STAFF, COURTESY OF MAKITA
Even if you’re not a woodworker, you can still get good use out of a sander. This power tool can speed along difficult jobs, such as smoothing out jagged paint on the side of a house or cleaning up flea market furniture before repainting them. It also works well to deburr the rough edge on a piece of metal; it can smooth drywall, a rough tool handle, or remove rust. Really, a sander is indispensable for jobs around the house and in the shop. That’s why we gathered both corded and cordless sanders and tested them to help you find a machine that suits you.
Know Your Sander
Most of our test sanders are random-orbit types with a round pad measuring five or six inches across. Random orbit means the pad spins and oscillates in a, you guessed it, random motion. This action reduces the chances of leaving swirl marks on the surface and allows you to move the sander both with and across the grain. We also tested an orbital sander with a square pad (also called a quarter-sheet sander). These tools sand with a consistent orbital motion and work more slowly than random-orbit types. The square pad also allows them to reach into corners. Another difference between these is that the random-orbit variety take sandpaper discs that attach to their bases with hooks and loops. Orbital sanders use peel-and-stick sandpaper that comes precut or that you cut to fit, or you attach an abrasive sheet to the tool with the clamps on the sander’s sides. Both types of sanders have a bag that will capture most of the dust the tool produces. But if you anticipate needing even more dust control, look for a sander that has a round exhaust port to facilitate hooking up to a shop vacuum.
Battery-Powered Versus Corded
We evaluated both battery-powered sanders—also called cordless—and corded models. At the outset of the test, we wondered if the battery would cause a cordless sander to be too heavy. But when we weighed the two types of tools, we learned they weigh about the same, once you factor in the cord’s weight. Select a cordless sander if you spend a lot of time on job sites and already have lots of cordless tool work going on. Cordless tools are handy when climbing a ladder or a scaffold because you don’t have to contend with the weight of a cord hanging down. In this environment, cordless sanders are particularly valuable because they afford greater mobility than corded tools.
Select a corded tool if you plan long sanding sessions at a bench, especially if you can plug the sander directly into an outlet without an extension cord. In these cases, cord drag isn’t an issue and there isn’t a pressing need for mobility. Picture sanding a piece of furniture. You just need to work your way down through each grit, slowly perfecting the sanded surface.
How We Test
To put these tools through the paces, we drew rectangles on pieces of oak and maple, plywood, and softwood and sanded each rectangle with an 80-grit disc. Next, we emptied the dust container or bag to check the volume of dust the sander collected. We also carefully wiped down the work surface to get a sense of how much dust the sander missed. As we worked, we assessed the sander’s vibration and whether it produced an unpleasant gyroscopic effect when we lifted it off the test board. As important as any of the other tests was to examine the sanded surface to see whether the tools left swirl marks.
Any of the sanders in this test would serve a homeowner. Professional-grade models such as Makita, DeWalt, Bosch and Metabo-HPT vibrate less and are more durable than a homeowner-grade tool. But a less expensive tool equipped with a high-quality abrasive sheet will prove more than adequate for most uses around the house.
At the end of this article, we explain how to get the most out of your sander and how to protect yourself from dust. Read on for that and our reviews of the best sanders you can buy today.
BEST CORDED Bosch ROS20VSC Random Orbital
amazon.com $60.87 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 3.5 lb
The Bosch is comfortable, sands fast, and has the best dust collection of the corded sanders we tested. Because its dust control is so good (owing to a rubber O-ring seal on the dust port, good airflow, and an airtight dust canister), less dust stays on the surface to get ground into the abrasive pad. That means the pad stays cleaner and lasts longer. Its speed control dial is behind the handle; you can get at it easily, but it’s possible to accidentally bump it out of position. The sanded surface it left was very nice—a hair less smooth than the Milwaukee’s below but still of professional quality.
BEST CORDLESS DeWalt DCW210D1 Random Orbital
amazon.com $149.50 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 3.4 lb
• Battery: 5.0 Ah, 20 V
At full speed, DeWalt’s DCW210D1 was the fastest and most aggressive sander we tested. Yet it still sands with very little jarring vibration. It’s also important to note that it did better than many other sanders at lower speeds—some exhibit more vibration and loss of effectiveness as you dial back their speed, but not this one. If you’re already invested in the company’s cordless system, this tool is a sensible addition. Even if you’re not, it’s a great place to start since you get the sander, a charger, a battery, and a bag. And the company makes a wide range of equipment from drill and impact drivers to saws that work with the same battery.
RUNNER-UP CORDLESS Ridgid R8606B Random Orbital
amazon.com $62.66 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 4.8 lb
• Battery: 6.0 Ah, 18 V
Nearly as good as the DeWalt, this Ridgid orbital sander has a soft-start feature that brings the machine up to speed with a gentle ramp-up. Our only complaint is a small one: A tight fit between the dust-bag collar and the battery makes removing the bag somewhat difficult.
GOOD DUST PICKUP Kobalt KOS450B-03 Orbital
Amazon $99.00 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 6.5 lb
• Battery: 4.0 Ah, 24 V
If you’ve already invested in the Kobalt 24-volt power tool system, you can feel good adding this sander to your fleet. Although it’s heavy, in part due to our equipping it with a four-amp hour battery, it packs a fair amount of sanding power because of the weight. In any case, the KOS450B-03 will get you a finish-ready surface in no time. We found its dust collection to be very good, while its vibration isolation is pretty good—just not so much as most of our corded models. The KOS450B-03 sands smoothest and with reduced vibration on its full-speed setting, so we recommend turning the speed dial to six and leaving it there. We do have a beef with the fact that the tool isn’t available as a kit, only bare. A big deal? No. But be aware of that when you go to buy it.
AGGRESSIVE & EFFECTIVE Makita XOB01T Random Orbital
amazon.com $300.00 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 3.8 lb
• Battery: 5.0 Ah, 18 V
The Makita sander seemed to sand as fast as the DeWalt, which is surprising given that its top speed is 1,000 rpm less than its yellow competitor. Even with the big battery, it felt well-balanced, and its dust pickup is good. Downsides? The sander does has a powerful gyroscopic action that requires a slight forward bias to keep it sanding on track. Once you get used to that, you’re good to go.
BEST VALUER yobi P411 Orbital
amazon.com $44.97 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 4.2 lb
• Battery: 4.0 Ah, 18 V
This little sander hits the sweet spot. It’s not as aggressive as the others, but it does sand well and with a high degree of control. Its dust pickup was surprisingly good for such an inexpensive and simple power tool. And this is more of an observation, but the power button is somewhat stiff. In all, we rate the P411 as a good fit for the frugal power-tool shopper.
LIGHT AND EASYBlack & Decker BDCRO20C Orbital
amazon.com $59.99 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 2.8 lb
• Battery: 1.5 Ah, 20 V
It’s not pro-duty, but the BDCRO20C is a good little sander for the price and very lightweight. For small weekend fix-up jobs, there’s no question it will work well, particularly when you’re sanding less-demanding materials like white pine. While it’s a good idea to wear a mask with any sander, it’s necessary here—it has fairly ineffective dust collection.
BEST FOR WIDE SURFACES Milwaukee 2648-20 Orbital
amazon.com $89.55 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 4.2 lb
• Battery: 3.0 Ah, 18 V
You don’t have to muscle this sander to keep it in place, and it feels as if it floats over the board’s surface. However, the design of the dust canister and the way it sticks out over the rear of the tool is a bit cumbersome—especially considering that this is a cordless sander, we would have liked if it were a bit more nimble. So the ideal application is smoothing out a table top or dealing with a rough spot on wood siding. It’s better there, let’s say, than working inside a drawer. To be fair, however, if you opt out of the canister, you can easily hook up a hose from a shop vacuum to its outlet port.
GOOD ON A LADDERPorter-Cable PCCW205B Random Orbital
tractorsupply.com $69.00 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 3.0 lb
• Battery: 1.5 Ah, 20 V
Porter-Cable’s sander is lightweight and capable, making it a good choice for ladder-based work; you should have no problem holding it overhead as you smooth scraped paint. But before going up that ladder, beware. It’s easy to think that the little plastic finger that locks the dust canister in place is engaged when it’s not. If you’re not paying attention, that can result in a dust spill that will make a mess out of you and the work area.
SANDS INTO CORNERS Metabo HPT SV12SG Orbital
$59.95 $49.00 (18% off) SHOP NOW
• Weight: 2.5 lb
Metabo’s SV12SG was the only quarter-sheet (non-oscillating) orbital sander in the test. It’s a good power tool that transmitted very little vibration to our hand as it went about its work, somewhat slowly producing a reliably smooth surface without swirl marks. Its dust collection is quite good (if not as good as other corded models), but its dust port isn’t easily adaptable to a vacuum. On the other hand, it does have a major advantage compared to other sanders in that you’ve got multiple options for its abrasive sheets. You can use the peel-and-stick kind, buy the pre-cut 5.5 x 4.5-inch sheets designed for such machines, or buy a roll of 4.5-inch-wide abrasive paper from which you cut pieces to fit the sander.
ALMOST PRO-QUALITYR yobi RS290G Random Orbital
amazon.com $54.97 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 4 lb
The RS290G is a simple and solid sander, but its dust-control bag is not nearly as efficient as the airtight canisters on the Bosch or the Milwaukee. This isn’t to say that it does a poor job picking up dust, considering its competitors do it nearly flawlessly. This Ryobi sands with good speed and power and completed sanding its test areas in about the same amount of time as its competitors. In terms of the quality of sanded surface it produces, we’d say that it’s surprisingly good for the price.
SMOOTH OPERATORMilwaukee 6034-21 Random Orbital
amazon.com $113.10 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 3.5 lb
The Milwaukee was the smoothest-running corded sander of the bunch, with a distinct lack of gyroscopic wobble and a pleasant vibration-free motion. Its dust control was good, but removing the dust lid from the canister was ridiculously difficult. Furthermore, it’s possible that the lid feels like it’s snapped on when it isn’t. You sand for a few minutes and find that the sander is a dusty mess, as is the surface. Then you have to clean up the sander, the surface, and maybe yourself, too. Just be sure you have that lid attached properly, and you’ll be rewarded with a pleasant power tool that works smoothly and quickly, leaving a flawless surface.
VERSATILE DeWalt DWE6421 Random Orbital
amazon.com $81.98 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 2.9 lb
DeWalt’s DWE6421 is a journeyman power tool—a good, solid, smoothly operating machine essentially identical in feel and sanding performance to the Craftsman below. Having noticed the similarities, we did some superficial disassembly of them both, removing their bases and the top housing covers. There may be something tucked deep inside the DeWalt to give it an edge in terms of durability, but it wasn’t obvious from above or below. Putting aside cosmetics of color and slightly different rubberized surfaces, these appear to be identical in sanding performance, start and stop speed, weight, and configuration.
IDEAL FOR CRAFTSMAN FANSCraftsman CMEW231 Random Orbital
Amazon $56.98 SHOP NOW
• Weight: 2.9 lb
Like the DeWalt, the CMEW231 operates smoothly, leaving a well-sanded surface. It appears, even under superficial disassembly and analysis, to be nearly identical to the DeWalt. We can’t say they’re exactly the same mechanically, but it’s possible that the DWE6421 possesses heavy-duty components that this sander does not. But if you’ve already bought into the Craftsman ecosystem, you might prefer this sander.MAINTAINING YOUR SANDER AND YOURSELF
Sanders don’t need a lot of care, but they do need a little. The best thing you can do for it is to blow the dust out of it using compressed air (or a can of compressed air purchased at an office supply store) or use a shop vacuum and work over its exterior, especially its air vents.
Now protect yourself, especially your lungs: Wear a dust mask when sanding. Better models have a foam strip to help the mask make a better seal to your face; they may also have a vent that reduces moisture buildup under the mask.
Clean up as you work to prevent large piles of talc-like dust from accumulating. And when you’re done sanding and ready to take a break, either brush or vacuum yourself off before going inside the house or other clean area. It’s also a good idea to wear an old shirt, coveralls, or a shop apron and leave that in the sanding area, rather than bringing dust into the house. Having a floor mat outside the shop is great, too. Remember what your mom said: Wipe your feet (or take your work shoes off)! This cuts down on tracked dirt, which is more than just a nuisance. Remnants of sanding grit on you shoe soles can scratch finished floors, and tracked-in dust can form an eye-watering or throat-scratching irritant as it spreads throughout the house.
When it comes to using a sander, it’s pretty simple, and there are only these key rules:
- Move the sander slowly and steadily over the work surface. Racing back and forth is hard on the tool and whatever you’re sanding.
- Don’t skip more than one grade of grit as you move from coarse to smooth. Example, you can go from 100 grit to 150 (skipping 120) but don’t go from 100 grit to 220 grit. It doesn’t hurt to move through each size of grit, from coarse to smoothest, but for all but the finest of work, it’s not necessary.
- Vacuum the surface clean with a shop vacuum and a brush attachment when you’re done with each level of grit. This removes any trapped particles hiding on the surface. For furniture-grade finishing, wipe the surface clean with a tack cloth (a sticky piece of cloth used to pick up dust; it’s sold in the paint aisle) before proceeding to the next grit.
- Don’t tip the sander near the edges because it will round them off. Of course, if you prefer a slightly rounded corner, that can be a good thing. For example, paint sticks better to a gently rounded corner than to a sharp one.