Random orbital sanders

Questions about tools and jigs you want to buy/build/modify.
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Tristan Williams
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Feb 02, 2012 11:10 am
Location: Espoo, Finland

Random orbital sanders

Post by Tristan Williams »

Sanding is unequivocally my most hated of woodworking tasks. I'm thinking of picking up a random orbital sander to help ease the pain.
Any recommendations? Any particular features to look out for or steer clear of?
Thanks!

Christ Kacoyannakis
Posts: 229
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:58 pm

Re: Random orbital sanders

Post by Christ Kacoyannakis »

The Mirka Ceros sanders (5 and 6 inch) are outstanding. They feel more like air powered random orbit sanders, as they have a very low center of gravity, and do not have the usual electric sander handle sticking out the side. Very well balanced to reduce vibration, and well made. The on/off is a palm trigger, like on an air tool, and they can be on/off or variable speed. They also have excellent on board dust collection, with a hose you connect to a shop vac. Included is a power source that works both in 110 and 220. The downside is they are very expensive. I bought one for a friend in Europe, who could not get it there, and he loved it. He said it changed his life, and his arm never gets tried sanding.

The low profile Porter Cable is also a nice little random orbit sander. It has the classic handle sticking out the side, but is very low profile. A lot cheaper than the Ceros.

I have also used the Festool sanders - the finish and the more aggressive ones. A tool shop keeper tried to tell me that they are not as expensive as they seem, as they work really well, are very well made, and the abrasives last a lot longer than other abrasives. He said, in the end I would save money. I think the abrasives are more expensive as well. Not sure I buy this logic. I was not bowled over by the performance of these tools, and they are a lot of money. They do work well, but not sure if they work that much better. Not as comfortable to hold and use as the Ceros or Porter Cable. I decided to spend the money on the Ceros.

Most sanders are just not that heavy. The first one I ever bought was the little 1/4 sheet square Porter Cable. It is a random orbit sander, but does not spin in the classical sense. It is very heavy (at least it was when I bought mine). Basically, you let the weight of the sander and the motor do the work. My second sander was a very inexpensive Black and Decker from their outlet store. It works, but it is super light (all plastic). True random orbit spinning with round disks.

I looked at the Craftsman which is supposed to be very low vibration. But I discovered that they accomplish this by having an inner disc spinning inside an outer ring. You have to buy their paper, and I just eliminated this from my selection based on that alone.

My thought was that I wanted to get good quality paper, because I think it really does make a difference in performance and how long the discs last, but I did not want discs that were sole source, or so expensive that I would hesitate to change them when they got dull. If you have a compressor, you might consider getting a air tool. You have to have enough air to run them constantly, but they are comfortable to hold, small and last forever, as their are no brushes or motors.

David King
Posts: 2688
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 10:01 pm
Location: Portland, OR
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Re: Random orbital sanders

Post by David King »

Christ has summed up a lot of my experience over the years.
If you have a small volume of compressed air then get the Dynabrade "model T" as your finishing sander. It weighs next to nothing and doesn't freeze your hand the way the 5 and 6" air-powered ROS models do. Get the dust collecting version.

The low profile PC 5" is troublesome if you have small hands. I prefer their previous, taller version which is also a bit lighter. I think it's the 343K.

Tristan Williams
Posts: 100
Joined: Thu Feb 02, 2012 11:10 am
Location: Espoo, Finland

Re: Random orbital sanders

Post by Tristan Williams »

Nice tips, folks. I did find the Mirka sanders locally and they look fantastic, but for someone that does this as a two-guitar-a-year hobby it was a bit of overkill. I'd rather spend that cash on some nice pickups. And Porter Cable are not available in Europe.
I ended up purchasing a Bosh PEX 400 AE - it is kind of bulky, but it spins fast and the power is stellar. It sure made sanding my latest guitar a lot faster and more pain-free :D The 5-year warranty helps with buyer confidence.

Is there much use getting the soft and extra-soft bases? How well will they conform to, say, a carved top guitar before the paper starts to ruin the carving?

Christ Kacoyannakis
Posts: 229
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 8:58 pm

Re: Random orbital sanders

Post by Christ Kacoyannakis »

The softer backing pads are good for archtops both for finish sanding and especially for sanding the finish flat. A hard, flat pad will not conform to the curves. You can get an interface pad that you attach to the backer pad, and then you put your discs on the interface pad. That eliminates the need to change the pad that is connected to the machine. As you get more involved, you might also look for a finish sander. The difference is that the finish sander has a smaller orbit, and will leave fewer swirls. The more aggressive the sander, the larger the orbit. This sands away material better, but leaves more marks. Fresh paper also leaves fewer swirl marks than paper that is loaded with dust or finish.

Clay Schaeffer
Posts: 1510
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:04 pm

Re: Random orbital sanders

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Abralon sanding discs offer some of the advantages of the soft bases without having to change the pad. Going to a finer grit and using micron papers can help minimize swirl marks left by aggressive random orbit sanders.

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