What is a Random Orbit Sander?

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  • Written By: Dan Cavallari
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 January 2020
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Finishing work on wood carpentry projects has come a long way since the days of hand sanding with sand paper. for larger, flat-surface projects, a belt sander -- a powered devices that moves a sandpaper belt at high speed in one direction -- works wonders to remove larger amounts of material. However, after using a belt sander, hand sanding becomes necessary to remove scratches from the sandpaper. If you want to remove less material and smooth out flat services without using just your hands and sandpaper, try a random orbit sander.

A random orbit sander is a hand-held, powered device -- either by battery or by plugging into an AC outlet -- that removes less material than a belt sander, thereby allowing a smoother finish. In addition, the unique movement of a random orbit sander prevents scratches: the sanding surface moves in a circle, but it simultaneously moves in an elliptical motion to ensure that the grains of the sandpaper never cross the same section of wood twice. This gives the random orbit sander a leg up on regular orbit sanders, which may cross the same section of wood twice, causing scratches.


For removing paint from furniture or molding, or cleaning a surface between coats of finish, the random orbit sander works extremely well. It takes off just enough material to accomplish the job without digging too deep into the wood. The random orbit sander also works well on jointed projects -- with two flat pieces of wood meeting at a ninety degree angle -- to eliminate any seams or uneven surfaces. For curved surfaces, a disc sander might be a better option, though a random orbit sander might be appropriate to accomplish smaller tasks on curved projects.

When purchasing a random orbit sander, be prepared to spend between $50-200, depending on your specific needs. Many random orbit sanders come with dust removal systems, which abate the dust created by the machine so it doesn't end up in your eyes, nose, and mouth. Some dusts created by your random orbit sander can be harmful or even toxic, so a dust abatement system is usually a worthwhile investment. Many random orbit sanders come with optional abatement systems, though they may cost more than sanders without dust abatement options. Some random orbit sanders even allow you to connect a shop-vac to it, serving as a less expensive alternative to a built-in dust abatement system.


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