Best Random Orbital Sander Reviews & Buyer's Guide
A random orbital sander is a small but useful power tool, used by many people and due to its popularity will be found in workshops, garages and sheds throughout the country.
Mainly it is used by people who work with wood, including carpenters, framers, furniture makers, the construction industry and those who like to do their own Home Projects.
Their main purpose is to smooth out the rough surfaces and edges of wooden, metal or plastic materials. Primarily though they are used for most types of woodworking.
When working on certain projects that involve the use of wood, at some stage you will want your work to be left with a nice smooth finish. This is referred to in the trade as sanding and finishing.
If you are in a hurry then we believe the best random orbital sander on the market right now is the Makita B05041K 5 inch, which is available at Amazon.
If you want something more affordable but one that still gets high buyer ratings, then we would recommend the very popular BLACK+DECKER BDERO100 Random Orbit Sander 5" sander, also available at Amazon.
Why Use a Random Orbital Sander?
Sanding can be done in one of two ways:
- Using sandpaper and elbow grease
- Using some type of sander or sanding machine.
The manual method works just fine and was the only option for many years. It is however slow and painstaking work. (If you have ever tried it, you already know what I mean)
There are two main things to consider which is the overall stock removal and the finishing stages. Stock removal simply refers to the process of removing wood to get it to the right size and a smooth finish.
By using a random orbital sander this stock removal process is just a great deal faster, and also does a much better job.
What is the Random Orbital All About?
There are a few different types of sander available on the market. These include:
- Belt Sanders - ideal for working on large surfaces and fast sanding
- Orbital Sanders - these are older style sanders and good for sanding and finishing
- Disc Sanders - a generic name for sanders that use sandpaper discs
- Random Orbital Sanders - these have replaced the orbital sanders as they leave a much cleaner and smoother finish
- Straight Line Sanders - As the name would suggest these are a good choice if you regularly work on long straight pieces of timber and these are mainly for commercial use
- Detail Sanders - As the name would suggest these are for very fine and detailed work and mainly used by higher end furniture makers
- Finishing Sanders - These are not so much about stock removal and more about leaving a very smooth finish
- Palm Sanders - these refer to the fact that you can use this type of a sander one handed
People just refer to these by different names and some of the descriptions mean the same thing. For example a detail sander is the same as a finishing sander, and a palm sander could fall into either category.
That is why picking a sander can get very confusing. Hopefully we can clear that up for you so as you can then make the right choice.
Random orbital refers to the fact that the base of the sander goes around in a circular motion described as an orbit. The random part refers to the other movement which is simply more random.
If you spin a disc of sandpaper in a circle then it would leave swirls on the material you are working on. That is a poor finish and no-one wants that. When these orbits are random, then no swirling takes place.
That is one of the key features that makes these small sanders so very popular.
When you get your new sander then you simply attach some sanding discs to the sander, and allow the power tool to do the work for you.
Orbital sanders use small pads or disks. A motor inside then moves these in a spinning and jittering (oval) motion which creates a random pattern. They get the name random as they create a mark-free, well finished and very smooth surface.
The random movement that this creates means that the grit is not constantly moving on the same piece of the wood and therefore no swirls. That is what makes these so popular with many users.
In days gone past sanders used to be either a basic circular movement or an oval movement. With just a circular movement the finish would have had a lot of swirl marks on it.
The oval one was better but it was also much slower at doing the actual sanding. The random orbital combines both movements and that means a good sanding action plus a swirl free finish.
What Is a Random Orbital Sander Used For?
For the most part these are used around the home for a variety of DIY home projects. If you need to sand down some skirting boards, doors, chairs, tables etc.
They are also used when you want to smooth out the surface of walls or make a piece of wood feel smooth so as you get a nice finish. They are by quite a distance the most popular of all the sanders available.
Many of these random orbital sanders are also handheld sanders often referred to as palm sanders. That just means they can comfortable fit into the palm of one hand, and that makes them easy to use, and offers much better control.
How Are Random Orbital Sanders Powered Up?
The majority of random orbital sanders are powered by electric. In other words you simply plug them into an electrical supply in your home, and they are good to go.
However there are other methods and I have listed all power options just below:
- Electric (110 Volts)
- Cordless - they run off a battery
- Pneumatic - they run off an airline which will need a compressor
The reason we like to mention this early on is so you know you have different power options. If you already own a compressor and pressure line,then a pneumatic option would be a good one, with a sander such as the Dynabrade range.
All of the leading tool brands do both an electric wired option and a cordless option. You will find that the cordless option is slightly more expensive.
The electric random orbital sander remains the most popular choice, as they are more affordable and do an excellent job.
How Does a Random Orbital Sander Work?
The principle is actually very simple. You put a disc on to the bottom of the sander and these can be attached using a hook and loop system, or by a simply stick on velcro system.
These discs come in different grades of paper ranging from rough all the way through to smooth. You would use a rougher grade of disc to remove a lot of stock quickly, and a smoother grade when it comes to doing the finishing of the work.
Your random orbital sander will then have a number of features such as variable speed, slow start up, easy disc pad changing etc. If you are a beginner to using one of these, then it will take a bit of practise to learn how to use all of the features.
We have covered off all the key features in our extensive buying guide below.
Which Brands Make Random Orbital Sanders?
You will not be surprised to know that all the leading too brands make these types of sander. They include:
- Black & Decker
- Porter Cable
Within each brand you will also find a number of different models. These range in price and also in the number of features available.
Our Top 3 List of Electric Random Orbital Sanders
Just below you will find our top 10 list of the best random orbital sanders that are currently available on the market. Just before showing you that, it is worth noting the following piece of information.
There are two main types of random orbital sander which are:
- The random orbital sander
- Palm random orbital sander
These are both available in a range of sizes. The most popular by a long way is the five inch (5"). You can also get 6" versions. This measurement refers to the actual diameter of the disk on the bottom of the sander.
With some orbital sanders, you can actually swap the type of pad sizes, and make use of a range of disk sizes. This is usually done with an Allen key at the bottom of the base.
Most random orbital sanders will use what is called a hook and loop paper changing system. This means you do not have to use adhesive sprays which can get very messy.
Just below you will find our top 3 electric powered random orbital sanders.
If you click on any of the links, you can read a more detailed review on each sander.
Makita B05041K 5" Random Orbit Sander Kit
This sander has a 3.0 AMP motor, with variable speed control. It has a rubberized palm grip and a second handle which is adjustable.
It also has a two-finger trigger switch with a lock-on button for continuous use.
There is a 1/8" random orbit action with a pad control system for controlled pad speed when starting up.
Black & Decker BDER0100 5" Random Orbit Sander
This is a much cheaper option but still gets very good online buyer reviews, We think it is suitable for most home owners who only have a bit of sanding to do every now and then.
Our Top 3 List of Cordless Random Orbital Sanders
- Makita XOB01Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless 5" Random Orbit Sander
- Ryobi P411 One+ 18 Volt 5 Inch Cordless Battery Operated Random Orbit Power Sander
- BLACK+DECKER BDCMS20C 20V MAX Lithium Ion MOUSE Sander
Our Top 3 List of Pneumatic Random Orbital Sanders
If you click on any of the links, you can read a more detailed review on each sander.
Random Orbital Sander Full Buying Guide
The video above gives a really good overview of what random orbital sanders can do, and is certainly worth a watch. For those who prefer to read about these sanders, then please continue below.
Just below you will find a full buying guide. If you have the time to read through all of this, we are certain that it will help you make the very best buying decision.
In this guide we include the range of features available, and we have then described what each feature can do for you, and why you might want to consider if that is important to you.
The power of the motor, the speed at which it can rotate and the more control you can have, then the better your product will be.
Random Orbital Sander Pricing
At the low end you can get one of these for about $30. At the higher end these will be around $200. The average price for a good quality sander with all the right features will cost between $60-80.
For most people, and certainly for people wanting a good sander for projects around the home, spending around $60 will get you a very good quality product.
If you are able to afford a little extra then you will get some nice extra features, though these are not always necessary
As mentioned earlier, most buyers will go for an electrical sander. These will always be the cheapest and you never have to worry about a battery running out.
Almost always though you will also need an extension lead, as the leads provided on these types of sander are just too short. There is also the issue of the lead getting in the way, or the risk of tripping over the lead.
Cordless or Battery Option
There are also cordless versions available. Many buyers are going down this road as they don't like the electrical lead getting in the way. A cordless option also makes the sander more portable and can be used anywhere, and even where there is no electric power supply.
These can be a good choice especially if you already own a cordless tool and the battery for that is compatible with the sander. That way you simply have to buy the "bare tool" sander.
The disadvantage is of course the battery running low or running out. If you have two batteries then a cordless sander could be a good choice for you.
Many professionals prefer this option and it is an excellent choice for heavier users. They are always more expensive but an excellent investment. You do however need an airline and connections along with a compressor.
One Handle or Two?
You can buy these with either a single handle or with two handles. Just get the two handled version is my best advice as it simply gives you great control when you are doing your work.
I have used both, and the double handle is absolutely the one to go with.
With most double handed models the second handle is simple to remove if you have to work up close to a wall or something like that.
The smaller palm sanders are all one handed but the larger ones can be either. Some people do prefer to operate these by one hand, and most of the products available can be used like this if you choose.
Motor Size and Orbits per Minute (OPM)
The size of the motor will ultimately determine the amount of power you have in your sander. The more powerful the motor the better, as it will last longer, and also apply more speed, as and when you need it.
OPM stands for orbits per minute and is how quickly the sander can vibrate. The faster it vibrates the quicker you will sand, and the more wood you will be able to remove.Typical values will be as follows:
- Motors - 3 -5 Amperes
- OPM - 7,000 - 12,000 OPM
Any sander that sits within the ranges show above is ideal for most projects.
Comfort When Using
I list this feature as my number one feature to make sure you have. Typically if you are sanding down something like for example a chair, this can take a fair amount of time.
Therefore you want the sander to feel good in your hand, not too heavy and not to vibrate very much.
That will mean you can avoid sore arms and that will allow you to work for longer. The better ones will come with rubberized grips for extra comfort.
As I have mentioned some of these sanders come with two handles, which make it easy to grip the machine in different ways while you are sanding.
When using any power tool, there will always be a certain amount of dust. However when using any type of sander there is going to be a huge amount of dust.
My strong advice is to make sure that whichever product you pick, there is a very good way of collecting the dust, or at least the majority of the dust. I would also highly recommend safety goggles and some type of dust mask.
These are not expensive purchases and will help stop getting grit and dust into your eyes and mouth (lungs).
Sanders can use either pleated filters, some type of attachment or a bag. The majority of these use what is called an on board dust collection mechanism. In my opinion having this method is a huge time saver.
The best sanders will have suction holes that are built right into its sanding pad. They instantly suck up the dust as soon as it is created when you are working.
The dust is sucked into a bag that is attached directly to the machine. Some models allow you to hook your orbital sander to the vacuum hose for great dust collection capacity. This is normally done through a small port at the rear of the sander.
As the name suggests you will absolutely want to have speed control on your sander. It is this that gives you full control over the speed at which your sander will be doing its work.
This is a very important thing to have so please do not buy one without this on it. (Most models will have this but be sure to check)
For example you may just want to try and remove an old teacup stain from a table, so will not want to sand too much. You will want to do this slowly.
On the other hand if you were doing the edge of a table, you would want to quickly move along the edge and get the job done.
If you want to sand an acrylic or a plastic, then you will also need a slower speed, otherwise the material you are working on could get small burn marks.
If for example you are working on a bigger surface you will not want to have to continually hold the trigger in. Having a lock facility will keep the sander running until you want to turn it off.
This for me is a vitally important feature to look for. It may sound trivial but if you have ever sanded down a table top, then you will know exactly what I mean.
Random orbital sanders can come as a direct drive or can be gear driven.
In the direct drive method, the base is directly driven from the motor.
With the gear driven orbital sander, the motor feeds into a gearbox. That gearbox then drives its sander base. The gear driven box gives you a great deal more control, torque and power, but will be more expensive.
The larger the orbital sander is then the faster and more wood can be removed. Typical sizes are 5" and 6".
Likewise, and because of the huge amount of dust that will be created, you do not want this to get into the workings of your machine. Make sure that you have what is called a sealed power switch.
This helps a lot by keeping the dust out of the electrical motor and as such will greatly enhance the length of time your new sander will last for. (Again most good models will have this as standard.)
Check the Base Size & Shape
Most random orbital sanders will have have a round base. Other finishing sanders and some orbit sanders may have either a round, rectangular or a square fixed base.
They usually come as half sheet, third sheet, or quarter sheet sanders. This measurement is taken from a standard sheet of sandpaper.
Sanding Disk Grit Sizes
When using an orbital sander it is always best to start with rough sanding and work your way down to the finer finished sanding. This can be achieved by starting with a high grit of sanding paper, and then working your way down to a finer grit.
You can buy different sizes of sanding disks and these are available in different grit sizes, or more commonly in a combination of grit sizes. Most of these packs will contain round or circular disks which are easily attached to your random orbital sander.
Sandpaper comes in many different grades. You need to know the right grade of the sandpaper that should be used with the particular orbital sander and the surface you are working on. The grade is measured simply by the amount of sand granules that are available per square inch of sandpaper.
When you see a lower grade this implies that it is course. At the other end of the scale one with a higher grade means it has finer sand granules. If you are doing a lot of work, then paper like this is not cheap, so just bear that in mind.
Maintenance of Random Orbital Sanders
These are well made and pretty durable tools. The only thing that you really need to do is oil them on a regular basis. The typical lifespan, if getting regular use and regular maintenance is about 4 years.
By regular use we mean being used every day for around an hour.
They should of course be regularly cleaned and never left outside or in any type of damp or wet conditions.
The one thing that regularly breaks this type of sander is good old fashioned brute force and ignorance. The spinning action is what removes the wood. Some users though believe that if they lean down hard on these, the job will get done quicker.
That is just not true and all that behavior will ensure is that the motor will get burned out pretty quickly.
How to Use a Random Orbital Sander
If you want to know how to use one of these properly and get the most effective use from your sander, then I have done a full and detailed article on how to do that. You can read that article by clicking here.
If you have read this article from beginning to end, then hopefully you are in a better place to make a buying decision. My general advice would be that for almost all people then an electrical corded random orbital sander will be the best choice for most people.
Just make sure it is light in weight, has variable speed and is from a reputable brand who offer a good guarantee and warranty. It takes some time to master the art of sanding and finishing. When you achieve that though, then the sander that you hold in your hand can truly make a big difference.
My advice is not to pay any more than $70 for one of these as that type of money will get you a very good sander and one that will last for a long time. Don't forget to change the sanding pads on a regular basis as that will save you from damaging the surfaces.
If you plan on doing a lot of sanding, then for certain install some type of vacuum dust extraction as that will truly benefit you both in terms of your health, and in cleaning up afterwards. Many professionals have now turned to pneumatic tools and they do work better and are cheaper to use, once you have bought a compressor.
For most of us though an electrical random orbital sander at a price point of in and around $70-80 will be ideal.