A random-orbit sander is one of the most useful tools you will ever buy. Sanding is almost universally seen as drudge work. If you do a lot of sanding, a good sander can make life vastly better for you.
Before we go any further, it’s important to understand that there are two different types of sanders with confusingly similar names: Orbital sanders and random-orbit sanders.
To add to the confusion, people fairly often creatively mash up the two names to get the term random orbital sander. In practice, this most often seems to be used as another term for random-orbit sanders. It does not appear to be used as an alternative term for orbital sanders.
Both types of sanders are handheld, fairly small and look a lot alike in their overall shape and design. Visually, the most obvious difference is that one has a square sanding pad and the other has a round sanding pad.
Somewhat counterintuitively, the one with a square pad is called an orbital sander. It gets called that because the pad makes small circular motions. That’s how it gets the job done.
The one with a round pad is called a random-orbit sander. It has the same “orbital” motion that causes it to sand, but it adds an additional random circular motion that improves the performance of the tool.
When to Pick Orbital Sander and When to Pick Random-Orbit Sander?
There are some situations where an orbital sander is best. For example, the square shape allows you to get into corners that a random orbit sander cannot reach.
But in most situations, random orbit sanders are the superior tool. They remove more material in one go and they are less likely to leave visible scratch marks.
Belt sanders are for removing a lot of material and cannot be used for finish work. Orbital sanders are for finish work and cannot be used for aggressively shaving off material.
Random-orbit sanders can do both kinds of work and generally sand to a higher level of quality for purposes of finish work. If you only intend to have one sander, most people will buy a random-orbit sander because it serves as an acceptable substitute for both belt sanders and orbital sanders.
This review is of random-orbit sanders. All of the models reviewed here have the round shape and extra circular motion that distinguish random-orbit sanders from orbital sanders.
Best Random-Orbit Sanders Reviews
- Features a 2-year limited manufacturer warranty.
- Solid basic model.
- Compact and lightweight.
- Affordably priced.
- Easy to change papers.
- Features a 6.5-foot long cord.
- It doesn’t include a carrying bag or case.
- The dust collector system is not that good.
- The cord isn’t really that long.
If you are tired of hand sanding, but don’t think you can justify the cost of a sander because you don’t do enough word work, this may be the sander for you. It’s easy on the budget and can help introduce you to just how much time a sander can save you.
In fact, getting a sander may increase your workflow, helping to ease you into being more productive. Your weekend warrior activities may take a step up from what they are now.
This model has a hook-and-loop system to make it easy to change out sanding paper. The switch is dust-sealed to help protect its longevity. The unit comes with a dust bag.
Recommended as an affordable “first” sander for someone looking to up their game on their woodworking hobby. Not recommended if you need advanced features, such as variable-speed or other enhancements.
- Features a 1-year limited warranty.
- Able to and corner areas.
- Has two handles for versatility.
- Very low vibration, easier on the hands.
- The variable speed button is positioned such that it easy to accidentally change the speed.
- Can be loud when attached to a vacuum.
This unit has two handles. The second handle helps you get into corners, an area not served well by more random-orbit sanders.
This model has a 3.0 amp motor and includes a variable speed control dial that varies the speed from 4,000 to 12,000 OPM.
Has a large 1/8″ random orbit. Handles are a rubberized ergonomic design. A two-finger trigger allows you to do a quick burst of action. The locking mechanism allows you to turn it on and leave it on for long sanding sessions.
Comes with a heavy-duty carrying case. This sander is a low vibration model that easier on the hands than average.
Overall, the unit is fairly quiet for a sander — unless you attach it to a vacuum. Then it can be fairly loud.
Recommended if you need to sand corners. Also, recommended if you have tendon problems or wrist issues and still need to do some sanding. Recommended for how quiet it is.
- Features a generous 3-year limited warranty.
- Comes with a carrying bag.
- Affordably priced.
- Has trouble connecting to a vacuum.
This model comes with its own bag to make it easy to take with you. If you need a sander to take to a job site, this may be the sander for you.
It features a 3.0 Amp motor and 8,000 to 12,000 OPM speed. It is designed with a shorter height to help you get up close and personal with your work.
Reduced vibration and rubber grip help reduce hand fatigue. Features a dust-sealed switch and comes with a dust bag.
Uses hook-and-loop paper to make it easy to change papers. Holds up well to tough jobs, such as wet grinding of concrete countertops.
Recommended if you need something a step up from a “first” sander. Recommended if you need something you can easily take with you. Not recommended if you have serious respiratory problems and you really need it to hook up properly to a shop vac.
- Offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.
- Features 1-year manufacturer warranty.
- Good dust collection system.
- Comes with a carrying bag.
- Customers recommend checking for cupping when you first get it.
This is a little pricier, but still not expensive, and it features a microfilter system to catch fine particulates as small as 1/2 micron in diameter. If you have allergies or respiratory problems and really need to control the dust, this may be the sander for you.
Pad dampening system works well on both flat and contoured surfaces. Hook-and-loop design makes it easy to change papers.
The motor is 2.5 Amps. Offers an adjustable speed between 7,500 and 12,000 OPM. The orbit diameter is 3/64-inch. Sander weighs just 3.5 pounds.
Comes with a dampening ring, sanding pad, sanding disc, dust canister, vacuum adapter, and carrying case. Designed to reduce swirl marks and provide a comfortable grip to reduce hand fatigue.
Recommended as an entry-level contractor sander. Recommended for the DIY weekend warrior who really needs the dust kept under control.
- Features a 3-year limited warranty.
- Features variable speed.
- Comes with a carrying bag.
- Loose dust catcher easily comes off the unit.
- The power cord isn’t very long.
This model is very similar to the #2 model above. The most important difference between the two is that the model has a variable speed between 8,000 to 12,000 OPM. This is a useful feature for sanding uneven surfaces and for avoiding “walking” the sander.
Features a 3.0 Amp motor and dust-sealed switch. Offers improved dust collection and the ability to hook it up to a vacuum.
Recommended if budget is a concern but you really need a variable speed sander.
- Uses quick-change hook-and-loop paper.
- Battery operated.
- Features three different speed settings.
- Tool only. Does not include a battery or charger.
- Does not come with a carrying case or bag.
Are you constantly battling with the electric cord on your sander? Does it just never seem long enough? Then this battery-powered sander may the one for you.
It comes with three-speed settings: 7,000 OPM, 9,500 OPM, and 11,000 OPM. The battery will last up to 40 minutes at a low speed or 20 minutes at high speed.
Some customers feel the 3 Amp battery has short battery life. You can extend the battery life by purchasing the 5 Amp battery instead.
Large 1/8″ random orbit size. Ergonomic body and grip. Dust-sealed switch.
Recommended if you would really like to go cord-free.
- 1-year warranty.
- Comes with a removable front handle for versatility.
- Has 8-foot long cord.
- At 5.2 pounds, it’s a little heavy.
- Does not come with a carrying case or bag.
This sander was designed to deliver a smooth finish with minimal swirl marks or other defects. If you need something to help you get a great finish, this may be the sander for you.
It also comes with a microfilter dust collection system to help protect your respiratory system. This orbital sander has a variable-speed dial that lets you adjust your speed from 4,500 to 12,000 OPM.
This model has a nice long 8-foot cord. It has a removable front handle to give you options in how you use the unit.
Recommended for the superior low swirl finish. This random-orbit sander will be great for the versatility of having a removable front handle. Recommended for the better dust collection system.
- Features a 3-Year Limited Warranty, 1-Year Free Service Contract, 90-Day Money-Back Guarantee.
- Offers speed – up to 12,000 OPM.
- Lightweight and easy to use.
- Some customers complain that the ergonomics are not the best.
- The dust bag does a poor job of staying attached.
- Does not include a carrying case or bag.
At just 3 pounds, this lightweight, balanced sander helps reduce hand fatigue. This can help you work longer and produce superior results.
It has a 1.9 Amp motor capable of 12,000 OPM. It accepts standard 5-inch, 8-hole hook-and-loop sandpaper. Includes a dust bag and comes with an operating manual.
Recommended if you need a lightweight model.
- This model comes with a 3-year warranty.
- Superior dust collection.
- Very lightweight.
- Does not include a carrying bag or case.
- It is pricier than most other models.
This is a professional level tool that provides professional results. It is well worth the price if you need that level of quality.
At just 2.4 pounds, it is lightweight and easy to use for long periods. features a 5/64″ orbit.
This is a professional tool. As such, it comes with a price to match. It is well worth the cost involved if you need high-quality work but is probably overkill for most weekend warriors or hobbyists.
People who don’t really do high quality work complain that they don’t understand the appeal of this sander. It’s for a particular kind of sanding job. This is a specialty sander. Make sure it matches your needs.
Provides superior dust collection. This is not only good for your respiratory system, but it also helps improve the finish of the woodwork.
Recommended if you need an extremely good finish sander, such as for work on high-quality furniture. Not recommended for general work as this is a specialty sander.
- Features a 1-year limited warranty. (Good for the original buyer for 1 year from date of purchase with sales receipt or invoice.)
- Features a large 8-inch sanding surface.
- Air powered.
- Need a hefty compressor to work well.
- Not suitable for small jobs.
- Not a finish sander.
- Does not include a carrying case or bag.
This 8-inch air-powered sander does a great job sanding down large surfaces, such as stripping the paint from a vehicle. If you have a really big sanding job you need to do, this may be the sander for you.
It features variable speed and a low-vibration performance. It weighs 4.7 pounds. Comes with operating instructions.
It requires a fairly hefty compressor. If you don’t have one, you may need to buy one to get the most out of this tool.
Recommended for large sanding jobs, such as vehicle bodywork. Nor recommended for finish work or small jobs. Not recommended if you don’t have a hefty compressor and aren’t willing to buy one. It simply won’t work as intended with an underpowered compressor.
Although a random-orbit sander is a good general sander, there are a lot of factors that impact which one is best for you. You can start by asking yourself some questions about how you intend to use it and any special considerations you have.
What kind of work is it for?
Think about what kinds of materials you will be sanding. Think about what kinds of sanding jobs you will be doing with it.
A sander well-suited to large flat surfaces may be great if you are doing bodywork on a vehicle, but all wrong for re-doing kitchen cabinets. If you are doing basic construction, your needs will differ from someone making fine furniture.
Sanding wood and sanding metal will also be completely different jobs.
Budget and health
For some people, the cost is a minor consideration. For others, it’s a huge consideration.
Some people are in generally good health and don’t need any special accommodations. Others can only get anything done if their respiratory problems or tendon problems are adequately accommodated.
For people with allergies or respiratory problems, the dust collection system may be one of the most important features. For people with tendon issues, finding a low vibration model may be of paramount importance.
Some things to think about:
- What is the amperage of the motor?
- What is the speed of the sander?
- Does it provide variable speed?
- How ergonomic is it?
- How heavy is it?
- Cord or no cord?
- If it has a cord, how long is it?
- What’s the warranty like?
You will need to choose between fixed or variable speed models. Fixed speed models are simpler to understand and are typically cheaper. You may want to go with that if you are a beginner or don’t do a lot of sanding.
If you use a sander a lot, you may want to spring for higher-priced variable speed models. They can give you options for quality control that can make a big difference in the final product.
Generally speaking, speeds of 10,000 to 12,000 OPM are typically used for coarse work sanding and for removing a lot of surface material at one time. This can be the case when one wants to even out an unbalance chair with one leg that is slightly too short, for example.
Speeds between 6,000 and 10,000 are used for finish sanding. Lower speeds between 4,000 and 6,000 are for polish work or use on softer materials.
Type of sandpaper attachment
These days, most random-orbit sanders come with quick change, hook-and-loop surfaces. Hook-and-loop is basically the same thing as Velcro. Stick it on and pull it off.
This makes it easy to change out the papers. It doesn’t require you to learn a different system for every tool.
Make sure to double-check if it is a readily available standard size of sandpaper that it accepts. Otherwise, you may be paying more for custom sandpaper or you may have trouble finding it at all.
Some specialty sanders still use adhesive. This makes it difficult or impossible to re-use sandpaper disc. Sometimes, it can’t be helped.
Cord or no cord
Most sanders come with a cord. The longer the cord, the better. It gives you freedom of movement and makes it less likely the cord will get in the way.
Cord information can actually be fairly hard to find. Some models come with up to twelve foot long cords. If you can get that length, that’s ideal for most people.
If the cord is making your crazy, you can look for battery-powered models. This can increase your freedom and range of motion.
If you do get a battery-powered model, then battery life becomes your new tether. You can sometimes get around this by buying extra batteries or buying more powerful batteries to help you work longer without having to worry about running out of power.
Dust collection system varies a lot. Many of them are just a small bag and this is one of the most criticized aspects of most sanders.
Many of them will allow you to hook it up to a vacuum. Some require extra parts to make that happen. Some get very bad reviews for how poorly that works.
If you have serious respiratory problems or you need to make a very quality finish, dust collection is a very important detail. Pay special attention to the particulars of the dust collection system if this is a make or break detail for you. Some work extremely well once hooked up to a vacuum system.
Dust collection also helps keep your shop or job site clean. This can be a safety issue. If you have eyesight issues or things are just busy all the time, one way to prevent accidents is to make sure your work area is spic and span.
So think about dust collection if you have reason to be concerned about safety. It’s absolutely not just an issue of comfort.
Look at the grip in all the photos. If you can’t imagine what the grip would feel like, considering going to a store in person and trying out different grip options to get a feel for how each on would do in your hand.
The grip is very personal. There is no one design that everyone agrees is best.
Some people are left-handed. Other are right-handed. Some people have big hands. Others have small hands. Some people have strong arms and hands. Others are working in spite of having serious tendon issues.
Don’t let anyone tell you what you think a good grip should be like. This is particular to your hands and how you work. You are the only expert here.
Most models claim the grip is designed to be ergonomic. They are often covered in rubber to help make them comfortable.
Some come with two handles to give you more options. Sometimes, one of the handles is removable.
If you have any special issues with grip, such as tendon problems, pay special attention to the grip options. This may be the make or break for whether or not you will actually use a given sander.
Many sanders have fairly unique features peculiar to them that you don’t see listed universally. While most models offer either fixed or variable speeds, some models offer three speed settings.
One model above has a “trigger” so you can turn it on by holding the button down instead of just turning it on “permanently.” It has a separate lock for turning it on without having to hold down the trigger.
There are no doubt use cases where this is a brilliant design. There are also going to be people who hate it. So pay special attention to any oddities the models have that stand out from the others. It might be the thing that makes you go “Oh my god! I must have this!” or it might be the thing that makes you go “No way!”
Finish quality is impacted by many things. Speed variability is one of them. Design is another.
Some sanders are designed to reduce swirls. Some have flexible pads that make it easier to work on varied surfaces, such as curved surfaces.
You can always do a test piece to check how well a speed setting and grit of sandpaper will accomplish the intended task. Ideally, you should stain it to check how visible scratches are.
Do you need a carry case or bag?
If you plan to use your sander in your workshop, you don’t need a carrying case or bag. But if you take it with you to the job site regularly, then having a carrying case or carrying bag from the manufacturer can add a lot of life to your sander.
The carrying bag seems to be the more common option. A hard-sided carrying case is less common. When you can find them, they are often not very rugged.
A rugged, hard-sided carrying case can help your sander survive being tossed in the back of your truck, left in the trunk of your car or lent to friends. It can help make sure it comes home still in working condition.
If you do bodywork on cars or other vehicles, you can get random-orbit sanders just for that. This review features a sander appropriate for that use case. It is air powered and requires a hefty compressor to get the job done.
If you need to corners, most random-orbit sanders don’t do corners. But some do. They typically have a second handle to turn the unit around.
So think about any particular things you need to do and make sure the sander you choose is appropriate to your needs.
Our Best Choice
Our favorite is number 1. Makita BO5041K 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander Kit. Not only will it handle corners, but it also has a great dust collection system.
But the reality is that sanders have such a wide variety of uses and factors that impact their performance, one size does not fit all. You will really need to think about what you intend to use this for and what qualities you need and choose accordingly.
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