Sanding things by hand has its advantages but unless you have hours to kill and muscles like The Rock, an electric sander is the way to go. Whether you’re sanding some new wooden worktops for a kitchen or making your own shelves, an electric sander is a must-have tool for woodworkers as it saves time and gives a far better finish.
The problem is choosing the right sander for the job. Straight off the bat, you’ll need to decide between corded and cordless models, with each type having its pros and cons. Then you’ll need to consider which kind of sander best fits the job at hand: for instance, a detail sander is no good for sanding an entire floor, and most DIY jobs will require more than one type of sander.
In general, there are six options to choose from: belt sanders, random orbital sanders, disc sanders, finishing sanders, detail sanders and multi-function sanders. Read on, and our buying guide and hands-on mini reviews will help you choose the right tool for the job.
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Best sander: At a glance
How to choose the best sander for you
What type of sander should I buy?
As mentioned above, there are typically four kinds of sander. Some are more versatile and can be used for multiple jobs, while others are more specialist. Below is a short summary of the main types and how they differ from each other.
Belt sander: As the name suggests, this type of sander has a belt that goes around in a constant loop, taking the sandpaper with it. These are seriously powerful and can easily deal with removing thick coatings of paint or shaping wood before more refined tools are introduced. Don’t underestimate their sanding power: belt sanders require skill to use if you don’t want to accidentally take chunks out of your material.
Random orbital sander: If you can only afford one sander, a random orbital is the most versatile. They are typically circular, but not exclusively, and although it might look like they simply rotate the sanding disc, they actually move it around in an unpredictable pattern to avoid scratch marks. Their size and ease-of-use make them suitable for a wide range of sanding tasks.
Disc sander: A disc sander is probably what most people think a random orbital sander is. The key difference is that they do spin in a fixed motion, much like the wheel on a car. They typically require two-handed operation and, like belt sanders, are better for tougher jobs where lots of material needs removing. The fixed motion means you need to be careful not to leave visible circle marks behind.
Finishing sander: A finishing sander, as you might expect, is the one you need to put the finishing touches on a job. They come in different shapes and sizes which means you’ll sometimes see them described as palm sanders, and are ideal for working on flat areas before adding products like oil, wax and paint.
Detail sanders: In many ways, a detail sander is a type of finishing sander. Typically, they have a triangular shape with curved sides, and this makes them less suitable for larger areas. They are, however, ideal for precise tasks like edges or harder to reach places.
Multi-function sander: A fifth option that might be ideal for many DIYers is a multi-function sander. A bit like a socket set, these sanders come with interchangeable heads so you’re not limited to one type of sanding. If you want the most versatile all-in-one solution, this is the way to go.
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What else should I look out for?
Once you’ve decided which type of sander you need, there are a few things to look out for before making your final choice.
Make sure the sander has the right type of grip for you. Some are one-handed while others can facilitate two, either in the main grip or with an additional handle. A soft rubber grip will help you control your sander and avoid mistakes.
Sanding creates a lot of dust so it’s a good idea to look for a sander with good dust collection as not all sanders come with this feature. Typically it will come in the form of a built-in dust compartment but some can even be attached to a vacuum cleaner tube for better extraction.
A lot of sanders come with a simple on/off switch but some offer variable speeds to provide more control. A slower speed will ensure material isn’t removed too quickly, while full speed is great for quick progress as well as polishing.
Whether the speed is variable or not, a lock-on switch can be very useful for lengthy jobs so you don’t have to hold the power button down the entire time you’re sanding.
You also need to check what size and type of sandpaper the sander takes. Some allow regular sheets to be cut to size and clamped into place while others must be the correct size and simply attach via a hook and loop fixing such as Velcro.
Should I buy corded or cordless?
This all comes down to how and where you want to use your sander. Firstly think about whether there is going to be a power socket available where you are sanding, or even if you can run an extension cable. If not, then a cordless battery-powered sander is the answer.
If there is power available then a corded sander makes life simpler in many ways as you don’t need to worry about charging batteries or replacing them when they are old. You just need to deal with a cable potentially getting in the way.
How much do I need to spend?
Sanders can easily cost less than £30 but this will likely limit you to a small detail sander or a palm finishing sander. You will need to spend more for more powerful, feature-packed versions or other types of sander: sanders can range from £50 for a cheap random orbital to over £250 for a professional-grade belt sander.
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The best sanders to buy
1. Bosch PEX 220 A: Best orbital sander
Price: £62 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’re looking for a versatile corded sander then the PEX 220 A from Bosch is a great purchase. It’s incredibly easy to use: its velcro-type fastening allows you to replace sanding sheets in a matter of seconds, and the toggle on/off switch leaves your fingers free to hold the device via the soft and contoured grip.
The PEX 220 A is suitable for a wide range of tasks with a powerful 220W motor combined with a lightweight, compact design. The 125mm disc size means it’s both small enough to tackle tricky areas but big enough to use for sanding something larger like a door or worktop – flat or curved.
The small but effective Microfilter dust box helps to keep dust to a minimum, too, although it can be a little hard to clip back in after emptying.
Key specs – Weight: 1.2kg; Maximum speed: 24,000opm; Pad diameter: 125mm; Orbit diameter: 2.5mm; Lock-on switch: Yes; Variable speed: No; Dust box: Yes; Power rating: 220W
£45.07 Buy now
2. Worx Sandeck WX820: Best multi-function sander
Price: £99 (without battery) £160 (with battery) | Buy now from Amazon