Types of Wood Sanders

Image of Makita, but what are the Types of Wood Sanders?Wood planks and boards for any construction activity should look neat and have a soft texture when touched. Sanding is the practice of rubbing an abrasive material on timber with the aim of achieving a smooth surface; the abrasive material is known as sandpaper or a sanding sheet. There are different types of wood sanders depending on the shape of your workpiece, the scale of operation, technological advancement, and other factors.

Different Types of Wood Sanders

The sanders include:

  • Standard orbital sanders.
  • Random orbital sanders.
  • Belt sanders.
  • Oscillating spindle sanders.
  • Benchtop sanders.
  • Sanding blocks.

There are also larger and heavier sanders used on wood that lie affixed as in floors and decks. These sanders include the drum sander and the edge sander.

That said, I’ll go ahead and discuss the sanders in details as below:

Standard Orbital Sanders (SOS)

The SOS has a large, square, or rectangular-shaped sanding pad with a sturdy build. This machine is subdivided into two classes: the quarter sheet orbital sander and the half sheet orbital sander. The former is so-called because it uses quarter sheets of standard-sized sandpapers, while the latter use half sheets of standard-sized sandpapers. This enables economized and efficient use of sanding sheets: from one standard abrasive sheet, you get four pieces for a quarter sheet orbital sander or two pieces for a half sheet sander. 

These sanders hold the sanding sheet in place using a metal clamp or lever located on the machine’s bottom front side. The sanding pads only make compacted orbital motions to effect abrasion. This motion is a setback as it makes SOS sand slower than other sanders like the random orbital sanders. The taut motion also leaves behind swirls on timber, making it difficult to achieve a clean finish.


  • It’s great for finishing.
  • The replacement abrasives are widely available and cheap.
  • The power tool is easy to handle.
  • It’s gentle on wood, thus minimal damages.


  • It is time-consuming


Random Orbital Sanders (ROS)

Craftsman random orbital sanderThe random orbital sander is arguably the most common sander used in modern woodworking. It is a powerful tool that produces a random-orbit action on the sanding pad. This tool was first used in the early 1980s and has undergone remarkable improvements since then. The sander produces two simultaneous motions when operating; a spinning motion and an elliptical motion. This pattern ensures that the sandpaper does not follow the same path twice when sanding and removes any swirl marks that might have formed. 

This power tool comes in three forms: pneumatic (air operated), electric powered, and random orbital floor sander. The pneumatic and electric sanders are usually handheld, whereas a random floor orbital sander is a large, heavy-duty power tool that rolls. 

ROS operates in any direction on the wood, i.e., you can sand against the grain or along the grain without damaging the timber. Plus, this enables you to sand two pieces of wood together for fastening at right angles.

ROS’s sanding sheet is fastened to the rotary pad using a velcro attachment that is easy to hook and detach; this makes it easy to change sandpapers. Some of the models come with a dust-collection system that vacuums away debris into a collecting bag or a canister.

 Belt Sander

Ryobi belt sander for woodworkingA belt sander is also known as a strip sander. It comprises an electric motor that rotates cylinders onto which sandpaper is attached, making a continuous loop. This arrangement makes the machine look similar to a conveyor belt. There are two types of belt sanders, i.e., the portable version and the stationary version.

The portable models are handheld and moved about the workpiece while the stationary models are mounted at fixed positions on workbenches, and the lumber is fed to the abrasive belt. The portable models, as you may have guessed, are smaller and lighter than the stationary models.

These sanders act aggressively on wood and are therefore suitable for sanding in the initial stages; this primes the timber for the subsequent, delicate sanding procedures. The machine is meant for tedious tasks that require rapid removal of wood material. The machines have the added benefit of sharpening metal tools (stationary sander) and removing paints and finishes from wood.

These machines, due to their heavy-duty tasks, produce massive amounts of sawdust when operating. They are thus kitted out with a dust collection system to clear off the dust from view and avert health complications linked to sawdust inhalation. This is very convenient and if your machine does not have a dust collection system, connect it to a vacuum cleaner to sort out the debris problem.

Caution: You should never use a belt sander for final or delicate finishing projects as it will damage your lumber.


  • The machine removes wood material very fast.
  • It comes at a pocket-friendly price.
  • The unit can strip off paint from wood.
  • It has a sturdy build.


  • The sander can gouge and damage timber easily.
  • It is challenging to handle.

Oscillating Spindle Sanders (OSS)

OSS is designed specifically for inside curves, which cannot be sanded by almost every other wood sander. The machine comes with numerous different-sized drums around which sanding sheets are wrapped. You can change from one sanding drum to another easily by unfastening and fastening, respectively, using a wrench. The drum/spindle projects from a tabletop, making a spinning motion for sanding and an up/down motion for evenly-distributed utilization of the sandpaper. The up/down motion also prevents the formation of scratch-marks on the wood. 

Some OSS models have dust collection ports to connect to a suction system, such as a vacuum cleaner to remove sanding debris from the table. This also prevents the accumulation of dust in the working station that would otherwise have negative health consequences.

The machine comes with throat plates of varying sizes which are fitted on the tabletop. These plates minimize the gap separating the drums from the table for a snug fit into the benchtop.

Benchtop Sanders

Image of Benchtop SanderThe benchtop sander is a simple design power tool that comes at an affordable price. The machine comes as a two-in-one combination of a disk sander and a strip sander. As its name suggests, it’s set on top of the working bench/station where it stands stationary, and the workpiece is fed to the machine. 

It is a high-utility tool, as it allows you to perform several tasks with a single machine instead of using different sanders for different situations. For example, you can use the disk portion to sand curved pieces to clear-cut outlines and smoothen off corrugations left by band saws

Another noteworthy feature of this wood sander is an adjustable table for holding the timber pieces during sanding. The adjustable feature comes in handy for bevel-shaped workpieces.

The narrow belt/strip sander on the side is employed to sand into tight or impenetrable spaces. It is also used for sharpening blades.

Sanding Blocks

Image of sanding block in useUnlike other sanders in this review, the sanding block doesn’t have motors and is not electrically powered. It is a simple handheld tool with a surface upon which sandpaper is attached. The blocks come in different sizes and colors, and designs. 

Sanding blocks are operated manually; a practice commonly referred to as sanding by hand! A point to note about using the blocks is that you should always sand along the grain; this helps to mask the scratch marks that the sandpaper leaves on the wood. If you sand against the grain, the sanding sheet leaves prominent marks, which ironically contradicts the whole purpose of sanding. These sanders are always padded on the side bearing the sandpaper; this cushions your workpiece from the excessive pressure that may damage your project. 

So, what happens when you want to hand sand into curved surfaces? Well, here’s how to go about that: there are sanding blocks that come in the form of dowels, which are cylindrical rods. Wrap a sanding sheet around the dowel, particularly self-stick sandpaper; the dowel must fit into the surface in question. This way, you can sand effortlessly into curved surfaces. It’s that simple!

The advantages of a sanding block are it doesn’t use electricity, thus saving on energy costs. The hand tool also requires limited operational knowledge, as opposed to its electric counterparts. Finally, it is cheap and suitable for wet sanding.

Its flaws are that it is slower, labor-intensive, operated manually, and limited to small-scale projects only.

Floor Wood Sanders

This is a slightly different class of wood sanders. They are used for sanding decks and even in-house wooden floors during the stripping and restaining process. The sanders usually are big-sized owing to their scale of operation. There are two main types, i.e., the drum sanders and edgers.

Drum Sanders

Image of a dram sanderFloor drum sanders are heavy-duty machines that are used on large projects like sanding off a floor. There are various designs, but all of them are bigger and heavier than the other sanders. Drum sanders are usually rented out for temporary use, and they require operational knowledge to handle. Abrasive sheets are placed over a rotary drum located at the bottom of the power tool. Make sure the sheet is wrapped tightly around the drum to prevent swirls from forming on the floor.

The machines come with levers that are located beneath the handles for convenience of control. The lever is used to move the drum up and down when sanding. When almost at the edge of the floor, raise the drum and lower it gently as you track it back to the beginning point. Likewise, you should raise the drum as you draw closer to your starting point and lower it again as you advance. It’s important to keep changing the direction of sanding to remove any swirl marks or undulations formed.

The tool comes with a highly effective dust collection system that maintains a tidy work environment. It’s best practice to empty the collection bag when it’s almost half full to maintain the sander’s operating pressure.

Edge Sander

The edge sander is used to access places on the floor where the drum sander cannot reach. Such places include the edges of the floor (close to the walls) and staircases. From the above description, it’s easy to guess what inspires its name. It’s smaller than the drum sander but bigger than the other sanders.

Image of Edge SanderEdge sanders are equipped with two wheels for mobility and a sanding pad at their front. The pad is designed to taper a little towards the floor. This means if you sand sideways with the machine, It will leave swirls on your floor; you should only make back and forward movements. Different models employ divergent techniques for mounting the abrasive disc; some use the hook-and-loop/velcro method, whereas others use nuts and Allen keys. Ensure your machine is off/unplugged before you change the abrasives. The power tool has a dust collection system and a dust bag for collecting debris during operation; you can also connect the port to a vacuum cleaner to collect the sawdust.

Most edging sanders have an ergonomically-located button trigger at the top to power on the machine. The instant you let go of the trigger, the edger stops sanding; this improves accuracy and is useful for your safety.

Note: This machine is not designed for sanding on the main floor. It is only used on the edges; therefore, it supplements the drum sander, which is suited for the rest of the floor.


Nowadays, sanding is among the most crucial practices in the woodworking spheres. The practice has evolved through the years regarding the procedures and tools involved to give you the best user experience. The different types of wood sanders highlighted above are used in different contexts and are geared towards producing perfect finishes.

Each of the types of wood sanders has its niche; for instance, the belt sander is used for removing large quantities of wood quickly due to its aggressive motions. The edge sander is perfect for sanding floor edges, and the oscillating spindle sander is best suited for smoothening inside curves.

The final texture of the wood depends on the sanding grit used. The grits range in particle sizes from coarse through medium to fine. It is advisable to sand from coarse grits moving up the ranks to fine grits. It’s also best practice to round over lumber edges when sanding to give a painting or staining surface; it is challenging to paint on sharp edges. 

For thin workpieces, like plywood and veneers, use the quarter sheet orbital sander and start with fine abrasives (220 grit)to avoid boring through the wood. 

Remember not to oversand your workpiece to a point where the surface is as smooth as, say, glass! This impacts negatively on painting or staining as the agents will not adhere to the surface.

Image of a woodworker wearing hearing protectors for woodworking

Tyron Otieno

Tyron is an avid woodworker and writer. He founded this website to help other woodworkers, whether hobbyists or professionals by sharing his knowledge and experiencie after a decade of woodworking.