Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander

Belt Sander vs Orbital Sander

There are many different types of sanders on the market today. How do you know which one will get the job done best and which one you need for different woodworking needs? The truth of the matter is that sanders are not one-size-fits-all tools. In fact, you will likely need different sanders for different aspects of a single job.

The more you learn about various power tools and which type of sander you need to get the job done, the better job you can do overall. It really is as simple as that. Some people rely on trial and error to help them determine which types of sanders work best in certain conditions.

However, you don’t need to do that is you take the time to read this article. Once you complete it, you should know all the important details about your options so you can make informed decisions about which type of sander is the right sanding tool for your needs at any given time.

While power sanders are all the rage today, there remain some jobs in which a hand sander is the perfect choice. Don’t get so caught up in the powered options that you overlook the benefits of sanding by hand when adding the finishing touches to various pieces of wood.

Sander Types You Need to Know

belt sander

When working with wood, there are different types of sanders you can use to get the job done. We’ve already mentioned the ubiquitous hand sander for finishing work and small jobs. Then there are the following options that are popular among woodworkers.

  1. Belt sanders.
  2. Orbital sanders.
  3. Random orbital sanders.

Each sanding tool requires specific types of sandpaper to work with it. Choosing the right sanding tools for specific sanding jobs makes a world of difference in the finished look of the wood piece you’re working with. Of course, the type of tool is only half the battle. You also need to make sure you have the right types of accessories to perform the task properly as well. This means you’ll want to take the time to learn about the following additional things you’ll need with your power tool of choice for sanding:

  • Dust collection system.
  • Sandpaper.
  • Sanding discs.
  • Sandpaper sheets.

The more you understand about how the tool works for things like scratch removal, finishing touches, and various types of sanding jobs, the better informed decisions you can make about which sanding tools meet your needs best.

Power Sanders vs Hand Sanders

For the most part, the debate about power sanders vs hand sanders depends largely on the types of jobs you’re doing and the size of the jobs you’re doing. The larger the surface you’re working with, the more likely it is that you’ll want to use a power sanding tool for the sake of convenience.

However, there may be times when you simply want to work with your hands to create the smooth finish the wood you’re working with requires. Many woodworkers also prefer hand sanding to avoid marks in the wood that power sanders sometimes leave behind.

However, if you’re doing large projects that require heavy-duty sanding, using a power sander is almost always the way to go. At the very least, you’ll want to use the power sander for the initial sanding. This is often the case, even if you choose to hand sand the finishing touches of your project.

Is a Belt Sander Better than an Orbital Sander?

orbital sander

There isn’t a single answer that works for every situation. For instance, a belt sander is absolutely the tool of choice when you want to remove material, like bark from the piece of wood you’re working with. When you’re working with a belt sander, you have two options:

  1. Handheld belt sanders.
  2. Benchtop belt sanders.

If you need to take your work on the road with you or you’re doing work outside of your own personal woodworking shop, you’ll want the convenience of a handheld sander. However, inside your worktop, you may find the benchtop belt sander to be a better option. This sander packs more power than the portable option and offers a larger working surface to meet your sanding needs.

When you buy a belt sander you want to pay attention to these important features:

  • Power. In many cases power and cost for these sanders grow at similar rates. You’ll pay more for additional power, but the power is the reason people purchase belt sanders in the first place. Keep that in mind when comparing products and prices. If you can get more power for the same price, that is almost always the way to go.
  • Speed. It is essential to choose a belt sander that offers variable speed control. This ability allows you to work with a wider range of sandpaper “grit” options to fine-tune your work.
  • Dust collection systems. The right dust collection mechanism makes a world of difference for your satisfaction with a belt sander. Some offer small dust collection bags while others offer attachments that work with your shop vacuum. Make sure the system you choose, if going for the latter, is compatible with your shop vac.
  • Life expectancy. Ultimately, these tools are meant to be used. One that breaks down after only a few uses is not a cost-effective investment. Make sure you read the reviews, explore the warranties, and choose a model from a brand that stands behind their products and has a reputation for lasting.

But is the belt sander better than the orbital sander?

For certain jobs, the answer is an absolute yes. The problem is, nothing is every that simple. In reality, there are some jobs for which the belt sander is the absolute better choice. However, the orbital sander is a better option for many other types of sanding jobs.

What is a Belt Sander Good For?

Belt sanders are important tools to have in your chest for a variety of sanding jobs. This is especially true for jobs involving large surface areas, like sanding wood floors. Unlike orbital sanders, for instance, belt sanders allow you to sand along the grain of the floors. The same holds true when working with wood tables and doors. The larger surface areas of perfect for use with belt sanders. Another thing many people don’t know about belt sanders is that they can also be used to work with metal.

However, the orbital sander is better suited for many jobs, especially those with smaller pieces of wood or involving tight spaces. Orbital sanders operate with sanding discs that spin in circles. They are great for sanding corners and edges as well as small pieces of furniture. Just as there are things you want to look for when dealing with disc sanders, there are things you want to look for when working with orbital sanders, such as:

  • Speed. Speed with these types of sanders is measured in orbits per minute. The average speed is 10,000 orbits per minute. Faster speeds are available, however, the faster the speed, the less control you have – increasing the risk for mistakes. If you’re purchasing your sander for different jobs, you’ll want to choose one that offers variable speeds.
  • Power. While most orbital sanders aren’t powerful enough to remove material in large amounts, you do want to make sure that it is powerful enough to meet your needs.
  • Corded vs cordless. The other thing to consider is whether you need a corded or a cordless model. The benefit of a cordless model is that you don’t need to be near an outlet and can work into tighter spaces without fighting the cord to do so. However, that comes with a sacrifice of power.
  • Dust collection options. In addition to the vacuum attachment and dust collection bags the belt sander offers, many top quality orbital models also offer filters and sealed switches. This prevents sawdust and debris from getting into the motor which can shorten the lifespan of your tool.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s move forward to learn a little more about which may be the best choice for you. You should also be aware that there are two types of orbital sanders:

  1. Traditional orbital sanders.
  2. Random orbital sanders.

The primary difference between the two is that the random sander spins in a random matter rather than a normal pattern. This can help to prevent swirl marks on items you’re sanding. Physically random sanders are larger and heavier and more powerful than regular orbital sanders. This means they are quite a bit more expensive than a normal orbital sander. If you’re on a tight budget a traditional orbital sander can do nicely until you can afford to invest in a random orbital sander for your tool chest.

Which Type of Sander is Best?

This is the burning question on everyone’s mind. A few more details can help you determine which sander is the best option for your needs when working with wood and other materials.

Pros and Cons of a Belt Sander

Belt sanders offer many benefits, such as:

  • Work quickly to remove bark, paint, adhesives and other materials from wood.
  • Cover large surfaces quickly and effectively.
  • Sandpaper belts offer more surface area to work with and wear at a slower pace than other alternatives.

Of course, there are considerations you need to understand as well, including those listed below:

  • More power means these tools are more difficult to control. They are not suited for fine-tuning or finish work.
  • Creates a rough finish.
  • Can be difficult for novice woodworkers to manage. It is better used by people with training and experience. Practice on inexpensive pieces of wood until you have the hang of it.

Pros and Cons of an Orbital Sander

Orbital sanders also have their own lists of pros and cons. This will help you get a better idea of how they work and how they are meant to be used. These are the positive aspects of working with orbital sanders:

  • Smoother finish than belt sanders. This sander is good for finish work.
  • Easy to maneuver. It’s also much more lightweight than most belt sanders.
  • Better option for detailed work.

There are also a few considerations to keep in mind when working with orbital sanders vs belt sanders, including:

  • Slower material removal rates. They are less powerful than belt sanders and remove materials at a much slower rate.
  • Swirl marks. One way to prevent this is with costlier random orbital sanders. However, you will always want to use caution when working with normal orbital sanders to avoid this.
  • Not suitable for large surfaces. If you choose a cordless model, you’ll have to worry about maintaining a charge. If you use a corded model you’ll have to worry about reach (not to mention tiring too quickly).

What is Better, Sheet Sander or Orbital Sander?

working with radial sander

Unfortunately, there is no winner, or loser, in this battle for the best. The truth is that if you work with a great deal of wood, you’re going to want to have both of these models in your toolchest. For finer, delicate, finishing work, the orbital sander (particularly the random orbital sander) is the clear winner. However, for your heavy-duty or large-scale sanding needs it’s hard to match the power and capabilities of the belt sander to get the job done.