Whether you need it to sand old paint off a piece of furniture, smooth down a deck in preparation for a new coat of stain, or get kitchen cabinets ready to paint, a random orbital sander makes the admittedly tedious job of sanding easier, smoother, and more effective than merely scrubbing away with a piece of sandpaper.
Unlike orbit-sanders, which merely rotate in tiny circles, random orbital sanders not only rotate but also add a slight wiggling spin to their motion, meaning that the rotations don’t have a definite pattern–hence are random–and the resulting sanding action is very fine and smooth. But the biggest plus is that you don’t need to worry about the direction of the wood grain; however you move your random orbital sander, it won’t leave visible marks or scratches on the wood.
There are a few things to consider when choosing your sander, including power source—like many other power tools, there are random orbital sanders that run off batteries, and others that plug into a nearby electrical outlet—and disc size. Most DIYers prefer a sander with a 5- or 6-inch disc, but for heavy-duty work, you may find an 8-inch sander is preferable. You’ll also want to consider the speed, which is measured in orbits-per-minute: the average obm for these tools is around 12,000, but some have a variable speed control that lets you go slower than that if desired.
Key Shopping Considerations for Choosing a Random Orbital Sander
When shopping for a random orbital sander, there are several features to keep in mind to help you choose what best suits your needs.
Many random orbital sanders have a single speed, but some models feature variable speeds that alter the sander’s aggressiveness. A higher speed is helpful when you want to quickly grind down roughness (as when removing varnish from an old bookcase). A lower speed is better suited for fine sanding (to achieve a smooth surface on a tabletop, for example). A lack of variable speeds shouldn’t be a deal breaker, however, as success can be achieved simply by using the appropriate sandpaper grit (coarse to deal with roughness, medium for smoothing, and fine for finish work).
Standard disc size for random orbital sanders is 5 inches in diameter, and you’ll find a wide variety of generic 5-inch sandpaper discs in any hardware store or home improvement center. You can also find sanders with smaller 1- to 4-inch discs that are handy for sanding in tight spots. For larger projects (such as sanding a hardwood floor), 6-inch or larger discs are your best bet. Depending on the size and model of your sander, you may have to purchase brand-specific sandpaper discs.
Some random orbital sanders come with attachable dust bags that collect some of the wood dust generated while sanding. Others include attachments that can be connected to a standard wet/dry vacuum hose for dust collection. These collection methods won’t remove every speck of dust (you should always wear a dust mask when sanding), but they can greatly reduce it, so they’re good options to look for, especially if you’ll be sanding indoors.
Random orbital sanders are powered in one of three ways: electrical cords, rechargeable batteries, or compressed air (pneumatic). Each method has its benefits.
- Corded: Because there’s no battery to recharge, corded sanders are always ready to go as long as there’s an electrical outlet nearby. Just plug in your corded random orbital sander and get to work.
- Cordless: These sanders are great when you’re far from a power source, such as when you’re building the kids a treehouse and don’t have an extension cord long enough to reach. With a cordless sander, however, you’re limited to the battery run time (usually 30 to 45 minutes on a single charge). Most users keep a spare battery on hand.
- Pneumatic: Powered by compressed air, pneumatic sanders are a good choice for the woodworker who has a central air compressor to power a number of air tools. Small, pancake-type air compressors, however, are not always powerful enough to run a sander without frequent stops to recharge with air. For the best results, use your pneumatic sander with an air compressor that can produce an air volume of 40 cubic feet per minute (CFM) or higher.
A typical 5-inch random orbital sander weighs about 2 to 4 pounds. Mini sanders weigh as little as 1.5 pounds, while larger random orbital sanders can weigh 7 pounds or more. Lighter sanders create less hand and wrist fatigue, especially if you’re sanding a vertical surface, such as wood paneling.
Our Top Picks
Bosch have a particularly good reputation in what is often called the ‘prosumer’ market — high-quality tools aimed at the enthusiastic DIY user, but which also have the reliability and durability demanded by professionals. The Bosch palm sander falls into this category.
The 2.5 amp motor isn’t hugely powerful, but it is plenty for general-purpose stripping and sanding tasks. Variable speed gives it the flexibility to work efficiently with different grits of sandpaper and on delicate surfaces. The fine filter dust canister can handle particles down to 1/2 micron diameter, or can be swapped for a vacuum extractor via the 1-1/4” or 1-1/2” adapters included.
The Bosch palm sander has rubberized upper and front surfaces for confident grip. While one hand is usually sufficient, it can accommodate two for extra oomph. It weighs just 3.5 pounds, and comes with 8 feet of power cord giving plenty of usable reach. A few customers have complained that the Velcro-type hook and loop pad can lose grip. It is a frequent challenge with random orbital sanders, often down to a build-up of dust in the fibers. They can usually be brushed or vacuumed to restore adhesion.
For those people who want to strip old furniture before repainting, sand lumber, or perhaps ease a sticking door, the Black+Decker could be the ideal tool. It may not be especially powerful, but it will get the job done. It is also priced at a level where just about everyone can afford it.
The 2.4 amp motor is adequate for the purpose. The fixed speed doesn’t give it a great deal of versatility but is fast enough for ripping through old paint or varnish and good for sanding store-bought softwoods. The dust collector can fill quickly, but the interlocking connector design makes it very difficult to attach any kind of extractor instead. However, the Black+Decker user will seldom be producing high volumes of waste so it’s not the problem it would be on a professional sander.
Weight is under 3 pounds, and rubberized areas make it easy to use at different angles. Cord length is 8 feet. It comes with three sanding disks of different grits, which won’t last very long but will get the new user started, and acclimate them to how each type cuts if this is their first sander.
DeWalt’s 20V Max random orbital sander is a fine example of the brand’s market-leading cordless power tools. While it requires a greater investment than corded tools, it offers professionals the combination of power, reliability, and mobility necessary to tackle any type of job, anywhere.
The DeWalt uses a brushless motor which makes the most efficient use of the battery power available. Variable speed makes it suitable for all materials, with the dial on the front of the machine where it’s easy to reach. The whole upper part of the sander has a rubberized molding, making for convenient grip at whatever angle feels comfortable for the task.
At 6 pounds the DeWalt is heavier than some, but many users like some weight behind the tool, particularly for fast, aggressive sanding. The supplied dust collecting bag is adequate for small jobs, or can be swapped out, and a hose fitted to powered extraction. The kit includes battery, charger, and bag, though an extra battery will be something of a necessity for professional use.
Ryobi’s cordless orbital sander offering is a great starter for the home DIYer. With a cordless 18V battery, it’s not as high-powered as some mains-powered sanders, but it’s powerful enough for the majority of jobs you’d need an orbital sander for.
The built-in filtration system is important for capturing fine dust generated by using an orbital sander, but we’d still suggest using a mask and google when operating in a confined space. The velcro system for attaching sanding pads is easy to use, making changing between sandpaper grits quick and simple.
As part of Ryobi’s One+ range, batteries can be used interchangeably between 150 different cordless tools.
Makita’s BO5041 orbital sander has an ergonomic body along with a front grip that makes the tool much easier to handle. As a corded model, it’s slightly larger than cordless varieties, which can make storage more of an issue, but for those instances where power is important, the 240v motor comes up trumps.
A variable speed setting is a major benefit of this Makita’s orbital sander, allowing you to set the rotation speed depending on the task at hand, allowing for more control when trying to lightly sand.
This tool has a built-in dust extraction system, and uses a velcro hook and loop system for sanding pads.
Erbauer ERO18-Li orbital sander is part of the EXT range which can interchangeably use batteries from across the range, but note that they’re not compatible with older non-EXT Erbauer models.
It’s a good shape and size for a cordless orbital sander, making it easy to store while suiting lightweight sanding projects perfectly. The sander has a clear dust extraction box, but also comes with a vacuum adapter.
Again, this cordless orbital sander is one speed only, making it less versatile, but simple to operate and a good fit for DIY beginners with simple tasks to carry out.
If you’re looking for a great choice at a slightly lower price than the Bosch Palm Sander, you’ll love the SKIL SR211601 Random Orbital Sander. At 2.8 amps, its motor is slightly more powerful than the Bosch sander, and at a maximum of 13,000 orbits-per-minute, it’s a little faster, as well.
But while this sander has an easy-to-clean, highly effective dust collector, it can’t trap particles quite as small as the Bosch’s filtration system, and it lacks a vacuum-hose adapter that would allow you to hook the sander to your shop vacuum.
Still, with variable speed control that lets you sand as quickly or as slowly as necessary, a vibration-damping system to reduce stress on your hands and wrists, and a soft rubber grip and ergonomic design that’s comfortable to grasp even during lengthy sanding sessions, there’s a lot to love about this random orbital sander.
Most DIYers won’t require this much muscle from their sander, but if you plan on tackling tough jobs, such as sanding a big deck in poor condition, a boat hull, a load of lumber for fencing, or an entire home’s worth of wooden floors, you’ll appreciate the air-powered Ingersoll Rand 328B Geared Orbital Sander. Built for heavy-duty tasks, this sander has a large 8-inch pad to get the job done fast.
Note that this sander runs off a large air compressor–preferably 80 gallon or more–not batteries or your home’s AC electrical system, and you’ll need to buy the air compressor separately if you don’t already own one. This Ingersoll Rand has a ¼-inch air inlet and accepts a minimum hose size of 3/8 inch. Average air consumption is 4 cubic feet per minute.
While very powerful, the sander is surprisingly easy on your hands and wrists, with low-vibration performance and an ergonomic design that’s easy to grasp even through long work sessions. It’s a heavy tool, however, at 4.7 pounds. And unlike most sanders, it lacks an integrated dust collection system, so this power tool is best used outdoors in an area that can handle some dust.
The Hutchins 3500 versatile random orbital sander is a dual-action (DA) tool ideal for auto bodywork or sanding boats and other suchlike surfaces and blends the tasks of a disc and belt sander. Many customers expressed how quiet this tool is, how little it vibrates, and that it uses significantly less air than other sanders. One customer commented, “One of our techs had his for 30 years and it still works great… It’s really quiet and doesn’t vibrate a lot. I use mine every day and I love it.”
The porter cable orbital sander is the ideal for quick sanding on small to medium projects. Great for DIY-ers looking to cut back on sanding work, this tool will get the job done in no time and you won’t have to worry about cords or outlets as it’s entirely battery powered.
This 5 inch sander has enough power to take off an impressive amount of material in no time, saving you stress and strain but enough suction power on the dust removing mechanism to keep up with the collection. The batteries 20 V batteries are easily charged and the handle has a really comfortable grip that allows stability without compromising on accessibility.
What is the difference between an orbital sander and a random orbital sander?
An orbital sander has sanding disks that only move in a circular motion. The tool is great for rough work but it can leave circular shapes in the wood. A random orbital sander also oscillated oval orbital movements thus creating a smoother finish.
What is a random orbital sander used for?
The random orbital sander is a power tool used for quickly sanding a lot of material while leaving a smooth surface behind.
Is a random orbital sander worth it?
Yes, random orbital sanders can be a worthwhile investment. They’re precise and leave a smooth sanded surface behind while also being powerful enough to remove a lot of material in a short period of time with little strain on behalf of the one using it.
Can you use an orbital sander on wood?
Random orbital sanders are used on a variety of surfaces from wood to plaster and even plastics or acrylics. They are versatile tools that can save you a lot of hassle. Some materials can be more fragile or heat sensitive than others so make sure to always adjust your speed.