orbital sander with safety gear

Kendall "aka Renos"

Founder, Lead Instructor of Renos 4 Pros and Joes and Bathroom Update Guide

I’m standing here in a living room wearing goggles and a dust mask. There is literally a sea of “used-up” sanding pads on the floor around me. You see for the past few days I’ve been camped out in a living room doing nothing but sanding. I recently took on a sizable project that includes sanding and refinishing 10 exposed wood beams that are each almost 14 feet long. I’ve got a good rhythm and system going, but it wasn’t always this way. I remember when I was just starting out and I had to ask myself, “How to use an orbital sander?”

You use an orbital sander by first selecting the appropriate grit sanding disc for your project. Then attach the sanding disc to the sanding pad on the bottom of the sander making sure that it fits securely and that the holes on the disc and pad are aligned with each other. Then make sure that your dust collection system is securely attached to the sander. Just before you begin put on your safety glasses and your respirator. Then grasp the orbital sander in the hand that you will use to operate it. Turn the sander to a low-speed setting and turn it on. Lower the sander onto the surface of the item that you are sanding and begin moving slowly in an overlapping zigzag pattern. Don’t press down or apply additional pressure to the sander and don’t rock or tilt the sander on its edge. Work in sections always paying attention to ensure that you’ve evenly covered the area where you are working. Pay attention for signs the sanding pad needs to replaced, and also pay attention for signs that the onboard dust collection needs to be emptied.

But before you begin sanding, start by securing the item that you are going to be sanding in place. If you’re sanding something large like a desk, it’s probably secure. Smaller items may require clamps or some other method keeping them in place while the sander is in use.

Select your Sanding Discs

Sanding discs come in many different levels. As the numbers go up, the finer and smoother the sandpaper gets. The lower numbers remove more material as they sand, but they also leave a rougher finish. For this reason, you will normally have to use several different grit levels of paper to achieve your desired finish. If you arent sure what grit level you need, start by trying a grit level in the middle range and then reevaluate whether you need a more or less aggressive grit sanding disc. If you are sanding fine items like furniture, you may want to start with a sandpaper disc that’s smoother than midrange.

How to Attach Sanding Discs

The next step is to attach your sanding discs or sandpaper to the sanding pad on the bottom of the sander. Now there are two different varieties of sanding pad attachment. The most common for most woodworking applications is hook and loop. Hook and loop is a fancy term for velcro. the sanding discs have holes in the same pattern as the holes on the sanding pad on the underside of the sander. Line the holes up visually before placing the sanding disc on the sanding pad. You want the holes lines up as good as possible since these are passageways for the dust to be removed from the wood’s surface as its being sanded.

The second type of sanding disc attachment is called Pressure Sensitive Adhesive or PSA. This a fancy way of saying its temporarily glued on. This sanding pad attachment method is most commonly paired with orbital sanders that do not have filters or dust collection.

Dust Collection/ Dust Bag

If your random orbital sander has a dust collection system or filter, now is the time to make sure that its firmly and securely attached to the sander. If you are going to be using a vacuum for sanding, make sure that your vacuum hose is secure and you can turn the vacuum on either right now, or you can turn it on after you turn the sander on right before you actually start sanding.

How to Turn Sander on

Make sure that you have the sander firmly in hand before you turn it on. If you have a variable speed sander, make sure that its turned down to a low setting before you to turn it on. We don’t want it to jump out of your hands. Pick the sander up in the palm of the hand that you intend to hold the sander with. Now flip the on switch with the opposite hand.

Now that the sander is turned on, slowly bring it down onto the surface of the item you’ll be sanding. Move the sander is a snake-like overlapping zig-zag pattern. I know that’s a lot of descriptive words. It’s also important to remember to keep the sander moving. You must move the sander around the entire surface of the wood to achieve an even sanded finish.

Don’t Push Down

Let the sander work under the pressure of your hand and gravity don’t push the sander into the subject. It’s not designed to

work at its best when used that way.

Don’t Rock or Tilt the Sander

The temptation is going to be hard to avoid, but don’t tilt the sander on its edge to attack low spots and blemishes in the wood. This can cause an even more pronounced low spot in the wood. In many cases, a wood planer is a better option for removing blemishes. If you choose to rock and tilt the sander anyway you are on your own, you’ve been forwarned.


One of your main goals as you are sanding is to make sure that you are covering the surfaces evenly. Don’t forget the corners. There may be times when you need to stop to clear sanding dust from the surface of the wood and then start again. When you first start out pay close attention to how well the pad is performing. You need to develop a baseline in your head for how the brand new sanding discs perform. This baseline will help you determine when a pad is worn out and needs to be replaced. The sanding typically pads aren’t going to fall apart or become completely smooth when they wear out. You will have to realize for yourself that the disc is not performing nearly as well as it did when it was new.  Don’t be stingy with the sanding pads, when its worn out jus get another one. I’m super guilty of this every time, but I’m trying to do better.


This is somewhat of a balancing act and the speed that you need to move as the user will depend on the speed that you have your sander set on, as well as the subject you are sanding.

Swirl Marks

Always been on the lookout for swirl marks. Swirl marks are caused when the sanding disc leaves a visible rough area. These areas can ususally be removed by making another pass with the same or higher grit sandpaper.


Some folks save the old worn pads that have a little life left for little odd jobs.

Empty the Sanding Filter Bag

If your sander has a dust collection feature, then it will eventually fill up with dust as you work. Monitor your bag or filter. Once the system is full you may notice more dust. Check and see if ts full. Take the filter outside to dump it because the fine dust is very lightweight and is easy to get all over EVERYthing.

What is a random orbital Sander?

And orbital sander is a handheld power tool used for refinishing the surface of various types of wood. Some even use random orbital sanders for refinishing metal and plastic.  The random orbital moves in two different ways at the same time. It randomly moves in all directions in somewhat of a circular motion, while at the same time it spins. This random motion is designed to remove the same amount of material from the surface that it’s being used to sand.

Corded vs. Battery

Random orbital sanders come in corded and battery-powered versions. A battery-powered sander is going to cost more than a comparable corded version. A battery-powered sander can be a good option if you are doing smaller projects that are limited in scope.

But for larger projects, the corded sanders are going be a lot more time-efficient to operate because there is no downtime for charging. You also have to consider the additional weight that will be added by the battery and how it may affect your ability to perform your project. For example, I recently did a project where I refinished wood beams. In this application, all my sanding was overhead, which means I had to physically hold the sander up to the surface that I was sanding.

A battery-powered sander coupled with a long-lasting battery would have been pretty heavy to maneuver for hours at a time. Believe me, I was on the fence about getting a battery power sander until the reality of the added weight of the battery fully set in.  Additionally, once you get into the higher level of orbital sanders, they are basically all corded.

What size random orbital sander?

The two most common orbital sander sizes are 5 inches and 6 inches. Both are circular in shape. The 5-inch sander is by far the most common size. One size isn’t better than the other, they are just different.

5-inch sander

The 5-inch sander is smaller and lighter weight. This means that it will be easier to control and maneuver around the surface that you are sanding. In most sanding applications the 5-inch sander will work just fine. And for most people, the larger sander isn’t going to make a huge difference.

6-inch sander

The larger 6-inch sanding pad allows you to remove material from a larger area on the subject you are sanding. In some applications, this can speed up the sanding process. And application, where this would be ideal, would be for sanding something with a wide flat surface and few obstructions.  An example would be a sheet of wood or plywood.

What to Look for in a Random Orbital Sander?

Feel in Hand

The looking for a random orbital sander, you should pay close attention to the ergonomics of the sander, and how it feels in your hand(s). Sanding with an orbital sander can be a rather slow process, and you should select a sander that is easy for you to hold and is comfortable for you.


You also want to be aware of how much the sander vibrates when its turned on and running at higher levels. This is important because the less it vibrates, the less effort will be required to control it, which means less work on your hands and less fatigue.


Most sanders are slightly heavier on the back of the tool where the dust collection is located, this is normal. But the goal is to find one that feels balanced in hand. When you are sanding a flat surface you have to control the pattern that the sander moves, if the sander is heavier on one side than the other you will also have to keep the tool flat on the surface of the subject you are sanding.

Dust Collection

This consideration should probably be higher up on the list. The very nature of running a sander creates dust. The goal of the onboard dust collection system is to capture as much of the dust as possible. If you look at the sanding pad you will see a series of holes in a pattern. These holes allow dust to escape from the surface that is being sanded and are then captured by the dust collection system. A better filter is always better. But exactly how important the filter will be to you will depend in part on where and how you are using the sander. using the sander indoors, in close quarters, or close to your face, or above your head are all reasons why you may want superior dust collection.

Vacuum Connection

And if you need to take your dust collection to the next level, many of the random orbital sanders can be connected to vacuums. Some come with cuffs in the box, while others may require you to buy the piece separately. Generally speaking, the vacuum connections are designed for connection to smaller vacuums, but adapters are available to connect them to full-size shop vacuums.


As we discussed above sanders come in two sizes 5-inches and 6-inches. You will need to decide which one is best for you.

One-Hand or Two Hand Operation

In addition to the size of the sanding pad, you should also consider whether you want a sander that can be controlled with one and or two. The two handle orbital sanders are usually the bigger more heavy-duty orbital sanders. There are even a few models where you can remove one of the handles.


This one is somewhat obvious, but the sanders come in different weights. The bigger sanders are usually heavier. Another factor that can affect weight is the size of the motor.

Power and Speed

Random orbital sanders come in different power and speed capabilities. This one is a little tricky. The larger motor doesn’t always translate to a faster speed.

Variable Speed

Most orbital sanders have some type of dial or control to adjust the speed at which the sander runs. You may find some that don’t. Generally speaking, the variable speed is preferred because it gives you more options and is more versatile with the ways you can use it.

Type of Sanding Pad Connection

There are two main types: Pressure sensitive adhesive (PSA) is one type and Hook and Loop is the other type. Hook and Loop is basically velcro and is the more common style. The adhesive-backed pads are solid and don’t have holes for dust filtration. With that said, most of the sanders that use the adhesive style sanding disc attachment do not have dust collection or filters.

Can you use a random orbital sander for car polishing?

The expert polishers and finishers say no. The size of the orbits or revolutions that the disc makes are two small and doesn’t move the polish as efficiently or effectively as a true polisher tool. This will cause the job to take a much longer time to complete and often will result in a very poor finish. If you’re reading this, you may already have an orbital sander and are trying to avoid purchasing another tool. But orbital sander is not the right tool for a car polishing job. If you care enough about the vehicle to take the time to polish, please go ahead and use the right tool so that you don’t mess up the finish.

Types of Electric Hand Sanders

There are actually 3 main types:

The Belt Sander

The belt sander is the most strong .a powerful of the three. The belt sander runs faster and removes more material than the other two types. The belt sander can easily damage the wood if not used correctly.

The Orbital Sander

The orbital Sander is on the opposite end of the spectrum from The belt sander. Its more gentle and is typically used for fine sanding,

The Random Orbital Sander

The random orbital sander, which we have not discussed in greate length is the in-between the belt sander and the orbital sander. Its more versatile and gentle than the belt sander, while at the same time more powerful than the orbital sander. And the fact that it moves randomly decreases the probability of swirl marks.