The Best Electric Sanders: Smooth and Finish Surfaces
Save your palms with the proper power tool.
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BY Heather Fishel / LAST UPDATED ON July 19, 2021
Some folks thoroughly enjoy sanding while others despise it. It’s a time-consuming project that honestly does gauge an individual’s level of commitment to a project and their attention to detail. But that doesn’t mean power tools can’t aid the process. Don’t get me wrong, electric sanders can be overkill at times, but they can effectively reduce the amount of time you spend putting the finishing touches on some things.
But they aren’t all the same. There’s a lot to consider when purchasing an electric sander. The materials you are sanding, the amount of room you have to work with, and how much money you have to spend all come into play. Throw in all the options on the market, and you’ve got yourself a real mess to sort through. That said, our goal is to help you find out which is best for you so you can finally wrap things up.
A compact yet highly efficient palm sander that can handle heavy-duty use while creating a swirl-free finish that’s sure to impress.
- Uses random orbital sanding action with a 3/32-inch orbit
- Choose from six variable speed options
- Delivers up to 13,000 OPM
- Small in size and not ideal for large sanding projects
- Best for light-duty use
Extremely affordable sander with a respectable performance for the price. The 1/3-sheet pad makes it great for a variety of projects.
- Incredible price
- Respectable performance
- Lightweight design
- Multiple mounting types
- Retention clips are subpar
Cordless random orbital sander perfect for anyone of any trade. This tool offers superior performance and is part of the 20V Max lineup.
- Compact and easy to handle
- Brushless motor offers superior performance
- Comes with a battery and charger
- Premium price tag
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Benefits of Electric Sanders
- Easy to use. If you’ve ever tried to sand a large item by hand or attempted to tackle one big finishing project, you know just how awful — and tedious — it can be to do by hand with pieces of sandpaper. An electric sander takes all of the hard work out of this process. Powered by electricity and a speedy motor, an electric sander can work almost effortlessly. All you need to do is choose the specific settings, put the sander onto your material, and maneuver it wherever it’s needed.
- Quick and efficient. An electric sander works far faster and more efficiently than you ever could by hand. These power tools are true machines when they get to work, sanding at slow to high speeds so finishing work is done in less time. You can slash your work time and speed up your project by employing an electric sander instead of your own two hands.
- Improves technique. Sure, wielding sandpaper isn’t the hardest job in the world. But with an electric sander, you don’t have to worry whether you’re smoothing and finishing flawlessly. The power tool will take care of the technique for you — and it’ll offer even better results. Electric sanders can offer enhanced results and finishing techniques because they’re specially designed to create professional-level end results.
- Eliminates fatigue. Forget about tired hands and wrists. If you have an electric sander, you can essentially eliminate fatigue altogether when you need to sand down material. Powered by their strong electric motors, these power tools can handle all of the movement and vibrations without requiring you to put in literal elbow grease that exhausts you. The sander will take it all on without any fatigue at all.
- Limits hand injuries. While power tools can still be dangerous if they aren’t used properly and with safety in mind, an electric sander can reduce your risk for potential hand injuries. You won’t have to come into direct contact with the sanding process, limiting your odds of developing abrasions, blisters, or even cuts. As long as you’re using your electric sander properly, you can keep yourself out of the fray.
Types of Electric Sanders
Palm sanders are medium in size and can have either a square or rectangular pad. It functions by throwing the pad in a small circle, and that is why it is also known as an orbital sander. This type of sander is excellent for a medium workpiece because they are easy to handle and can quickly work in reasonably sized work areas. They are also more affordable than some other options. But keep in mind that their motion does leave behind a considerable amount of marks and could be laborious to use on large workpieces.
Random Orbital Sanders typically feature a round sanding pad, which is the first thing that differentiates them from other options. They are also relatively a bit larger and are best for working with large workpieces than most alternatives. They function by moving the pad in two circles. The pad travels along the path of a large circle but continuously circles as it does so. This motion removes material quickly while reducing the number of marks it leaves behind. They are typically the most expensive option but are a favorite across all industries because of their function. You may be able to use an orbital sander for polishing, but for the best results, you should use a Car Buffer Polisher.
A detail sander, sometimes known as a mouse or corner sander, gets its name because you use it to give a workpiece the finishing touches larger sanders can. They are a handheld tool with a triangular pad that allows you to reach into tight spaces or corners and touch them up.
In place of a dedicated detail sander, you might use an oscillating multi-tool. As a sander, it works to achieve the same purpose of sanding in corners or tight spaces. The primary difference is that this type of tool features an interchangeable head that you can attach blades to.
A belt sander does not vibrate, oscillate, or orbit like other options. Instead, it uses two motorized drums that cycle a loop of sandpaper to smooth or strip surfaces. They come in a variety of sizes but serve a different function than other models we’re looking at. In most cases, you’ll use a belt sander in the early stages of a project to give the workpiece shape. For example, you might use one after a rough cut to finalize the shape you need the object to take.
DeWalt got its start in 1922 when Raymond DeWalt developed the first woodworking machine to boost productivity. It’s no surprise that a start like this leads to them becoming an absolute juggernaut in the segment. Today, the company works out of Baltimore, Maryland, producing tools such as the DeWalt 1/4 Sheet Palm Grip Sander.
In Baltimore, Md., Duncan Black and Alfonzo Decker set up shop to develop the world’s first portable power tool in 1912. The Stanley Black+Decker group is headquartered in New Britain, Conn., and serves the industry with over 175 years of experience. That’s why it can produce items on our list, such as the Black+Decker Mouse Detail Sander.
Based in Elgin, Ill., Wen has been hard at work since 1951. The brand serves many industries but is a favorite among the DIY crowd and hobbyists because they provide quality tools at relatively low prices. The WEN 6377 Variable Speed 5-Amp Dual-Head Drywall Sander is one of the few to make our list.
Electric Sander Pricing
- Under $50: In general, the tools in this range are budget-oriented tools that best suit non-professionals well. They may not fare well during daily use but are great for intermittent projects.
- $50 to $100: In this range, you can expect to find a blend of budget-level and professional-grade sanders. The quality of the tool and the type of sander influence price directly.
- $100 and up: This price range is typically reserved for top-quality options. Cordless models and random orbital sanders are predominant.
The operation of a sander is the first thing to take into consideration. This is something you can balance with the surface area you are working with and the medium. Are you doing bodywork on your car? Fabricating? Building a shelf?
In most cases, you’ll need two sanders, either a random orbital or palm sander for the majority of the project, and a detail sander for tight spots.
Corded or Cordless
You can choose to buy either a corded or cordless electric sander. Corded electric sanders will never run out of power. They do have to be plugged into an electrical outlet in order to operate, but you never have to worry about recharging batteries or running out of power in the middle of a task. However, you are limited in terms of how far away from an outlet you can work. A cordless electric sander offers more freedom and flexibility, as you can literally work anywhere. But these tools do have limited power sources, which means you always need to carry your charger.
When it comes to weight and maneuverability, the two tool styles are about the same. A corded model may increase drag because you’re tied to an outlet. But it’s up to you to decide which feature you like best.
Different electric sanders offer different amounts of power. Regardless of the power source (corded or cordless), an individual sander’s amps and motor will determine just how much power you can get. If you plan on working on large, heavy-duty or heavy-use projects, a more powerful sander will help you work more efficiently. However, if your sanding work is usually pretty light or occasional, you may not need as much power. Think about the toughness and frequency of use to decide how much power and how many amps are best for you.
Here’s a feature you wouldn’t think to consider if you’re used to using regular old sandpaper. Electric sanders vibrate once they’re turned on and in action. While that might not seem like a big deal, it can lead to hand fatigue while you wield the sander, and potentially increase the risk of injuries. A lot of vibration makes these power tools more challenging to hold onto and control. Look instead for lower vibration levels, or even models that offer vibration control features or functionality. These will give you the best control, the most comfort, and the highest safety.
Sanders don’t always have the same pad size to work with. Some are much larger than others to make quick work of vast surface areas, and others are smaller for more detail-oriented work. This is another thing you need to balance with the type of project you are doing and how much room you have to work with.
Take the time to pick a sander that you can handle comfortably. You already know that I’m going to say that you need to balance this with the work as well. But, don’t write off how it feels in your hand. You want to make sure you can manage the machine in any position for a considerable period.
If you’re working in tight spaces, you might want something as compact as possible. Or if you’re working on a large surface, grabbing the biggest model might not be the best choice if it feels clumsy or awkward.
- Hand Grip. You need an electric sander that you can easily and comfortably hang onto. A good, well-cushioned, and controllable hand grip makes a world of difference in how easy your sander is to operate. A good grip ensures you can stay safe and in control. However, a soft grip also keeps you comfortable despite the vibrations the sander creates. Look for a soft, cushioned hand grip on any type of electric sander.
- Dust Collection. When you’re sanding, a lot of dust is created — but a good electric sander can take care of that mess for you. A sander with a dust collection feature, like a built-in dust bag or an external dust collection system, is especially handy. It’ll help you keep your workspace clean while you sand, and it can also reduce the amount of dust you’re breathing in as you finish wood. Consider the dust collection features of any electric sander for a bit of added convenience.
- Variable Speed Controls. Variable speed controls are a must-have with any electric sander. It allows you to set the speed at which your sander operates, so you can work slowly when you need more control or turn up the speed if you’re looking for a quick polish. The more variable speed options you have in an electric sander, the more customization you can achieve.
Best Electric Sanders Reviews & Recommendations 2021
- All sanders achieve similar goals but are not all the same. Always be sure to pick the right tool for the job.
- Always keep the dimensions in mind. The size of the sanding pad and the overall size of the tool determine how it performs and what you can use it for.
- As always, a power tool isn’t still the best option. Be mindful of the fact that sanders remove material rapidly, which may cause irreversible damage.
Q. Is an orbital sander better than a sheet sander?
Yes and no. An orbital sander does offer more versatility as you can safely use it for a variety of tasks. However, the discs are more costly, and the orbital sander generally needs more room to work effectively.
Q. What sander is best for removing paint?
That depends on the medium you are working with and how much space you have to work with. For removing paint from vehicles, you’ll probably have the best experience with a random orbital sander or a belt sander in some instances.
Q. What's the difference between an orbital sander and a palm sander?
A palm sander is just an electric sander you can use with a single hand. Keep in mind that most sanders use an orbital motion regardless of the size.
Q. What is the best electric sander for wood?
The Bauer Random Orbital Palm Sander, our top pick, is an electric sander that’ll work wonderfully for wood. If you’re unsure which one of these power tools to pick, you can’t go wrong with this reasonably priced, highly effective, and easy-to-use model that’ll make quick work of wood sanding and finishing.
To recap, the Bauer Random Orbital Palm Sander takes our top spot, and the WEN 6313 Electric 1/3 Sheet Sander is our pick for Best Value. Maybe one of them is the right type of sander for your next project.