Checked and updated on January 17, 2021 by Aaron Barnett
The best palm sander is cordless with a working dust bag and has an orbital motion for efficiency. Both Makita, Dewalt, and Bosch make a range of orbital palm sanders worth looking into. Cordless is the best choice for a new random orbital sander, so you don’t have to be tethered to a power outlet when working on your projects.
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Palm sanders are power sanders that typically fit into the palm of the hand, hence the name. They are generally lighter and smaller than most sanders and have relatively low powered motors. Most are designed for use with light sandpapers, ranging from 160 to 220-grit.
Palm sanders are ideally suited for polishing or finishing wood surfaces before varnishing or painting. They are especially useful for smoothening homemade furniture with rough finishes and restoring the surface of weathered or worn pieces.
The use of fine grade sandpaper makes palm sanders especially useful for final sanding before the application of lacquer or polyurethane coating. Palm sanders can also be used for smoothening the surface of workpieces between coatings. Although they are less effective for removing paint or varnish or any other substances that are stuck firmly to the surface, palm sanders are essential tools for a wide variety of smoothening, polishing, and finishing tasks.
Palm sanders are a lot easier to handle than belt or sheet sanders, many of which are quite heavy and require two hands to operate. Although palm sanders aren’t nearly as powerful as larger sanding tools, they are often much more useful for preparing surfaces for varnishing, staining, or painting.
Although many woodworkers use palm sanders almost exclusively, most still use such tools alongside hand sanding. Palm sanders with 150-grit sandpaper are often used for the ‘broad strokes’, with many woodworkers shifting to hand sanding for corners and final passes. This can save a lot of time compared to sanding the entire workpiece by hand.
The quality of the finish produced by palm sanders can be quite impressive. Even if you have never worked with a sander before, it is possible to get professional-looking results. With a bit of practice, you can even restore old and worn out pieces of furniture and have them looking like new.
Before buying an orbital palm sander…
Palm sanders aren’t subject to as much stress and strain as most power tools. Even so, they should be durable enough to withstand regular use, especially if you plan on working on a lot of rough surfaces.
Research the brand.
Brands such as Makita, Dewalt, and 3M make some of the most reliable palm sanders on the market. These brands consistently get high ratings on palm sander reviews for their durability, reliability, and features.
Think about the price.
Palm sanders aren’t that expensive compared to most power tools, but the best models are priced a bit higher. Always go for the best model you can afford in your price range. Spending a little bit more now will pay off in a quality tool that you can rely on for longer.
Go for variable speed.
A palm sander with a variable speed motor will let you dial down the speed for finishing and final passes and crank it up for more demanding sanding jobs. The ability to adjust the motor speed according to the demands of the job will produce better results and minimize unnecessary strain on the motor.
Orbital sander vs. Finishing sander
Finishing sanders such as the Makita Sheet Finishing Sander have rectangular–sometimes square–bottoms that move back and forth over the surface of the workpiece. Although they work pretty well, for the most part, the constant repeating motion tends to leave marks on whatever you are working on from the edge of the sandpaper.
Orbital models move in circular and oval patterns which even outs the sanding and results in a higher quality finish. Orbital sanders are generally a lot more versatile than finishing sanders, although the latter is easier to control. The rectangular bottom also makes it easy to reach into corners.
The main reason I like orbital sanders over finishing sanders is the sandpaper is held in place a lot more firmly and you don’t have to worry about the sandpaper losing position with heavy use. The rotating motion with orbital sanders, also gets a lot more work done, than the small back and forth motion that finishing sanders use.
The advantage of getting a finishing sander instead is for when you are finishing exposed grain on hardwood timber, with a clear finish like clear polyurethane. For this, it is better to have a back and forth sanding motion, that is, “sand with the grain”.
However, if I was to pick only one sander I would pick an orbital sander for its overall versatility, speed, and less frustration with the sandpaper been held much more securely in position when doing heavy sanding work.
When it comes to hardwood jobs with a clear coat polyurethane I would finish the timber surface using very fine grid sandpaper on the orbital sander, and then right at the end, I would give it 10-minute sand by hand along the grain of the wood.
Of course, if you do these hardwood jobs regularly you want the best finishing sander for “to save time with this finishing work”.
Palm sander vs. Belt sander
Palm sanders are pretty capable and versatile tools, but if you need to smoothen out extremely rough pieces, a belt sander is much faster for the job. If you have a piece of furniture or some other surface that has seen better days, the best belt sander can be remarkably effective for restoring it close to its original condition and very quickly.
Belt sanders are also useful for smoothening joints that aren’t quite even and stripping paint. A good rule of thumb is: if you need to shape or sand the workpiece extensively, a belt sander might be the best option. For general sanding and all other tasks, a palm sander is your best friend to make your DIY projects, furniture, and trim look professional, quicker than a finishing sander.
For fast sanding in hard to reach spots, you can also consider a finger belt sander that has a small file sanding belt for reaching in tight areas.
What jobs are orbital sanders best for?
Orbital sanders are so-named because of the small circular movements of their heads. Standard orbital sanders have heads that move in regular patterns. There are also random orbital sanders, the heads of which move in random orbits. The main advantage of random orbital sanders is that they won’t leave any unsightly lines or marks on the work surface, even if you leave the sander on one spot for too long.
Orbital sanders are especially effective for stripping paint and varnish from workpieces. They can also be used for prepping surfaces that you intend to paint. Another benefit of orbital sanders is that they can be used on curved surfaces.
Corded vs. Cordless palm sanders
When shopping for power tools, the choice often comes down between corded and cordless models. This is the case with palm sanders as well, and you will find that each type has its advantages and disadvantages.
Corded models are almost always more powerful than their cordless counterparts. However, some cordless palm sanders are pretty powerful, and they should be sufficient for DIY sanding jobs. Even so, you should probably go for a corded model if continuous use and consistent performance are important.
Cordless sanders do have the advantage of portability and convenience. If you need to work in a remote location and don’t need to use your sander for long periods, a cordless sander is a more convenient option.
The Makita BO5041K Orbital Palm Sander boasts of a powerful 3.0 amp motor that lets you smoothen down the roughest surfaces quickly. It has a variable speed control dial that you can use to set the motor spinning at 4,000 to 12,000 OPM, giving you a wide range of operating speeds to choose from. With this particular feature, you can set the speed of the Makita BO5041K to match the particular task or work surface.
The BO5041K also comes with an adjustable front handle that lets you squeeze the tool into tight spots and corners. The two-finger trigger switch with a lock-on button also earns the BO5041K high marks in many orbital sander reviews when a consistent stream of power is required.
The Makita XOB01Z Cordless Orbital Palm Sander, on the other hand, has the same reliability in an 18V cordless model, my recommendation.
Choosing an air-powered orbital sander?
As useful as cordless palm sanders are, air-powered orbital sanders have the grunt and are even more efficient and versatile. Like all orbital sanders, they can smoothen and polish rough surfaces to an impressive finish using the workshop air compressor rather than battery or electricity. They are especially useful for sanding large areas, which would be difficult for smaller corded palm sanders and standard cordless sanders. For this reason, air-powered orbital sanders are commonly used in automotive repair and restoration, furniture making, and carpentry.
The best air-powered orbital sanders let you regulate the speed at which the disc turns via an air regulator dial. They also have a lot more power than standard cordless sanders, making them better suited for heavily demanding jobs where portability isn’t a requirement like inside the workshop.
The 3M Random Orbital Sander Air Palm Sander is capable of pretty powerful performance with its 0.28 HP motor. Able to handle most sanding and finishing tasks, it is driven by pneumatic power that gives it much more power than conventional electric sanders. The precision-balanced motor gives you full control over the sander and allows for more comfortable operation as well. This is also enhanced by the low-profile design, which makes for a more efficient and ergonomic tool.
Other features include an aluminum body and rugged composite cover, which reduce the risk of damage to the housing. The 3M Random Orbital Sander also comes with a 3M Stikit disc pad, so you can use it with adhesive-backed discs.
Tips for using palm sanders
The effectiveness of a palm sander depends largely on the type of sandpaper you use with it. Even the best hand sanders won’t be as effective if you don’t use the right sandpaper for the job. For most smoothening tasks, you will want to start with coarse-grit sandpaper and switch to progressively finer papers as you go along.
If the surface is especially rough, try using 40-grit to 60-grit sandpaper. After you have smoothened out most of the larger bumps and jagged protrusions, you can shift to 80-grit to 120-grit paper, then finish up with 150-grit to 180-grit paper.
For surfaces that are fairly smooth, you can start with much finer sandpaper. If you want to get an especially smooth finish, you can work your way up to extra fine paper from 220-grit to 280- or even 320-grit.
Always secure the material to your workbench with clamps. This will let you work with the palm sander on the highest setting and have the workpiece fixed securely in place.
Go for smooth even strokes, moving the sander back and forth along the grain. This will prevent the formation of nicks and splinters and results in a much smoother finish.
And remember for heavy amounts of sanding consider using a belt-sander and for finishing work that will get a clear coat of polyurethane on an exposed timber grain, you need to use a finish with a finishing sander, that sands along with the direction of the timber grain.
|Makita XOB01Z||DEWALT DCW210B Palm Sander||Makita BO5041K|
Orbital Palm San
|3M Random Orbital Sander|
|Disk size:||5”||?||5”||6” x 3/16”|
|Weight:||2.9lbs.||2.5 lbs.||3.09 lbs.||2.2 lbs.|
|OPM/RPM:||Variable Speed at 7,000 9,500 or 11,000 OPM||Varible Speed||4,000 to 12,000 OPM [Variable Speed]||12,000 maximum RPM|
The Makita BO5041K Orbital Palm Sander is a comfortable and powerful sanding machine that can handle even the toughest finishing sanding jobs. The powerful 3.0 amp motor can smoothen out even the roughest surfaces, and you can even dial it down for finishing and buffing. And with a generously-sized random orbit action, you are assured of swirl-free finishes every time.
For cord-free sanding, the Makita XOB01Z Cordless Orbital Palm Sander is a versatile unit that can handle even the toughest sanding jobs while not being tethered to a power outlet. The powerful 18V motor can smoothen out rough surfaces quickly with again swirl-free finishes.
The 3M Random Orbital Sander Air Palm Sander is powered by a 0.28 HP motor that handles most sanding and finishing jobs with ease. It is much more efficient than standard motors and is capable of longer running times due to its pneumatic design. A powerhouse among small palm sanders, the 3M Random Orbital Sander has an aluminum body and a durable composite cover that ensures reliable performance.
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