10 Best Sanders for Wood Projects
When you need the best sander for wood, consider the nature of the job, cost, ease of use and corded vs. cordless. Here's help for choosing the right sander for the job.
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If you’re a woodworker, whether a beginner or a pro, you’ll need a sander at some point. Pretty much every woodworking and wood finishing project calls for sanding, and sanding tools do the job much more efficiently than you can by hand.
When shopping for a sander, think first about why you need it. Sanders can smooth wood, wear it down to a calibrated thickness, or shape and de-splinter it. They can also remove old finish.
The vast difference in functions and sizes of projects means a sander that may be right for one job won’t be right for all. Some sanders are more versatile than others. And while versatility may be a bonus for a woodworker, no one sander can do everything.
Considerations When Shopping for a Sander
Depending on your needs, you may opt for a palm sander, random orbital model, belt sander, disk sander or a detail sander. Once you narrow down your options, consider the following:
- Corded or cordless: Batteries in most cordless models provide about 30 minutes of working time between charges, more than enough if you own a spare battery. Corded models may be less convenient but they’re more powerful.
- Sheet or precut paper: Orbital and disc sanders with circular or triangular bases accept only precut sandpaper, which is more expensive than standard sheets. The extra cost can be significant on large projects that require different sanding grits.
- Comfort and noise: If you’re working on a large project like sanding down a laminated tabletop, you could be holding the sander for hours. The fewer vibrations and the less noise the tool makes, the easier it is to control and the happier you’ll be.
- Dust collection: Dust is an issue no matter what you’re sanding. A tool that collects it efficiently reduces cleanup time and prevents mess-ups when it’s time to apply a finish.
- Handheld or benchtop: These tools perform different functions.
- Cost: No one wants to overpay for a tool, and you shouldn’t have to with a sander. The best machines out there aren’t necessarily the most expensive ones, but there are exceptions.
Best All-Around Sander
Makita has been making tools since 1959, and its power sanders were some of the first on the market. Its experience and know-how shows in its corded three-amp corded random orbital sander.
Despite its price, the Makita Five-Inch Random Orbit Sander is one of the most comfortable and powerful you can find. It removes stock quickly while keeping scratches and squiggle marks to a minimum because the circular pad spins as it vibrates.
This model comes with a dust-collection bag and a case — a nice touch. Whether you’re refinishing a credenza, building a new pine table or installing new interior woodwork, this sander will help you get a smooth surface ripe for finishing.
- Powerful motor;
- Includes dust collection bag and storage case.
- Can get heavy when sanding upright;
- Could use a longer power cord.
Best Sheet Sander
A sheet sander, also known as a palm or orbital sander, uses sheets of sandpaper instead of pre-cut ones. It takes a quarter sheet for a small and a square one-and-a-half sheet for a larger, two-handled rectangular one.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Makita’s palm sander, one of the originals and one of the best. But the DeWalt Electric Orbital Sander is on the same level. It’s lightweight and more powerful than the Makita, drawing 2.3 amps. And best yet, it’s reasonably priced.
Most importantly, like the Makita, it holds the paper securely via locking clamps. Spring-loaded clamps aren’t as strong. Nothing slows you down more than the paper creeping out from under the sanding pad while you’re working.
- Secure sandpaper attachment clamps.
- Changing sandpaper takes time;
- Poor for quick material removal.
Best Detail Sander
A detail sander’s triangular base lets you get into in tight corners and crevices. While you can use it like a palm sander, it generally doesn’t have as much power.
Because mobility is important for detail work, you’ll find as many cordless detail sanders as corded ones. The cordless ones probably have the edge. They’re lighter and generally easier to use.
The Hart 20-Volt Cordless Detail Sander offers the most compact design of any model we tried. The housing extends vertically to accept the battery rather than trailing behind the tool. And because there’s no dust collection bag, you can get it into tight spaces.
- Compact design.
- Less power than an orbital sander;
- Battery and charger not included.
Best Cordless Sander
The random orbital sander is a good all-around tool. The DeWalt 20V Max Cordless Orbital Sander is light, powerful and without the restraints that come along with a cord.
Depending on the setting, this sander can produce between 8,000 and 12,000 orbits per minute (OPM). A locking dust bag attaches to help collect dust, or users can connect the sander directly to their DeWalt vacuums for near dust-free operation. The tool’s rubberized grip facilitates comfortable sanding, while its five-inch hook-and-loop sandpaper is simple to replace.
- Stout 20V motor.
- Battery and charger not included.
Best Handheld Belt Sander
Porter Cable belt sanders have been the industry standard for years. The Porter Cable 120V Eight-Amp Corded Belt Sander features a three-inch belt, ergonomic design and a body that’s heavy enough without being too much to handle.
The motor sits directly above the platen, controlled by a variable speed dial that rotates the belt at 1,300 ft. per minute. With its easy-to-control design, you won’t have to worry about chattering or drifting. The belt is easily kept centered on the platen thanks to the tracking adjustment knob. The dust bag pivots 360 degrees to stay out of the way.
- Variable speed dial;
- Easy belt change lever.
- Somewhat expensive;
- Be careful not to run over the cord.
Best Handheld Disc Sander
Mainly because of the brand name, woodworkers tend to consider the Makita GV5010 the gold standard in handheld disc sanders. But this time, we give the DeWalt Six-Amp Corded Variable Speed Disk Sander the nod.
Both feature a five-inch pad and removable side handle, but DeWalt’s motor is more powerful. Crucially, the DeWalt model offer variable speed control, allowing you to ease off when needed. It’s cheaper than the Makita, too.
Disc sanders work best for tough jobs — paint removal, grinding end grain and rough shaping. You’ll appreciate the power and ergonomic design of the DeWalt model as you bear down on that siding with three coats of old paint. You’ll also like the variable speed and reversible (VSR) control as you work the pad into corners, or behind gutters and other obstructions.
- Aggressive six-amp motor;
- Variable speed trigger;
- Dust collection.
- Sander keeps spinning after trigger is released.
Best Benchtop Belt/Disc Combo
Unlike a handheld belt sander, used primarily for smoothing and stock removal, a benchtop combo model can shape wood as well as accurately reduce the dimensions. The Wen 4.3-Amp Belt/Disc Sander features a sturdy cast iron base so it won’t wobble, and the four-inch belt tilts all the way to 90 degrees.
The unit comes with a cast aluminum work table and a miter gauge for the six-inch disc sander, which makes shaping fast and accurate. The powerful 1/2-horsepower motor won’t stall under a heavy load. A dust port allows you to connect it to your shop dust removal system or a shop vac. All this for way less than most other comparable models.
- Easy belt change lever;
- Tilting belt sander;
- Rough, imprecise casting;
- Play in miter gauge.
Best Dust-Free Sanding System
Maryland contractor Alan Hill swears by his Festool sanding system, which includes the Festool Random Orbital Sander ETS 125 REQ-Plus and the Festool CleanTec HEPA Dust Extractor.
Coming in at more than $500 for the pair, this is hardly a budget option. But Hill says it lets him sand in a furnished living room without spreading plastic. You can’t so that with just any sander.
Festool offers other sanding attachments for the system, including a triangular detail sander and a rectangular orbital sander. All the equipment packs easily into a standard pickup. None of it is particularly heavy, so you can use it on the go as easily as in your shop or garage.
- Unbelievable dust collection;
- Smooth operating sander;
- Includes HEPA filter on vac.
- Finding replacement bags/filters can be a challenge.
Best Drywall Sander
If you’ve just finished taping and mudding a new bedroom addition, you probably don’t need anything more than a pole sander like the Tuf-Lok to sand the walls flat. Just rip a piece of 120-grit sandpaper in half lengthwise, clip one half onto the sanding pad and you’re ready to go.
For a larger job, or if you just like to sand drywall, you’re better off springing a bit more dough for the Wen Five-Amp Two-in-One Variable Speed Dual-Head Drywall Sander. It comes with a round head for the field and a triangular one for sanding in corners, as well as a 15-foot dust hose that attaches to your shop vac.
This model uses precut sandpaper sheets in various grits, from 60 all the way to 240, to help you get that finish just right.
- Multiple sanding heads;
- Long 15-foot dust hose.
- Need a fine dust filter/bag for your shop vac;
No matter how many sanding tools you have, you’ll still occasionally fold over a sheet and sand by hand. In those instances, you want the paper to be sturdy and the abrasive to work hard and last long.
No paper performs better than 3M aluminum oxide sandpaper. It comes in single sheets, packages of five or more sheets of a single grit, or packages with assorted grits. This 22-pack features various common grits for woodworking and enough sheets to last awhile.
- Hand sanding is the most cost effective;
- Works well on wood, metals and painted surfaces.
- Time consuming.