After spending hours cutting, drilling and carving to precision it can often seem a bit of an anti-climatic chore when it comes to the necessity of sanding down wooden components. Achieving a perfect all over finish without sanding burns or uneven edges can be at best frustrating and a worst infuriating without the proper equipment or knowledge; but the good news is that power sanders can provide a massive help. There’s three main types of power tool sanders that should be a part of every home carpenters collection – belt, orbital and random-orbital. They each provide specific functions and require different techniques, so without further ado let’s run through them:
1) Belt Sanders
These are the old-school heavyweights of the wood sanding world, and should be the go to tool when dealing with rough and tough sanding projects. What they lack in precision and sophistication they make up for consistent power and it’s essential to understand how to use these power sanders correctly as otherwise they can cause damage to the wood and leave uneven impressions upon the surface. Belt sanders need to be in constant motion parallel to the grain in order to avoid scratching and bumps – start of with a thicker belt (also great for removing old paint/primer etc) and gradually work down to a finer finish. There’s no need to apply pressure as the weight of the tool will provide plenty – just remember it’s good advice to gain practice and/or instruction in using a belt sander before using it on an important project.
2) Orbital Sanders
Almost the exact opposite of a belt sander, an orbital sander is a far more passive and easy to use device that is ideal for applying a smooth finish yet isn’t going to stand up well to tougher tasks. These are ideal for the novice who is only conducting small scale projects with virgin/high quality wood and typically much cleaner and quieter too. They can be used one handed and even the most inexperienced user will be unlikely to damage the wood provided they follow the basics.
3) Random-Orbit Sanders
Probably the best sander for general all-purpose use being a comfortable middle ground between the power of the belt sander and the utility of the orbital sander. The random orbit sander is capable of handling tougher surfaces thanks to using a multitude of spinning discs that also vibrate (unlike standard orbital sanders) leading to an overall smoother and cleaner finish. Generally they are designed to be used one handed but there are many different models that use discs of a variety of sized discs. It’s good to look for models that allow for both the use of (cheaper) Pressure Sensitive abrasive grinding discs as well as (more expensive but faster and superior) Velcro ‘hook and loop’ discs for larger tasks.
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