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Orbital Sanders vs. Sheet Sanders: Which Is Best?

Orbital sander or sheet sander? Find out which is the right tool for the job.

If you work with wood, you know that sanding is crucial if you want the best results. Sanding refines rough lumber into a tactile and pleasurable material. But what are the best tools to use?

Sheet sanders and orbital sanders are the most commonly used, but which is best? Join us as we dissect sheet sanders and orbital sanders to get to the facts.

Key Takeaways

  • Orbital sanders are best for large projects, removing rough surfaces, and working on various materials like wood, metal, and plastic.
  • Sheet sanders are ideal for achieving finer detail, reaching tight corners, and providing a smooth finish on wood or metal surfaces.
  • Orbital sanders rotate sanding discs and have higher power output, while sheet sanders have square or rectangular pads that move back and forth with medium power.
  • Sheet sanders tend to be more affordable and use less expensive sandpaper compared to orbital sanders and their sanding discs.

Orbital Sanders vs. Sheet Sanders

When deciding which to use, think about the size of your project and the level of detail you want to achieve. Orbital sanders are better suited to larger tasks, requiring aggression to remove rough surfaces and blemishes.

On the flip side, sheet sanders give you the highest quality finishes, making them the go-to tool for furniture makers and bespoke woodwork projects. Also, body repair centers love the versatility of sheet sanders, thanks to the level of detail you can achieve.

As we’ve highlighted, there are distinct differences between orbital and sheet sanders, so we decided to list them in a handy guide.

Features Orbital Sanders Sheet Sanders
Random motion Yes No
Sanding pad Yes No
Sandpaper No Yes
Used for Larger projects, metalwork, rougher surfaces Finishing and finer detail
Power High Medium
Price $$$ $$
Portable Yes Yes
Anti-vibration Yes No

What Is an Orbital Sander?

Orbital Sander

An orbital sander performs the same tasks as a sheet sander. The difference comes in the way it moves the sanding pad. Orbital sanders rotate a sanding disc at high speed to remove the maximum amount of material.

Many have variable speed control, which means you can adjust the orbits to suit different materials. It gives you greater versatility to swap between hardwood, softwood, metal, and plastic. You can also work with composites and laminates.

You can also buy a random orbital sander, which is slightly different because it rotates the sanding disc using an off-center axis. It creates circular and sideways motion to remove even more material than the orbital sander.

A key advantage of random orbital sanders is they leave fewer swirl marks on the surface of the wood, thanks to the way they move the abrasive pad over the material.

This is commonly referred to as oscillation, hence the name oscillating sander. Orbital sanders typically have 5 or 6-inch discs, and the rotating speed is measured in orbits per minute (OPM).

Orbital sanders are more powerful and have a higher output. They also collect dust in either a dust collection bag or a central vacuum attached to the exhaust port. While these sanders vibrate, some models have anti-vibration control to reduce hand and wrist fatigue.

The other thing to remember with an orbital sander is the sanding discs cost more compared to sheet sandpaper.

What Is an Orbital Sander Used For?

Orbital sanders remove large amounts of material, making them ideal for carpentry, woodwork, metalwork, and auto repair. Orbital sanders are ideal for sanding sheet metal and car bodywork because they remove several layers in one go.

If you need to strip paint from metal and wood, an orbital sander is the perfect tool. It’s worth remembering that orbital sanders are not the best tool if you need to achieve precision. You are better off using a palm or detail sander.

The only downside to an orbital sander is you are limited to what it can do. First, you cannot reach corners and tight spots. Second, it limits the amount of detail you can achieve. You might be better off using a detail or finishing sander for smaller tasks.


  • Remove more material.
  • Efficient.
  • Better for large projects.
  • Works on metal and wood.
  • Removes several layers.
  • Powerful motor.
  • Fewer swirl marks.


  • Not suited to detail.
  • Vibrates.
  • Less delicate.
  • Expensive.
  • Cannot reach corners.

What Is a Sheet Sander?

Sheet Sander

Sheet sanders are also called finish sanders. As the name suggests, this is the tool to use when adding the finishing touches to your projects. Sheet sanders are also called palm sanders, especially compact models.

The main difference between sheet sanders and orbital sanders is the shape of the pad and the way it moves. Sheet sanders typically have a square or rectangular pad that moves forwards and backward, rather than rotating.

Also, you can attach standard sandpaper to the base using special clips that hold it in position. This is much cheaper than buying dedicated sanding discs. Plus, the rectangular shape makes sheet sanders the ideal tool for reaching into the tightest corners.

Because they are perfect for finishing detail with wood and metal, sheet sanders are less aggressive and remove smaller amounts of material compared to orbital sanders.

Sheet sanders are also cheaper than other power sanders, making them the ideal tool for beginners and those working on a budget.

What Is a Sheet Sander Used For?

Sheet sanders are the ideal tool for finishing work. When you come to the final stages of a project and want the smoothest surface possible, reach for a sheet sander. You can also get to edges and corners easier with a sheet sander.

Their less aggressive performance makes sheet sanders a favorite in auto and car body repair shops. Plus, carpenters and woodworkers achieve finer detailing with a sheet sander.

On the downside, sheet sanders remove less material, so they are not suited to large-scale projects. Also, they are not effective at eliminating several layers of paint or varnish at a time, so while they suit auto and body shop environments, sanding paintwork is a chore.


  • Cheaper to buy.
  • Sandpaper costs less.
  • Reach corners.
  • Achieve a smooth finish.
  • Better for detail work.
  • Lightweight and portable.


  • Lower power output.
  • Less versatile.
  • Leaves surface marks.
  • Not suitable for large projects.

Orbital Sander vs. Sheet Sander FAQs

Is an Orbital Sander Worth It?

Orbital sanders are great for beginners, DIYers, and even professional wood or metalworkers. You’ll get a much more consistent finish than traditional sanders. We know that sanding marks are a no-go, but orbital sanders produce less when used correctly.

That’s because they move around in circles rather than straight lines, so the end result will be smooth, even without any deep scratches left behind. And if your project needs to tackle tight spaces or corners, you can’t pass up on this tool.

Orbital sanders are designed as lightweight and easy-to-control units. You don’t push down on an orbital sander; you just let the tool do the job for you as you guide it on the surface.

Can You Use a Sheet Sander on Cabinets?

Since a sheet sander is nothing more than a palm sander, it’s a great tool for you to use on cabinets. Unlike an orbital sander and its circled motion, a palm/sheet sander moves in squares.

This tool is notorious for being able to reach difficult spots. Its lightweight makes it really easy to control, something we can all appreciate in a power sander. If you ever have to sand a cabinet you don’t want to take off the wall or pull out of the pantry, a sheet sander can help a lot.

Do Orbital Sanders Leave Swirl Marks?

Orbital sanders leave marks, but not as many as other sanders. The more you use an orbital sander and get acquainted with the proper technique, the fewer swirl marks you will leave on your sanded surfaces.

You’ll eventually learn the sandpaper to use with your tool, as poor-quality sanding discs are one of the primary causes of swirl marks. Sometimes, avoiding these marks is as simple as cleaning the dust and debris off the sanded surface.

What Is the Advantage of Using a Square Sheet Palm Sander Compared to an Orbital Sander?

Sheet sanders are often less powerful than random orbital sanders, and their primary purpose is to provide the finishing touch.

These tools feature square-shaped pads, making them a better choice for usage in situations where it is necessary to reach close to the edge of 90-degree angles. You want to use a sheet sander if you are:

  • Short on cash.
  • Don’t want to sand too much material at once.
  • Looking for tools that need less expensive sandpaper.

What Can You Not Do with an Orbital Sander?

You can’t sand corners with random orbital sanders. In fact, corners are this sander’s biggest nemesis and the only reason you can’t rely on an orbital sander alone to finish many wooden projects. It’s also not the tool you need when you have to sand in weird and tight spaces.

Orbital sanders don’t leave a lot of room for experimenting. It’s very easy to sand too fast or too slow, removing too much or insufficient material.

Which Is Better: Orbital Sander or Sheet Sander?

If you prioritize versatility, an orbital sander is a better choice. It’s also ideal for ending rougher surfaces in less time.

You need an orbital sander for sanding down walls, furniture, or rough wooden pieces. Thanks to its powerful motor, it works on wood, metal, and plastic surfaces. But, while orbital sanders are great overall, they make sanding corners a real hassle.

That’s where the sheet sander comes in. As you reach the final stages of your project, it’s better to switch to a sheet sander.

It is not as aggressive as an orbital sander and may not be suited for large projects, but it’s an excellent choice for fine details. It’s also cheaper than an orbital sander, which is good news if you’re shopping on a budget.

Make Your Choice

If you like working with wood or metal, a sheet sander and orbital sander are crucial tools. Whether you are working big or want finer detail, both are staple tools for your collection.

However, knowing when to use them is the key to your success because each has its strengths and weaknesses.

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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.