Last updated on November 24, 2021
Orbital sanders are small and easy to use making them great for detailing edges and smoothing surfaces.
If you don’t have any sort of power sander at all, it’s recommended that you get at least an orbital sander because of their relative ease of use and versatility.
Their small size means that they’re not overly aggressive, allowing you to precisely control how much material you take off but doing so in an even way to leave you with a flat surface.
So how to use an orbital sander? Let’s take the steps one at a time.
Step 1: Secure the material to your workbench.
As with any project, it helps to secure the workpiece on a workbench first to be able to effectively and efficiently work on it.
Depending on the size of the workpiece you want to sand, you can either use bench built-in clamps or purchase standalone vices to custom-fit irregular-sized pieces.
In rare instances, certain pieces won’t fit clamps or vices, if so, use nylon buckle straps to hold them down firmly in place.
Here’s how to mount woodworking vises.
Step 2: Set up a vacuum.
Sanding will always produce sawdust. Especially when you use power sanders.
To avoid having tons of small debris flying around, it’s recommended for you to set up a shop vacuum. That is unless your orbital sander already has a built-in one.
Step 3: Picking the right sandpaper grit.
If you’re wondering if an orbital sander can be used for finishing, it depends on the grit.
Grit determines how coarse or how fine the surface will be. Generally, you’ll want to go with lower-grit sandpaper (or in this case sanding sheets) if you aim to just remove large amounts of material.
Coarse grits are usually between 60-80 grit. General-purpose sanding grits are between 100-150.
Fine grits, that leave the smoothest surfaces, are usually 180-220 grit. Grits 320 above are for ultra-smooth, glass-like surface finishes.
Step 4: Attach the sandpaper.
Attaching sandpaper to your orbital sander is pretty straightforward. There are just different mediums at which The sandpaper attaches to the sanding disc, but they all pretty much rely on a form of adhesion.
‘Hook and Loop’ sandpaper attaches like velcro, but makes use of microscopic hooks that latch onto the disc’s backing pad.
Pressure Sensitive Adhesive (PSA) or ‘Stick On’ sandpaper does exactly that. Sandpaper that attaches to a sanding attachment is often kept in place by locks, allowing for repeated, easy replacement. However, Velcro sanding sheets work the best.
Step 5: Set up your orbital sander speed.
Most orbital sanders nowadays have variable speeds, allowing users to easily select from a range of working speeds, depending on what is needed for the project.
There are usually 6-speed options available, marked by levels 1 – 6, indicating how high the sander sets its RPM. Settings 3 – 6 are usually standard for any task.
Higher speeds let you finish faster, but also take away too much material if you’re not too careful by holding the sander stationary for too long.
Parts of DeWalt DCW210B orbital sander
Step 6: Wear your mask and goggles.
Always work with safety first in mind. Be reminded that power sanding will produce a lot of dust, and this dust can sometimes get into your eyes and/or nose, especially if you’re working without due protection.
Step 7: Start sanding.
Before you actually go ham on your workpiece, make sure to mark and layout your work lines, especially if you’re to make turns or make irregular shapes along the way of sanding.
It’s common practice to have your sander ‘parked’ on the piece before turning it on as doing so reduces the chances of skidding or the sander digging in too quickly on the material.
Step 8: Clean the surface and check for smoothness.
Oftentimes, unless you’ve already been doing it for years and have mastered your technique, you’ll require more than 1 pass before you arrive at the desired surface smoothness approved by us at least!
Make sure to check the surface after each pass to ensure that there aren’t any discrepancies with regard to evenness and that there are no wood fibers left exposed. Slowly run your fingers across the surface to check for any ‘off’ spots.
Step 9: Apply a coat of finish.
A nice stain finish or some wood varnish adds loads to a piece’s aesthetic and durability. Especially if you intend to have your piece be part of an external project, finish coating is necessary to ensure that it fares better against the elements.
A finish seals the workpiece and prevents moisture from the outside and ruining its integrity from within via rot and decay.
Check this comparison of lacquer and polyurethane coats.
Orbital sanding tips and tricks
- Consider all sanding options and tools that can do the job.
- Go SLOW with your passes to avoid leaving behind swirl marks on the workpiece.
- Don’t press down on the sander, instead let the weight of your hand rest on it and simply nudge it along.
- Overlap passes – covers more ground and is fairly useful on larger pieces.
- Avoid tipping by grabbing it around its neck.
- Recommended finishing by hand.
- Prioritize using your orbital sander on smaller pieces and for detailing the edges and corners of larger ones, such as doors and wooden bed frames.
- Moreover, you may also need to know how to use an orbital sander to remove paint get more information here.
Consider a finishing sander for exposed timber.
Exposed Timber, or anything that refers to any exposed wood that isn’t painted like wooden furniture, or an exposed wooden beam or truss, is better handled with a finishing sander.
A finishing sander is basically a type of orbital sander, but with a wide, rectangular sanding pad and that uses a back and forth motion that goes with the wood grain.
A finishing sander will allow you to cover more area of exposed wooden pieces, and leave no swirls on the wood grain leading to more consistent surfaces. After the initial orbital sander is used.
When to use a file sander?
A file sander is a type of power sander that works like a file; instead of a flat sanding base, it makes use of a narrow, elongated belt so as to be able to smooth out tight areas or aggressively sand certain spots on a workpiece.
Consider using a file sander in detailed gaps and spaces, or shape certain parts prior to finishing. Alternatively, you can also use file sanders to somewhat ‘rout’ areas of a workpiece.
When to use a belt sander?
Belt sanders are extremely powerful sanders commonly used to sand very rough surfaces.
If you’re working with raw lumber and intend to process it yourself, you usually do initial sand-downs using a belt sander.
Belt sanders are also very useful for scribing and rough flattening.
Belt sanders are often used during the initial phases of preparing wood stocks and pre-processed timber. But make sure to wear earmuffs and eye protection!
Orbital sanders are pretty much the main way to sand when it comes to woodworking.
There are many kinds of power sanders, and orbital sanders stand out to be among the most notable ones, mainly for their surprising combination of portability and power.
Orbital sanders may be small, but they’re certainly not weak.
With a little bit of patience (and a lot of creativity), you can pretty much take on any job with just an orbital sander, just be sure to have a ton of sandpaper ready.
You can use an orbital sander on wood cabinets and wood surfaces! And for kids, it’s a perfect first power tool to add to their collection!
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