What Is an Orbital Sander – How do they Work

As writers, there are certain times we run out of words. In those moments, there aren’t just facts and ideals as we’ll like them to come.

However, as woodworkers and writers, we never lack words to describe the awesome qualities of these pieces of equipment – orbital sanders.

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So, what is an orbital sander?

While sanding, you might need something right in between. You do not want it to be too quick and aggressive. On the other hand, you just can’t deal with something mild and slow. You need an equipment that can play around these two ends of the continuum.

For instance, the belt or drum sander is not a child’s play when referring to aggressiveness and speed. On the contrary, the palm sander can be annoyingly mild and slow. In those moments, what sanding equipment do you rely on?

Orbital sanders are a great piece of sanding and finishing equipment, always at your beck and call. Whether you are working on that wood floor, sculpture, or any other sort of wood item, you can count on it to deliver.

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What is A Sander

Well, directly answering what orbital sanders are will be jumping a very crucial step. We should first address the question what is a sander?

The term sander implies various kinds of equipment used to smoothen surfaces. These surfaces include wood, metals, aluminum, and other general body works.

These sanding devices use an item called a sandpaper to achieve this purpose. The sandpaper has an abrasive surface on one part. With the mechanical and electrical force of the disc pad, the abrasive part of the sandpaper makes contact with the work to be smoothened.

This is essentially how every sort of sander works. There are different kinds of sander. The difference is defined by how it operates. Such features include the pace, aggressiveness, working attributes of the sander disc among others.

Furthermore, the varying types of sandpapers are defined by the grit-size.

About the Sander Sandpaper

Just so you know, there’s a process known as hand sanding. This implies that the sandpaper can sand without a sander. By simply moving the abrasive surface of the sandpaper back and forth with your hand, you can sand.

There are differences between hand sanding and work of the sandpaper on various sanders. On the part of the machine, the difference revolves around aggressiveness, speed, precision, among others.

Is the use of the sander better than hand sanding?

Well, that is for the most part. However, we strongly advise that hand sanding should be the last thing that should be done on especially woodwork. This will be about checking out for loose ends and slight errors, including correcting them. 

Also, except you are using an unusually handy sander, you may not reach into some parts. The process of hand sanding turns out as the saving grace for such parts. 

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For instance, we like to think there are 3 major sanding pieces of equipment for sanding hardwood floors. You have the drum sander, orbital sander, and the edger. The edger happens to be way smaller than the other two. As a result, you can reach some places.

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However, there’s just a limit to what it can do. The edger may still not sand some hidden and hard to reach places. In such cases, the process of hand sanding becomes very necessary.

We like to stress that hand sanding never became obsolete. The workload only reduced with the invention of sanders. 

As stated earlier, sandpapers come with grit-sizes. The grit-size implies the sandpaper’s degree of abrasiveness. The higher the grit-size, the finer the sandpaper’s surface and smoothening ability. In the same vein, a lower grit size means the sandpaper’s surface is coarse.

For instance, a 500-grit sized sandpaper is way smoother and finer than a 60-grit sized sandpaper. If you desire a very smooth surface, should you just start with very fine grit sandpaper?

No, you shouldn’t. While you shouldn’t be sluggish about sanding, patience is a great virtue. The difference between a perfect job or something close to bad, is patience. Also, you master the act of sanding and timing skills over time. 

While sanding, you should begin with small-sized grit sandpaper, working your way up to your desired smoothen work. Let’s say, your goal is to achieve a smoothness that only the 1500 grit sandpaper can offer. In that case, do not start the job with a 1500 grit sandpaper. 

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Instead, use something around 100-grit sandpaper, and other ranges until you reach the desired 1500. What will happen if you violate this procedure?

Well, the greatest victim of this breach is the sandpaper. By prematurely using the sandpaper, you will damage the abrasive surface. This will shorten its span. In addition to this problem, you’ll have a hell of a time sanding.

If you prefer a visual explanation of this article, below is a detailed and helpful video.

Video: What Is an Orbital Sander (How do they Work?)

What Is an Orbital Sander?

On a whole, the best way to define orbital sanders isn’t by the size or shape. This can be very misleading as you’ll eventually find out. How then can you best define the orbital sander?

The work ethics of this equipment is the focal point. As the name suggests, it works in an orbital manner. Although spinning in circular motions, the orbital variance of the sander’s disc is the major peculiarity of this device. How is this?

For instance, unlike other kinds of sanders, you don’t need to pay too much attention to sanding according to the grain patterns.

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This is because the orbital movement of the sandpaper as directed by the sanding disc clears the surface properly. As a result, there is even distribution of the sandpaper’s abrasive surface while sanding.

Whether it is the random orbital sander, orbital sander, or the floor orbital sander, they all have this similarity.

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Types of Orbital Sanders

When it comes to technology, we always steer clear of giving numbers. We could easily say there are 2 or 3 major types of orbital sanders. However, we wouldn’t as technological innovation can change the course at any point in time.

As a result, we would share the features of 2 major orbital sander variance: The handy random orbital sander and the floor orbital sander.

Random Orbital Sander

This is the most common kind of orbital sander available. One major distinguishing feature is that it is very handy. Considering the size, you can use it with ease, manoeuvring it to suit your intent.

As stated earlier, the orbit working characteristic of its sanding disc ensures the sanding process is well carried out without scratches. 

The random orbital sander happens to be that blend between the aggressive belt sander and the palm sander.

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Many woodworkers steer clear of the belt sander because of the quick rate of removing wood surfaces. For those unable to deal with this aspect of the belt sander, orbital sanders provide a lifeline.

We aren’t saying orbital sanders should be used as holistic alternative to the belt sander. However, the random orbital sander can deal with a large chunk of what the belt sander should do. Bearing this in mind, many woodworkers use this equipment for jobs specifically meant for the belt sander.

We aren’t saying this is appropriate, we are only stating the possibility.

Floor Orbital Sander

When the name orbital sander comes up, many people think of the random orbital sander. However, this isn’t the only sort of orbital sander available.

There is a sort of orbital sander meant to take care of wood floors. By a margin, the floor inclined orbital sanders have a large size than the random orbital sander. This is so that it can sand a large surface area on the wood floor.

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As with the random orbital sander which is a level playing ground between two sanding extremes, this sander does likewise. How is this so?

For wood floor sanding, we like to think there are 3 major pieces of sanding equipment, among other sorts. We have the drum sander, the orbital sander, and the edger.

The aggressiveness of the drum sander is like what we have with the belt sander. It removes exterior layers of wood at an enormous rate. When you do not intend to remove so many wood layers, the floor orbital sander should be considered.

To understand this, you need to know the properties of a wood floor. Except for purely synthetic floors that aren’t wood, there is a part called the wear layer. This part is the exterior of the wood. The size of the wear layer should influence the choice of a sander.

Below is a video on how to sand wood floors.

Video: How To Sand and Finish Wood Floors

Some wood floors have very thick wear layers. This means they can be sanded lots of times. On the other hand, the thin layer of others means you do not have that luxury. Some can either be sanded or refinished once and for all.

For such wood floors, the orbital sanders can serve both the mind sanding and refinishing purpose. Haven discussed the orbital sander, let’s talk about precaution while using this equipment.

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Safety Precautions While Using Orbital Sanders

Apparently, you want a great job at the end of it all. However, you need to remain in a great health state to carry out more jobs. Therefore, you shouldn’t wear yourself out, or render yourself vulnerable during a sanding job of this nature.

To ensure this, you should pay rapt attention and adhere to these precautions. We have stressed them in most of our articles, but they cannot be overemphasized.

Protect Your Eyes

Truly, these pieces of equipment have an in-built mechanism to handle dust particles and wood scraps. However, you shouldn’t rely solely on the device’s dust bag. You should protect yourself in every way possible from the dust and wood scraps.

In that regard, never work without eye protection or a google. This way you are certain your eye is safe.

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Some people rely on fashionable eyeshades for this purpose. Is there any big deal with this? Well, they aren’t designed for this purpose. If you take a closer look at the structure of the conventional eyeshade, you know it cannot fully protect you.

This leaves you with the ideal option – googles – that are solely designed for the sanding process.

Ensure Your Breathing Isn’t Contaminated

Up until this time, never has the world been so particular about using a face mask. Well, outside of general health precautions, you need a nose mask or respirator when sanding with this equipment.

You should not throw caution to the wind by sanding without this provision. This is because the amount of dust and scraped wood is enormous. Considering this, you should protect your nose from these dusty particles.

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This is very important as exposure to these woods and the chemicals used in processing them are highly toxic. To stay safe, do not leave out the respirator.

Ear Protector

Due to the non-physical impact of violating this rule, some woodworkers are not particular about using ear protectors. You should ensure that you’re putting on ear protectors before using this sander.

To a large extent, many sander brands have addressed the noise threat these devices cause. However, you still shouldn’t leave out ear protectors while working. There’s no harm in being secure from the side effects of these things.

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Yet, for some equipment, noise pollution and the side effects remain a threat.

The motors and horse powers required for effective performance demand that they are beyond the auditory safety range for humans. Bearing this in mind, do not use this equipment without an appropriate ear protector.

Knee Protector

This precaution is particularly for the floor inclined orbital sander. This sander functions exclusively on the floor. As a result, you’ll spend time doing things on the floor. 

This will include preparing the floor, emptying the dust bag, and some other things. Because you’ll need to get on your knees with this equipment, you should make use of a knee protector.

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In this article, we have explained various facts about the orbital sander and sanding at large. You should remember the similarity between all sorts of orbital sanders. The similarity isn’t in size or shape, but in the working feature – the orbital revolving sand disc. Furthermore, the precautions to be observed while using these devices have been outlined. You shouldn’t leave out any one of these when using these sanders.

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