium to heavy-duty work such as sanding rough-sawn timber, removing old paint, and sanding large areas like floors, planks, and panelling.

For most jobs around the home, Makita 76 mm belt sander is ideal. It’s easy to handle and will tackle anything from sanding your hardwood deck to removing paint from edges.

On the other hand, if you want to sand a wood slice you can use a disc sander. 

A disc sander is also used for removing wood debris and other unwanted materials. If you want to sand plastic materials, you can also use a disc sander. You can remove the wastage from the plastic or wood surface with a disc sander. You can make a DIY disc sander at home.

The disc sander is mostly used for stationary purposes. So it is ideal for sanding the small edges whereas belt sander is ideal for sanding any flat space. It is not as aggressive as a belt sander. 

I hope this gave you a taste of how non-trivial it can be to compare sanders. If you’re left craving for more, head on to our Belt Sander vs. Orbital Sander detailed guide.

ii. What Kind of Sander Do I Need?

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There are hundreds of sanders for wood available in markets and it is very difficult to choose which should you buy and what will be needed for you. All sanders have their advantages and disadvantages. But before choosing a sander brand and type, you have to take care of these matters:

Sander materials: Though most sanders are effective in sanding all the common materials, you should make sure the sander you are getting can comfortably work with the material you intend to use it with.

Shapes and sizes: You will need different sanders according to your object’s shape and size. If you have a small object with many small edges and small curves, then you will need a different sander than sanding a flat and large square object.

Surface quality: All electric sanders for wood do not give the same smoothing and finishing surface.

Some offer a smooth surface quality whereas others offer a rough surface quality. If you are looking for a sander primarily for removing paint from an exterior surface, have a look at our article on the best sanders for paint removal

Budget: It is difficult to choose the best quality sander at a reasonable price. Consider your budget and also the accessories of a sander. 


8. Some Top Sander Models

i. Makita 9903

Makita 9903 is our pick for best belt sander for jobs that require a high degree of performance. The 8.8 amp high-speed motor will spin the 3″/21″ belt anywhere from 690 to 1440 feet per minute. It also includes an auto-tracking mechanism to prevent the belt from working itself off. By the way, if you’re visiting from across the pond, Ethan recently reviewed the best belt sanders in the UK while on a short work trip. Gather tea and biscuits for this showdown!

Image of Makita 9903 wood sander

For situations that require a lot of movement, such a s sanding a floor, the Makita includes a 16-foot cord that allows you to do the entire room from a single outlet. A little debris on a freshly sanded work area can be a problem, which is why this model includes a cloth dust bag to reduce the cleanup. 

The sender is built Jobsite tough and the only major complaint that surfaces, again and again, is the weight of the unit. Even though the weight of the tool is a plus in heavy sanding environments. Built for heavy use, this unit will work well on everything from household furniture refinishing to the heavy-duty floor or metal sanding.

ii. The Black & Decker Random Orbital Sander

The Black & Decker Random Orbital Sander comes with a uniquely designed durable plastic that houses all the components. This makes for a lightweight unit that is impact-resistant. This ensures minimum shock to the device and that it remains in optimum condition even after impact. 



Image of The Black & Decker Random Orbital Sander



Maneuvering this gadget is as easy as it gets, thanks to a rubber-coated, streamlined handle for comfort. A handle extension allows for even more workability. It also helps improve grip when working, allowing you to work for extended hours without fatigue or sore fingers. Another unique feature of the Black & Decker is its rubber-sealed main switch. 

This helps prevent dust from entering the switch compartment, maintains soft control, and ultimately improves the life of the gadget. The random orbital sanding action of this gadget is what makes it what it is.

iii. Makita BO4900V

A useful variable speed dial allows you to operate the Makita BO4900V at any setting between 4000 and 10000 orbits per minute enabling you to achieve precision and efficiency on several different types of projects. 

It’s a super smooth half-sheet model, it doesn’t vibrate much and is equipped with corrosion-resistant metal clamps. You can hook it up to a vacuum hose too.



Image of Makita BO4900V



iv. Makita 9403

This whisper-quiet unit ( for a typical belt sander) produced only 84 decibels of noise but still provides great results. The powerful 11 amp motor can run its 4-inch by 24-inch belt at an impressive 1640 feet per minute for quick stock removal.

Furthermore a labyrinth constructed interior protects the motor and bearings from particle contamination. 

Image of Makita 9403


The included bag is good for small jobs but many owners just attach it to a shop vac for dust collection or connect a hose leading to a covered bucket when doing larger jobs. 

9. Conclusion

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Wood sanding is not just a profession, it is an art as well. Many people want to know about it because they consider it a hobby. However, wood sanding is no easy task. But you can surely make it enjoyable and comfortable if you follow the right steps. Always buy a wood sander from a reputable manufacturer along with all the important features to get the best results for your project. For a curated list of the latest all-purpose sanders, I have recently updated my top picks. Comment below and tell me what your top choice is!

Ethan is a talented writer with a knack for polishing prose. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for language, he specializes in making wood pieces for his local community, family, and friends look and feel as smooth as silk. Born an raised in a small town near Madison, WI, Ethan preaches the art of polishing to any traveller through his lands.​
Ethan Thompson

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