For all beginning woodworkers, I only recommend a single sander, the random orbit sander. It’s so useful that I consider it an essential woodworking tool.
But there are some other fairly affordable sanders that can make your time in the shop even more enjoyable and efficient.
This first sander is actually 2 sanders: a 1” strip sander and a disc sander. You can buy these separately, but they are commonly sold in a single unit.
I bought mine close to 20 years ago because I wanted the disc sander. The 1” strip sander seemed nice, but doubted I would really get much use out of it. As it turned out, I kept finding more and more uses for it and now I absolutely love using the strip sander. I probably use it just as often as the disc sander.
- I use it for sanding small pieces and it’s great for reaching into spaces impossible with other sanders, say widening thin slots.
- I use it for freehand shaping of pieces. It’s probably the most artistic sander there is…you can actually sculpt with it.
- And it’s great for sharpening tools, lawn mower blades, axes, as well as cleaning stuff off of tools.
The main use of a disc sander is to sand outside curves. No matter what kind of saw you use, it will be nearly impossible to get smooth edges. The advantage to using this rather than a random orbit sander is that it has a table, so you can make sure you are sanding square to the face of the board.
Plus, the table tilts so you can sand bevels and there is a miter gauge for sanding miters. It’s especially handy when you need to sand something down to a precise line.
A spindle sander works on inside curves. It comes with all different diameters of spindles and the sandpaper comes in tubes that slide onto them.
The tool spins to sand, but it also has an up and down, oscillating motion to prevent scratch mark patterns, just like a random orbit sander does.
So to use it, you just find the diameter that most closely matches your curve, drop the spindle in place and start sanding. Since it’s only attached on one end, you can use it to sand, or enlarge holes and get into other hard to sand spots.
This is probably my least used sander, but when I need it, I’m glad I have it. Some curves can be nearly impossible to sand by hand.
A detail sander picks up where the random orbit sander leaves off.
It can get into tight corners, but because it’s so lightweight, it’s also very handy for any areas where other sanders might be difficult to wield. A random orbit sander is heavy and it’s oscillating action makes it hard to keep steady on areas where you might be working against gravity. A finishing sander is a lot less fatiguing to use.
My handheld belt sander is probably the most aggressive sander on my list. Its main purpose is for removing lots of material fast.
It can take a little finesse to use in such a way that doesn’t ruin your workpiece. If you tip it a little, it will gouge the wood, and if you hold it in one place, it will dig right into the surface. When using a belt sander, always keep it in motion. All of this makes it more of a rough construction tool than a woodworking tool.
However, if you tip it upside down and clamp it to your workbench, you’ll get much better control since you control the workpiece instead of the tool.
In fact, you might consider a stationary belt sander. These typically have 4” wide belts and are mounted horizontally. Some come with a disc sander, just like the strip sander. And that might be handy to have two disc sanders…one with coarse sandpaper and one with medium grit. I’ve never owned one of these, but there have been times when I wished I had one.