The best random orbital sander
There are several different types of sander available, but the random orbital is without a doubt the most popular because of its efficiency and versatility. It can be used for sanding anything from furniture to auto bodies.
Not sure how to choose the best one? Our concise guide looks at all the important features and gives a few recommendations at the end. Our favorite model, the DeWalt 5" Random Orbit Sander, delivers the power and control you need for quality finishing on any surface.
Considerations when choosing random orbital sanders
A random orbital sander doesn't just spin around a central point, it also oscillates. The action can provide very fast material removal and, because the cutting action is random, it's easier to achieve a scratch-free finish.
Random orbital sanders are rated by the diameter of the sanding pad -- anything from three inches up to six inches. Five inches is the most common, probably because it gives the best balance of performance and control.
The random orbital action can make the tool challenging to handle. By design, it's trying to go in all directions at once, which can make it jump around. As a result, most six-inch models require two hands, while five-inch tools can usually be operated with one. The better manufacturers minimize vibration to make this easier. Soft grip/rubberized areas around the top of the machine also increase user comfort and control.
Most random orbital sanders are corded, with motors usually in the two- to three-amp range. There are also quite a few air orbital sanders -- generally found in auto body shops because they need a compressor. However, cordless random orbital sanders are starting to appear, too. While freedom of movement is an advantage, the battery adds weight and bulk, which might explain why they aren't more common. At the moment, those available are also quite expensive. If you are buying cordless, it's important to look for a brushless motor. They get better performance from the battery than a brush motor.
Some random orbital sanders offer variable speed. It's claimed that slowing them down can aid in material removal on some surfaces. A number of experts argue that it doesn't make enough difference to worry about, and many (including our favorite), are single speed. Most run at 10,000 rpm or more.
All random orbital sanders come with some kind of dust bag or cassette. Unfortunately, most are not very good. They are either criticized for their small size (you're forever emptying them) or they just aren't very effective. Those that do the job well are few and far between. The solution is to attach a shop vac, and adapters are either provided, or can be ordered as an extra. If you do a lot of sanding, it's highly recommended.
The cheapest random orbital sanders are around $25 to $30 and are from manufacturers you probably recognize, so you can buy with confidence. Top-quality tools run anywhere from $55 to $100. Cordless models are at the top of this range, and with battery and charger, some exceed $200.
Q. I see people complain about sanding discs flying off -- no matter what machine it is. Is it a general problem?
A. All orbital sanders can be prone to it -- but it's often not the machine's fault. It usually happens when the dust bag is full (so dust builds up and loosens the hold) or when the sandpaper is getting worn (it tends to get hotter and falls off). Empty the dust bag and change the sandpaper regularly. If the machine is older, check the attachment pad for wear.
Q. Replacement sanding discs seem quite expensive. Is there an alternative?
A: Yes. You can buy hook-and-loop sandpaper on a roll and cut your own. You will need a punch plate though -- to make the holes that allow proper dust extraction.
Random orbital sanders we recommend
Best of the best: DeWalt's Random Orbit Sander
Our take: Class-leading performance for the demanding professional.
What we like: 3.0 amp motor gives lots of power. Rubber grips on body make for good control. Typical DeWalt quality and attention to detail. Carry bag included.
What we dislike: Not much. If you want to replace the dust collector with a Shop-Vac hose, you'll need to purchase an extra part.
Best bang for your buck: BLACK+DECKER's Random Orbit Sander
Our take: Very popular budget sander for DIY use.
What we like: The kind of general-purpose sander every homeowner should have in their tool kit. Compact, light, and easy-to-use. Good value for money.
What we dislike: Poor dust bag. Some have a power switch problem.
Choice 3: Bosch's Random Orbital Sander
Our take: High quality and good ergonomics for the hobby enthusiast.
What we like: Powerful and quiet sander features vibration damping and surprisingly efficient filtration system. Translucent dust canister (you can see it needs emptying). Shop-Vac adapter included.
What we dislike: Control is an issue for some users -- but the fault isn't common.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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