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Which Sander Is Right For You?

A Guide To Popular Types Of Sanders

Choosing the right sander to fit the application can have dramatic effects on the final finish.  With all the types and styles of sanders out there, which one should you choose?  This article will give a brief overview of some of the most common types and what kinds of sanding they are best for.  All sanders are broken down by the type of motion or scratch pattern they produce.  Contrary to popular belief sanders are not just for woodworking, they also are used in the metalworking industry.

Rotary Sander 

A rotary pattern is pretty straightforward.   The back-up pad spins with the shaft of the motor.  No action is applied by the tool.  Sanders that use this type of motion are typically used in applications where heavy stock removal, dimensioning or rough shaping of the material is needed.  These sanders are not typically used for final finishing, unless a circular scratch pattern is desired. 


Elliptical Sander

Sanders that produce this type of pattern are typically found in gear-driven sanders.  Gear-driven sanders typically have higher horsepower ratings and run slower RPMs.  Sanders like these are also used for heavy stock removal, dimensioning, and rough shaping.  They give the added benefit of the elliptical pattern which results in typically faster stock removal with less user fatigue.  The pattern helps do most of the work while the operator moves the sander across the work-piece.


Orbital Sander

Orbital type sanders only move the pad in a circular motion.  This means the attachment point of the back-up pad only moves in a circle specified by the size implemented by the manufacturer.  For example, some detail sanders will specify they have an orbit of 3/32 inch.  Below is an example of the type of motion an orbital sander uses.  Not to be confused with the term random orbital.  



Random Orbital Sander

These sanders take the orbital motion and add a random pattern to it.  These styles of sanders are sometimes called dual-action or DA, which is a colloquial term applied to this type of sander.  Random orbital sanders are probably the most common sanders used.  They are very versatile in that they can handle all types of sanding and finishing jobs.  The main advantage is that, even with inexperienced operators, they leave a non-directional and consistent scratch pattern.  This makes them perfect for sanding everything from coarse grits right up to very fine grits and even some polishing.   More specifically random orbitals also come in varying sizes of orbit patterns (see below) depending on the type of finish you are trying to achieve. 








Other types of sanders 

There are other types of sander motions that don't fit these and that are for more specialized tasks.  Specialty sanders are usually built for more singular purposes for specific needs.

Inline sanders 

Pretty straight forward, pun intended.  These literally just move back and forth.  Great for graining in a single direction for achieving specific looks or outward appearances.  Straight-line sanders are great for heavy stock removal when using coarse grades on flat surfaces. In the right application, these sanders can make quick work of even large workpieces.



Combination sanders 

These types of sanders combine both rotary and random orbital into a tool that can be switched between each mode.  These can be a favorite of body shops, solid surface fabricators or mixed-use shops where both types of sanding is needed.  Just flip a switch to convert from rotary to orbit and back when needed.  An example of this sander is Dynabrade's DynaLocke or sometimes known in the body shop industry as "the mud buster"  or "mud hog" for its ability to chew through body filler quickly in rotary mode, then do some refining in random orbital mode.



Just as all abrasives are not created equal, neither are the tools you attach those abrasives to.  Choosing the right sander for the job at hand is imperative for a quality finish in the end.   


Contact us for any questions about your sanding solution. 

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