The Best Orbital Power Sanders of 2023 - Power Sander Reviews

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These tools let you quickly strip weathered exterior paint, remove a finish, smooth a tabletop, and do basic metal prep. Rotary Sanding Discs

The Best Orbital Power Sanders of 2023 - Power Sander Reviews

Orbital sanders are primarily wood-smoothing tools. But they do a lot more than just that and in the process become a versatile workshop staple. Use these power tools to strip paint or sand the gloss off a painted surface to prepare it for the next coat. The tool strips rust, cleans up flea market finds, and acts as a power file to take the sharp edge off a freshly-cut piece of metal. Put a 40-grit disc on the tool and it acts as a grinder; apply a 400-grit disc and it’s a polisher.

We’re constantly using orbital sanders at work and at home, testing them, evaluating them, and getting feedback from users. Read on for our advice on buying these use-tested tools, our reviews, and tips on how to maintain a sander.

Most of our test sanders are random-orbit types with a round pad measuring 5 or 6 inches across. Random orbit means the pad spins and oscillates in, just that, a random orbital motion. This reduces the chances of leaving swirl marks on the surface and allows you to move the sander both with and across the grain. We also tested an orbital sander with a square pad (also called a quarter-sheet sander). These tools sand with a consistent orbital motion and work more slowly than random-orbit types. But the square pad allows them to sand into corners.

Another difference between these is that the random-orbit variety take sandpaper discs that attach to their bases with hooks and loops. Orbital sanders use peel-and-stick sandpaper that comes precut or that you cut to fit, or you attach an abrasive sheet to the tool with the clamps on the sander’s sides. Both types of sanders have a bag that will capture most of the dust the tool produces. For more thorough dust control, use a sander that has a round exhaust port to facilitate hooking up to a hose on a shop vacuum.

We evaluated both battery-powered sanders (called cordless) and corded models. At the outset of the test, we wondered if the battery would cause a cordless sander to be too heavy. But when we weighed the two types of tools, we found they weigh about the same, once you factor in the cord’s heft. Select a cordless sander if you spend a lot of time on job sites and already have lots of cordless tool work going on. Cordless tools are handy and more mobile when you’re climbing a ladder or a scaffold because you don’t have to contend with the weight of a cord hanging down.

Select a corded tool if you spend long sanding sessions at a bench, especially if you can plug the sander directly into an outlet without an extension cord. In these cases, cord drag isn’t an issue and there isn’t a pressing need for mobility. A good example of this is when you sand a piece of furniture. You just need to work your way down through each grit, slowly perfecting the sanded surface.

To put these tools through the paces, we drew rectangles on pieces of oak and maple, plywood, and softwood and sanded each rectangle with an 80-grit disc. Next, we emptied the dust container or bag to check the volume of dust the sander collected. We also carefully wiped down the work surface to get a sense of how much dust the sander missed. As we worked, we assessed the sander’s vibration and whether it produced an unpleasant gyroscopic effect when we lifted it off the test board. We examined the sanded surface under bright light to see whether the tools left swirl marks.

Any of the sanders in this test will serve a homeowner. Professional-grade models such as the sanders from Makita, DeWalt, Bosch, and Metabo-HPT vibrate less and are more durable. For homeowner-duty power tools that give nearly a professional level of performance, see the reviews of the Ryobi sanders and the Craftsman. Also note that a less expensive tool equipped with a high-quality abrasive sheet will prove more than adequate for most uses around the house.

Scroll down to see our reviews, and keep scrolling right to the end to read a brief tutorial on how to use a sander, and how to protect yourself from the sanding dust that you'll inevitably create.

The ROS20VSC is comfortable, sands fast, and has the best dust collection of the corded sanders we tested. Because its dust control is so good (owing to a rubber O-ring seal on the dust port, good airflow, and an airtight dust canister), less dust stays on the surface to get ground into the abrasive pad. That means the pad stays cleaner and lasts longer. Its speed control dial is behind the handle; you can get at it easily, but it’s possible to accidentally bump it out of position. The sanded surface it left was very nice—a hair less smooth than the Milwaukee 6034-21’s below but still of exceptional quality.

DeWalt’s DWE6421 is a journeyman power tool—a good, solid, smoothly operating machine essentially identical in feel and sanding performance to the Craftsman below. Having noticed the similarities, we did some superficial disassembly of them both, removing their bases and the top housing covers. There may be something tucked deep inside the DeWalt to give it an edge in terms of durability, but it wasn’t obvious from above or below. Putting aside cosmetics of color and slightly different rubberized surfaces, these appear to be identical in sanding performance, start and stop speed, weight, and configuration.

This little sander hits the sweet spot. It’s not as aggressive as the others, but it does sand well and with a high degree of control. Its dust pickup was surprisingly good for such an inexpensive and simple power tool. And this is more of an observation, but the power button is somewhat stiff. In all, we rate the P411 as a good fit for the frugal power-tool shopper.

Like the DeWalt DWE6421, the CMEW231 operates smoothly, leaving a well-sanded surface. It also appears, even under superficial disassembly and analysis, to be nearly identical to that sander. We can’t say they’re exactly the same mechanically, but it’s possible that the DWE6421 possesses heavy-duty components that this sander does not. But if you’ve already bought into the Craftsman ecosystem, you might prefer this sander.

At full speed, DeWalt’s DCW210D1 was the fastest and most aggressive sander we tested. Yet it still sands with very little jarring vibration. It’s also important to note that it did better than many other sanders at lower speeds—some exhibit more vibration and loss of effectiveness as you dial back their speed, but not this one. If you’re already invested in the company’s cordless system, this tool is a sensible addition. Even if you’re not, it’s a great place to start since you get the sander, a charger, a battery, and a bag. And the company makes a wide range of equipment from drill and impact drivers to saws that work with the same battery.

The RS290G is a simple and solid sander, but its dust-control bag is not nearly as efficient as the airtight canisters on the Bosch or the Milwaukee. This isn’t to say that it does a poor job picking up dust, considering its competitors do it nearly flawlessly. This Ryobi sands with good speed and power and completed sanding its test areas in about the same amount of time as those others. In terms of the quality of sanded surface it produces, we’d say that it’s surprisingly good for the price.

The Makita XOB01T seemed to sand as fast as the DeWalt above, which is surprising given that its top speed is 1,000 rpm less than its yellow competitor. Even with the big battery, it felt well-balanced, and its dust pickup is good. Downsides? The sander does has a powerful gyroscopic action that requires a slight forward bias to keep it sanding on track. Once you get used to that, you’re good to go.

(The price above is for the whole kit, two batteries, charger, and case included. If you’re after the tool by itself, look here.)

The 6034-21 was the smoothest-running corded sander of the bunch, with a distinct lack of gyroscopic wobble and a pleasant vibration-free motion. Its dust control was good, but removing the dust lid from the canister was ridiculously difficult. Furthermore, it’s possible that the lid feels like it’s snapped on when it isn’t. You sand for a few minutes and find that the sander is a dusty mess, as is whatever you’re working on. Just be sure you have that lid attached properly, and you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant power tool that works smoothly and quickly, leaving a flawless surface.

You don’t have to muscle this sander to keep it in place, and it feels as if it floats over the board’s surface. However, the design of the dust canister and the way it sticks out over the rear of the tool is a bit cumbersome—especially considering that this is a cordless sander, we would have liked if it were a bit more nimble. So the ideal application is smoothing out a table top or dealing with a rough spot on wood siding. It’s better there, let’s say, than working inside a drawer. To be fair, however, if you opt out of the canister, you can easily hook up a hose from a shop vacuum to its outlet port.

Metabo’s SV12SG was the only quarter-sheet (non-oscillating) orbital sander in the test. It’s a good power tool that transmitted very little vibration to our hand as it went about its work, somewhat slowly producing a reliably smooth surface without swirl marks. Its dust collection is quite good (if not as good as other corded models), but its dust port isn’t easily adaptable to a vacuum. On the other hand, it does have a major advantage in that you’ve got multiple options for its abrasive sheets. You can use the peel-and-stick kind, buy the pre-cut 5.5 x 4.5-inch sheets designed for such machines, or buy a roll of 4.5-inch-wide abrasive paper from which you cut pieces to fit the sander.

This Ridgid orbital sander has a soft-start feature that brings the machine up to speed with a gentle ramp-up. Our only complaint is a small one: A tight fit between the dust-bag collar and the battery makes removing the bag somewhat difficult.

Porter-Cable’s sander is lightweight and capable, making it a good choice for ladder-based work; you should have no problem holding it overhead as you smooth scraped paint. But before going up that ladder, beware. It’s easy to think that the little plastic finger that locks the dust canister in place is engaged when it’s not. If you’re not paying attention, that can result in a dust spill that will make a mess out of you and the work area.

Sanders don’t need a lot of care, but they do need some. The best thing you can do for it is to blow the dust out of it using compressed air (or a can of compressed air purchased at an office supply store). You can also use a shop vacuum and work over its exterior, especially its air vents.

Now protect yourself, especially your lungs: Wear a dust mask when sanding. Better models have a foam strip to help the mask make a better seal to your face. They may also have a vent that reduces moisture buildup under the mask.

Clean up as you work to prevent large piles of talc-like dust from accumulating. And when you’re done sanding and ready to take a break, either brush or vacuum yourself off before going inside the house or other clean area. It’s also a good idea to wear an old shirt, coveralls, or a shop apron and leave that in the sanding area, rather than bringing dust into the house. Having a floor mat outside the shop is great, too. Remember what your mom said: Wipe your feet (or take your work shoes off)! This cuts down on tracked dirt, which is more than just a nuisance. Remnants of sanding grit on shoe soles can scratch finished floors, and tracked-in dust can form an eye-watering and throat-scratching irritant as it spreads throughout the house.

When it comes to using a sander, it’s pretty simple, and there are only these key rules:

Roy Berendsohn has worked for more than 25 years at Popular Mechanics, where he has written on carpentry, masonry, painting, plumbing, electrical, woodworking, blacksmithing, welding, lawn care, chainsaw use, and outdoor power equipment. When he’s not working on his own house, he volunteers with Sovereign Grace Church doing home repair for families in rural, suburban and urban locations throughout central and southern New Jersey.

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