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What is an Oscillating Sander?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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An oscillating sander is a machine with a large, flat sanding surface built into the base of the unit. This type of sander is used for sanding different floor surfaces, ranging from hardwood to patio desk flooring. The term oscillating refers to the movement of the sanding surface, which moves in an orbital pattern.

An oscillating sander weighs between 45 to 68 kilograms (100 to 150 pounds). Floor restoration services and hardwood floor installers commonly use them to complete their projects. An oscillating sander can be very effective at removing old finish or polish from the floor surface. Changing the sandpaper grade allows the sander to remove shallow cuts and superficial damage to the floor.

When using a sander, it is important to prepare the area first. This type of sander does not have a debris holding system, but leaves it behind on the floor surface. If you are using the sander in a home, all the doorways and windows should be covered in plastic and taped down to reduce the spread of sanding dust. All furniture should be removed from the room so that the floor is completely open.

Start in the far corner of the room and work in straight, even lines to remove the polish layer. Once you have covered the entire room, stop, and sweep up the debris. Take a close look at the floor surface and determine how many passes with the sander will be required to restore the floor. Resist the temptation to focus on a specific spot. The process of sanding removes actual wood from the floor and too much attention in one area will result in an uneven floor.

Change the grade of sandpaper on the oscillating sander to match the level of material that you need to remove. Make as few passes as possible and follow a simple pattern to ensure an even amount of sanding. Stop and clean the floor after each pass and take the time to inspect the floor carefully.

There are different types of oscillating sanders, ranging from professional grade to low cost models. When selecting a oscillating sander, consider the area that you want to sand and the planned frequency of use. For home renovations, look into renting a sander instead of purchasing. Make sure that you read the instruction manual and follow all the steps with care. A sander is a large, heavy machine and it can easily cause a significant amount of damage.

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Discussion Comments
By cardsfan27 — On Feb 07, 2012

Although I can see where it would be a lot of work to refinish a hardwood floor, I have actually used an oscillating floor sander to refinish my patio. It wasn't too bad at all, since you don't need to be nearly as careful as you do with interior floors.

Like someone else mentioned, though, it can be kind of hard to keep the thing under control. After you use it for a little while, though, you start to get the hang of it. By the time I was all finished, I felt like I was pretty good at using it. It helped that everything turned out well without any issues.

If you ever do need to use an oscillating sander for something, I would suggest first going online and looking up some videos of people using them. They were very helpful for me.

By JimmyT — On Feb 06, 2012

@matthewc23 - I would agree with the last post, as well. Neither my husband nor I are very handy, but just seeing the work they had to do, it definitely doesn't look like something for the weekend warrior. Besides the oscillating drum sander, I am pretty sure they used some other types of sanders as well. They definitely had a belt sander or something that could get farther into the corners and up against the wall.

Whenever they were cleaning up, they just used a regular shop vac. I think at the very end before the put the stain on the floor, they went over it with a damp mop or something, too to get up any little pieces of saw dust that were left over.

Even with all the plastic they put up around the doors, there was still a lot of saw dust that made its way into the rest of the house, so be prepared for that if you have your floors refinished.

By jcraig — On Feb 06, 2012

@matthewc23 - I would highly recommend just hiring someone to do it. If you're an experienced handyman, I'm sure you could do it on your own, but at least in my experience, paying someone to do it is cheaper when you take into consideration the equipment costs and frustrations you're bound to face.

You have to remember that these people do this for a living, so they know all the tips and tricks that you would have to learn the hard way. I made the mistake of trying to refinish a floor on my own in a rental house I bought. You have to be pretty strong to control the sander, and cleanup is a pain.

If you do end up trying to do it yourself, the best thing to do is just put plastic over all of the doors to stop the sawdust from spreading. Also, set up a good ventilation system with as many fans as possible and always wear a respirator.

By matthewc23 — On Feb 05, 2012

So, we are looking to refinish our hardwood floors in the upcoming months. I am curious what everyone thinks is the best strategy. I have done a lot of do-it-yourself work around our house, but I don't know how much work this would be. Renting the sander isn't a problem, it is just the actual work that I'm worried about.

How much does it generally cost to rent a sander versus hiring someone to come in and do the sanding for you. Also, what is the general cost to actually refinish the floor, like with the stain and everything?

Besides the tips offered in the article about working in even patterns, does anyone else have any good suggestions that would make the whole process a little easier? I am specifically interested about how to protect the house from all the dust and how to get the sawdust off of the floor.

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