Random Orbital Sander or Sheet Sander – How to Pick the Best One

A woodworker’s greatest mistake would be to forget about the importance of hand sanding, as nothing can quite do what the human hand can do. It’s the best method for working with difficult patterns and contours, and sometimes the only way because machines are not as precise as our skilled hands.

Sometimes, however, we are faced with a job so big that using an electric sander is unavoidable. Basically, hand sanding is completely unpractical when you have the task of working on a very large surface because it’s not about details anymore – consistency and efficiency become a priority.

You can’t really keep up a steady pace for many hours and chances are you will get tired and even injure yourself in the process. That’s why it’s better to leave the smoothing of the surface to the big guns – the hand-held electric sanders. Although there are many kinds: the most efficient and widely used are the random orbital sander and the sheet sander.

There is nothing like these two in the sanding business. Without further ado, we’ll get right on elaborating the pros, cons, and perks of these two mechanical masterpieces, all in order to help you choose the best option for your craft. Let us see which one is best for you – random orbital sander or sheet sander.

A Comparative Analysis of Random Orbital Sander vs. Sheet Sander

The Random Orbital Sander

The random orbital sander has been the pinnacle of sanding technology in the last two decades. It’s a special machine because it possesses a motor that allows the pad to move really fast in all sorts of direction – completely randomised, hence the name. That random movement is revolutionary because it completely removes the swirls and marks the sheet sander leave behind.

An orbital sander has sanding disks, not sheets, as the sanding medium. They have holes in them, through which dust is collected and sucked in to reduce debris on the surface. Although they are easy to hook up and replace, the disks are costly and sometimes hard to find.

What the orbital sander is best at is material removal and there is simply no tool that comes even close it in this department. It can cover massive surfaces in small amounts of time, all while leaving a smooth and slick surface. The reason for this is the incredibly strong, but small motor that is housed within them, allowing the machine to do most of the work. This type of efficiency reduces stress on the arm and doesn’t require pressure to be put at all!

Even though it’s an incredible machine, many beginners or small scale craftsmen find it very expensive and too big of an investment. The difficulty of finding suitable discs sometimes is just another add up to this problem, especially if you don’t live near a big supplier. Although the strong engine and the circular pads are a reason the orbital sander is the best possible option, they are at the same time the biggest downsides.

A strong motor means the sander is very aggressive and powerful – that can lead to the destruction of material if the craftsman is not suitably prepared. Even though the pads, albeit expensive, are easy to change – their round shape makes them completely unsuitable for work in corners and small surfaces. It’s still a formidable tool and there hasn’t been a suitable rival in recent years.

The Sheet Sander

An older brother of the orbital sander, the sheet sander functions a little bit differently. They possess engines that are not as powerful, but more durable and can last longer because they don’t spend that much power. Because that they come off as lightweight and practical. Also, the sheet sander doesn’t have a randomised way of moving the pad, it just moves back and forth at really high speeds.

That allows us to point out the biggest and most important pro that a sheet sander possesses – it doesn’t require expensive, hard to find disks to use as a sanding medium. Instead, you work with regular pieces of sandpaper that can be bought almost anywhere! You just cut off a size that fits the pad and sticks to it using a special adherent. Plus, the machine itself is very cheap, so this is an economic win, all in all. It is still the best solution for working in corners and tight spaces – because of the square shape of the pad. Not even the random orbital sander can match its excellence there.

However, the sheet grinder has some flaws. The thing experts are worried about the most is the poor results it achieves when removing larger portions of material, even leaving marks and swirls in the process. The fairly weak engine requires more time to hold it, which can cause numbness, pain and in extreme cases – even injury sometimes.

As expensive as orbital sander discs are, they never tear, which is a big problem when it comes to sandpaper that is used with the sheet sander. The pieces can rip at any moment, bringing work to a halt and costing you valuable time. Even though it’s an excellent tool to work between coats, you may have to create holes in the sandpaper in order to allow the dust to be sucked in. Despite some flaws, it’s still widely used.

The Verdict – Random Orbital Sander or Sheet Sander

Both sanders have their own specialties and that’s precisely the fact most professionals would recommend you to have BOTH at any time! You will want to work on both big surfaces and corners, to touch up and do layers. The benefits and weaknesses are there, but only together will these two allow you to make the most out of your sanding skill.

The random orbital sander would be excellent for someone who works often on big surfaces and the sheet sander is an ideal choice for small remodelling work. By combining your skill with knowledge how to use them properly will truly make you a quality craftsman that knows how to get his job done!


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Hey there, I’m John, the Founder of Orbital Sanders Australia. We believe in empowering people with insanely detailed information to make woodworking a happier, safer, and more productive hobby.

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