Air Versus Electric Random Orbital Sanders

Air-powered sanders are sweet, but they call for a big compressor — and there are electric sanders that do a nice job. July 5, 2006

For a 3-4 person cabinet and furniture shop, would it be worth going to air sanders? We don't have constant sanding going on. Sometimes there are days when there's no sanding at all. Sometimes we may sand 4-5 hours a day (one man usually, sometimes two). And there are times when an hours worth may be all that's needed in a day. We'd definitely have to upgrade the compressor (5 HP 60 gal). If a sander requires 10 cfm @ 90 psi, what is required for 3 sanders to run at the same time? Does that mean you need 30cfm? Should we just stay with electric? We have a drum sander that most things go through first to ease the amount of RO sanding time, but not everything can be machine sanded. We do a lot of custom work. Is there any sander out there that can compete with the Festool? They seem to be the answer for electric.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A :

From contributor B :
We are a similar sized shop that does custom work and we use 6" Festool RO sanders. I think they are great. Since we switched the amount of airborne dust is way down and we didn't need to upgrade our compressor. It seems like you would need a really large compressor to supply three Dynabrades running at the same time.

From contributor C :
5 HP per sander, as I recall.

From contributor D :
I have a Dynabrade and it needs big air – it is a great tool though.

From contributor E:
You won't believe how much time, effort, and money you save with a Dynabrade electric sander. I haven't used one since I bought my first Dynabrade.

From contributor F :
We use Dynabrade air sanders. They hold up well (we have a refrigerated air drier.) They are faster that the electric sanders, run cool, and consume a lot of air. We had two 10hp Curtis compressors before we upgraded last year; when 3 RO sanders, painting, and miscellaneous other things were all using air, we would run short. We don't now that we have a 25 HP screw. If you go to air tools it will pay to get an air drier.

From contributor G :
We have both. The guys prefer the Festool Rotex because it's about 3X's faster, plus no dust. They use the 5" Dynabrades for very fine sanding and touch up. Personally, I like the feel of the Dynabrade better - it's lighter and easier to handle - but I'm not the one doing that. If you are going to run 2+ sanders for more than 1/2 hour at a time I highly recommend going with a 2-stage or screw type compressor. Or be prepared to monitor and maintain the compressor often. Sanders are tough on them! We burned up a 6-1/2HP, 60 gal single stage using 1 sander - it wasn't monitored weekly and got low on oil.

From contributor H :
I do mostly custom finishing so I do a lot of sanding. I have Porter Cable RO, Dewalt, Festool RO, Ridgid 5'' RO and I have a Dynabrade air sander. Which do I use 90% of the time? The rigid 5" .To use air sander you need 80 gallon two stage and it still kicks on every 5 minutes. The Ridgid is 3 amps, 12000 orbits per minute, costs about $65, and does a great job. It’s not made as well as Festool but it is half the price, and I do buy a new one every year. To test the sanders take a piece of hard maple and put pencil lines all over it. Put on a 220 grit disc (good discs make a difference) and the Ridgid will remove the lines quicker than the Dynabrade and the rest. Then stain the piece with a dark stain and you will see the fishhooks are less also. I have mine hooked up to a Fesol vacuum system - it is a great machine. I didn't like the Festool Rotex sander - it's a right angle sander and you have a really be careful that you don't put too much pressure on the barrel part or you will sand on an angle. Unless you have tried this test, you can not comment.

From the original questioner :
Thanks everyone. You guys and WOODWEB are a valuable resource. Electric is slowly pulling ahead. I was kind of assuming that the compressor requirements would be pretty big. I guess we'll have to get a bigger credit card. By the sound of our current compressor I'd say it would last about a day with one sander. Although I haven't used any Ridgid tools, I have been noticing some nice looking features on more and more of their stuff.

From contributor G :
I like the 5" Dynorbital - it's easier to hold. Does anyone own the Festool plunge router and have feedback on its pros and cons?

From contributor K :
I have one 5" Dynabrade, one 5" Sioux and one 6" Sioux sander. I only use the Dynabrade when everybody else is using the Siouxs. We have a 10 hp 2 stage compressor with an 80 gallon tank and it can keep up with 2 RO sanders. Be sure to have a refrigerated air drier, and a regulator with 1/2" NPT inlet and outlet.

From contributor I:
I tried the Festool plunge router recently. It is a thing of beauty. I hope to replace our Porter Cables and Bosch router with Festool before long. It is well balanced, vibration is minimal, and has a nice soft start. The ratcheting single-wrench collet will make you weep with joy if you've ever used a Porter-Cable. I swear I've nearly sent a couple Porter-Cables across the room trying to deal with their wrenches. And don't get me started on their plunge attachment! But I digress. The dust extraction system is very, very good.

The only con I can think of is if you're really dead set against the handle with the trigger that sticks out to the side, but I like that too. I used the 1400 watt tool, 574224. I've seen it advertised for $395, and that is a bargain for a tool this well designed.

From contributor J:
I've owned the Festool OF 1400 for about 6 months. It's a nice tool. The grip and plunge mechanism took a little getting used to, but I like them both now. Some of the other nice features: nice long (detachable) power cord, you can use your existing template guides, good dust collection, included edge guide (very beefy, too). One of the best things is the ability to use it with the Festool guide tracks. This opens up lots of options for dadoing and other fun stuff.

From contributor G:
It looked user-friendly for a 5'4" gal, and the handle and weight were the pros to me. The guys love the Festools, and I don't mind paying more if it's a good tool and if the guys will actually use them.