Guide to the 6 Best Handheld Orbital Sanders

Anyone who has tried to sand something by hand knows the immense effort it takes and the strain it can put on your arms, wrists and fingers. An orbital sander can help cut down on sanding time and make projects look more professional. These handheld sanders are portable, relatively lightweight, and reasonably priced so that even someone who only has an occasional need for one should consider investing in this handy tool.  You still may have to sand by hand for any carved woodwork and round railings. However, the best orbital sanders can save you enough time and energy so that you can spend the time attending to detail work by hand.

sanding wood with orbital sander

How We Chose Our Ratings

Every major tool brand sells at least one model of orbital sander, and many of them have more, so choosing the best orbital sander is not a simple task. We pored over pages of sites devoted to tool reviews to find out about the important features and top brands before choosing our top picks. Some of the top tool sites are geared toward professionals and woodworking enthusiasts, but we wanted to make sure our selections would appeal to someone approaching the occasional weekend project or the casual hobbyist as well as professionals. That is why we also looked at actual user reviews from people who had bought and used the products. To find those ratings, we relied on retailer sites and made sure to find products that had plenty of detailed reviews.

Since prices change frequently over time and from site to site, we did not report them here, but all of the options presented are available for under $100 at this time. We reviewed two cordless options, which are both sold without batteries. However, they use batteries that are compatible with a range of products from those brands, so some readers may already have a compatible battery. Ultimately, how much you spend and the features you look for are determined by how you want to use the sander, so pay special attention to the buying guide at the end of this article to find out more about the different features and how to interpret the specs for the sanders listed.

Random or Sheet Orbital Sander?

There are two basic types of orbital sander, random and sheet. Sheet sanders use a quarter sheet of regular sandpaper, so you don’t need any special pads or adaptors to use them. They tend to be slightly less powerful than random orbital sanders, but that can be good especially for finishing work. Also, if the areas you are sanding have a lot of right angles, the straight lines of a rectangular sheet sander can get into corners more easily than the circular or round shapes of random orbital sanders.

Random orbital sanders are better for taking off multiple layers of material and can be controlled more easily than a sheet sander. By using less pressure and finer grit paper, these sanders can be ideal for finish work, but they also have a learning curve. They also use special pads that attach by either hook-and-loop or pressure mount which are generally more expensive than sheets of sandpaper. The sanders themselves are also more expensive on average than sheet sanders. Because of their attachment plates, they tend to have a wider range of accessories than sheet sanders.

We decided to review both types of sanders since they are good for different situations and may appeal to people differently depending on their needs. The reviews cover three sheet sanders and three random orbital sanders.

Top 6 Best Orbital Sanders by Type

Sheet Sanders

Black + Decker BDEQS300 ¼-Sheet Orbital Sander With Paddle Switch

BLACK+DECKER Electric Sander, 1/4-Inch Sheet, Orbital (BDEQS300)
  • Provides 270 degree flush sanding clearance
  • Tri-layer filtration
  • Soft grip paddle switch

The Black + Decker BDEQS300 is ergonomic and compact, which makes it easy to use in a variety of settings. At 1,600 RPMs, it is perfect for a new woodworker because it is more forgiving and easier to handle. It features a paddle switch at the palm of the device for intuitive operation. The sander also has an attached dust collector with three layers of filtration to reduce airborne dust and help keep your project and workspace clean. You can buy sheets to fit the sander or just cut regular sheets into fourths, which is both more economical and allows for more options.

Customers say it is small and lightweight enough to be comfortable in the hand while using. They also appreciate how well the dust catcher works and how fast they finish their projects with this sander. The clamps are high on the body so that you may need slightly more than a quarter sheet of sandpaper for it to fit well, which is a drawback for some.

Makita B04556K 2.0-Amp 4 ½-inch Finishing Sander With Case

Makita BO4556K 2.0 Amp 4-1/2-Inch Finishing Sander with Case, Teal
  • 14,000 OPM for fast and smooth finish sanding
  • Precision engineered all-ball bearing construction for reduced vibration and noise
  • Contoured, rubberized palm grip design for improved operator comfort and control

The Makita BO4556K is a powerful sander that fits in your palm for easy and precise use. It features a rubber sealed power switch, so dust cannot get in and damage the inside. Large clamps allow for easy quarter sheet installation and removal. Its ball bearing construction reduces noise and, and its 2.0 AMP motor provides 14,000 OPM, which allows for smoother and faster sanding. A fabric dust bag keeps dust off your workspace, and a wide mouth allows for quick disposal.

Customers describe this Makita sander as being very good and powerful for the price point. They also like that it comes with a tool to pierce holes in sandpaper to allow airflow for the sawdust catcher to work. Some people found the sealed switch to be awkward to use because it is beneath a rubber bubble which can be hard to press at times.

Ryobi P440 One+ 18V Lithium-Ion ¼ Sheet Palm Sander

Ryobi P440 One+ 18V Lithium Ion 12,000 RPM 1/4 Sheet Palm Sander w/...
  • RUBBERIZED HEX GRIP: Maintain complete control over your palm sander with the textured rubber grip. This increases...
  • REMOVABLE DUST BAG is onboard, keeping your sander clean while you’re working
  • VACUUM ADAPTOR PORT: You can connect this sander into a vacuum, keeping your workspace completely cleared while you work

The only cordless option in our selection of sheet sanders, the Ryobi P440 uses an 18V battery with 40 minutes of runtime that is compatible with a wide variety of other Ryobi tools. Its texturized rubber grip helps it from slipping while working. In addition to an included dust bag, it has a vacuum port that, used with an adaptor, can collect dust directly into a vacuum making it even easier to keep your workspace clean.

Reviewers report liking not having to contend with a cord while moving around a project. They also like being able to use the batteries with other tools and the quick charging time. Customers also say that it cuts sanding time down and that it is easy to switch out the sandpaper. With the battery, some people found the unit a little heavy for a palm sander. Others had trouble connecting the vacuum adaptor and relied on the cloth dust collector, which is less tightly-woven as some others.

Random Orbital Sanders

DEWALT DWE642k Random Orbit Sander

DEWALT Random Orbit Sander, 5-Inch (DWE6421K)
  • 3.0 Amp motor that spins the pad at 12,000 OPM
  • Dust-sealed switch to protect against dust ingestion for longer life
  • Improved dust collection and interfacing with our vacuum locking system

The DEWALT DWE642k is a powerful hand sander with a 3 AMP motor. Even with the added power, it is easy to do delicate work with the Controlled Finishing System, which reduces the chance of gouging when you turn it on by controlling pad speed. In addition to an anti-slip top and a dual-sealed switch to keep dust out, the sander features a counter-balanced fan which makes it easy to operate smoothly for long periods of time. The sander utilizes loop abrasive, eight-hole hook, five-inch paper, which allows for quick changes when you need new or different sanding pads.

A number of users who use sanders professionally reported liking the model so much that they replaced it with the same one when the initial one wore out. Others commented on how easy it was to use, especially switching out sanding pads. A few users had trouble attaching a vacuum to the port, but others described this as one of the best features. One user reported that the hook-and-loop plate that holds the sanding pads wore out rather quickly, but replacement pads were available and were reasonably priced.

Makita XOB01Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless 5” Random Orbit Sander

Makita XOB01Z 18V LXT Lithium-Ion Cordless 5"" Random Orbit Sander,...
  • Three speed settings (7,000/9,500/11,000 OPM) engineered for fast material removal
  • Up to 40 minutes (low speed) and 20 minutes (high speed) of run time on a single charge
  • Large 1/8" random orbit action engineered for fast sanding and swirl-free finish

A cordless 18V sander, the Makita XOB01Z 18V LXT, has an ergonomic grip and provides up to 40 minutes of power on one battery charge. This sander has three speeds to give you better control. It takes hook-and-loop, five-inch, eight-hole sanding pads, which are available in many varieties. A removable dust bag is included, and there is the option for connecting a vacuum adaptor for easy clean-up.

Not having to deal with a cord getting in the way while working is a frequently lauded feature by reviewers. Customers also like the large 1/8” oscillation pattern which helps to prevent swirl patterns on the wood after sanding. For people who owned multiple sanders, this Makita often became their “go-to” sander. Some reviewers complained that the dust bag did not work as well as hoped. A few others thought that the option to have variable speeds made for less overall power, but were able to compensate by using stronger grit paper.

Bosch ROS20VSK 120V Variable Speed Random Orbit Sander Kit

Bosch ROS20VSK Palm Sander - 2.5 Amp 5 in. Corded Variable Speed...
  • SMOOTH FINISH: Pad dampening system designed to eliminate swirl marks on both flat and contoured surfaces
  • EASY DISC ATTACHMENT: Through Bosch's signature Hook and Loop disc attachment system, sanding pads stick to the hand...
  • VARIABLE SPEED CONTROL: Powerful 2. 5 AMP motor allows speed to work-piece and task matching with ease.No Load...

The Bosch ROS20VSK is a powerful variable speed orbital sander that is easy to use and hold. It features a microfilter system for trapping fine dust, and a solid dust catcher shows the dust level. A specially designed pad-dampening brake system helps to reduce swirl marks, and variable speeds give you better control. This model also comes with a vacuum hose adapter.

Reviewers reported that the sander is easy to use and handle with one user saying that even his eight-year-old grandson could use it with supervision. Users also say the unit is well-balanced, which adds to the ease of use and reduces fatigue and vibration while using it.

Buyer’s Guide

The best orbital sanders have a variety of useful features to consider before making a purchase.

A couple of big ones to think about are the power of the motor and the RPMs (revolutions per minute) or OPMs (orbits per minute). Another important feature is whether the unit is corded or cordless. Finally, random orbital sanders have a variety of accessories that allow them to be used for more than sanding.

Motor and Speed

The power of the motor is noted by AMPs or volts. More powerful motors generally have a higher RPM or OPM associated with it, but there are exceptions. When a less powerful motor has higher RPMs, the sander may slow down when the amount of pressures increases. More power generally means it is easier to sand too much in some areas resulting in an uneven finish, so inexperienced users might opt for a slightly less powerful motor. Higher speeds can result in faster sanding, but this may not be good for detail work or where you just need light sanding, so consider your needs when considering what speed to get.

Corded or Cordless

Most of the models reviewed are corded, but we did include a battery model for each of the types discussed. Battery models have traditionally been much less powerful than corded models, but in recent years, better battery life, shorter charging times, and lower battery costs have made them more attractive. The benefits of a corded model are that it’s ready whenever you are, and the power does not slow down or vary at any point during use. On the downside, the cord may get in the way, or it may be hard to find a nearby plug to your workspace.

Accessories

Random orbital sanders have different types of pads to attach to their bases, which expand the versatility of the sander.  Polishing pads can buff surfaces to a high gloss. Some pads can remove oxidation and add polishing compounds to cars. Others include sponge applicators and scouring pads, which can clean a variety of surfaces. Most of these types of pads come in standard sizes and attach the same way so that you are not required to only use one brand of products.

The Right Tool for the Right Job

How to choose the “right” orbital sander really depends on how you are going to use it. Whether you are a weekend woodworker, a DIYer, or use a sander every day for work or play, we have a selection that works for you. We have provided reviews of six of the top orbital sanders on the market and given you a buying guide so that you can feel safe knowing whichever sander you choose is a great product.

Janice Friedman
 

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