What are the Different Types of Electric Sander?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

A sander is a tool for smoothing or polishing wood and finishes using an abrasive-covered belt or disk. An electric sander is any of a number of types of power tool made for specialized jobs with this general purpose. Some of the most commonly found types of electric sander are belt sander, detail sander, disk sander, and orbital sander. There are also types of specialty sander for very specialized purposes, like metal finishing, pipe polishing, paint stripping, spindle sanding, burnishing, and drywall sanding.

Electric sanders can remove rust from old cars.
Electric sanders can remove rust from old cars.

A belt sander is an electric sander that spins a loop of sandpaper around two drums and can quickly remove material from the product. Because of this, they are usually used early in the process, i.e., they are not finishing sanders. They come in hand-held and stationary models, and because they produce so much sawdust, they are often sold with a cloth filter bag or a vacuum system to collect it. Some belt sanders have variable speed settings.

The orbital sander is an ideal finishing tool.
The orbital sander is an ideal finishing tool.

A detail sander is an type of electric sander for sanding in cramped areas and to achieve precise results. For this reason it may have features like a design to ensure low vibration, A variety of attachments or accessories—often various saw blades, knives, or rasps—can add to its usefulness.

A disk sander has a spinning wheel with sandpaper attached to its surface. It can be used on curved surfaces, whether for shaping or for removing rust, as on an autobody. The diameter of the disk on a disk sander is often 7 inches or 9 inches (17.78 cm or 22.86 cm), but they can come in other sizes as well, such as 5 inches or 6 inches (12.7 cm or 15.24 cm).

The type of electric sander known as an orbital sander comes in two varieties, both hand-held. The one known simply as an orbital sander uses a slow speed and a weight above a sanding pad to create a circular pattern of sanding in all directions. This approach is good for finishing. They come in ¼ and ½ sheet and other rectangular designs as well as having circular heads.

The random orbital sander, on the other hand, has two simultaneous motions, with the sanding disk both spinning and moving in an ellipse. This motion avoids the possibility of circular scratches and makes the random orbital sander desirable as a finishing tool. Some come with variable speed controls, which can make it suitable for use as a polishing tool, and dust collection.

The belt sander is the most powerful type of electric sander.
The belt sander is the most powerful type of electric sander.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


The Navy is an organization that uses a lot of electric sanders, because they are constantly removing old paint and corrosion from their ships and then repainting.

A ocean-going ship is in a constant battle with corrosion. Paint provides protection from the rust. When the paint starts to peel, it has to be replaced or trouble can start. A lot of the process is done by hand, but sometimes it's easier to use a power sander, which speeds up the process quite a bit.


Our drywall company improved productivity quite a bit by switching to an electric sander. Finishing the drywall once it's been hung, taped, and prepped with drywall mud is really the last step in the process before cleanup.

A large house could take quite a while for guys with manual sanding blocks to finish. A commercial job, even longer. With the electric sanders, it takes a lot less time, especially with the cordless units. They cost a bit, but it was well worth it. They paid for themselves in no time just in saved labor.


I do a lot of woodwork as a hobby, and I would definitely be lost without my electric tools, particularly the sander. You can do anything in a wood shop by hand if you have the time, but for precision and ease of use, you can't beat power tools.

The exception is if I have to do really fine sanding work, particularly in a small space. Sometimes that kind of thing just needs to be done by hand to avoid taking away too much wood. The old saying goes, you can sometimes remove more wood if you don't take enough, but you can almost never put it back once it's gone.

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