Choosing a Hand-Held Sander

Woodworkers discuss the options in electric and air-powered random orbital sanders. December 28, 2014

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
What is the best electric sander or sanders and paper to sand face frames that have been wide belted to 150 grit?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From Contributor K:
Sorry to say it this way but use your electricity to power a compressor for a pneumatic sander. I went to a Dynabrade DA and regret not doing it sooner.

From Contributor J:
I agree. Use a pneumatic if possible. However, Mirka makes an electric orbital that looks very promising.

From the original questioner:
5" or 6"? Mirka over Festool ETS 125 or ETS150/3?

From contributor T:
5'' or 6'' really depends on the operator and the products being sanded. 6'' are good for larger surfaces and wide joints that need to be kept flat. For regular face frames and cabinet doors go with 5'' DAs. Mirka sanders work well especially for aggressive stock removal and fast sanding. For fine finish sanding and higher grit sanding go with Dynabrade spirit or supreme 3/32nds orbit. Orbits range from 1/8th inch to 3/8th inch. The larger the orbit the more aggressive the sander. 3/16th Mirka bulldog sanders and Dynabrades are a good middle ground for most sanding applications. We use 5'' 6'' and 8'' DAs as well as 4''by4'' and 4''by3'' and 3.25''by6'' orbital sanders. We also use strait line sander for fine finishing without leaving swirl marks. We also have very nice Festool sanders that sit on the shelf and never get used. There good for the field but can't compare to air sanders.

From contributor D:
My brand new Ceros is already in the repair shop. It shuts down after only five-ten minutes of use because it gets too hot. Certainly not what I expected from a $500 palm sander. Mirka does not even work on them, they sub out to another company for repair work! I have always loved my Dynabrade!

From Contributor R:
I think the palm sanders are a waste of time. We started out using Porter Cable 7346 and they are good powerful sanders. We have since changed to Bosch 1250 and are a lot happier with them, better balance and control with less vibration. We have some air sanders to and they are the easiest to handle and control but still understand the need for the electrics.

From Contributor I:
We have two 5" Mirkas. Three year warranty, small, light, powerful and love them. A classic case of "how did I ever sand with anything else". We take one with us to installs for scribes - 40 grit and it takes seconds. We use 150 grit on the sander almost exclusively in the shop.

From the original questioner:
What model of Dynabrade DA? Vac or non vac? Or use another air sander.

From contributor T:
Try out a Dynabrade spirit 5'' self-generated vac first. Get the hose and vac bag kit with it. If you find you don't need the vac then you don't have to use it. We use three of these and three of the 6'' models for our fine finish sanding but they are a 3/32nds orbit not the 3/16.

The first air sander I ever bought was this similar model in a 3/16 orbit. It's ten years old and still used daily and never been rebuilt. It must have thousands of hours of use by now. Before that I used Porter Cable, Dewalt and other electric sanders. We would burn up on average one electric sander per month. My business is three fold now so that would be three electrics per month. I've only rebuilt two air sanders in ten years. Not bad for the 20 or so we use daily. If you want a larger more aggressive sander after you try the Dynabrade then try out the Mirka SA 6SGV GRP SANDER 1/PKGMR-6SGV. We use five of these same sanders with the full extraction kit. We also have four of these sanders without the vacs. I'm sending those back to be rebuilt and upgraded to self vacs this month. 3m also has a nice sander comparable to the Mirka and it has really nice self vac pickup. All these sanders use a multiple hole pattern around 40 holes. Hook and loop is the primary type of paper used with these systems.

In the right environment you won't need vacs. If youíre in a booth or have downdraft tables you may not need them. If youíre only sanding face frames then self vacs will work best. No need for downdraft tables unless the volume is high. If you do decide to go with a vac sander then you need to use the right paper. Five hole paper or nine hole is fine for a true vac sander that you actually plug in like a Festool but if you decide to use self-generated vacs then you want to use a screen or film paper like Morka Abranet or Autonet or 3m multihole . The interface pad and the paper have 40 plus holes. Abranet and autonet made by Mirka work the best for self vacs. The paper is on a screen like mesh material which allows the dust to easily pass through the paper without lining up holes on the pad and paper. It's pricey but in my opinion it's worth the cost and the paper outlasts the average paper 3 to 1. I would reach out to any local dealers. Most have demo machines that you can borrow for a week or so. Try out the different pads on the machines and get samples of the different papers to try out in various grits. They don't make much on the machine but they do make good money on the paper so they are usually more than happy to help.

From contributor C:
What's the hype with the DA's? Iíve never used one. Iíve been using an electric Rotex and a RO 3mm Festool for years and it seems fine. Everyone I talk to seems to think the DA is the way to go, but why?

From contributor G:
DA and RO are the same thing. The pad spins as it vibrates in an orbit pattern. I have the Ceros and love it. It did crap out on me 2 3/4 years into its life. The speed card expired. They replaced under warranty it and itís working again. I use the sander for everything. It's aggressive enough to remove stock easily and nice enough to not leave any swirls or imperfections in the finish. It uses a lot less energy than powering up a 3-5 HP compressor to power a pneumatic.

From contributor P:
I love most Festool stuff, but was disappointed with their small RO sander due to vibration and swirl marks. I've tried Bosch and others, but my personal favorite remains the humble DeWalt 5" variable speed. I think I paid around $75 for it.

From contributor T:
I hope this answers some of your questions. The main reasons for choosing air over electric:

1. Ergonomic lightweight design.

2. Running multiple air tools on one larger compressor motor is cost efficient over using multiple 110 motors. I don't know the breakeven point but I've heard numbers like three-four tools running simultaneously.

3. Half the weight and double the power. The power to weight ratio of air and electrics is 2 to 1.

4. When fast stock removal is required you want low speed and lots of torque. Air motors provide high amounts of torque at lower rpms.

5. An operator can easily operate an air sander with one hand with superior control over the sander ( less gouging, scratches, divots and swirl marks).

6. Typically less vibration and smoother operation which amounts to lesser operator fatigue.

7. Properly maintained air sanders will outlast most electrics 10 to 1. I've personally tried and burnt out almost every electric on the market. With Festool and Fein being the exception which is why we keep them around for field work.

8. An air sander will always get more work done in a day then a comparable electric and the user will not be nearly as fatigued at the end of the day. I've done side by side tests and know this is a fact.

I've tested regular DAs, orbitals, half sheet sanders, gear driven sanders and some others all against comparable electrics. The only sander I have found that is relatively the same in either air or electric is a straight line sander.

Reasons for using electric over air:

1. Running a compressor is expensive if youíre only using one sander at a time.

2. Air sanders are more expensive than the average electric sanders.

3. Multiple uses (shop and field work).

4. The average sander requires 6-7 cfm so you need a 5 horse 60 gallon compressor to supply proper amount of air.

5. Availability. Before we expanded our business we were buying machines when we needed them and usually in a hurry. So whatever I could get locally was what we bought (Dewalt, Porter Cable, Festool and Fein). Once I had time to do some research and test out some machines I realized that by investing in better sanders we would save dramatically on our labor costs and rework. The up-front cost was higher but it was really a no brainer.

From Contributor W:
Our company will be selling a new ergonomic brushless electric sander starting at the Atlanta IWF show this year. The sander uses a power supply so the actual sander is far lighter and more powerful than the standard clunky electric sanders on the market right now. It really feels the same as a regular air sander. We sell pneumatic sanders like candy now. They are much smaller and lighter weight than their older electric counterparts. They do require huge air to run though. Every air sander company quotes their sanders around 3.3 cfm, but they are 17 SCFM. They require at least a 15 cfm compressor to run nearly continuously. That is a lot of air. If you sand for short burst you can get away with smaller, but you are better off with lots and lots of volume. Our sander is the lightest on the market that still uses hardened steel cylinders and not pressed in sheet metal sleeves. We get great finishes with our 3/16" orbit so we see the 3/32" orbit as a solution in search of a problem. Smaller swirls are still swirls. We prefer to solve the swirl problem by showing customers where they come from and how to avoid them all together in the first place. No magic sanders or sand paper required. It's all about the wood coming to the sanding table and how it is prepared before sanding.