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Sanders: The Ultimate Buyers Guide

the ultimate sanders buyers guide

If you love wood working, then you know how crucial sanding is as the final stage of the quality of product. So we all know the basic purpose of a power sander: to finish surface materials. However before choosing the sander you're going to purchase it is important that you also establish your specific requirements of the task. By the end of this guide you will have no trouble deciding what type of sander to buy! So let’s get going.

Type of Sander

Some electric sanders are designed to give the best surface quality possible, while others leave
much rougher finishes but get the job done in a much quicker time, enabling them to tackle large scale jobs. It can be tough to decide what sander you need, with out fully understanding the the different types of sanders out there and their uses.

Detail Sander

detail sander

A Detail Sander is a hand-held sander that uses a vibrating head with a triangular piece of sandpaper attached. It can also be known as a Corner Sander, as it is able to reach into intricate corners and tight spaces that other sanders might not be able to.

Detail sanders are most commonly used for small craft projects, this is because they're delicate enough to smooth out a surface without removing too much of the material. They are often used for restoring counter tops and banisters in home improvement projects.

Palm Sander

palm sander

Palm sanders, as the name may suggest, are small sanders that fit comfortably into the palm of your hand. They are incredibly lightweight and small tools, which is great in terms of prolonged use and avoid overworking and fatigue.

However due to their small stature, while they may be ideal for light jobs like polishing a finished piece of wood that isn’t going to be painted, they wont be much use for larger jobs such as removing any paint, varnish or anything stuck to the wood.

Random Orbital Sander

random orbital sander

These hand held power sanders deliver random motions, it spins and orbits elliptically at the same time. Because of the unique movements of this sander, you're able to move it in any direction. Combining the speed of a belt sander with the smoothness of an orbital sander.

This sander is the ideal tool for getting a smooth finish on large flat areas. It can be used for smoothing out plaster, paint or varnish and in between coats too. The base plate, available in a multitude of sizes, moves with a tight, rapid orbital action that minimises scratching and swirl-patterns often left by orbital sanders. There's a wide range of abrasive papers available for random orbital sanders.Because of this they can sand a varied range of materials including wood, sheet steel, plastic and much more.

Belt Sander

belt sanders

A belt sander uses a belt that stretches across two wheels that continuously move around powered by a motor. The belt sander works with a continuous loop of abrasive sandpaper stretched over the rollers. Some models can also be secured to a workbench for stationary use.

These sanders are great at removing large amounts of material in big areas. The aggressive action quickly shapes and finishes wood and other materials, typically used only for the beginning stages of the process. However they can also be used for removing paints or finishes from wood. Fitted with fine grit sand paper, the sander can be used to achieve an entirely smooth surface.

Features of a Sander

Not all sanders are created equally, so it is important to consider which and how many features your budget allows for. When choosing a sander model, you should consider the following:


power of a sander

Different sander types have different levels of power, but consider the power level of each individual model. The amount of power you need depends on the toughness of the jobs you’re going to undertake, and how long it will take you on average to do them. Battery-powered portable sanders have motors rated in Volts (V).


variable speed dial

Most sanders will come with a variable speed control setting. This controls the RMP (rotations per minute) on orbital and disc sanders and the FPM (feet per minute) on belt sanders. A higher FPM translates to to a higher removal of material, meaning a quicker work rate.


Size of sander

The size of your sander will determine how long it will take you to cover an area. The bigger the sander the more space it will cover, and while this can be handy if you have a big job to tackle, it can also make it heavy and uncomfortable to use for prolonged period of time.

Vibration control

vibration control

Overexposure to vibration can not only be uncomfortable to the user but it also poses a danger to you. It can even do permanent damage if you do not follow the manufacturer’s usage recommendations. Lower vibration levels mean you can work for longer in greater safety and comfort.

Dust extraction

dust extraction

Sanding creates a lot of dust, which is not only messy but can also be hazardous if frequently breathed in. It's important to note if the sander come with a dust collection bag, and if so how big is the bag?

What is the best sander for furniture?

Taking on a furniture restoration project can feel daunting. Choosing the wrong sander runs the risk of damaging the piece you're working on, especially if it is a smaller more delicate piece of furniture.

ryobi belt sander

If you're working on a large, rougher projects, such as tables and dressers then you'll want a to use a heavy duty belt sander. These are very useful for striping back excessive amounts of paint or varnish and taking the pieces back to raw wood. The cordless belt sander from Ryobi is perfect to use for heavy duty applications over large areas and can remove up to 700g of material per hour. The 3 position front handle gives the added control and versatility for this sander to reach into tight spaces that normal belt sanders cannot.

ryobi palm sander

For more delicate pieces of furniture, that you plan to stain once it has been sanded a palm sander is the tool for you. It enables you to sand with the grain of wood, to keep for a clean finish. Due to the triangular shape, this sander is ideal for getting into tricky corners and tight spots. It's perfect for medium to light applications, such as paint removal and fine finishing. 

Should I sand before staining?

how to stain wood

No matter what the surface is that you're refinishing, it's important to know how to properly apply stain to ensure a professional looking finish. The first step is sanding, to effectively stain a surface you need a smooth clean surface with no blemishes that can be highlighted during the staining process. If you're using a random orbital sander then look very closely once you're done for swirl marks left on the wood. They may be difficult to see, so you may need to wipe down the surface to get a better look. Any swirls on the surface should be gently buffed out using a fine sandpaper.

When you're done sanding it's very important make sure you've gotten rid of all the sanding dust and debris before you do anything else. Along with the dust extraction that your sander will likely come with, you should also use a good hoover and a tack rag to remove any contaminants from the surface. Once the surface is properly cleaned, take a wet cloth (not just damp and not dripping) and ensure every inch of the wood is wet, but with no puddles. This is called "popping" the grain, as it opens the pores of the wood to allows the stain to take evenly and deeply.

Finally once the water has dried completely, you will be able to successfully apply your stain. The stain goes on relatively easily, wiping it on and then right off. Apply a generous amount of stain to the surface and work it into the grain, then wiping it right off, ensuring not to leave any puddles or wet spots. Wipe with a clean rag until the surface is as smooth as can be.

SGS power sander range

Can you sand damp wood?

No — you need to wait until it is dry. The particles in wood have properties similar to that of a sponge, when they soak up water, they expand, a process called "popping the grain". If you sand while it is still wet, then because it is still expanding you'll be wasting your time and ruining your sandpaper. Moisture causes the grit in sandpaper to fall off unless you are using wet and dry paper. But moreover be patient and let your project completely dry and then do the sanding.

What Sandpaper should I Use?

There are two main types of paper: Aluminium Oxide and Garnet. Garnet is more expensive, but will last longer and is good for finishing and sanding between varnish. Aluminium Oxide is cheaper, doesn’t last as long, but is good for general use.

Coarse: 40 – 60 grit – Extremely rough surfaces when wood has dips, gouges, splinters or loose fibres.

Medium: 80 – 100 grit – Good for removing finishes and light paint.

Fine: 110 – 150 grit – For preparing wood.

Very fine: 180 – Good for starting softwood sanding.

Extra fine: 300 – 400 grit – Good for final sanding of hardwood and sanding between varnishes.

Super fine: 800 grit – Extremely hardwoods, the final touch

Still need help?

Our in house experts are always on hand for buying advice and to provide bespoke care, regardless of the application.

Call SGS on 01332 576 850 or fill out our contact form today.

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