How to Properly Choose the Right Sanding Tool for the Job

Choosing the right sanding tool for your woodworking project and learning to use it properly can save you time and money. This guide lists the main types of sanders available along with some power sander tips and tricks for their effective use.

Drum Sander

As the largest and most aggressive sander,  this option requires careful handling and is best used for sizeable areas that need heavy sanding. Professionals recommend this sander for removing bevels from prefinished floors when you want to transform them into more contemporary square-edged flooring. This beast removes deep scratches quickly, but it can cause serious damage in inexperienced hands.

Tip: To remove bevels in prefinished flooring, cut across the grain at a 45-degree angle for the first two passes to flatten the floor.

Floor sanding application


Belt Sander

Another aggressive tool, this sander has a continuous 3- or 4-inch sanding belt that's ideal for smoothing large, flat surfaces such as wooden floors. It’s also great for removing old finishes such as paint and varnish as well as reducing edges, such as those at the top of a sticking door. You can also use it to gang-sand several edges at once by clamping two or more boards together. When choosing the sander size, many professionals opt for a 3 x 21-inch model. However, a 3 x 18-inch sander is more suited for novices and DIY users. The larger 3 x 24-inch and 4 x 24-inch models are useful for heavier sanding of larger surfaces but are harder to control.

Tips: Opt for a model that has a built-in dust collection device to save time on clearing up between and after each job. For best results, start with a coarse grit belt, and work progressively through finer grits to get a smooth result. Always sand with the grain to avoid scratches. Use both hands for better control, and keep the sander moving to avoid gouges and scratches.

Installing a portable sanding belt on a belt sander













Edge Floor Sander

Use this tough disk sander for sanding around the edges of a floor right up to the wall.

Tip: Lean this sander back at an angle when you first turn it on to avoid causing damage on first contact. 

Floor sanding application using an edger sander










Random Orbital Sander 

A woodworker's favorite, this sander holds a circle of sandpaper and turns in a rotary manner while vibrating laterally to reduce the risk of unsightly swirl marks. This machine tends to be quieter and offers variable speed control so you can choose between a slower, more delicate approach and a faster, more aggressive approach.

Tips: Choose between palm and pistol-grip styles according to your preference. Try out different models in a store before deciding. Make sure your tool has a dust filter canister or can attach to a vacuum cleaner since removing dust while you work leads to greater efficiency and less mess.

A vacuum disc mounted on a random orbital sander










Palm Sander or Finish Sander

Featuring a square pad that moves in small, circular orbits, this sander creates ultra-smooth finishes and is good for corners and finishing, but it's not really suitable for heavy jobs. A popular beginner's model, this affordable sander holds small squares of sandpaper in place with spring-loaded clips. It is quiet, lightweight and relatively easy to control because you can move it in any direction.

Tip: Opt for a model that has a piercing plate for punching holes through the paper to aid dust collection.

Sanding a picnic table with a palm sander










Detail Sander

Use this lightweight but noisy tool for smaller projects and reaching into corners or tight spots. Some models have a range of attachments but do not normally offer any form of dust control, so remember to wear a dust mask to avoid breathing in particles.

Tip: For maximum flexibility, choose a model that also takes extension plates, cutting blades and scrapers.

Detail profile sander showing special abrasive shape









Hand Sanding Block

Leave space in your kit for the humble hand-powered sanding block. It may be slower, but it gives you maximum control and is useful in tight spots.

Ergonomic hand sanding block


When you want to produce a professional finish with every job, it's worth investing in the right type of power sander and learning these power sander tips and tricks to help you master your tools.