What is a Random Orbital Sander?

Dee S.
Dee S.

One of the obligatory, but not always enjoyable, aspects of woodworking is sanding. Having the right sander for the job will make the work seem less like work and cut the sanding time down dramatically, when compared to sanding by hand. For most woodworking projects, a random orbital sander will give a professional look and will complete the job perfectly.

A random orbit sander is a fast-acting sanding tool.
A random orbit sander is a fast-acting sanding tool.

As the name implies, a random orbital sander has a round sanding pad that moves in an orbital, random pattern. It sands the wood rather quickly. In addition, it leaves few marks and provides a good finish to the surface because of the random motion.

A random orbital sander can make a swirl as tiny as 3/32 of an inch (.23 cm). In the woodworking world, the smaller the swirl, the better and the more professional the finished surface will appear. The randomness of the orbits will prevent any swirl marks from forming. In addition pad speeds range from 8,000 rotations per minute (rpm) to 13,000 rpm. Depending on the model, a random orbital sander can even have an adjustable speed lever; so, the woodworker can change the speed to fit the material used.

The power varies for each random orbital sander as well. Orbital sanders can range from 1.4 amps all the way up to 5.5 amps. Regardless, most motors are on the small side. The pads that a woodworker will use for a random orbital sander will either be hoop-and-loop sandpaper discs or adhesive-backed pads. At least one model makes a pad that can flip and accept either kind. In addition, wool polishing pads and soft applicator pads can be used in most models.

The switch on all sanders must be protected from the dust. Luckily, most models of random orbital sanders have a bag or cup attached to the unit that collects dust. Although the bag and the cup collect quite a bit of dust, the best and most efficient method of dust collection is to attach a shop vacuum to the unit.

Before purchasing a random orbital sander, there are a few things to consider. First, it should be comfortable to operate – if it is awkward or if it vibrates too much, it is not the right model. Next, think about the size of the pad and how much it will cost to fit the pad with sandpaper. It is also important to consider whether a single-speed or multi-speed unit will be best.

Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


In trying both electric and pneumatic random orbital sanders, I find that pneumatics are superior in almost every category (except they can sometimes be a little more expensive).

The power-to-weight ratio is better on the air-powered tools, and the quick start is also appreciated.

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