Basics Of Sanding With Belt And Orbital Sanders

No wood working project is finished without sanding. In order to get the right finish you almost always have to sand the wood surface and then apply a coat of polish/varnish if you choose to.

In this post we will look at two kinds of power sanders and how to use them.

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how to use belt sanders

The Belt Sander

This is the most aggressive kind of sander. It is rectangular in shape with a sand paper belt running over two rollers on the bottom.

Even a sander can take off a lot of wood very quickly, specially the belt sander. So you need to use one carefully. There are some helpful tips on how to use a belt sander safely and effectively. 

  1. First practice on some surplus and scrap wood. You really need to get used to how the belt sander takes off the wood and how to work it. Otherwise you can end up ruining your wood project during the last stages. It is preferable to use the same kind of wood to practice on as the project as the hardness and grain of the wood makes a difference to how it gets sanded.
  2. Always keep the sander moving, in long, uniform movements, both front to back as well as sideways. This will help in preventing too much wood being taken from one place.
  3. Do not press down on the sander hard. The weight of the sander it’self is usually enough.
  4. To prevent scratches sand in the direction of the grain.
  5. Keep the sander flat on the wood surface. This might call for applying a slight force towards the front of the sander as that end tends to rise up.

Buying A Belt Sander

The following notes will help you choose the right belt sander to buy. 

Size

When we mention the size of the sander, we are talking about the size of the sanding belt. This ranges from about 2.5 inches wide to 4 inches wide and 16 inches long to 24 inches long. 

A wider sander is easier to keep flat without much pressure, takes off more wood faster and is more expensive. Choose a belt sander that’s mid sized. 

Dust Port

Sanding is a messy job that produces a lot of dust. Make sure your sander has a dust port for a dust collector/vacuum cleaner. An attached dust collection bag might not be a sufficient solution as it tends fill up rather fast. 

Variable Speed

Like the jig saw, a variable speed setting is not important unless you are planning to sand materials other than wood such as plastic laminate.

how to use an orbital sander

Orbital/Random Orbital Sander

An orbital sander is also called a ‘palm’ or a ‘finishing’ sander. It is smaller than a belt sander and less aggressive. This is the sander of choice unless you really need the power of a belt sander to take a lot of wood off quickly, like when straightening wood boards.

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The orbital sanders have a round disc that rotates. You can attach round pieces of sandpaper to this disc which moves the paper in a circular motion. 

The circular motion of the sand paper tends to create circular scratches on the wood. The best ways to prevent this is to either keep the sander always moving or to use a random orbital sander instead. Using the random orbital sander is preferable of the two methods.

A random orbital sander does not rotate in one direction along. It makes random circular movements that minimize the occurrence of scratches very effectively. 

The random orbital sander is the most common and the preferred sander of choice for most wood workers. 

Sought After Features For An Orbital Sander

Size

The diameter of the sanding disc of an orbital sander ranges from 4 to 5 inches in diameter. The size of the sanding paper is not as important as the size of the sander it’self. As you will be using the sander with one hand most of the time, find a model that feels comfortable to hold and move. 

Dust Port

Orbital sanders are small. Therefore their dust ports are also small and designed to be used with an attached dust bag. Find one that comes with an adapter that attaches the sander to a dust collector/vacuum cleaner. This will be a feature of convenience in the long run. 

Speeds

Most orbital sanders rotate at the speed of 25,000 rpm which is great for most wood workers project. 

Sandpaper Attachment Method

The sandpaper attaches to the disc through different methods Some disc have an adhesive surface that you can stick the sandpaper on. Others have a Velcro kind of system. Velcro is preferable because it provides a better hold than the adhesive.

The adhesive can also get weaker after repeated changes of paper which further weakens the hold. Velcro system is a faster way of changing the sand paper on your sander and less messy. 

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Right Technique For Using Sanders

    • Keep the sander moving at all times. Even random orbital sander can create ‘difficult to get out’ scratches if kept stationary in one spot. 
    • Apply very gentle pressure. If you find you need to press down hard, check your sand paper. Either it’s worn out or you need to switch to a coarser one.
    • Always move down from course to find sand paper for a good even finish. Even consider finishing off by sanding with your hands and a fine grit sandpaper. Sanding with a belt sander will almost always require you to finish by hand because it’s so powerful. 
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