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Grinders Vs. Sanders: What's the Difference?

Updated
When to use a grinder and when to use a sander.

We all know what a grinder and a sander are, but do we all know what they do? Grinders and sanders are two different tools designed to do different things.

Let’s look at grinders vs. sanders to determine their functions, uses, and when and where to use them.


Grinders Vs. Sanders

Grinders can cut, sand, polish, buff, machine, and deburr with ease. This is thanks to the array of different attachments available. It makes a grinder one of the most versatile tools in your arsenal.

A sander is mainly used for sanding, but you can buy polishing attachments that fit random orbital sanders and disc sanders. However, sanders are not as versatile as grinders, but they are better if you want to work on large surface areas like wooden floors.

Features Grinder Sander
Detail Low High
Attachments Multiple attachments Sanding and polishing
Materials Metal, wood, composite, concrete, masonry, tiles Wood and metal
Versatility High versatility Medium versatility
Precision Low High
Safety Medium to high risk Low risk

Grinders

It’s not as simple as just looking at grinders to get the complete picture. We need to drill down a little and look at the grinder choices available.

There are 6 different types of grinders, and they are as similar as chalk and cheese. Let’s take a look.

Angle Grinder

Angle grinder for woodworking

Angle grinders are among the most common types and likely the ones that you’ve some knowledge about. They come in corded and cordless models and have a small disc that rotates at high speed.

Angle grinders are versatile machines with interchangeable wheels for different purposes. They can cut metal, wood, and even polish surfaces like car bodywork and floors. They are also referred to as disc grinders, side grinders, and right angle grinders.

Pros

  • Versatile because they can adapt to many materials.
  • Comes as a cordless or corded model.
  • Easy to master, making them ideal for beginners.

Cons

  • Not as effective as a sander for flat surfaces.
  • Typically more expensive than sanders.

Bench Grinder

Sharpening drill bit on a bench grinder

As the name suggests, bench grinders are mounted on a bench, meaning they are static. They consist of two grinding wheels fixed on either side of the grinder with different grades of abrasion.

They are primarily used for sharpening objects and smoothing surfaces like weld joints and blemishes. You can also remove paint from metal and wooden surfaces and polish with a buffer wheel.

Pros

  • Great for sharpening tools and knives.
  • Stationary tools that enable you to find extreme angles.
  • Works with wood, metal, and composites.

Cons

  • Because it is stationary, you must bring the material to the tool.
  • Not suitable for flooring.

Belt Grinder

Sharpening knife on belt grinder

Belt grinders use an abrasive belt to smooth and grind metal surfaces, removing paint, welds, and blemishes. They are stationary tools, but they give you the versatility to work at many different angles.

They also shine and sharpen metal objects like knives.

Pros

  • Great for sharpening tools and knives.
  • Stationary tool that enables you to smooth awkward shapes.
  • Works with wood, metal, and composites.

Cons

  • It’s a stationary tool, so you need to bring the material to the grinder.
  • Not suitable for flooring.

Wet Grinder

Product Image of the QuickT SPW702A Concrete Countertop Wet Polisher Variable Speed Grinder Sander Granite Stone Polisher Polishing Fabrication Tools Kit - 4' Diamond Polishing Pads for Concrete Granite Marble Tile Polish

If you are working with stone and tiles, you need a wet grinder. Water helps to lubricate and cool the grinding wheel when it is in action. It also helps to reduce cracking of the material and damage to the grinding wheel.

These tools are popular with professionals in the construction industry, especially tilers.

Pros

  • Water cools the grinder to keep it working longer.
  • Water lubricates the grinding wheel to reduce damage to the tool and material.
  • Popular with the commercial industries.

Cons

  • Specialist tools for the stone and tile industry.
  • More expensive than other grinders.

Die Grinders

Product Image of the DEWALT 20V MAX Die Grinder, Variable Speed, 1-1/2-Inch, Tool Only (DCG426B)

Die grinders are available in both right-angle and straight models. They consist of a small disc that can hone, polish, cut, and machine material. These tools come in electric and air-powered versions and have many types of attachments to enable you to work with different materials like wood and metal.

Pros

  • Versatile tool that can hone, cut, polish, and machine material.
  • Comes in both electric and air-powered versions.
  • Ideal for working with wood and metal.

Cons

  • Better for cutting than sanding.

Floor Grinder

Product Image of the CS Unitec EBS 180 F 7' Concrete Floor Grinder with Dust Extraction and Angle Adjustable Floor Guide, 20 Amp, 110V

Floor grinders are large tools with a long handle and a rotating disc that removes material in large areas. They are a favorite with residential and professional flooring companies because they are excellent at smoothing concrete, wood, and tile floors to remove grout.

Pros

  • Covers large floor areas in double-quick time.
  • Used in commercial and professional settings.
  • Removes a lot of material.

Cons

  • Very expensive compared to other grinders.
  • A specialty tool with a single-use.

Sanders

There are many types of sanders available, with too many variations to mention them all. We decided to focus on the main designs to give you an idea of what is on offer.

Belt Sander

Carpenter works with belt sander for woodworking

Belt sanders use an abrasive belt that moves on rollers to remove material. They are more effective when used with wood, although belt sanders are also good at removing paint from metal surfaces.

A belt sander is an ideal tool to use when sanding a floor as it can cover wide areas and is more aggressive at material removal.

Pros

  • Aggressive material removal means you can cover wider areas.
  • Easy to master, which is ideal for beginners.
  • Works on wood and metal.
  • Ideal for sanding floors.

Cons

  • Not suitable for detailed sanding.

Disc Sander

Man sanding table with orbital sander

Disc sanders use a small abrasive pad that grips to the sander and is easy to remove. Disc sanders work differently compared to a belt sander in that the disc rotates rather than moves back and forth.

Disc sanders are better at detailed material removal and smaller surfaces. They are ideal for working on wood, metal and are a favorite with the auto industry for repairing and polishing car bodywork.

Disc sanders are sometimes referred to as orbital sanders or palm sanders.

Random Orbital Sander

Sanding plank of wood with orbital sander

Random orbital sanders work differently from disc sanders in that the disc not only rotates it also moves side to side on an off-center axis. This motion is called oscillation, which is why these tools are also called oscillating sanders.

The advantage of an oscillating sander is it is more efficient at removing material so that you can cover larger areas more quickly. Random sanders are a favorite with the construction industry as well as the auto-repair sector.

Pros

  • Greater material removal makes them cope better with larger surface areas.
  • Oscillating action makes them more efficient.
  • Also great for detail sanding.
  • Ideal for working with wood and metal, especially car bodywork.

Cons

  • More expensive compared to other sanders.
  • Not great for sanding edges and straight lines.

Detail Sander

Sanding wooden stool with a detail sander

Detail sanders are smaller than a disc sander and have a pointed end so that you can reach into tight corners and bends. The small size aids detailed and fine sanding, but it does limit you to small workpieces rather than large surface areas.

If you are restoring an old car, a detail sander offers you so many possibilities, especially given the awkward angles you encounter on car bodywork.

Pros

  • Ideal for small detailed work like carpentry and auto body shop repairs.
  • Lightweight and easy to master.
  • Great for sanding edges and tight corners.

Cons

  • Not ideal for large surfaces and significant workpieces.

Drum Sander

Product Image of the JET JWDS-1632 Drum Sander with Stand (723520K)

A drum sander is a stationary tool. It consists of a sanding drum embedded in a table with a cover to protect the user. The drum spins so as you pass the material over the abrasive surface. It enables you to find different angles, giving you greater versatility.

If you are shaping wood, this is the ideal tool because it gets the job done quickly and efficiently. It is also a great sander when you want to remove paint from metal surfaces.

Pros

  • Stationary tool that enables you to shape wood.
  • Increases your versatility and efficiency.
  • Also works well at removing paint from metal surfaces.

Cons

  • Is stationary too, so you need to bring the workpiece to the sander.
  • These sanders are expensive, costing hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in some cases.

Spindle Sander

Product Image of the Triton Oscillating Spindle Sander 450W TSPS450

Spindle sanders are another specialist tool designed to shape smaller workpieces. It consists of a spindle that sits above a table and base. The spindle rotates, and in some cases, oscillates to remove material from wood.

These tools are tabletop varieties and are best used in carpentry to shape trim, frames, and door and cupboard edges.

Pros

  • Great for creating detail in smaller workpieces.
  • Shapes, sands, and smooths wood.
  • Enables you to make intricate designs.

Cons

  • Specialist tool designed for detail work only.
  • More expensive than other sanders.

Can I Use a Grinder as a Sander and Vice Versa?

Yes, you can use a grinder as a sander and vice versa. As long as you use the correct attachment, you can put both tools to different uses.

However, why would you want to? A sander is better for sanding, and a grinder is better for grinding. Period!

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About the Author

Mark Weir

Mark spent 24 years working in real estate, so he knows his way around a home. He also worked with contractors and experts, advising them on issues of planning, investments, and renovations. Mark is no stranger to hands-on experience, having renovated his own home and many properties for resale. He likes nothing better than seeing a project through to completion.