Tool Tips: How to Use An Orbital Sander

For any DIY-er, there is nothing more satisfying than having a project with smooth edges and surfaces. Thankfully, an orbital sander offers you a chance to attain perfection in your projects.

An orbital/finishing sander is a versatile tool that helps craftsmen do various projects with great finesse. You can use it in woodworking, metal-working, plastic-working, and more.

If you have struggled enough with belt sanders, disc sanders, random orbital sanders, and more, orbital sander would undoubtedly be a great alternative. The machine came into the market decades ago, and it certainly has gained the most popular homeowner tool title over the years. 

Now, most of us would already have a finishing sander. If not, you are certainly considering buying one as you are reading this post. Check my recommendations for the best finishing sander models available on the market.

But, the first thing that must be addressed here is how many of us know how to use an orbital sander? We are sure not many. Although it isn’t a complicated tool to use considering the effects it can add to your projects, it is a must to know the critical rules of handling this machine with expertise.

Let us start with understanding the orbital sanders first.

What is an orbital sander?

An orbital sander is a high-technology gadget that has changed the way we sand metals, wood or plastic. Also known as a finishing sander this tool is used for small stock removal from the wood pieces in the final (finishing) stage or production. This tool is very easy to control with one hand, thanks to its lightweight and small dimensions.  

The square/rectangular sheet that comes in contact with the wood, moves in small circular motions removing the stock from the surface.

Sizes of Orbital finishing Sander:

Orbital sanders have been so far claimed as the easiest to use & maintain tools. They do come in varieties and are categorized based on their sheet’s size.

  • 1/4 sheet 
  • 1/3 sheet 
  • 1/2 sheet 

Let us discuss each type of sanders in detail.

> 1/4 sheet 

When you need to finish wooden surfaces and the work is in a confined space, you need a 1/4 sheet sander or perhaps detailing sander. These are compact and thus easily reach limited areas. This is the reason they are also known as ‘Palm Sanders’ as they are small and can be handled with one hand.

Unless your sander uses a hoop and loop system to save on sandpaper, you can buy full-size sheets and cut them in four.

> 1/3 sheet 

These are the most commonly used sanders. Usually, fit to do any type of sanding job, these tools are popular in domestic as well as commercial setups. They are fairly small and can be easily handled while sanding. You will need a 93 x 230 mm replacement sheet to use with this tool.

> 1/2 sheet

As the name suggests, these are the largest sanders in size. They aren’t very useful at homes but are more often used in commercial setups, where large sheets need to be sanded in minimum time. Bigger pad size means a bigger surface is sanded in less time.  The replacement sheet size for this type of sanders is 115x 280 mm.

They can also be classified by their shape

  1. The first one is profiling sander or contour sander. These types of sanders come in different shapes and sizes and are designed for sanding intricately shaped surfaces like moldings and carvings.
  2. The second one is a detailed sander or mouse sander and has a triangle-shaped pad that allows the sander to reach inside corners and restricted areas with ease.

How to use an orbital sander?

Orbital sanders are the most popular because of their smoothing capabilities. They are usually used to ultra-smooth wood, rounding sharp edges, sanding off the wood putty, or varnish coats. It has a sanding sheet at its bottom, held by two spring-loaded clamps over a square pad or hoop and loop system. 

As the machine starts the pad vibrates and moves in small circles, better known as orbits.

Once you have picked your type of sander, use it considering some dos and don’ts. Here are some essential things that ensure you make the best use of your tool.

Using a sander

Power sanders usually operate through two buttons. One that allows you to cut and resume power supply to the machine and the second one – lock-in button that allows for locking the power button in on position, letting you place your hand more comfortably on the tool’s body.  

Here you must note that you should switch on and off the sanders away from the surface to prevent any damage.

Now that the machine is ready, you may put it in contact with the surface and hold it with from the knob in a way that you do not exert any extra pressure on the machine. Any excessive pressure can make the surface uneven as the sander will end up sanding more than required.

Usually, orbital sanders have a ventilation hole, and you must not cover this hole while using the tool to avoid overheating. Some of the models have a set of holes in a sanding pad as well that allow for sanding dust collection.

To get the best results out of your sanding exercise, you must move the sander backward and forward at a constant speed and maintain the pressure and balance. And do so along the wood grain to avoid scratches.

However, you must be aware that if you have a new sheet of sandpaper attached, the tool will be more aggressive than a tool with used sandpaper. Hence it would be best if you watch your speed and pressure.

Important things to keep in mind while using orbital sanders:

  • Secure your work with clamps against the wood.
  • Use the tool as directed in the manual.
  • Do not let the machine run unattended.
  • Wear personal protective equipment like goggles, ear protection, and dust respirator

I hope, now you know a little bit more about how to use an orbital sander, and I’m sure you’ll get better at it with some practice. Anyway, if you have any questions, let me know by leaving a comment below 🙂

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