Using a Random Orbit Sander: Best Practices

The random orbit sander is a versatile power tool, perched somewhere in between the brutal belt sander and the much gentler finish sander. It can be used for removing old paint, smoothening in between coats of paint or varnish, or simply smoothening and cleaning wooden surfaces and other materials. You can find out more about random orbital sanders on Woodworkify.

While using this tool sounds like a fool-proof endeavour, it is still possible to damage the tool or your workpiece if the machine is mishandled.

Here are 10 best practices for quick, safe and efficient sanding.

  1. Know the Limitations of the Sander

Instead of blindly forcing the sander on any and every task, it is best to know what the tool can actually handle. The random orbit sander is not as powerful as the belt sander. As such, it may not be good for removing stubborn old paint or smoothening really rough wooden surfaces. The bottom line is that the random orbit sander will not grind as much material as its more powerful counterparts.

  1. Change the Sandpaper Promptly

The random sander is by default a docile power tool. Add to that a finished sandpaper and you basically have a vibrating pressing iron doing no work at all. While you could get away with nearly exhausted sand paper when using the belt sander, this just won’t cut the mustard with a random orbit sander. Change the sandpaper immediately it gathers enough sanding residue.

  1. Don’t Apply Too Much Pressure

When working with  this machine, you may find it necessary to apply some pressure in some cases. But if you over-do it, you will end up punishing the vibrating mechanism which will result in reduced performance and premature damage eventually.

Normally, the only pressure should be the weight of the sander itself, plus that of your arms resting on the handle. If you need to increase the amount of material the sander eats away, try using a more coarse sand paper or just go for a much more powerful sander.

  1. Reach Full Speed Before Applying the Sander

Before setting the sander to your work precious workpiece, make sure the sander is in full oscillation. Placing it on the surface prematurely will result in swirl marks. The same applies when switching off the tool. Make sure you lift the machine off the surface before turning it off.

  1. Mind Your Safety

It would be hard to encounter physical injury while using the random orbit sander, but there are still safety precautions to heed. The sander generates a lot more free dust than most power tools. Fortunately, most are built with dust filters and can be connected to a vacuum for enhanced dust-free working.

It is important to make sure the sand collecting mechanisms are always working to avoid respiratory problems that come with prolonged exposure to fine wood dust.

  1. Keep it Moving

Yes, the random orbit sander is not as savage as, say the belt sander. However it is still a machine will do damage, however minimal, if mishandled. Make sure the sander is always moving or you risk getting uneven depressions on your surface. There are plenty of videos on Youtube covering this issue.

  1. Careful with the edges

Be careful when going over the edges. It is best to attack the edge lengthwise instead of falling across it from the top surface. Given the small contact area of the edges, the random orbit sander won’t hesitate to do some damage.

  1. Keep the Sander Flat on the Surface

Always keep the whole surface of the sanding disc in contact with the workpiece for an even finish. It is sometimes tempting to tip the sander to attack a specific spot. This usually results in even more damage to the work surface if precaution is not taken.

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