After using every type of random orbit sander to build cabinets and furniture the simple answer to which random orbital sander is best comes down to owning two orbital sanders:
- Cordless. There’s no reason to drag a cord around the shop or job site for small sanding jobs. And, not every sanding task requires a massive two-handed sander.
- Festool. For professionals there just isn’t a substitute. While there are dozens of sanders in the $50-100 range, when it comes to a professional finish you can’t beat Festool quality.
Lastly, the tool buyers motto “buy once, cry once” is absolutely applicable to a random orbit sander. I’ve had units last a decade and what you buy today will be around for a long, long time.
Fast stock removal:
Features of a Professional Random Orbit Sander
While a random orbit sander seems like a simple tool, there are actually a lot of moving parts that separate a tool that spins a disc from a truly useful sander:
- Vibration control
- Speed adjustment / variability
- Location of switches
- Dust extraction port
- Size of sanding discs
- Availability of compatible sanding discs
- Soft start vs “snap on”
- Aggressive mode for fast wood removal
- Automated brake to slow disc spin quickly
- Stay-on power switch
- Single vs. two-handed operation
- Corded vs. cordless
- Power / amps
- Storage and carrying case
- Replacement cost of “hook and loop” pad
- Intelligent vibration control
- Constant speed motor under load
In a professional grade unit, almost all of these features are combined into one package. Just don’t expect to pay $50.
Types of Random Orbital Sanders
You might be thinking there is only one type of random orbital sander.
But, as with most tools, there are distinct variations in the design and power source of an orbital sander.
1. Basic Corded Sander
Shown: Metabo HPT 5-Inch
Odds are really good you’ve either used or own a sander like this. With the basic features like a cloth dust bag, standard 5-inch size and variable speed control this popular sander is the one you’ll see from all major brands to import knock-offs.
When should you buy this sander? Well, any DIY’er with just a project or two a year is safe with this budget friendly type of random orbit sander.
2. Heavy Duty
Shown: Makita BO5041
While a smaller random orbit sander is great for small jobs, when your woodworking takes you into larger projects then a heavier duty random orbit sander is a must.
As you can see this inline drive sander features handles for control. And, with this heavier design feature more power, less vibration (vibration can cause swirls, the #1 enemy of orbital sanding).
3. Air Powered
Shown: Ingersoll Rand 6-inch
While not known to many woodworkers, your air compressor can power a random orbit sander. But the trade-off? You guessed it, a louder background noise and less dust control.
So, unless you’re working outdoors, keep these types of sanders to what they are generally best at: metalworking.
4. Professional Sander
Shown: Festool 576070
Among woodworkers there is always a debate about the best of anything.
And, somewhere on that list comes Festool.
While price is their number one complaint (quality and innovation cost money, after all), these tools just plain perform better:
- Lower vibration
- Better dust control
- Better storage
- Integrates with dust extraction
Shown: Makita Cordless
With every tool from drills to even table saws going cordless it is little surprise you’ll find a cordless random orbit sander.
Featuring all of the capability of the basic sanders these ultra-portable sanders are a great choice for basic sanding needs. However, if your projects are larger and require more intense, vibration free sanding its worth careful comparison to a heavy duty or professional sander.
6. Detail Sander
Shown: Ryobi Cordless Mouse Sander
With these corner-accessing sanders now widely available there is a bit of debate if its a random orbital sander or a palm sander.
But we view it as close enough to be considered a random orbit sander due to its design, hook and loop paper and orbital action.
While not a replacement for a standard 5-inch sander, these sanders are great for anything from new project sanding to refinishing furniture. Since their design comes to a point, a mouse sander can reach into the corner to easily sand areas a rounded orbital sander can’t.
7. Right Angle Drive Orbital Sander
Shown: Bosch Random Orbit Sander
For heavy duty, all-day sanding a more powerful continuous duty motor is required.
And that is where professionals turn to a right angle drive that features:
- Better ergonomics
- More efficient cooling of the motor and housing
- Improved dust control
- Some models have “turbo” modes, like the Bosch, that remove stock 3-6x faster
Random Orbit vs. Palm Sander
While both a palm and random orbit sander oscillate, they are different in that:
- A random orbit sander uses a round sanding disc that spins and is oscillated to create a “random” pattern
- Meanwhile a palm sander uses a half or quarter sheet of standard sheet sandpaper that is then oscillated
But why choose one over the other? Well, you’ll need both. Most woodworkers prefer to start with an random orbit sander for scratch and stock removal. And then switch to a palm sander for the final sanding.
Choosing the Best Random Orbit Sander for Your Shop
Budgets are important, and when it comes to woodworking tools there are potentially tens of thousands of dollars in tools to consider.
So the trick with tools is to buy what you’ll need now and thru it’s intended life. And, while generally under $150, the best orbit sanders generally fit a few categories:
- Budget random orbit sander for occasional use
- Professional random orbital sander
- Portable orbital sanders
- Random orbit sanders for tight spots
- Best random orbit sander for fast stock removal
Budget random orbit sander for occasional use
If your projects aren’t that frequent, large or require a lot of wood removal then a basic corded orbital sander is a great place to start. And, as a basic unit, these sanders are readily available for around $50.
- 5″ hook and loop pad
- Dust collection
- Variable speed control
Models to Consider
- Dewalt DWE6421 – is a newer version of a Dewalt sander I’ve owned over 10 years and have replaced multiple hook and loop pads
- Metabo HPT – checks the box on all the basic features at a budget price.
- Bosch ROS10 – is the entry model to the popular line of Bosch sanders
- Makita BO5030K – is an upgrade pick that you’ll find in serious woodworker shops.
Professional random orbital sander
For the best possible finish professionals will turn to high grade brands like Festool.
But, with precision machines known for their durability comes a cost. However, you’ll have features like:
- Reduced vibration for smoother finishes
- Improved ergonomics for longer use
- More efficient and longer-lasting motors
- Soft start to avoid sudden jumps
- Lastly, some units are built for connections to dust extractors
Models to Consider
- Festool 576070 – is from the popular maker of the Festool Domino and comes ready to connect to a dust extractor.
- Festool 571782 Rotax – steps up to the top of the line from Festool and is dust collector compatible.
Portable Random Orbital Sander
Like almost all tools from drills to cordless table saws, orbital sanders have went cordless. And, for a lot of professionals these are either a second sander for the jobsite or a touch-up sander for smaller jobs.
But the primary benefit?
No black cord dragging around on your workpiece edge leaving marks on a finished surface. And yes, that’s my pet peeve with the entry level sanders.
- Dust collection
- Random speed control
- One-handed grip
- 5″ orbit sander
Models to Consider
- Makita XOB01Z – features one-touch speed control for easy change in speed.
- Black + Decker – is the budget-friendly option that fits the 20V battery ecosystem.
- Milwaukee 2648-20 – features variable speed and a see-thru dust collection box.
Random Orbit Sanders for Tight Spots
As you may know, this is technically a detailed sander.
But, with the same form and random pad movement it’s worth mentioning as (another) sander you’ll want to have around for getting into corners.
Because, after all, a round random orbit sander won’t fit into a corder.
Models to Consider
Unfortunately, big name manufacturers aren’t after this niche sander space. So, look to Black + Decker and Skil as two of the popular brands.
Best Random Orbit Sander for Fast Stock Removal
While my preference is to use a belt sander, then a random orbit followed by, lastly, a quarter sheet palm sander that’s not always possible.
In part, belt sanders are notorious dust generating machines.
So when you need fast stock removal you’ll want to look to the right angle sanders that feature:
- Eccentric modes for faster stock removal
- Dust collection port
- High amp motors for power and durability
Models to Consider
- Bosch GET75-6N – this 6-inch sander features “Turbo mode” that accelerates, well, wood removal
- Festool 571782 – features an aggressive mode for fast stock removal
Surprisingly not every woodworker knows about dust collectors.
But you should.
Basically, these are highly specialized dust collectors that suck dust from high-producing dust generators. Like a random orbit sander.
- Most feature HEPA filters for maximum filtering
- Can help with OSHA compliance (check your model for specs)
- High CFM is better, and for single tools these can go as high as 150 CFM
- Lastly, power tool activation to start with a compatible power tools switch
If you haven’t guessed, dust is a #1 issue with random orbit sanders.
So, another option to help keep dust down is a downdraft table that (usually) hooks into your dust collector to keep small particles out of the air.
Do you need one if you have a dust extractor? Yes – since the extractor will not pull all of the dust.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are random orbit sanders available in cordless?
Yes. There are many makers of cordless random orbit sanders, including popular brands like Dewalt and Ryobi.
What is the standard size of sandpaper?
Almost all random orbit sanders are 5″ in diameter.
How do I choose a random orbit sander?
Choosing a random orbit sander is best matched to your use, need for electric power vs. portability and speed of stock removal.
What is the best entry-level random orbit sander for a small workshop?
A 5″ corded random orbit sander is generally the best entry-level sander as it is inexpensive and allows for future upgrades to professional units.
Choosing the best random orbit sander requires understanding your projects – both now and in the future. However, with these tools generally starting under $100 there’s plenty of room to try and upgrade later.
- About the Author
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Eric has been a professional woodworker for over thirty years and has worked in small cabinet shops making everything from kitchen cabinets to hand-made furniture. Now working from a home woodworking shop Eric is sharing his passion for woodworking, tool advice and how-to knowledge from his Minnesota-based woodshop.